Rays Spring Training FAQs, important dates

1:30 PM UTC

After storming through the 2020 season as the American League’s best team and reaching the World Series for the second time in franchise history, the Rays are coming off another winter of change as they report to Spring Training in Port Charlotte, Fla.

Gone are Charlie Morton and Blake Snell, two pillars atop the Rays' rotation. Back to the fold came former Opening Day starter Chris Archer, one of several veteran pitchers who Tampa Bay will count on this year as the club transitions to a young group of starters headlined by trade acquisition Luis Patiño.

For the Rays, change is nothing new. Neither are high expectations.

Last year, the Rays entered Spring Training wanting to push past the AL Division Series. They accomplished that goal by getting to the World Series, only to come up two wins short against the Dodgers. Tampa Bay's pursuit of the club’s first championship begins anew with Thursday’s first workout for pitchers and catchers and, more formally, with Tuesday’s first full-squad workout at Charlotte Sports Park.

Here’s a look at some frequently asked questions about the Rays’ 2021 Spring Training.

Given the pandemic, how is Spring Training going to be different this year?

There will be a number of health-and-safety measures in place for players, coaches and staff, along with additional testing, contact tracing and social distancing. Attendance at exhibition games will be limited, and access to the early camp workouts will be restricted for both fans and media.

Also, the teams taking part in Spring Training in Florida will have a regionalized schedule to cut down on long bus rides, and managers can agree to shorten Grapefruit League games if they don’t have the available personnel to cover nine innings.

What are the key roster/position battles to watch?

Let’s start with the position players. Will Francisco Mejía secure the backup job behind the plate, as expected? How will manager Kevin Cash deploy his array of infielders, especially at the corner spots? And doesn’t it still feel like they have one outfielder too many with Kevin Kiermaier, Randy Arozarena, Austin Meadows, Manuel Margot, Brett Phillips and Yoshi Tsutsugo?

There should be a ton of competition on the pitching side, too. Tyler Glasnow, Ryan Yarbrough, Michael Wacha, Rich Hill and Archer seem like locks to play a role on Opening Day. It’s hard to imagine a bullpen without Nick Anderson, Diego Castillo, Pete Fairbanks and Collin McHugh. Left-hander Cody Reed and right-hander Trevor Richards are out of options. That leaves way more qualified bullpen candidates -- including 2020 contributors like Ryan Thompson, Trevor Richards and Ryan Sherriff, recent trade acquisitions Jeffrey Springs and Chris Mazza and rotation/bulk/multi-inning options like Josh Fleming, Shane McClanahan and Patiño -- than open spots. The Rays will want to preserve their depth for the long season ahead, so keep that in mind as their staff takes shape throughout the spring.

When is the first Spring Training game?

The Rays will begin their modified, regionalized Grapefruit League schedule with a game against their nearest competition. Tampa Bay will host Atlanta at Charlotte Sports Park at 1:05 p.m. ET on Feb. 28. The Rays will play their North Port neighbors six more times throughout Spring Training, which is notable because they will see each other again three times during the regular season: July 16-18, the first series after the All-Star break, at Truist Park in Atlanta.

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How can I watch/listen/follow Spring Training games?

The Rays have not yet released a Spring Training TV broadcast schedule. Their radio team will call 18 games, listed below. You can follow every Grapefruit League game using the MLB app.

Who are some prospects to keep an eye on in camp?

The Rays have eight of MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects, and they’ll all be in big league camp this year. That list starts with No. 1 overall prospect Wander Franco, a switch-hitting shortstop with elite abilities at the plate who’s set to turn 20 on March 1. All eyes will be on Franco to see where he’s playing -- and how close he might be to the big leagues -- and Arozarena (No. 34), to see if he can build off his incredible postseason performance.

The Rays will also be watching left-hander Brendan McKay (No. 72) to track his recovery from shoulder surgery and Patiño (No. 19), who was acquired from the Padres in the Snell trade, to assess his readiness to impact the rotation.

Also slated to be in big league camp, with a chance to crack Tampa Bay's roster in the next year or two: infielders Vidal Bruján (No. 50) and Xavier Edwards (No. 85), right-hander Shane Baz (No. 90) and lefty Shane McClanahan (No. 84). Among the many other potential impact prospects to watch are right-handers Brent Honeywell Jr. and Joe Ryan, shortstop Taylor Walls, infielder Greg Jones and outfielders Josh Lowe, Moises Gomez and Garrett Whitley.

Who’s injured and what is the timeline for their recovery?

The Rays will be monitoring Archer’s progress as he returns from a season lost to thoracic outlet syndrome, but they’re confident he’ll be ready for Opening Day. Less certain is the status of pitching prospects Honeywell, who’s a full participant in camp and should contribute this season after years of being limited by various arm injuries, and McKay, who won’t begin pitching until mid-March after shoulder surgery. Jalen Beeks, Yonny Chirinos and Colin Poche are expected to miss most (and likely all) of the season following major injuries last year, and Oliver Drake will be out until midseason after re-signing with the Rays.

When is Opening Day and who is the opponent?

The Rays will begin their AL title defense on April 1 at 4:10 p.m. ET against the Marlins at Marlins Park. Despite a COVID-19 outbreak, Miami reached the postseason last year and hopes to do so again this year under new general manager Kim Ng and reigning National League Manager of the Year Don Mattingly. Worth noting: The Rays will be away from Tropicana Field on Opening Day for the first time since 2009, the last time they were coming off a World Series appearance, and this will be their first time opening the season in an NL ballpark.

Who is the likely Opening Day starting pitcher?

With Morton and Snell wearing different uniforms, Tyler Glasnow is the best bet to take the ball on Opening Day for the Rays. Perhaps they would consider Archer, who made four straight Opening Day starts from 2015-18, but it’s more likely they’ll call upon one of the players for whom he was traded. Glasnow, 27, owns a 12-7 record and 3.32 ERA with 231 strikeouts in 34 regular-season starts for Tampa Bay over the past three years, and the club is counting on the hard-throwing righty to take another big step forward this season.

What is the likely Opening Day lineup and rotation?

Keep in mind that a lot could change between the start of Spring Training and Opening Day. The Rays could experience injuries. They could see someone break out and claim a spot they’re not projected to hold entering camp. The rotation could be less traditional than listed below. They could make more moves throughout camp.

But for now, without a designated hitter available in Miami and with the Marlins likely to start a right-hander, here’s what we’re thinking:

Lineup
RF Austin Meadows
LF Randy Arozarena
2B Brandon Lowe
1B Ji-Man Choi
3B Yandy Díaz
SS Willy Adames
CF Kevin Kiermaier
C Mike Zunino
RHP Tyler Glasnow

Rotation
RHP Tyler Glasnow
LHP Ryan Yarbrough
RHP Michael Wacha
LHP Rich Hill
RHP Chris Archer

Is the team planning to sell tickets to regular-season games?

On Wednesday, the Rays took a step in that direction by announcing their new “Season Membership” plan in lieu of traditional season tickets. The club said it is working with MLB and local health officials to figure out “when and how to safely welcome fans back to Tropicana Field.”

"A health and safety protocol which includes a reduced capacity, socially-distanced seating and mandatory face masks, except while actively eating or drinking in your seat, will be announced prior to the start of the season,” the club said in a statement. “In the event that games are canceled or postponed due to COVID-19, season members with tickets to affected games will receive credit to their account for future ticket purchases or as a refund to the original method of payment."