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Tampa Bay Rays Initial Roster Projection

The Tampa Bay Rays have released their initial 60-man player pool for their 2020 roster (full list here). These players will be exclusively eligible to work out and participate in camp all season. Only half of them will make the opening day roster, with further parings to follow. A full explanation of the 2020 roster rules can be found here.

We will briefly break down who is certain to make the opening day 30-man roster and who will be fighting for a spot. We will also break down the status of some intriguing young players in the initial pool, including baseball’s top prospect. Let’s examine:

The Locks:

Pitchers (13)

As I’ve recently mentioned, the Rays have the deepest pitching staff in baseball. I would fully expect them to carry fifteen or sixteen pitchers at the outset of the season. This group were the main constituents of the 2019 pitching staff and I would expect the 2020 version to have a similar look. Snell, Morton, Glasnow, and Chirinos figure to get most of the starts. Yarborough and McKay will likely fight for the fifth starting spot or bulk innings following openers. Beeks is a solid long man with experience in a bulk role. Anderson, Castillo, Alvarado, Roe, Poche, and Drake are the core of a potentially dominant bullpen.

Position Players (13)

Most of these players have been mainstays in the Rays’ lineup. Newly-acquired veterans will fill a variety of roles. Zunino’s spot as the top catcher is safe after Travis d’Arnaud’s departure. Martinez is a lefty masher well-suited for a platoon/DH role. Fan-favorite Ji-Man Choi’s on-base skills are a plus. Lowe has second base all to himself after an excellent rookie year. Adames has established himself as an everday shortstop. Postseason hero and Statcast darling Yandy Diaz will get plenty of starts at third, first, and DH. Tsutsugo is interesting as the team has him listed as both a third baseman and an outfielder. His offensive skills from the left side should be helpful regardless of position.

Rays fans know Kiermaier well. Margot was acquired in a trade with San Diego to be Kiermaier’s right-handed complement. Meadows may move from right to left field this year to accommodate Renfroe’s strong arm. Renfroe, also acquired from San Diego, has huge power and could serve as the right-handed platoon partner of Tsutsugo. Wendle and Robertson both offer good on-base skills and positional flexibility.

On The Fence:

Pitchers (6)

There are likely only two or three spots left on the pitching side. Kittredge has the inside track considering his experience and success, coinciding with increased velocity, last season. Fairbanks got his feet wet late last season but, he has issues with walks. Richards and Banda have experience as starters and bulk arms. Loup, a former Blue Jay, is a lefty specialist with a terrific curveball. He may be of use but, the new three batter minimum rule hurts his chances to make the team as a matchup specialist. Former New York Met Sean Gilmartin has starting and long reliever experience. His role is likely redundant considering the incumbent roster pieces.

Position Players (6)

The backup catcher competition may be the most interesting battle. Perez, Smith, and Herrman all have varying levels of Major League experience. Perez likely has the inside track due to familiarity with the pitching staff. They will all have a chance to serve on the taxi-squad, which requires teams to carry an extra catcher. Lowe has big potential as a classic left-handed, power-hitting first baseman. He may have to wait for an injury to occur though. He is blocked by several veterans at the position. The Rays could choose to carry him for his power anyway. Arozarena was acquired in an interesting deal with the Cardinals. He has to show some offensive potential though, as the Rays already have two stellar defense-first centerfielders in front of him.

Interesting Prospects on the outside:

Pitchers (3)

  • RHP Shane Baz
  • LHP Shane McClanahan
  • RHP Joe Ryan

Baz is the final piece of the lopsided 2018 Chris Archer trade with Pittsburgh. He still operates as a starter but, many believe his excellent fastball-slider combo will be better suited to a long-term role in the bullpen. McClanahan is a local lefty from the University of South Florida. His 100 MPH fastball could play up in relief as well. Ryan was the Rays’ 2019 Minor League pitcher of the year. He has a deep repitoire may be the most likely starter of this group long-term. His impact may not be felt this year but, he will get his chance to shine soon enough. It’s interesting to note that former top prospect Brent Honeywell is not in the sixty player pool at all. His recurring arm injuries may never allow him to get his career on track.

Position Players (3)

  • SS Wander Franco
  • 2B Vidal Brujan
  • C Ronaldo Hernandez

All eyes are on Franco, the top prospect in baseball, as he continues his ascent to stardom. Some feel his bat is Major League ready. Only 19 years old, it would be astonishing to see him thrown into this wild short-season scenario. He also would likely have to play third base at the Major League level because Willy Adames has become an upper-echelon shortstop defensively. Brujan, the Rays #3 prospect on MLB.com, has immense talent. Tampa Bay’s organization is loaded with talented middle infielders but, Brujan could get the call if there were a cascade of injuries. Hernandez was likely to start a normal season at Triple-A. He is likely the Rays’ catcher of the future with a rifle for an arm and solid raw power. A good showing in camp would set him up well for 2021.

Likely Camp Bodies

Pitchers (8)

  • RHP Dylan Covey
  • RHP John Curtiss
  • RHP Sam McWilliams
  • RHP Aaron Slegers
  • RHP Ryan Thompson
  • LHP Josh Fleming
  • LHP Ryan Sherriff
  • LHP D.J. Snelten

This is a mix a fringe prospect/upper minors arms who are unlikely to have an impact in the Majors in 2020 and possibly beyond. Covey is a former White Sox top prospect who fell out of favor there. Fleming, a top 30 organizational prospect, and Thompson offer interesting looks. They are highly unlikely to crack the 2020 roster though.

Position Players (8)

  • SS Lucius Fox
  • SS Taylor Walls
  • 3B Kevin Padlo
  • 2B Esteban Quiroz
  • OF Dylan Cozens
  • OF Ryan LaMarre
  • OF Brian O’Grady
  • OF Josh Lowe

Most of these players sit firmly in the Rays’ top 30 prospects, which is a testament to the team’s organizational depth. Fox and Walls are slick-fielding shortstops with developing bats. Padlo and Quiroz are currently blocked by the plethora of infielders ahead of them. Lowe, Nate Lowe’s brother, may have the most potential of the group if he can recover from offseason shoulder surgery and make more consistent contact at the plate.

Observations from Initial Roster

By our count, 26 of the 30 opening day roster spots are locked up. My best guess, for now, would be that the final four spots go to Andrew Kittredge, Peter Fairbanks, Michael Perez, and Nate Lowe. My current prediction of the three-man taxi-squad would be Kevan Smith, the required catcher, Trevor Richards as an extra starter, and Mike Brosseau as a utility man.

The Rays’ roster is talented and deep. If they stay relatively healthy and produce consistently on offense, this roster could certainly contend for a championship.

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