62 players started the first full team workout today in Port Charlotte and by the time camps breaks later next month, 37 of those players will have been given the unfortunate news that they will not be making the trek up I-75 and over the Skyway bridge on 275 to open the season at Tropicana Field. As I look at the roster, I cannot help but think 22 of those 25 roster spots are already filled in with pencil on the imaginary big board in the front office.
If the Rays hold to past patterns, 13 batters and 12 pitchers will travel north with the team. Here is how I see the team’s 25 man roster shaking out so far:
DH: Manny Ramirez
That’s 12 of the 13 hitting roster spots right there leaving the final roster spot up to a utility infield role with Joe Inglett, Felipe Lopez, and Elliot Johnson being the leading candidates for that final spot. Lopez has to be considered the favorite for the spot with his years of major league experience and the fact he has played all four infield spots and corner outfield spots at different points in his major league career. Johnson is out of options so he would have to clear waivers to go back to Durham but he has already done that once so it is truly an open audition in Port Charlotte for the final role. Casey Kotchman faces an uphill climb to make the roster since he can only play first base and the Rays already have several players on the projected 25 man roster who can do that. Positional flexibility is a valued asset by the Rays and Lopez has the most of the players left to compete for that final roster spot but the club also spoke highly of Johnson quite a few times this off-season which makes that battle one to pay close attention to.
The starting pitching staff is all but settled with Price, Shields, Davis, Niemann, and Hellickson taking those spots and contractual situations all but assure four of the seven spots in the bullpen are penciled in as Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta, Andy Sonnanstine, and Adam Russell have major league contracts and/or are out of options.
The recent news of Jacob McGee being moved to relief likely assures him a job in the pen given his high-impact stuff and the fact the Rays already know what he can do in relief at both AAA and the major league level. Assuming McGee and the aforementioned four take up the first five spots, that leaves two spots in the bullpen for Juan Cruz, Cory Wade, Rule V (five, whatever) pick Cesar Cabral, Cesar Ramos, R.J. Swindle, Dane De La Rosa, and Dirk Hayhurst. One role that is missing on the team is the one of left-handed specialist which groups Cabral, Ramos, and Swindle in one category leaving the others to fight for the other role. Then again, Maddon could also be comfortable with the reverse splits of guys such as Peralta and Russell and go with six righties as he did last year when Choate shouldered all of the left-handed work.
While McGee is left-handed, it seems unlikely that he would make the club to serve in the same capacity that Trever Miller and Randy Choate have filled for the past three seasons. Cabral, as a Rule V pick, has to make the club or be sent back to Boston but it is very rare to see a player of his status make the 25 man roster of a contending ball club. Swindle and Ramos have but a handful of major league innings but both have demonstrated the ability to be effective against lefties at the minor league level with Swindle doing it exceptionally well for a guy whose fastball tops out at 85.
As you keep an eye on Rays camp over the next thirty something days, the battle on the infield and the relief work is where you should focus. That is where the final roster decisions are likely to come from as 88% of the roster decisions appear to be resolved based on a process of simple deduction. Despite all of the new names and faces in camp, there is not as much uncertainty as one would think.