PORT CHARLOTTE — Getting your work in tends to be the most popular, and most nebulous, goal during the spring exhibition season that starts Friday for the Rays. Staying healthy is high on the list. Winning some games gets mention. And there’s always the residual of taking advantage of the weather to catch some actual rays.
But as often as Rays officials and coaches say they don’t base decisions on spring results, there are some specific things they will be looking for over the next 4½ weeks as they decide who makes the roster, who gets more playing time, and who can be of the most help from the minors if they need it.
Here’s a list of 10 they’ll be keeping an eye on:
First at first
Ji-Man Choi, Yandy Diaz and Brandon Lowe are all going to get time at first, and the Rays expect all to do well enough to share the job based on matchups and other lineup decisions. But the reality is all three have to show something: Choi is known more for his bat than his glove, Diaz has only limited experience at first and Lowe is pretty much learning the footwork and nuances on the fly, having played second and outfield.
The Rays aren’t looking for one of them to necessarily win the job outright, but there is the potential that one could lose their share by showing they can’t play up to the Rays high standard.
Fourth at first
While the focus is on that trio, prospect Nate Lowe should get more than the usual mop-up innings for a first-time camper. Lowe slugged his way from Class A to Triple-A last season, and there are some in the organization who think he could be manning first by mid-season.
The Pagan principles
Reliever Emilio Pagan’s work the first 10 days of camp caught the attention of manager Kevin Cash several times, and he may be the player who has the best chance to win a job based on how he does during the spring. Pagan worked during the off-season to add a curveball and further develop his change-up, and showing enough success with at least one of them to expand his repertoire beyond fastball and cutter could be a key factor in what may be a battle with Hunter Wood and others for the final bullpen spot.
The Yandy man
Getting Yandy Diaz to hit like the power hitter he looks to be with his bulging biceps and chiseled chest will be an ongoing process, as he thus far is known to hit the ball hard but on the ground. Diaz said he made some adjustments in his swing during the off-season to put more balls in the air, and showed up with a different path to the ball that has looked promising in BP.
Talk of the launch angle revolution seems to be replaced in Rays’ camp by discussion of contact point. In short, that hitting the ball hard (and in the air) comes from getting the bat through the zone and making contact out front rather than letting the pitch get deep. Among those who made off-season tweaks they will be trying out are infielders Matt Duffy, Daniel Robertson and Joey Wendle, knowing results don’t always show up right away or in the stats line.
Starter Tyler Glasnow has incorporated an occasional pause into his windup he thinks will make his delivery more consistent, and also a quick-step. But doing so in game conditions, even spring games, can be much different.
V is for versatility
The Rays love them some defenders who can move around the field and especially between the grass and dirt, and spring is the time to experiment. Expect to see Duffy and Brandon Lowe bounce between infield and outfield, and Robertson and Wendle move around the infield.
Most of the Rays major- and minor-league pitchers were exposed to the opener strategy at some point in 2018, but look for them to get a few comfy with the routine. That could include starting Colin Poche, and having Jake Faria, Wilmer Font and Ryan Merritt pitch multiple innings behind the opener.
Nothing in spring can properly prep the Rays relievers who don’t have closing experience for trying to get the last three outs at Fenway. But they can at least get Jose Alvarado, Diego Castillo, Chaz Roe and others work against top hitters (though not necessarily division foes) in somewhat tough situations.
Less tangible (unless there’s like a glaring missed sign), but there will be some assimilation for Cash’s staff, with three new faces (Jonathan Erlichman, process and analytics; Paul Hoover, field coordinator; Rodney Linares, third base/infield) and another in a different place (Matt Quatraro, bench from third).
Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.