Every year at the start of Spring Training, I begin my projection for what the 26-man roster will look like for Opening Day. This year will be no different, as I’ll update my projection every week. However, the uncertainty of how the front office and coaching staff will construct the active roster could lead to some significant changes week-to-week.
Here are the ground rules for the projections:
- Only players on the spring roster as of Sunday will be used in the projections come Monday. That means even though we know that Collin McHugh is going to be a part of the team, he is not on this initial projection.
- No trade predictions. It’s hard enough to try and do this with the 75 or so players in Port Charlotte. I don’t need the rumor mill to add any spice to the equation.
- Injured lists are in play. The 10-day, 15-day, and 60-day IL’s are fair game when necessary.
- Pitcher limits are in effect. With MLB going back to 26-man rosters (after using a 28-man roster for the pandemic-shortened 2020 season), it appears the league will enforce a 13 pitcher maximum on active rosters (not counting players considered two-way players). My projections will adhere to those limits until ruled otherwise.
So let’s crack on with mock roster version 1.0!
The five pitchers slated to begin the year in the starting rotation may be missing a pair of names that fans have come to expect over the last couple of years — two guys named Snell and Morton — but it features three new veterans, including one we in Tampa Bay are very familiar with. I’d expect Tyler Glasnow will be the one to take the mound April 1 in Miami.
The bullpen is much more fluid because of the question of how many innings can the starters reasonably be expected to cover. It would not surprise me to see the Rays (and most teams in MLB) to carry at least two long relievers to begin the season. It’s why I have both Josh Fleming and Trevor Richards starting the year on the roster, with one of these spots ending up being for McHugh. Other names to watch out for include Chris Mazza and Jeffrey Springs, who came to Tampa Bay in the Ronaldo Hernandez deal, and Hunter Strickland, who will get a fair shake, but has to prove his rough 2019 and 2020 seasons are behind him.
Pitchers (13): Nick Anderson, Chris Archer, Diego Castillo, Pete Fairbanks, Josh Fleming, Tyler Glasnow, Rich Hill, Cody Reed, Trevor Richards, Ryan Sherriff, Ryan Thompson, Michael Wacha, Ryan Yarbrough
Mike Zunino is back for another year, and I’d expect him to take the bulk of the work for the time being. The front office is surely hoping the strong playoff run he had to end 2020 can continue this season. Francisco Mejia was one of the top catching prospects in all of baseball as recently as 2018, and has all the right tools according to defensive analytics. But he has struggled to find his swing in the big leagues. That could lead to Kevan Smith, who returned on a minor-league deal with the Rays, getting another shot.
This group is largely set, as it features three right-handed bats (Adames, Brosseau, and Diaz), and three left-handed bats (Choi, Lowe, and Wendle). The only question that comes to mind with the infielders is who plays first base when Choi needs a day off. The answer is likely Brosseau, who saw time at first in 12 games, and can also spell Lowe at second base and Wendle at third if need be. Diaz will look to prove his 14 homers in 2019 weren’t an anomaly, and Lowe hopes to maintain the production over the last two years that saw him make an All-Star team in 2019 and finish in the Top 10 in league MVP voting in 2020.
The outfield makeup should be a fun one for the Rays in 2020, as you have the American League Championship Series MVP in Arozarena (who is still eligible for Rookie of the Year), a multiple-time Gold Glove winner in Kiermaier, and a former All Star who can carry a team when he’s on in Meadows. Add in a guy who had one of the best months of any Rays hitter last year in Margot (who hit .350 in August). The big question lies in the last spot in the outfield, between Game 4 hero and Bay Area-native Phillips, and Yoshi Tsutsugo, who Tampa Bay is paying $7 million this season. Phillips is out of options, and I don’t see the front office wanting to send their international free agent signing from 2020 to the minors. So something will have to be figured out before the season starts.
Right now, we know that Beeks and Poche will start the season on the 60-day IL, and that one more player will need to be placed on it so that the team can officially announce the signing of McHugh. That could be Chirinos, who is also coming back from Tommy John surgery, or Drake, who general manager Erik Neander said won’t be ready until mid-season from his own elbow procedure. One name you’ll likely not see in the IL to begin the season is Brent Honeywell, who received an additional option year, and if he does not make the team healthy out of camp, would start the year at the Triple-A.