We're three weeks away from the start of the 2017 regular season, and in the days since the initial prediction of the 25-man roster, there have been some injuries and setbacks, but also a few surprises and even a new arrival. Here's the latest look at just who will be introduced on the first base line April 2 when Tampa Bay takes on the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field.
ARMS: The first four names in the starting pitching rotation have not changed, as Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, Jake Odorizzi and Blake Snell will all be in the rotation (and perhaps in that order) come April 2. I still think the front office and coaching staff would like to see Matt Andriese in that fifth spot, though he hasn't had the greatest spring. Fellow right-handers Erasmo Ramirez and Chase Whitley are likely the only obstacle in Andriese's way to the fifth spot. Erasmo missed a lot of camp early with a hamstring tweak on the first day, and has only made two appearances so far after Sunday's start. Whitley still has an option, so I see him startuing the year in Durham's rotation, and despite Erasmo being efficient and looking stronger than Andriese, I still have him as the odd man out.
Starting pitchers - Matt Andriese, Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, Jake Odorizzi, Blake Snell
The bullpen has found itself with a number of question marks since the start of camp. Reliever Shawn Tolleson, who saved 35 games with the Texas Rangers a couple of years ago, has seen his balky back re-emerge. Brad Boxberger has been hampered by a lat issue which has prevented him from appearing in a game, leading the team to claim the aptly-named Jumbo Diaz off waivers from the Cincinnati Reds. Kevin Gadea, their Rule 5 pickup, hasn't shown me that he can handle the pressures of going from low-A to the big leagues, and could likely be offered back to Seattle. That would make room for right-hander Tommy Hunter, who has not allowed an earned run this spring, and flame-throwing right-hander Jaime Schulz, who the coaching staff has repeatedly praised for his work and effort.
Relief Pitchers - Xavier Cedeno, Alex Colome, Jumbo Diaz, Danny Farquhar, Tommy Hunter, Erasmo Ramirez, Jaime Schulz
BATS: Let's start around the infield, where it appears that the corner infield decisions are in place. Evan Longoria will of course be at his normal spot at third base, and a platoon of Logan Morrison and Rickie Weeks Jr. appear to be solution this year at first base (though switch-hitting slugger and former first-round pick Casey Gillaspie has been making a lot of noise with his spring). The middle infield is where the question marks arise thanks to the surgically-repaired left heel of Matt Duffy, which has not responded as well as the training staff has hoped to baseball activities. With the prospect of Duffy not being ready for Opening Day growing by the day, the staff has basically three choices in front of them:
a) Move Brad Miller back to shortstop and go with a combination of Tim Beckham and Nick Franklin at second base
b) Have either Beckham or Franklin fill the void at shortstop and keep Miller at second base, which is where I believe manager Kevin Cash would like to keep him.
c) bite the bullet and start Daniel Robertson's service time clock, have Robertson play short and Miller play second base.
I'm sure there's a lot of Rays fans that would pick option C, and you know what? So would I.
Infielders - Tim Beckham, Nick Franklin, Evan Longoria, Brad Miller, Logan Morrison, Daniel Robertson, Rickie Weeks Jr.
The outfield is a little simpler, as the competition is less tense. Kevin Kiermaier is set to patrol center in his Gold Glove-fashion, especially after his spectacular catch Sunday, with Steven Souza joining him in right. Colby Rasmus, acquired in the off-season, still has not played in a spring game coming off season-ending hip surgery, and unless something miraculous occurs, I'm assuming he will start the year on the disabled list, allowing Mallex Smith to start the season with the big club, and Corey Dickerson rotating between time in left and DH.
Outfielders - Corey Dickerson, Kevin Kiermaier, Mallex Smith, Steven Souza Jr.
The battle behind the plate is the toughest among position players, as the catcher that has garnered a lot of the praise from the pitching staff and the coaches isn't on the 40-man roster: Jesus Sucre. The pitchers rave about how easy it is to throw to him. The coaches laud his defensive play, and he has even shown a little bit of pop in the bat. That being said, he has just one hit since hitting his second home run of the spring on March 1, so it's getting easier to just go with the other two catchers that are on the 40-man until Wilson Ramos is ready to return from his ACL surgery.
Catchers - Curt Casali, Luke Maile
INJURED: The way things look now, the Rays will end up having six players start the year on the disabled list, three pitchers and three position players. Nathan Eovaldi, who was placed on the 60-day disabled list on Friday when Diaz was claimed, is not expected to play at all this year as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, though the Rays are hoping he's a factor in some fashion for 2018. The team would love to have Ramos back to DH in late May, but I think an early to mid-June return seems more likely, and also gives the team an open 40-man roster spot to add Weeks. The other four players could only miss minimal time, though Tolleson's back issues could be more serious than the team is letting on.
10-day disabled list: RHP Brad Boxberger (lat), SS Matt Duffy (Achilles), OF Colby Rasmus (hip), RHP Shawn Tolleson (back)
60-day disabled list: RHP Nathan Eovaldi (elbow), C Wilson Ramos (knee)
Am I completely off-base? Let me know on Twitter who you have on your 40-man roster