The “gangs all here” as all 64 players of the Tampa Bay Rays arrived on time and took the field Friday morning for their first full-squad workout at Charlotte Sports Park under the leadership of second year skipper Kevin Cash.
For the Rays, this marks their 19th spring training and eighth in Charlotte County where 33 pitchers, seven catchers, 14 infielders and 10 outfielders, plus the 23 non-roster invitees will compete for the chance to open the season on the 25-man Opening Day roster.
Prior to the workout, Cash gave his “introductory” speech to the team in regards to the upcoming season. He spoke of the importance of being good teammates and told them that they had the talent to win this season. “More or less, we know we’re not going out there to win anything today, but the intensity of having that mindset will benefit us once the game starts here, once games start in the season and carrying over and so on,” Cash said.
Following the meeting, the players took to the field where the Rays hitters took live batting practice off the pitchers. In most cases, the first couple of days of full squad workouts usually give the advantage to the pitchers since they’ve been in camp working since last week when pitchers and catchers reported on Feb. 21. However on this day, both pitchers and hitters were very aggressive.
Chris Archer, one of the team’s 12 pitchers scheduled to throw to the 30-plus hitters on the day faced Evan Longoria, Tim Beckham and Kevin Kiermaier. After getting Longoria out, Archer then went after Tim Beckham who highlighted the day with a shot over the fence. Archer told reporters afterwards that Beckham had “called the shot”. “I shot him a text this morning letting him know I was coming for him,” Beckham said.
Cash said it was the best first day of live BP that he’s witnessed, especially the aggressive approach by the hitters which looks as though it has carried over from last season. “You just don’t see a group of 30 hitters go out there and take an aggressive approach. They were not told to do that,” Cash said. “I think we left last year knowing we wanted to be aggressive. We had some good things at the end of the year offensively, but nobody mandated we’re going to do it this way. It was just initiative on those guys that they’re going to go out there and get something out of it instead of standing there and tracking.”
Despite many of the positional players working out this past week, Cash said the position players will ease into drills, just as the pitchers did, so fans that are attending the open practice won’t get to see the team practicing pickoffs or rundowns. “We’ve let the pitchers kind of develop a little bit. The infielders are the same thing,” Cash said. “We’re going to work into some things and then we’ll intensify.”
Signed as a free agent and primarily playing in the outfield and first base, Steve Pearce was honing his versatility during fielding practice as he was taking grounders at second and third base. Pearce made 13 starts (18 overall appearances) for the Orioles last season at second, the first time he had ever played the position. “We think he’s a good outfielder,” Cash said. “The nice thing about Pearcy is wherever you put him, he catches the ball. He makes the play.”
After Cash’s introductory speech, Chris Archer presented outfielder Kevin Kiermaier with a painting that the team commissioned of his Aug. 31, 2015 highlight-reel catch to rob Manny Machado of a home run in Baltimore to commemorate the center fielder’s Gold Glove season.
“He didn’t have to do that at all. It caught me by total surprise,” Kiermaier said. “It’s important that we recognize his hard work and his achievement,” said Archer. “We thought that it was important to congratulate him and present him with something he’ll always remember from that season.”