ST. PETERSBURG -- A lot of eyes will be on the Tampa Bay Rays when pitchers and catcher report to spring training on Feb. 12.
The Rays are coming off back-to-back seasons with 90 or more wins as well as a postseason appearance in 2019. They're the envy of baseball with starting pitchers Charlie Morton, Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow. And the club added a pair of sluggers in Yoshitomo Tsutsugo and Hunter Renfroe during the offseason.
- Rays pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 12
- Rays full-squad reports on Feb. 17
- First spring training game at Red Sox on Feb. 22
Expectations are high, not only for Rays fans but among the players, too.
"To get that taste that we had last year, get to the playoffs, I felt like we should have gone farther," said Snell, who won the American League Cy Young in 2018, but went 6-8 with a 4.29 ERA last season.
"To come short of what we wanted to do, which was the World Series. It's kind of hard not to be motivated," he said.
The Rays capped off a 96-win season in 2019 by beating Oakland in the AL Wild Card game, but they lost to Houston in the final game of the AL Division Series.
"I'm not saying it's World Series or bust, but we have the capabilities of taking it all the way," said Glasnow, who went 6-1 with a 1.78 ERA last year. "In my mind, that's what I'm shooting for."
Rays pitcher Ryan Yarbrough is equally ambitious about the upcoming season.
"We know how much talent we have and what we've added this year," explained Yarbrough. "It's just a matter of everyone coming in healthy and having some fun and winning some ballgames."
The addition of Tsutsugo and Jose Martinez has created a logjam at first base. The pair are expected to compete for playing time at first along with Yandy Diaz, Nate Lowe and Ji-Man Choi.
In the outfield, Renfroe will replace Tommy Pham who was traded to San Diego. Both players were part of the five-player trade in December.
Rays manager Kevin Cash said he plans to use spring training to figure out potential lineups and defensive positioning.
"There's a lot to be learned," said Cash. "Obviously, we're going to talk to Yoshi a lot, get his comfort on where he is playing defensively. Checking on the health of Brandon (Lowe) and Yandy (Diaz), guys that were a little banged up last year that have done great this offseason."
Both Diaz and Brandon Lowe missed significant playing time during the regular season with leg injuries, but returned at the end of 2019.
"There are a lot of pieces and a lot of people who can move around the diamond," added Cash. "We will not be consistent with lineups and positioning. What will be consistent is being inconsistent."
Cash even joked about having a different lineup for every game and he wasn't far off last season with 152 in 162 games. He will start sorting out all of his options on Feb. 18 when the Rays take part in their first full-squad workout.
Another player to watch during spring training is relief pitcher Jose Alvarado. He battled injuries and family issues in 2019 and pitched just 30 innings with a 1-6 record and 4.80 ERA. If he doesn't close games for Tampa Bay in 2020, Cash could turn to Nick Anderson or Diego Castillo.
Eleven different pitchers picked up saves for the Rays in 2019, a season in which the Tampa Bay bullpen led the American League with a 3.65 ERA.
"Our bullpen is so disgusting and our starting staff is the same way," praised Snell. "If we all execute like we know we can and we hold each other accountable and we keep growing and getting better, it should be a scary group."
The Rays lost two big names from their front office in the offseason. Senior vice president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom went to the rival Boston Red Sox and executive James Click was hired by the Astros to be their general manager.
Despite these losses, hope springs eternal as Tampa Bay's boys of summer get ready to head to spring training in Port Charlotte.
"I think a lot of the people I've talked to are starting to chomp at the bit here ready to get going," said Cash. "I certainly am. I think my family is certainly ready for us to get going too, to get out of the house."