The Tampa Bay Rays are ready for the games to begin. Sunday afternoon, the Rays open the exhibition season hosting the Atlanta Braves at Charlotte Sports Park.
It will be a different kind of spring training, as there will be no intra-squad games with other teams, and the Rays will play just four teams in their immediate geographic area: the Braves, Twins, Red Sox, Pirates, and Orioles.
With the regular season one month away, there are questions about these five players going into 2021.
Austin Meadows must return to his 2019 form when he hit close to .300 with 33 homers 89 RBI’s.
Meadows came down with COVID last summer as the Rays commenced their workouts for the shortened 2020 season. When Meadows did return, he was not the player that Rays fans saw in 2020.
Meadows finished 2020, hitting .205 with four homers and 13 runs batted in.
The good news is that Kevin Cash has said that Meadows came to camp in excellent shape and has been the most impressive player in camp so far.
Nick Anderson needs to put the post-season blues behind him.
Nick Anderson was as good of a relief pitcher as any in baseball during the regular season. Anderson had a 0.55 ERA in sixteen innings with three walks and 26 strikeouts, allowing five hits and one earned run in those 16 innings.
In the playoffs, the Nick Anderson of the regular season disappeared.
Anderson had a 5.52 ERA giving up nine earned runs and 16 hits in 14 innings of work.
Anderson said he was fatigued during the Rays playoff run, which contributed to his poor performance.
The Rays need Anderson to return to his 2020 regular season form to get the most of this bullpen.
In eight major league seasons, Archer has had two seasons with a winning record. In 2013, he went 9-7, and in 2014, he was 10-9. He is 60-80 overall in his career.
Archer missed the 2020 season recuperating from arm surgery. Archer says he is 100 percent healthy, feels great, and is excited to be back with Tampa Bay. “The familiarity, the comfort is amazing. There are some new players, some new faces on the player’s side, but the staff is pretty much the same.”
Archer will compete for a spot in the starting rotation. After trading Blake Snell and losing Charlie Morton to the Braves this off-season, the Rays need Archer to return to the form of 2013 and 2014 to maximize this pitching staff’s performance.
Tsutsugo’s first season with the Rays is one he would like to forget.
The 29-year-old lived in a new country, had to learn new teammates, new pitchers, and had to deal with the COVID pandemic on top of all that.
To say that Tsutsugo was frustrated would be an understatement. An All-Star in the Japanese League, the former All-Star hit .197 with eight homers and 24 RBI’s. Tsutsugo was just 2 for 16 in the post-season.
Everyone from Erik Neander to Kevin Cash expects Tsutsugo to rebound and have a bounce-back season.
“Speaking with reporters, Neander said, “We still believe as much now in the talent as when we signed him. We’re very optimistic that him coming back here, having those experiences underneath him, that we’re going to see a lot more production from him.”
Tsutsugo is preparing for a much better season in 2021. Speaking through an interpreter, Tsutsugo said, “I have a fresh mind, and I’m ready for the second season of my career here,”
And then there is Wander Franco.
Franco commented this week that he feels ready to play at the Major League level.
Speaking through an interpreter, Franco said, “I’m ready to play in the big leagues. I’m ready to achieve the goal that I’ve been trying to achieve since I was a little kid, to make it up to the big leagues.”
Franco, who is 20 years old, has never played above Class A. The Rays will have Franco start in the minor leagues barring an injury and look for an opportunity to bring him to Tampa later in the season.
The Rays are not known for rushing their prospects to the big leagues. Wily Adames will be the starting shortstop for the Rays to open the season, and he is a pretty decent shortstop.
Franco will accept whatever the Rays decide. “It’s not in my control. If they send me to Double-A, or wherever they send me, my job is to work. I’ve had plenty of opportunities in the past, and I’m just going to continue with every opportunity that I get.”