Rays pick Austin Shenton, trade for Ben Rortvedt to complete roster

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays all but set their 26-man, opening-day roster on Wednesday, acquiring catcher Ben Rortvedt from the Yankees and giving the final bench spot to corner infield prospect Austin Shenton.

Rortvedt, 26, will be the backup to Rene Pinto, getting the role that up to the last few days seemed likely to be filled by Alex Jackson, who now heads to Triple-A Durham.

Excited for Ben, disappointed for Alex,” manager Kevin Cash said. “He had a good camp, kind of got the bat going here late. Our pitchers really enjoyed throwing to him. A guy that is going to start in Triple A, and we’ll see where it goes. Confident that we’ll see him at some point.”

Rortvedt has a reputation as a strong defensive catcher, has slightly more big-league experience (71 games and 52 starts from 2021-23 vs. Jackson’s 55 and 47 from 2019-22), and the advantage of hitting left-handed. He came up with the Twins, debuting in 2021, and was traded to the Yankees in March 2022.

The Rays got him in a three-way deal, sending outfield prospect Shane Sasaki to the Marlins.

“In theory, he kind of complements our catching situation and really our overall lineup being a lefty hitter,” Cash said. “Confident — he’s coming from a really good organization — that he’ll transition over here really well. And we’ll get him up to speed on the pitching staff quick.”

The Rays opted to give the final bench spot to Shenton, a 26-year-old lefty hitter they acquired from the Mariners (in the July 2021 trade of reliever Diego Castillo) rather than seek a more proven option.

Shenton understandably was excited and relieved to get the word after Tuesday’s game. “It was hard to sit around the hotel room staring up at the ceiling, just sweating laying down,” he said. “I was definitely nervous.”

Shenton called his parents, who live north of Seattle, so they and other family and friends could make quick plans to fly cross country for Thursday’s opener. “My mom started crying,” he said. “It was emotional. It’s been a long road.”

Shenton had a breakout 2023 season split between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham, hitting a combined .304 with 29 homers, 99 RBIs and a 1.007 OPS. His 45 doubles were the most by any minor-leaguer, and his 74 extra-base hits second-most.

“You look at his offensive numbers in the minor leagues, you could probably stack them up with any minor-league player in baseball,” Cash said.

The opening for Shenton, who had been optioned to the minors on March 11, was created when Jonathan Aranda, also a left-handed hitter whose best position is first base, broke his right ring finger.

In other roster news:

• Veteran right-hander Jake Odorizzi, who signed a minor-league deal on March 15, will stay in the organization for now. He is scheduled to make a second start for Durham on April 2, then talk again with Rays officials about his status in terms of a big-league job either with them or elsewhere.

• Switch-hitting infielder/outfielder Niko Goodrum is being acquired in a minor-league deal from the Twins after he triggered an assignment clause in his minor-league contract. He is headed to Durham and will be placed on the 40-man roster.

But that won’t become official until the Rays and Major League Baseball finalize an arrangement to move Wander Franco off the 40-man roster. Franco, who hasn’t played since allegations of an inappropriate relationship with a minor surfaced in mid-August, is expected to be placed on administrative leave (and get paid his $2 million salary) or the restricted list (and not be paid). Cash declined comment but said, “I’m sure there will be some news coming.’'

• Right-handers Naoyuki Uwasawa was traded to the Red Sox and Burch Smith to the Marlins for cash considerations after both triggered assignment clauses in their minor-league contracts. The Rays would have had to add them to the roster to keep them.

• Outfielder Jonny DeLuca and infielders Taylor Walls and Aranda were placed on the 10-day injured list retroactive to Monday. None are expected back until May.

Opening day timeline

1:10 p.m: Tropicana Field parking lots open

2:10 p.m.: Trop gates open (during Blue Jays batting practice)

3:43: Rays staff/reserves introductions

3:48: Blue Jays introductions

3:51: Rays starter introductions

3:53: 2023 AL Wild Card banner revealed

3:56: Color guard, St. Petersburg Police Department

3:58: Canadian and U.S. anthems, Ali Regan

4:02: Ceremonial first pitch, Larry Murphy, coach of Gibbs High state champion boys basketball team

4:08: Rays take the field

4:10: First pitch by Zach Eflin

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