Why the catch in Rays’ final roster decisions could be Amed Rosario

PORT CHARLOTTE —The Rays will consider myriad factors in determining their 26-man, opening-day roster, including detailed statistical breakdowns, advanced analytical projections, scouting reports and early-season opponent matchups.

But what could have the biggest impact is how well Amed Rosario can catch a fly ball.

That is presuming the Rays get through the next 3½ weeks healthy — which already is in (at least slight) question with rightfielder Josh Lowe sidelined by left hip inflammation — and don’t make any major transactions, such as trading outfielder/DH Harold Ramirez.

In that case, 12 of the 13 position player slots seem set.

The main group includes catchers Rene Pinto and Alex Jackson (or a more experienced upgrade); infielders Isaac Paredes, Jose Caballero, Brandon Lowe, Yandy Diaz and Rosario; and outfielders Randy Arozarena, Jose Siri, Josh Lowe and Ramirez.

Jonathan Aranda, a lefty-swinging infielder/DH, seems likely to have one of the bench spots. That would leave outfielder Jonny DeLuca, infielder Curtis Mead and outfielder/second baseman Richie Palacios competing for the other.

Each has his merits, and questions, as there is not necessarily an ideal fit.

Though Ramirez has lost 15 pounds and worked on his defense (including some time at centerfield) during winter ball, the Rays could use another defensively strong outfielder on the bench. That would seem to favor DeLuca, a speedy right-handed hitter (which pairs well with Aranda), or Palacios, a lefty.

But, at least until Taylor Walls is healthy in late April/early May, the Rays also need coverage in the infield. Which is where Rosario, a righty hitter signed last month for a bargain $1.5 million, can be so valuable.

The Rays know he can step in or back up at second and shortstop, where he has played regularly in the past. If he shows he can also handle the outfield — starting for Josh Lowe in rightfield against some lefties, ideally sliding over to center when Siri needs a day off — they have a better path to add Mead.

The 23-year-old Australian can play second, third and, in a pinch, shortstop; wields a potentially potent bat; and, like Aranda, has somewhat earned the opportunity. (Arozarena or Josh Lowe also could be used as the backup centerfielder.)

Early reviews on Rosario’s outfield work have been good. But if the Rays don’t feel he is up to it, Mead would appear to be collateral damage, as they would need to add DeLuca or Palacios. (Or they could create an extra spot by trading Ramirez.)

The pitching staff also seems mostly set, assuming health and that Taj Bradley and Ryan Pepiot grab the rotation spots behind Zach Eflin, Aaron Civale and Zack Littell, as expected.

Seven bullpen jobs seem set with lefties Garrett Cleavinger and Colin Poche; and right-handers Pete Fairbanks, Jason Adam, Phil Maton, Shawn Armstong and Chris Devenski.

Lefty Tyler Alexander, who has options, seems the favorite for the eighth spot. But Kevin Kelly, Jacob Waguespack and one or two others could emerge, as the Rays need some flexibility to shuttle in fresh arms at times.

Uniform assessment

The Rays have similar concerns and frustrations as other teams with the new jersey design and fit, as well as the durability and on-hand supply of the new pants, though it hasn’t been an overly loud topic in their clubhouse.

Brandon Lowe said he is willing to wait and see what adjustments will be made before opening day. “People can complain about it, people can be upset,” he said, “but it’s what we’ve got.”

Fairbanks sees it an as issue — stemming from Major League Baseball switching all teams to a Nike-designed, Fanatics-produced, supposedly higher-performance uniform — that could have been avoided.

“It seems like a very unnecessary switch in my opinion,” he said. “The difference in the logistics side of what they’re made of, what they look like, when we’re getting them, it seems like they messed with a good thing.”

One thing Fairbanks definitely didn’t like — showing his graphics-design knowledge — was homogenization of the font used for player names: “I didn’t think that everybody needed to have Helvetica.”

Rays rumblings

With Tyler Glasnow traded, Fairbanks takes over as the Rays’ union player rep. “It was either me or B-Lowe, and he said he just wanted to be the alternate (as both were before), so it became me,” Fairbanks said. “I’m excited to explore that and have a little bit more insight into the goings on on the player side of things.” … Denard Span’s three-year stint as a part-time special assistant in the Rays’ front office ended after last season, but the Tampa product and ex-Ray is planning to continue working as a pre- and postgame analyst for a limited number of games on Bally Sports Sun. He also will join the TV crew in Minnesota (where he also used to play), serving as an in-game analyst for about 20 Twins games. … The full Bally crew is expected back, with lead TV play-by-play man Dewayne Staats again taking off 20-25 games and Andy Freed moving over from radio to fill in. The complete Bally schedule, and info on a streaming season pass, will be out in late March. … Tuesday is the one-year anniversary of the passing of radio broadcaster Dave Wills, whose legacy lives on, including an April 14 induction into the team Hall of Fame. … Most, if not all, of the Rays players from the Dominican Republic and many others from Latin American countries are expected to be on the 30-man travel roster for the upcoming weekend exhibitions vs. the Red Sox in Santo Domingo. … Wander Franco, who remains away from the team while an investigation continues in the Dominican Republic into allegations of a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl, presumably won’t make an appearance at the stadium. ... Arozarena is taking English lessons several times a week during the spring. … Former Rays PR chief Rick Vaughn has written a second book: “Tampa Spring Training Tales: Major League Memories.” … If you’re really bored, or into stadium management, there is a live YouTube webcam of the Tropicana Field turf being replaced. ... Jim Bowden writes in The Athletic that the Rays, while missing Glasnow and Franco, will “be competitive and stay in the playoff race all year.”

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