By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — The Tampa Bay Rays have no plans on repeating their 68-win season from 2016, manager Kevin Cash made clear on Monday.
Optimism filled a press conference with Cash, vice president of operations Chaim Bloom and VP / general manager Erik Neander held at Charlotte Sports Park.
Following a busy winter of off-season moves for the Rays’ front office, Cash doesn’t just see improvements in the team’s future, he sees the playoffs.
“We expect to be playing games in October,” Cash said. “We’re confident with what we’ve done this offseason. We’re confident with the core guys we had finishing the year. You look at what our strengths, a lot of people would’ve agreed starting pitching was our strength coming into last year, we still feel the same way.”
This will be the Rays’ ninth season training in Charlotte County. Pitchers and catchers have their first workout this morning with the first full-squad workout on Sunday.
It’s been three and a half months since fans have last seen the Rays take the field, but there are plenty of new names and faces they won’t recognize just yet. Over the offseason, 14 players have been added to the 40-man roster, six of wom came from outside the Rays’ organization.
The Rays expect 59 players to report to camp for Sunday’s full-squad activities, but throughout the week, 32 pitchers and catchers will begin their spring duties.
“We’ve increased the level of depth and level of competition,” Neander said. “We felt we added depth. We felt like we added some youth. It’s quality depth. It’s guys we feel really good about and are going to give Kevin a lot of options throughout camp.”
The most notable of new names this week are catcher Wilson Ramos, reliever Shawn Tolleson and prospect Jose De Leon.
De Leon, along with pitchers Chris Archer, Jose Alvarado and Alex Colome will compete for their respective home countries in this year’s World Baseball Classic, which begins in the second week of March.
Cash didn’t have any added concern about the health of any of his pitchers during the tournament.
“We’re always going to be concerned about our players whether they’re getting ready for opening day against the Yankees or they’re getting ready to go to the WBC,” Cash said. “We’d love to have our eyes and hands on them at all times, but it’s an honor for these guys to get to go represent their countries.”
A majority of the Rays pitchers have already trickled in over the previous week prior to this morning. Workouts are scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m.