By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — Rickie Weeks has never played first base in a regular season Major League Baseball game.
That might very well change this year, as the 13-year veteran recently signed a minor-league deal with the Tampa Bay Rays and reported to camp Friday morning as a non-roster invitee.
Weeks provides some added pop from the right side of the plate for the Rays, and even though he has spent a majority of his career playing second base before adding the outfield to his repertoire over the last two seasons, the 34-year-old is on board for trying the new position.
“I just came in and that was part of the deal. They wanted me to come in, and compete to play first base and DH,” Weeks said. “It’s just playing baseball. Obviously, when you come to spring, you’re trying to get your feet up under you and get in baseball shape.”
According to Weeks, the only time he’s ever played first base in an actual game was once in 2015 during spring training with the Seattle Mariners.
Weeks spent Friday morning – the first mandatory day for position players to have reported to camp – taking drills at first base with teammate Logan Morrison.
Manager Kevin Cash seemed happy to have that addition in the clubhouse.
“He was an all-star second baseman, but he’s evolved into more of a thumper now,” Cash said. “Talking to him, and then hearing other guys who know him, they just raved about him. Many guys have talked about the kind of leader he is.”
Weeks knows he will looked to as one of the leaders on the team. He’s one of the few players at camp who are above the age of 30 – he’s 34 – and who also has significant experience.
Even though he can embrace the leadership role, that doesn’t change the way he approaches anything.
“The biggest thing to do is to just come in and work hard,” Weeks said. “When I came up, you just sat in your locker and watched the veterans, so from that standpoint, if you’re watching somebody working hard and going about their business the right way, that’s what they want to do.”
Weeks says it was players like Mike Cameron and Geoff Jenkins who played strong leadership roles when he was a younger player.
Weeks’ best season came in 2010 when he was with the Milwaukee Brewers. As a second baseman, he hit .269 with 29 home runs and 83 RBI.
PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays announced early morning a minor-league deal was close to being reached with right-hander Tommy Hunter. Before the deal was finalized, Hunter had already reported to camp.
“It’s an opportunity to play baseball, and that’s all you can really ask for as a baseball player,” Hunter said. “I’m just looking forward to it, meeting some new faces and meeting some new guys.”
Hunter spent parts of nine seasons with four different ball clubs, most recently with the Baltimore Orioles, where he spent the second half of the season.
“I’ve known Tommy for a long time,” manager Kevin Cash said. “We were teammates in 2011 at (Rangers Triple-A affiliate) Round Rock. At the time, he was kind of battling as a starter. … He brings a lot of energy to the clubhouse.”
Hunter told a story about his back injury from last year when he was with the Cleveland Indians, which left him with a fracture in his back. The 30-year-old was carrying his 13-month-old son down the steps when he slipped and fell down all 17 steps.
Though his son was fine, the fall made Hunter lose conscientiousness, as he came to with his dog licking him.
According to Hunter, he ended the year in 2016 feeling fully healthy.
DE LEON IS … BACK
Rays pitching prospect Jose De Leon (back) threw his first bullpen session of the spring Friday morning. According to De Leon, he was sick last weekend and all of the sneezing he was doing left him with a slight achy back.
Rickie Weeks and Evan Longoria were the final two Rays to report to camp Friday morning. That brings the Rays final total – with the addition of Hunter – to 35 pitchers, seven catchers, 13 infielders and 10 outfielders at camp.
“He looked good. Just like he did two weeks ago,” Cash said. “To me, he looks like a starting pitcher. He (has) big, strong legs and that loose upper body. ”
DAY TO DAY
Reliever Erasmo Ramirez (hamstring) still hasn’t thrown a bullpen session, but Cash doesn’t seem even remotely concerned. After pitching 90.2 innings in 64 games last season, Cash says Ramirez can take his time.
WHAT’S ON SECOND
Brad Miller, that’s who. After coming up as a shortstop, and playing first base for the Rays toward the end of last season, Miller will be a second baseman in 2017 for Tampa Bay. He is taking a majority of his reps there, and by all indication has accepted the position move better than he did when he was changed to first base.