SPRING TRAINING: Minor league Rays pick the brains of their temporary teammates

By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports

FORT MYERS — A team’s road-game roster during Spring Training is filled with mostly players who won’t be in the Major Leagues in 2017.

Unless they’re starting, a major-league bound player isn’t going to sit on the bench for three-plus hours when they can spend a nice, relaxing afternoon at home.

So to fill out a roster, since starters will typically only play half the game, players are borrowed from minor league camp for the day.

This gives young players a sneak peak at their dream coming true.

“At first you come in and don’t know what to expect, or where to go,” Jace Conrad said. “You don’t even know where the lunch room is. But once you get going, you figure it out all the ropes and follow their lead.”

Saturday’s Rays roster against the Red Sox was filled with plenty of Charlotte Stone Crabs from last season. Along with Conrad, Alex Sole, Joe McCarthy, Mac James and Cade Gotta all spent significant time playing in Port Charlotte last year.

The fact that there are so many familiar faces in an unfamiliar setting eases the mind of these young prospects.

“When you come to these games by yourself, it’s hard,” Sole said. “When you have your friends around you, you kind of act like yourself. It’s a lot easier to play the way you play.”

These players admire their temporary teammates, and hope to be in their shoes one day. But they have to toe the line between wanting to learn and not overstepping their bounds.

Sole, Conrad and McCarthy all take different approaches when it comes to that.

“There’s a fine balance,” Sole said. “You pick your moments because you don’t want to get in the way, but when you get the chance, you try to learn what you can from them.”

Saturday was Sole’s second game with the Rays. He went 1-for-2 with a single last time out. He added an RBI single to his stat line in one at-bat Saturday.

For McCarthy, after overcoming some early nerves, he’s more comfortable watching and observing when it comes to preparing to be a big leaguer.

“The first couple of games it was kind of nerve-racking, being in the big-league clubhouse and being around these guys,” McCarthy said. “This is my seventh or eighth game and things have kind of slowed down for me. I feel calm and just go up there and try to do what I’m doing.

“It’s cool to be in there and see how they go about their business on and off the field. It’s something I’ve paid close attention to.”

McCarthy was 3 for 11 in six games entering Saturday. He crushed a home run earlier in spring and had three RBI.

Of all three players, Conrad is the one most likely to seek advice from the older players.

“I like to pick their brains,” Conrad said. “If I get a chance to, I’ll sit there during the game and ask them about their approach at the plate and what they like to think about up there. I don’t think they mind it. They expect those questions from the younger guys. It’s just good to get to learn from those guys.”

When he was with the Stone Crabs, Conrad also was one to take advantage of all the injured Rays who came down to Port Charlotte for rehab. He says Matt Duffy had the biggest impact on him last season.

“There were a couple of games I wasn’t playing and between innings he wasn’t hitting so I’d sit there and talk to him about baseball,” Conrad said of Duffy. “Not even specifically about the mechanics of things he does, but the mindset. He’s a really smart guy, so I learned a lot from him.”

Conrad was still searching for his first hit of the spring entering Saturday’s game, recording an out in each of his first six at-bats. He got that hit with a pinch-hit single in the ninth.

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