By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
FORT MYERS — Rickie Weeks Jr. and Tommy Hunter were informed over the weekend they’re officially members of the Rays’ Opening Day roster.
Both Hunter and Weeks were non-roster invitees signed to minor-league deals, and both performed well enough this spring to crack the roster.
Hunter and Weeks, who are now the 22nd and 23rd non-roster invitees to make the Opening Day roster in franchise history, both bring veteran leadership and proven stability to the team.
Weeks is entering his 13th MLB season, after spending 11 years with the Milwaukee Brewers and splittling the last two years between the Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks.
“You can’t take things like that for granted,” Weeks said. “It’s just one of those things where I’m happy and blessed to be in the position I’m in right now. The next step is to go out and win. We want to win games and bring a championship to Tampa.”
The question mark surrounding Weeks entering the spring was his ability to adapt to first base, a new position for him, but he quickly proved himself with his bat, glove and leadership abilities.
“The clubhouse presence has been off the charts, and the way he got acclimated so quickly to first base was huge,” manager Kevin Cash said. “I think he’s proven that he’s comfortable over there and he’ll continue to get even better as he gets more games under him.”
For Hunter, he’ll play a key role in the bullpen, where he has the ability to eat up multiple innings if needed. His role could even expand if the Rays were to trade reliever Erasmo Ramirez, whose name has sparked a few rumors this spring.
“With the injuries, we needed a guy and probably more than one, to fill some holes, step up, and I think Tommy has put himself in a position where we’re going to lean on him in multiple roles early on,” Cash said. “He had a good spring, but what really was going for him is that he’s competed in this division, he’s pitched in the back end of ball games in the AL East.”
This is the first time since Shelley Duncan and Jamey Wright in 2013 where multiple non-roster invitees have been on the Rays’ Opening Day roster.
It’s possible this isn’t the last of non-roster invitees being informed of good news. Catcher Jesus Sucre has a strong shot at being the backup catcher, and newly acquired outfielder Peter Bourjos (see notebook) also has an outside shot.
The Rays haven’t had three guys make the roster as invitees since Gary Glover, Carlos Pena and Al Reyes in 2007. They’ve never had four.