SPRING TRAINING: Pruitt makes Rays’ Opening Day roster, few spots left to decide

By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports

PORT CHARLOTTE — Dreams came true and hearts were shattered yesterday in the Tampa Bay Rays’ final day at Charlotte Sports Park on Thursday.

The clubhouse was trimmed to 27 healthy players still with hopes to make the 25-man Opening Day roster.

Another round of cuts and assurances were made prior to the game when Jaime Schultz and Chase Whitley were informed they won’t be playing for Tampa Bay to start the season, while Austin Pruitt was told he will.

“I’m definitely surprised,” Pruitt said. “This is something I came in wanting, but kept my hopes really low so I didn’t get crushed or anything. This is an absolute dream come true.”

Pruitt looked strong all spring, pitching to a 2.16 ERA in 16.2 innings with 18 strikeouts to just two walks. The 27-year-old right-hander will work out of the bullpen in a variety of roles.

“That was probably the best conversation all spring,” manager Kevin Cash said of Pruitt. “It’s been exciting to watch him, not knowing him and then having him come in and compete the way he has.”

Realistically, 21 of the 25 decisions have been made. With things coming down to the last day of spring, it can be a stressful time for player on the bubble.

It seems as if reliever Danny Farquhar isn’t in jeopardy of not making the team, he can empathize with those who are because he’s been there.

“I’ve been in all the situations where you’re not going to make the team or you are going to make the team,” reliever Danny Farquhar said. “At the end of the day, we’re all friends, so you’re going to hang out with your people and when the time comes and the decisions are made, it is what it is. They’re still your friends.”

Farquhar is no stranger to the high-stress of not knowing his fate so late in the spring. When he was with the Seattle Mariners he was the last player to be notified he wasn’t cracking the Opening Day squad.

“In 2013, it came down to me and Kameron Loe,” Farquhar recalled. “We were both non-roster guys and there was one bullpen spot left. I thought there was an outside chance.

“I was the last cut. I had never been on an Opening Day roster. I wasn’t disappointed because I was happy I had gotten myself to that point, but that was the one time I was a last cut.”

Here’s how the roster will break down with four decisions left to be made:

Even though there are 27 players fighting for a spot, there are actually 34 left in the room. It appears as if seven of those players will begin the season on the disabled list.

Both Kevin Gadea and Nathan Eovaldi already have been sent to the 60-day DL, with their shots of playing in 2017 being extremely limited.

We know Wilson Ramos won’t be ready to play until May or June, but the Rays will have to decide if he goes on the 60-day or 15-day DL. If they move him to 60-day, that would make much-needed room on the 40-man roster.

Colby Rasmus and Matt Duffy haven’t progressed with injuries the way the Rays had hoped this spring, and therefore will begin the season on the 15-day DL. They will be joined by relievers Shawn Tolleson and Brad Boxberger.

The easiest five guys to know were going to make the roster are the starting pitchers. Cash announced a couple weeks ago that Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Alex Cobb, Blake Snell and Matt Andriese would be the opening rotation.

Their battery mates will be Derek Norris and Jesus Sucre, the latter having survived a three-way competition with Luke Maile and Curt Casali.

The players starting (or platooning) in the field are another easy eight names. In the outfield, Steven Souza Jr., Kevin Kiermaier and Corey Dickerson all have spots on the roster.

In the infield, Evan Longoria will obviously be at third base, Tim Beckham will start at shortstop in Duffy’s absence, Brad Miller is the second baseman and Logan Morrison (lefty) and Rickie Weeks Jr. (righty) will be splitting time at first base.

Let’s move to the bullpen before finishing the fielders.

We know Alex Colome is the closer and Tommy Hunter has been informed he’s making the team. Erasmo Ramirez is a valuable utility pitcher and Xavier Cedeno is the only lefty in the bullpen. Although nothing is official with him the way it is with Pruitt, it would be shocking at this point is Farquhar isn’t there as well.

That’s 21 players you’re essentially guaranteed to see suited up on Sunday against the New York Yankees in Tropicana Field.

Six players remain: utility infielders Nick Franklin and Daniel Robertson, outfielders Mallex Smith and Peter Bourjos, and relievers Jumbo Diaz and Colby Rasmus.

“We’re talking every day after the games and every day after BP,” Cash said of the guys remaining for jobs. “They’ve shown a lot of good things. They’re all putting a really good foot forward. We have (a few games) left to see some good looks.”

Take Rasmus’ name out of the mix. He hasn’t pitched since Feb. 25 due to injury, and could likely be released by the end of camp.

Diaz hasn’t impressed much since joining the Rays a little over a week ago after being claimed off waivers. Unless they go out and get another reliever who is designated for assignment in the next two days, it looks like Diaz will be another bullpen guy.

As for the four position players, there’s only three spots left.

It doesn’t seem like the Rays would go out and get Bourjos so late in spring if he weren’t going to make the team. Smith has been the most exciting player to watch and could potentially be the starting left fielder with Dickerson serving as the designated hitter.

It all comes down to Robertson and Franklin for the final spot. That’s a decision that will likely stretch to Saturday morning during team workouts at Tropicana Field.

Franklin and Robertson serve similar roles and have had comparable springs, but Franklin has more major-league experience and is out of options, so by default it wouldn’t be a surprise if he got that final spot.

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