Breaking News
More () »

What you need to know ahead of Rays' season opener

The Tampa Bay Rays will open up their new season on Thursday, March 30 against the Detroit Tigers at Tropicana Field.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — And just like that, the new MLB season is almost upon us as fans get ready to head back out to ballparks and cheer on their teams! 

The Tampa Bay Rays will open up their season on Thursday, March 30, against the Detroit Tigers at Tropicana Field after what has been a busy spring training season for the club. 

But as the new campaign nears, certain players are hitting their stride already in the preseason, while head coach Kevin Cash might still have to figure out which players to start in key positions amid injuries and form.

Here are three things to know ahead of the Rays' season opener.


Coming in hot 🔥

Outfielder Randy Arozarena and infielder Isaac Paredes are entering the new season fresh off a string of impressive displays for Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic.

Although Mexico was eliminated in the semifinals of the tournament, their plays and skills -- especially from Arozarena -- did not go unnoticed. 

In the tournament, Arozarena hit .450 with six doubles, one home run and nine RBIs, while Paredes' most significant moment was a run-scoring single to build a 5-3 lead against eventual-winners Japan. 

Both players are guaranteed starters for the Rays, and if Tampa Bay wants to make the playoffs and have a deep run, the duo will need to continue playing at top form.

For Arozarena, he will look to once again dazzle with his bat, glove and style -- and also wear a sombrero and cowboy boots or sign autographs for fans during a pitching change.

Can the Rays stay healthy? ⛑

Tampa Bay has made the postseason four straight years, and the Rays did it last season despite injuries to shortstop Wander Franco (limited to 83 games) and second baseman Brandon Lowe (65 games). Right-hander Tyler Glasnow missed almost the whole season -- and is also going to face time on the sidelines entering the new season with an injury -- while Shane McClanahan finished sixth in the Cy Young vote despite his shoulder problems. 

Furthermore, outfielder Kevin Kiermaier and catcher Mike Zunino are gone from last season's team, but at this point, the Rays have earned the benefit of the doubt that they can withstand losses like that and still win. 

McClanahan has already assured himself as the Rays' starting pitcher, whereas Glasnow will not be available until maybe the second week of April. The worst-case scenario for this team would be for McClanahan to suffer an early injury this year, but with the addition of pitcher Zach Eflin, who signed a $40 million, three-year deal in free agency, expectations remain high for 2023. 

If healthy, the five-man rotation of McClanahan, Glasnow, Eflin, Drew Rasmussen and Jeffrey Spring that Cash envisions, the Rays will have the potential to be among the best in the AL. 

And while the club failed to add any big bats this offseason, the Rays are confident they’ll be better offensively if players such as Franco and Lowe rebound from subpar seasons at the plate that were impacted by injuries. 

The first base starter ⚾

The first base position remains the biggest question mark for Tampa Bay.

The Rays traded first baseman Ji-man Choi to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the offseason. The team, however, still has a few players that can come in and try to adapt as first baseman, but that may also present some flaws, especially if Cash would like a left-handed starter in that position. 

Jonathan Aranda should check all the boxes that Cash may be looking for — left-handed and has a good vision at the plate. After also returning from Team Mexico's journey in the WBC, he can prove to start in that position with a few games still left to go in spring training.

Injuries aside, Lowe is also a contender. When fit, he can bring good attributes to the tables but still has trouble dealing with lefties and could potentially get exposed defensively due to the new rules regarding defensive shifts. The same goes for Franco, who has yet to show strong displays on a consistent basis, but he can be considered a solid defender at shortstop. If he can translate that form to first base, he may be considered for that position. 

Cash will look at Yandy Diaz and Paredes to start at first base, but their defensive struggles will most likely rule them out for the nod, while Taylor Walls and Vidal Brujan will remain in backup roles.

Other things to know

With a more balanced schedule this year, AL East teams will face each other 13 times apiece instead of 19. If they perform well outside of the division, multiple wild cards could again come from this group of five.

New signings: Eflin, Pitcher Trevor Kelley. 

Key departures: Kiermaier, LHP Brooks Raley, Choi, Zunino, OF Brett Phillips, RHP Corey Kluber, LHP Ryan Yarbrough. 

To view the Rays' full schedule this season, click here.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Before You Leave, Check This Out