Batting practice for the Rays Wednesday morning is loud, goofy and full of boyish, unfamiliar faces eager for the game to begin. This isn’t an unusual occurrence for a team used to starting over in the spring.
The departure of veteran third-baseman Evan Longoria, designated hitter Corey Dickerson and outfielder Steven Souza rocked the Rays fan base this offseason and left holes in the team’s leadership, but not ones that will stay empty.
A key fixture in the Rays’ leadership in 2018 will be Kevin Kevin Kiermaier. The center fielder holds just five seasons under his belt, but is one of the clubhouse staples.
“It’s wild to think about because it feels like yesterday was my rookie year,” Kiermaier said. “Now for me to be considered a veteran and one of the older guys around here is wild for me, because on any other team I’d be a younger guy.”
Kiermaier hopes to serve as a voice for the team and set an example with his approach to the game. The center fielder also expects the less experienced players to define the tone for the season, he said. Namely, Carlos Gomez.
The outfielder has spent ten years in the MLB, but made his debut for the Rays against the Orioles Wednesday. Gomex has already impressed the club with his ability to acclimate and bond with the team, said manager Kevin Cash.
“I’m excited to see Gomez out there,” Cash said.
The Rays will also look to younger faces like Mallex Smith to define the team’s energy and come out of the season strong, Cash said. The outfielder is known for his penchant for creating chaos on the field, coined ‘the Mallex effect’.
Smith too is looking forward to seeing Gomez stand out on the field and in the locker room.
“He’s one of the more exciting players of the game,” Smith said. “He plays with a lot of energy, a lot of fire.”
A fresh attitude in the clubhouse is essential for the Rays to build camaraderie, he said. Smith has full faith in the team’s ability to stand out this season.
“Because there’s so many new faces everyone’s still trying to get to know one another and develop chemistry with one another,” Smith said.
A different approach will help the team stand out in their tough division, he said. One that the Rays hope will be enough to push past their 80-82 2017 season.
“People count us out from the jump and that’s cool, but as long as we believe in one another and just believe in ourselves anything can happen,” Smith said.