Rays' Casali, Wilson form bond while fighting for job

Rays' Casali, Wilson form bond while fighting for job

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Most Spring Training competitions are settled by the front office long before they ever play out. After all, the body of a player's work is more of an important evaluation than play during the exhibition season.

However, there are times when candidates vying for a spot are definitely fighting for a job. The battle for the Rays' backup catcher position is one such competition that might take until April to decide.

Veteran Bobby Wilson, a newcomer to the Rays' organization, and Curt Casali, who played in 30 games for the team in 2014, are the contenders for the critical post.

Wilson, 31, has played in 193 Major League games in parts of six seasons. All but two of those games were played wearing an Angels uniform. A native of the Tampa Bay area, Wilson thought the situation was right to come home. So he signed a Minor League contract with the Rays that included an invite to Major League Spring Training.

"They said I'd have an opportunity to come in and compete for a job," Wilson said. "That's all I can ask for. Just an opportunity to show what I can do. I feel like I belong in the Major Leagues. Nothing is ever guaranteed.

"So for me, it's just another year of competing. Because even if you're there, there's always somebody coming up to take your spot. When you're in my situation you have to come in and take a spot and earn a spot. It keeps you motivated, that's for sure."

Wilson attended St. Petersburg's Seminole High School and he lives in the Largo-Indian Rocks Beach area of Tampa Bay.

"I've talked to the Rays the past couple of offseasons about getting over and the situation didn't kind of line up," Wilson said. "But this year it lined up, and the front-office people have been very up front and honest with me. I'm a grown-up, just tell me how it is. If that's how it is, that's how it is."

Standing in Wilson's way is Casali, 26, who came to the Rays in a March 2013 trade with the Tigers.

"I'm not sure how the whole thing is going to play out," Casali said. "I'm excited about competing against Bobby. We've already formed a friendship and a bond, which is kind of unique. He has a lot of Major League experience and I'm looking forward to learning something from him along the way. But at the same time, I think both of us know what's going on here."

Rays manager Kevin Cash noted that they "have a good sense for both of them" and he added: "We value them both a lot."

"It is going to be a competition," Cash said. "We like both of them, individually. And the pitchers enjoy throwing to them."

Pressed for the criteria to make the final call, Cash said "first and foremost how they handle the pitchers."

"We're going to value some feedback from the staff, coaching staff and pitching staff," Cash said. "But at the same time, they've been in here, it's a healthy competition. Right now it's too early to tell. We've got six more weeks out here for a lot of things to unfold."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.