Rays' clean slate bodes well as camp opens

Spring Training starts in Port Charlotte, Fla.

Rays' clean slate bodes well as camp opens

With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Rays squad each day this week. The final topic: Spring Training is here.

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- With pitchers and catchers reporting today and holding their first workout on Tuesday, the last thing the Rays want to do is look in the rearview mirror.

A year ago, the Rays entered Spring Training riding a wave of enthusiasm after a strong finish in 2015. But what could go wrong in '16 did go wrong, and the Rays ended the season with just 68 wins.

After a minor offseason facelift, the Rays are now ready to start with a clean slate, complete with a host of new players and renewed optimism.

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"It's exciting to see people have been really dedicated to their offseason strength program," Chris Archer recently said. "And I love baseball, so I'm excited to go out there and throw some baseballs again.

"I think just being healthy is going to be our key. ... Being healthy and our starting pitching doing its normal thing. Nothing more, nothing less."

In December, the Rays signed free-agent catcher Wilson Ramos, who should take over backstop duties in the second half once he's fully recovered from knee surgery. Ramos will be in the lineup before he's behind the plate, which will add to an improved offense.

Colby Rasmus brings another upgrade to the Rays' offense, and he'll boost the defense in left field, too.

The Rays will be flying under the radar in the American League East, and that's just the way they like it. What follows is a glance at Tampa Bay's Spring Training picture as camp opens.

Rays ready for Spring Training

Pitchers/catchers report: Sunday.

First full-squad workout: Friday.

First Spring Training game: Feb. 24 @ Twins, 7:05 p.m. ET.

New faces: OF Rasmus (one year, $5 million with $2 million in potential incentives), C Ramos (two years, $12.5 million), RHP Shawn Tolleson (one year, $1 million, $1.15 million in incentives).

Rays sign Wilson Ramos

All three came to the Rays via free agency. Texas released Tolleson after a lackluster 2016 season, but he had been successful during the '14 and '15 seasons. The Rays have done well in the past recycling relievers after down seasons.

Rasmus on preparation for 2017

They also brought on board high-ceiling right-hander Jose De Leon and speedy outfielder Mallex Smith. De Leon will likely start the season at Triple-A Durham given the Rays' track record for how they handle young pitchers. But he should be in the Majors shortly after the start of the season. Smith will give the Rays some outfield depth, along with a speedy option off the bench.

Rays Top 30 prospects

Interesting non-roster invitees: OF Rickie Weeks.

Among the external additions through non-roster invitations, Weeks tops the list. The veteran of 13 Major League seasons should make things interesting, particularly if the Rays are looking for the former second baseman to play his old position as well. Weeks might find his way onto the roster if there's an injury to one of the team's outfielders -- both Rasmus and Steven Souza Jr., are returning from offseason surgeries -- or if the many candidates for second base do not pan out.

Prospects to watch: RHP De Leon, OF Smith, IF Daniel Robertson.

De Leon came to the team when Logan Forsythe went to the Dodgers, and Smith arrived from Seattle in the Drew Smyly deal. Meanwhile, Robertson has impressed climbing the ladder in the Rays' farm system, and manager Kevin Cash has liked the infielder ever since he set eyes on him during the 2015 Spring Training. He could fit in as a backup for Longoria at third, a backup for Duffy at short, or he could start at second base.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.