Spring Training Notes: Dickerson Debuts With A Dinger

With roughly a week of spring training in the books, perhaps no Rays player, or baseball player in general, made as loud of a debut this season as Corey Dickerson. The recently acquired left fielder hit a 569-foot home run (yes, you read that correctly) in his second at-bat of the spring.

“I kind of wanted to see some pitches that second at-bat,” Dickerson told the Tampa Tribune. “Luckily, I got a good pitch to hit and I tried to be short to the ball and it worked out.”

The Rays also made headlines in the national media when they signed former Rays and Bulls hero Dan Johnson to a minor league deal. But the slugging first baseman isn’t back to add another power bat to the lineup, he’s in minor league camp learning to become a knuckleball pitcher.

That might seem odd, but the Rays did hire former knuckleballer Charlie Haeger as the minor league pitching coordinator this past offseason. They also added knuckleball pitcher Eddie Gamboa on a minor league deal earlier in the offseason, so the move for Johnson isn’t completely out of left field.

Johnson told the Tampa Tribune he had minor league offers as a first baseman and DH, but waited them out because of the interest the Rays showed in having him as a knuckleball pitcher. He has thrown the knuckleball his entire life and threw bullpen a few times with the Yankees Triple-A affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2013.

Desmond Jennings has also come back strong, with three doubles in his first three games. Jennings has fought the injury bug for most of his major league career, but still has high expectations attached to his name as a former top prospect in the Rays system. This small sample has to give Rays fans a glimmer of hope that Jennings can harness that potential this season, and he will be one of the many Rays to keep eye on in Spring Training.

The Rays best outing thus far was Saturday, March 5, when they totaled 17 hits and 10 runs to beat the Orioles 10-6. Drew Smyly got the start on the hill and struck out three batters in two innings without allowing a baserunner. Brad Miller, Kevin Kiermaier and Curt Casali all had multi-hit games.

One position battle to keep an eye on is first base between Steve Pearce, Logan Morrison and James Loney. Morrison and Pearce have both played outfield, while Loney hasn’t played anything except first base and DH since 2007. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times writes that he expects Loney to be traded, and offers some ideas as to what the Rays lineup could look like on Opening Day.

Blake Snell gave up four hits, including a home run, and had three earned runs in a loss on March 2, but said he was happy with the outing. Snell has been working on his change up and let one go right down the middle to allow that home run, but said regaining his consistency and trust in the pitch is why he will continue to work on it in Spring Training.

The Rays have made 14 errors in Spring Training, the most in the MLB. Shortstop Brad Miller had his third error of the spring in Wednesday’s game, and is doing extra infield work to correct his throwing and fielding issues, he told the Tampa Tribune.

Notes: Outfielder Steven Souza his spring training debut on Wednesday, after an injury sidelined him for most of the first week of spring games. He went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, but got back in action after travelling with the team and not playing earlier in the week… Starting pitcher Matt Moore allowed a leadoff home run, but came back to retire six batters in a row in his spring debut… Former first round pick Taylor Guerrieri worked two innings on the mound and gave up an RBI single to Boston’s David Ortiz, but was otherwise unscathed in his outing… The Rays plan to work an infield of third baseman Evan Longoria, second baseman Logan Forsythe and shortstop Brad Miller to help Miller learn the Rays’ defensive shifts… Catcher Justin O’Conner was the first Rays player to be optioned to minor league camp from the big league camp. O’Conner is currently sitting out with a herniated disc.

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