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Rays’ off-season begins with coaching changes

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The good news is the Rays improved on last year’s on-field performance by 12 games in 2017. The bad news is they still finished at 80-82 and miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.

Despite the improvement, the team made some significant changes this week on the major league coaching staff. With some coaches who spent more than a decade with the team now gone, Manager Kevin Cash has who he wants around him.

Kevin Hickey was let go as pitching coach. He was replaced despite 11 years in that role, where his pitchers had the most shutouts (127), ranked second with a .395 ERA, second in strikeouts (13,988) and held opponents to a .247 batting average.

The new pitching coach is Kyle Snyder, who has most recently served at the pitching coach for the Class AAA Durham Bulls. Cash has known Snyder for many years.

“I think that Kyle Snyder has had a really big impact on a lot of our young pitchers,” Cash said on a conference call. “We have an opportunity going forward with a core group of young pitchers.”

Tom Foley, who was most recently Cash’s bench coach, will assume a yet-to-be-determined role within the organization. After three years on the bench and 13 years as third base coach, Foley was agreeable to the change.

“They were looking to make a change and I wanted to make a change and pretty much contemplated a lot of things this year as the year was going on,” Foley told the Tampa Bay Times. “It’s worked out great for both sides, I think. And I’ll start a new chapter in the Rays’ organization again.”

Like Foley did three years before, Charlie Montoyo moves from the third base coaching box to sitting beside Cash as the Rays’ new bench coach.

Cash stressed a need for anticipating situations during a game, saying he “felt that Charlie was really, really good at seeing things before they happened. And providing that heads-up during the game will be very beneficial going forward.”

Coach Jamie Nelson will remain with the organization, but not on the coach staff. The Rays’ other coaches remain in place.

With the coaching staff now set, the player evaluations will begin in earnest. Will there be a commitment to youth, or will Cash, general manager Erik Neander, and principal owner Stuart Sternberg seek some inexpensive help to try and reach the post season?

They finished five games out of the second wild card spot behind Minnesota. When considering the Twins improved by a staggering 26 games between 2016 and this year, it might not take much to get over the hump.

“Right now, no answers,” said Neander at a press briefing the day after the season ended. Some of those answers could come by the end of the month when club executives gather at the World Series.

Other pieces will fall into place during and shortly after the Baseball Winter Meetings at Walt Disney World from December 11-15.

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Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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