Casali was optioned to minor-league camp Wednesday, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports. With both Casali and Luke Maile optioned and Mike McKenry reassigned Wednesday, non-roster invitee Jesus Sucre is now locked in as the backup to Derek Norris to begin the season. Casali went 6-for-31 (.186 average) during spring training after batting .186/.273/.336 over 256 plate appearances last season.
Casali went 2-for-3 with a two-run home run and two runs overall in Tuesday's 19-0 Grapefruit League victory over the Twins. The Rays' backstop opened what would be a 19-run barrage by blasting a two-run homer to left with Rickie Weeks, Jr. aboard in the first. Casali is battling Luke Maile and non-roster invitee Jesus Sucre for a backup catcher spot, and given that prize offseason signing Wilson Ramos isn't expected back from knee surgery until at least May and may be limited to designated hitter duties for some time thereafter, he would appear to have a solid chance of securing a spot on the Opening Day roster. The 28-year-old's unsightly .186/.273/.336 line last season belied some solid pop in his bat, as Casali collected 18 extra-base hits, including 10 round-trippers, over 256 plate appearances.
Casali is expected to platoon with Luke Maile at catcher until the newly acquired Wilson Ramos (knee) is healthy. Despite slashing .186/.273/.336 over 256 plate appearances last season at the big league level, Casali displayed a knack for making it count when he did make contact, rapping out 18 extra-base hits (10 homers) and tallying 25 RBI. His bloated 32 percent strikeout rate certainly needs improvement, but Casali's solid work behind the plate and occasional pop is likely to keep him involved even after Ramos is healthy enough to play, which is likely to be in late May or early June. In the interim, he figures to platoon with Luke Maile to begin the 2017 campaign.
Casali went 2-for-3 with an RBI single, a run-scoring double and two walks in Sunday's season-ending 6-4 victory over the Rangers. The backstop, filling the DH role Sunday, opened the scoring with a single that plated Richie Shaffer in the second and then closed things out with an insurance run in the 10th off a two-bagger that drove home Alexei Ramirez. After a mostly miserable campaign at the plate in terms of batting average, Casali closed out 2016 by hitting safely in six of his last eight games, with four multi-hit efforts, three doubles and five RBI over that span.
Casali homered, in a 2-for-4 game with two runs scored Tuesday against the White Sox. Casali has an atrocious .175/.257/.327 batting line but has shown real power this season. He has eight home runs in 81 games after mashing 10 homers in just 38 games last season for the Rays. He strikes out too much to ever hit for average, but a catcher with his pop is likely to find work for quite a while.