Hey, Siri: How good can Rays’ new outfielder be?

·5 min read

NEW YORK — After watching Jose Siri for just over two weeks since acquiring him from the Astros, the Rays aren’t yet sure what they’ve got.

They’ve seen glimpses of the tantalizing tools that make him such an alluring talent.

The way he covers ground in the outfield, with remarkable closing bursts, and unleashes throws. The all-or-nothing swing that sends balls flying or piles up strikeouts, but also the ability to make contact. The speed and derring-do on the bases that can change games. The enthusiasm and flamboyancy that, depending on the context, can be motivating to teammates or annoying to opponents.

Siri, 27, is eager to show everything he can do.

And — having spent nine years in the minors with four different organizations before reaching the majors last September with the Astros — this is the time and place to do it, as the Rays plan to give him the runway to play just about every day.

“It’s going to be a great opportunity,” Siri said via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “I think I play a pretty big game, play very aggressive. And I’m very thankful that I’m here, and I’m ready for it.”

Siri’s athleticism and enthusiasm are already quite obvious.

“He’s something special,” said Rays (and current Triple-A) reliever Ralph Garza Jr., a former teammate in the Astros organization. “And he plays with fire.”

Siri also brings some accessories that are attention-getting.

A gold chain and tattoos with the emoji-style “100″ (for how hard he plays). His “El Rayo” nickname (translated loosely to be “the lightning bolt”). A playful embrace of the Apple Inc. assistance feature of the same name (including a custom shirt with the popular phrase, “Hey Siri,” and a lightning bolt).

So are his reactions on the field — pounding his chest, gesturing to teammates, flipping his bat, sharing his successes.

“Oh, yeah, you’re going to see lots of energy,” said reliever Brooks Raley, who played with Siri in September in Houston, where he hit .304 with four homers and a .956 OPS in a 21-game cameo. “There will be plenty of photos to be taken and Twitter (posts) to be enjoyed on that. He’s going to bring a lot of energy here. And I’m excited about that.

“Hopefully, it all gets going for him, because we do need a spark. And I think that guy is going to be a big part of that.”

The Rays are hoping Siri provides the answer.

In his first eight games after the Aug. 1 trade from Houston, he went 3-for-24 (.125) with 15 strikeouts. In the next four, through Monday, he was 6-for-14 (.429) with four strikeouts. That included his impressive performance Saturday, when he had three singles (showing he doesn’t always swing for the fences) and created a run by stealing second and third back-to-back before scoring on a sacrifice fly.

“He had a great game,” manager Kevin Cash said. “We know that he’s a talented player, very athletic and can do some special things defensively and on the bases. But really happy with the three hits.”

That’s because how Siri does at the plate ultimately will determine his role with the Rays — and in the majors.

His performance over 81 big-league games has been spotty: a .215 average, 35.6 percent strikeout rate and .632 OPS. But the potential of what he did in September is enticing.

As is his minor-league history, including a 2017 season with the Reds’ Class A team (where he hit 24 homers, batting .293 and had a Midwest League record 39-game hitting streak) and 2021 with Houston’s Triple-A squad (.318 with 16 homers and a .921 OPS in 94 games).

Cash, not one for hyperbole, has mentioned Siri’s defensive skills in the same sentence as three-time Gold Glove winner and likely soon-to-be free agent Kevin Kiermaier.

But can Siri hit as much as Kiermaier, who has a .248 career average and .715 OPS? Or is he more like catcher Mike Zunino, with a .200 average and .681 OPS, hitting homers 4.9 percent of his plate appearances and striking out 34.7?

Rays hitting coach Chad Mottola’s first three words when asked about Siri — “light-tower power” — speak to his ability to launch balls a long way. Otherwise, he is still learning about his new pupil.

“Do we search for the power? Do we search for the contact? Do we search for a little bit of both?” Mottola said. “So, getting to know the individual is part of what we do, and we’re still in that stage right now. It’s always tough in a trade right in the middle of the race. But you have to let these things play out. You have to learn his vocabulary, you have to learn his thoughts. We’re still at that point, because he’s still at that point.

“Had that great season last year, kind of searching for that right away, and that’s unfair. So we’re taking our time with him. This is a long-term project. I know we want results right now, but I’m taking a long view.”

Mottola has seen enough to discount any concerns about Siri’s attitude that preceded his arrival.

“I think the game’s humbled him a little bit,” Mottola said. “Some of the reputation we heard about, we’ve not seen at all.

“Now, we’re giving him a pretty good opportunity. So he recognizes that, so he wants to improve and realizes he needs to improve. So we haven’t seen any part of the attitude or anything. We’ve seen a guy that wants to learn.”

And if Siri does get everything together?

“Just put it on track and focus it in the right areas,” Garza said, “and he’s going to be special for this organization.”

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