Five Battles to Watch for in Spring Training

As Spring Training approaches (not fast enough, despite my Indianapolis Colts’ moving the Bowl of all Bowls), there are several areas on the Tampa Bay Rays that are in need of shoring up.  These five areas certainly “ray-se” concerns among fans, and failure for Andrew Friedman and company to address them may result in a long summer for the Boys in Blue.  

Here are the five key areas of consternation heading into these few weeks before pitchers and catchers report:

DH

Rays fans loved Pat Burrell in 2009.

He did an amazing job of keeping those in attendance at the Trop cool every night as the human oscillating fan. Hearing Dwayne Staats announce, “Swing and a miss,” with regards to Burrell never got old. Wait…it did.

No folks, “The Bat” was far from a fan fave-the typical fate of so many .221, 14 hr, 64 RBI guys making 9 million dollars. As of this moment Burrell is still a Ray-not for lack of trying, though. While the much maligned Milton Bradley’s name was bandied about as a possible replacement at DH, nothing happened. Tough to know whether that was for the best or not.

The question remains, though: Who will fill the DH role in 2010? There is no clear cut answer. It seems unlikely that Tampa Bay will look to free agency to find a Burrell replacement. The addition of closer Rafael Soriano and the resigning of Kelly Shoppach pretty much ate up the petty cash lying around Stuart Sternberg’s office. Promoting from within might occur, with Willy Aybar itching for a chance to play every day. A Burrell trade could happen too, but the price tag for the 33-year-old veteran might be a little high for most teams.

Perhaps Rays fans should prepare for another breezy summer inside the Trop.

 

2B

This position was occupied by several people in 2009.  Akinori Iwamura was certainly one of the Rays’ most beloved second basemen of all time (sorry, Brent Abernathy).  However, he is now gone, doomed to the Sarlaac Pitt.  Other second basemen of 2009 include Reid Brignac, Joe Dillon, Willy Aybar (what an experiment in futility that was) and the great Ben Zobrist.

While Zobrist may very well become the Rays everyday 2B in 2010, there could be a problem should Zorilla be moved to right field instead. Brignac probably will not be the every day answer-though it would be neat to see him break camp as the starter so we can see what he can do with consistent at bats-so the Rays might just consider the recently acquired Sean Rodriguez.

Side Note: I know that every team wishes they had a player with the last name “Rodriguez” simply so they can take that player’s first initial and add it to “Rod,” ala “A-Rod.”  But, seriously, Rays fans, let’s please avoid calling him S-rod, ok?

Rodriguez has some serious pop (easily 20 hr power) and shouldn’t be a defensive liability should he take over the 2B position.  I am sure that the Rays see him as a long term answer at that spot in the infield, but it will remain to be seen if Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon will give the youngster the green light coming out of Spring Training.  If he can win the job when the team breaks from Port Charlotte, many things would be cleared up as Zorilla’s move to right would be set.

 

RF

Should S-Rod (oops!) take the 2B competition, the question of who will be the next right fielder becomes simple arithmatic.

Zobrist’s bat and strong arm at the corner outfield position would be a perfect fit.  He would seemingly complete one of the better outfields in the majors and finally settle the revolving door that the Rays have had at that position for years. 

However, if Zobrist were forced to man the 2B position because Rodriguez was not ready for the majors and Reid Brignac was, well, the same ol’ Reid Brignac-a move that Maddon may not frown upon as much as may be thought-then the Rays could potentially be in trouble in right.

In the offseason they unloaded one of the Gabes (both Kapler and Gross were really one entity in 2009, but the Kap has stuck around for about a million in 2010) which means more playing time for Kap-should he earn it.  But his struggles with righties means that the Rays will have only 1/2 of a right fielder-not ideal.

Right fielders in waiting (for how long is to be determined) might be Matt Joyce, Justin Ruggiano, Fernando Perez, and Desmond Jennings, but it is difficult to determine whether or not any are ready to be with the big club.  Jennings, Ruggiano, and Perez may be better suited for CF, which limits thier contributions to RF to a simple “fill in” status from time to time. 

Joyce was a big part of last year’s Edwin Jackson trade, a trade that Maddon has consistently said may work in the Rays favor despite Jackson’s double digit wins and All-Star appearance in 2009 and Joyce’s almost season-long stint at Durham.  Will this be the year that Joyce shows his own All-Star potential and takes the right field spot by force? 

If Rodriguez could take over 2B and Joyce was the every day RF (or at least could platoon with Kapler) then that might give Maddon the option of using Zobrist as that super-sub again-something that certainly worked in the past.  Perfect scenario?  Maybe, maybe not.  It would seem that Zobrist would prefer to have his position staked out beforehand so he could maintain his focus throughout the long season. 

This might be the most contentious position battle as we near spring training.  However, the emergence of either Joyce or Rodriguez will clear everything up quickly.

 

5th starter

The Rays seem to have gotten their money’s worth (we hope) in the Scott Kazmir deal.  Adding the highly touted Sean Rodriguez and the potential of lefty Alex Torres and infielder Matt Sweeney (the biggest Sweeney) has put the Rays in a great position for the future.

However, after moving Mitch Talbot to Cleveland in the Kelly Shoppach trade (he was the player to be named later) the Rays find themselves potentially a little thin in big league ready starters.

Sure, the rotation looks fine at the top with James “Big Game” Shields and Matt “Just As Big Of A Game” Garza.  Spots 3 and 4 should be fine with David Price and Jeff Nieman, especially if both build on their 2009 performances.

But where do the Rays go from there?

At the moment the 5th spot is manned by Wade Davis, but he was hardly consistent in his 6 starts last season in spite of his 2-2 record and 3.72 ERA.  While he struck out an impressive 36 in 36 1/3 innings, he also had games where he simply blew up. 

If Davis does win the 5th spot, who do the Rays turn to should somebody or, God forbid, two somebodys get injured?  In the wings stand Jeremy Hellickson (he might be ready sooner than we think-hopefully) and-<gulp>-Andy Sonnanstine.  Not exactly a scenario that inspires great confidence.

The likelihood of the Rays adding a 5th starter via free agency seem small, though veterans such as Vicente Padilla and Joel Pineiro might be interesting (both would likely expect more than the Rays could afford).

At the moment it seems that Joe Maddon’s squad will be content with the arms they have and head into Spring Training hoping for two things: 1) that those aforementioned arms remain healthy; and 2) that one of the guys in camp really stands out to claim the 5th spot.

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5 comments

  1. crazy19canuck

    Ok, so I’m kinda catching up here. 🙂
    I don’t care where Zobrist plays, as long as he’s on the field! I’d love to see him at second, as the Rays seem to have a real depth in the outfield right now. Is it just me, or does it seem like the Rays are starting to reap the rewards of a great farm system?
    Wade Davis and Andy Sonnanstine. Do we hope Davis is ready? Hope he has enough endurance for a Big League regular season and (fingers crossed) post season? Or do we hope that Sonny can go more than 4 innings without choking? Sonny has the experience in the Bigs, but can he outdo Davis? Ahh….the questions of Spring Training. Glad I don’t have to make those choices.
    Ginny

  2. raysfanboy

    Burrill–I think that Brignac will be with the big club this year, but more than likely not as a starter. He’ll be a valuable reserve. I think both of your wishes will come true, though, because I am sure Joyce will break camp with the team to platoon in right.

    Jenn–I’d just as soon get rid of Burrell and his wasteful salary. He came with high hopes. He’ll leave a disappointment.

    Cat–Amen.

    Ginny–The Rays have been rated at or near the top of the farm system rankings for years now. I think that a team in a market like the Rays are in MUST develop its own talent. It’s too hard to sign the free agents. We need look no further than the development of Desmond Jennings to take the place of CC now that Carl is too expensive for the Rays to keep. SAd, but necessary.

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