Questions and answers from Rays camp
Executive VP Andew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon just spent 30-plus minutes (on the very sunny Charlotte Sports Park boardwalk) answering questions with camp opening in two days.
There was no real news, but here are a few of the topics covered:
* The Rays won't know until closer Troy Percival pitches in some mid-March exhibitions games how likely it is he will be ready to start the season, as Percival said he would this morning upon arrival to camp. But when Percival, 39, is healthy, he will again be the closer. "Obviously if Perci's well, that is his job, so we just have to see this all the way through and see where he is by the end of this camp,'' Maddon said. For what it's worth, Friedman said Percival "looked great'' when they talked Friday morning.
* There aren't many open positions open this spring, but Maddon and Friedman still expect some strong competition. The biggest battles are going to be in rightfield and for the No. 5 spot in the rotation. In rightfield, there is likely to be a platoon. Gabe Kapler and Gabe Gross are the leading candidates, but Matt Joyce, Fernando Perez and Justin Ruggiano will get looks. The fifth starter candidates are Jason Hammel, Jeff Niemann, David Price and Mitch Talbot. "The main point of it is we have a pretty good idea who's going to be participating with us this year,'' Maddon said.
* Maddon raved about the facilities at the new complex, and how it will benefit the organization to have the major- and minor-league spring trainings at the same site, and how being "away" from the Tampa Bay area for camp will foster camaraderie among the players. "This to me is the essence of spring training,'' Maddon said.
* The turnover of the roster, with five players who appeared in the World Series gone, was a good thing, as were the additions they made, headlined by Pat Burrell. "The easy thing to do would be to return the exact same team that won the American League and came up just short in the World Series,'' Friedman said. "But that's something we didn't want to do.'
* Maddon is not concerned about last year's success impacting this year's team, saying he considers the words "expectations" and "pressure" to be positives, and will tell the players so in his opening address.
* Maddon said he can't control what changes the Yankees and Red Sox made so he doesn't dwell on the big-money division opponents, preferring to focus on what the Rays can do.
* CF B.J. Upton, recovering from off-season left shoulder surgery, is "doing well" and the Rays don't know yet if he will ready for opening day or need until later in April. Upton has said he expects to miss the first week. "We're not going to put a definitive timeline on the end of this thing,'' Maddon said. "He may be ready for the season, he may not. We're just not 100 percent sure so we're just going to let him get well at his own pace.'' But Maddon made it clear the Rays will be cautious, more concerned that Upton plays well for the full season once he gets back.