Who to watch; hint: it's not the stars

A healthy Erik Bedard could be an interesting addition for the Rays.

Will Vragovic/tbt*

A healthy Erik Bedard could be an interesting addition for the Rays.

There's still going to be plenty to talk about, sorting out the batting order and the bullpen roles, the DH rotation, the split of time behind the plate. There will be injuries to update, new pitches and batting stances to assess, kids to watch.

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But the Rays Friday open a 30-game exhibition season with — assuming nothing goes horribly wrong — very little of significance to actually decide, their roster essentially set except for open spots at the back end of the rotation, bullpen and bench.

"It's really nice," manager Joe Maddon said.

Here's a look at what they'll be looking at over the next four weeks:

Fifth starter

The Rays are expecting Jeremy Hellickson back from elbow surgery by late May, so it's basically a temp opening.

Right-hander Jake Odorizzi seemed the favorite going in to camp, with Alex Colome next on the list of internal possibilities.

But two candidates have been added: Veteran lefty Erik Bedard, who was signed to a minor-league deal, and righty prospect Nathan Karns, acquired in trade from Washington.

If it comes down to Bedard and Odorizzi, it may be a matter of asset management: keep Bedard and send Odorizzi to Triple A for protection, or pick Odorizzi and risk losing Bedard to an opportunity elsewhere.

Feb. 28 prediction: Bedard

Bullpen

Assuming no injuries or setbacks to Grant Balfour, Joel Peralta, Heath Bell, Juan Carlos Oviedo (who has yet to report due to visa issues) and lefties Jake McGee and Cesar Ramos, there's one spot open.

Josh Lueke, who was really good last year at Durham and not very good during four stints with the Rays, appears the frontrunner, primarily because he is out of options and likely would be lost if the Rays ran him through waivers. Bedard could be considered if he doesn't get the open rotation spot.

Feb. 28 prediction: Lueke

Bench

With the lineup intact, Matt Joyce leading the DH rotation and versatile newcomer Logan Forsythe joining play-anywhere Sean Rodriguez as top reserves, there's only one spot to fill.

And, given the Rays' overall flexibility, a bunch of ways to do it that could all make sense: infielder or outfielder, right- or left-handed hitter.

The conventional play is to take a pure outfielder, with right-handed Brandon Guyer — who is also out of options — the top choice. But he'd be another right-handed hitter and they are already righty heavy, so they could instead consider lefty swinger Kevin Kiermaier, who is also an elite defensive player.

But with Joyce, Rodriguez and Forsythe all available to play outfield, they may opt for the best overall player, or biggest bat.

That could be veteran Wilson Betemit, a switch-hitting corner infielder on a minor-league deal looking to come back after missing most of 2013 with injury. Or Jayson Nix, a scrappy pro's pro, also on a minor-league deal, who hits right-handed and can play the middle infield. Or rookie Vince Belnome, a lefty with impressive minor-league on-base numbers (.412 career OBP) who can play the corners.

Feb. 28 prediction: Guyer

Who to watch; hint: it's not the stars 02/27/14 [Last modified: Thursday, February 27, 2014 10:29pm]

    

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