ST. PETERSBURG — Of the 24 Rays prospects gathered Wednesday in the Tropicana Field clubhouse as part of the winter development camp, OF Josh Sale was undoubtedly the happiest to be there.
Suspended indefinitely in May for conduct detrimental to the organization, the 2010 first-round pick is on track to be reinstated in the spring and resume his once-promising career.
"It was humbling," Sale said. "It was a reality check, definitely. … It's an amazing feeling to be back."
Sale, 22, spent the forced sabbatical at his family's Seattle-area home, speaking almost daily with Vince Lodato, a therapist who heads the team's employee assistance program.
"I was able to grow up," Sale said. "That's what really needed to be worked on, just me as a person, doing what I can to better myself, because nobody's bigger than the game."
Sale had just completed a 50-game suspension after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug the previous season when the Rays sent him home after a Facebook post about a visit to a strip club. He was set to join advanced Class A Charlotte.
"I knew I had to go home, grow up, take care of a lot of things," Sale said, speaking publicly for the first time since. "It was demoralizing, but something that my actions induced."
Farm director Mitch Luekvics said the Rays are pleased with Sale's progress and would anticipate reinstating him from the restricted list at the end of spring training, assuming he continues to progress.
BIGGER PICTURE: Dealing with seven arbitration-eligible players before Friday's 1 p.m. deadline to exchange figures is top priority, but the Rays are continuing to look for ways to improve their 40-man roster and overall depth, executive VP Andrew Friedman said: "We're still tinkering, still playing around with different scenarios."
MISCELLANY: The March 31 opener with Toronto will start at 4:10 p.m. Most Monday-Friday games will remain at 7:10 and Sundays at 1:40; Saturday games will vary among 1:10, 4:10 and 7:10. … Lukevics said SS Hak-Ju Lee, recovering from surgery to repair left knee ligaments torn in an April 2013 collision, is on track to be ready for the start of the season. "We're very encouraged," Lukevics said.