Saturday, February 17, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays' position battles clearing up

CLEARWATER

In manager Joe Maddon's head, spring training should be almost over. To think it's barely past the halfway point, with three more weeks to go, he said Saturday "is almost hard to believe."

As much of a drag that it is, thanks to the World Baseball Classic-induced early opening, the plus side is that they have more time to make the few decisions they face.

Here's a quick look, with some educated guesses at resolution:

Fifth starter

Roberto Hernandez has looked good, kind of like he did when he was known as Fausto Carmona for the Indians. Given the need for an innings-eater to replace RHP James Shields, and the checkered injury history of RHP Jeff Niemann, Hernandez looks like the strong favorite, with RHP Chris Archer a pretty solid backup plan if needed.

The Rays will say Niemann — who is out of options — could end up in the bullpen, but if they are comfortable with all their other starters, look for an end-of-spring trade.

Backup catcher

Chris Gimenez thus far has done absolutely everything he can to win the job: solid behind the plate, hitting as well as he did at the end of last season, the added benefit of being able to play other positions.

But it most likely still won't matter. Jose Lobaton is out of options, which means he can't be sent to the minors without being exposed to waivers, and the Rays don't have enough depth to risk losing him, so he'll get the job, and Gimenez will go to Triple A.

Bullpen

Veteran RHP Jamey Wright looks to be in, so assuming Niemann is out of the mix, that leaves one spot open. RHPs Brandon Gomes and Josh Lueke have both looked good, and given Gomes' experience, and the need for Lueke to prove himself, Gomes should be the man.

Wil he or won't he?

As much chatter as there was early in camp about how the Rays have to put blue-chip OF prospect Wil Myers in the majors, he hasn't really had the kind of impressive spring to warrant further debate. Durham here he comes.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Ex-Rays OF Carl Crawford made a bad move this past week blaming the Boston media but was right on in saying overall of going to the Sox, "It just wasn't the right place for me at the end of my day. I didn't do my homework. Maybe they didn't, either." … If LHP Scott Kazmir continues his thus-far impressive bid for a spot at the back end of the Indians rotation, his first start likely would be at the Trop April 5 or 6. … Mike Calitri, who headed the Rays' computerized advance scouting and threw batting practice, took a pro scouting job with Cleveland; new assistant hitting coach Jamie Nelson will handle some of his duties. … If the colonoscopy people are smart, they'd sign Maddon up to do a public service announcement given how open he was about last week's procedure. … Fox/Sun Sports is close to hiring a replacement for home-game reporter Laura McKeeman. … You'd think winning the franchise's first Cy Young Award would have gotten David Price a solo spot on the cover of the media guide. … Former Rays senior VP Gerry Hunsicker is enjoying his new gig as senior adviser with the Dodgers, saying he'll spend half his time in Houston (where he and his new wife are building a house) and half on assignment, watching major- and minor-league games.

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