Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tampa Bay Rays have few decisions to make this spring

PORT CHARLOTTE — So many of the differences in this spring training for the Rays are about having more. More confidence. More expectations. More facilities. More fans, despite moving 80 miles away. More attention from the national media. More payroll. More respect.

But with the 34-game exhibition season starting today, the biggest difference is how few questions they have to answer.

Consider a year ago, when the Rays reported to camp for the final time in St. Petersburg.

They didn't know who was going to play third base (and when Evan Longoria would be ready), or how Akinori Iwamura was going to play second base after shifting from third. They didn't know who was going to fill out the rotation after Scott Kazmir and James Shields, or how often Rocco Baldelli would be able to play rightfield.

They were just getting to know newly acquired shortstop Jason Bartlett and projected No. 3 starter Matt Garza. They had no way to know what they'd get from catcher Dioner Navarro, who had such a poor 2007 that his future was being questioned. They couldn't know for sure how B.J. Upton would handle being the full-time centerfielder, or how closer Troy Percival would make the transition from being unretired.

And now …

There's not nearly as much to talk, or write, or worry about.

"We certainly have fewer questions this spring than we've ever had before," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "And it's certainly a sign of progress."

Realistically, 23, or even 24, of the 25 spots seem set.

There is only one position truly up for grabs, the No. 5 spot in the rotation, with candidates ranging from Jason Hammel, Jeff Niemann, David Price, Mitch Talbot and wild-card Carlos Hernandez, who starts today against the Reds.

There's the potential for some juggling in rightfield, but most likely it will be a Gabe of the day platoon between righty Gabe Kapler and lefty Gabe Gross.

Otherwise, the issues are small, and somewhat uneventful: Pat Burrell's transition to DH, Upton and Percival's already-progressing recoveries from surgery, Jason Isringhausen's chances to pitch his way into the bullpen.

There's so little unsettled that Friedman said the biggest issues are to keep the players challenged by giving them specific things to work on and, because of the depth they've accumulated, for team officials to keep open minds in case they want to change their minds.

"It's easy to fall prey to thinking that the 25-man roster is set in late February," he said.

When manager Joe Maddon was hired before the 2006 season and took over a team constantly in transition, he said he envisioned a day when they would show up for spring training with the roster about 90 percent set. "And, boom, here we are, in 2009," he said. "It speaks to the young guys growing up, and it speaks to the fact that we're able now to attract free agents to come here and want to play with us."

Among the benefits, Maddon said, is the chance to keep many of the returnees, who played an extra month for the first time, on a relaxed schedule. None of the starters and most of the relievers won't pitch in games until after March 5.

Plus, a large number of players can be more relaxed, more focused and spend more time working on specific skills to prepare for the season. "You can get more quality work because their mind is not all over the place, it's right here just getting ready for the season," Maddon said.

The players — at least those who have jobs — seem to like it that way.

"It's good to know so you can get past all that and focus on doing the little things Joe wants us to do to win ballgames," veteran Carl Crawford said. "You don't have to worry who's going to fill this spot and all that, you can just get ready."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays have few decisions to make this spring 02/24/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 25, 2009 6:58am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Twins eventually cash in as Rays lose, fall back to .500 (w/video)

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — The Rays could only battle their way out of trouble for so long Saturday afternoon before succumbing in a 5-2 loss to the Twins.

    Minnesota Twins pitcher Adalberto Mejia, right, makes the tag at the plate on Tampa Bay Rays' Steven Souza Jr. who attempted to score on a runner's fielders' choice in the second inning of a baseball game Saturday, May 27, 2017, in Minneapolis. AP Photo/Jim Mone) MNJM103
  2. Rays Tales: The stories behind Corey Dickerson's ascension

    The Heater

    The 25 pounds DH/LF Corey Dickerson lost during the winter through diet and exercise are considered the primary reason for his ascension to one of the American League's most productive hitters, going into the weekend leading in hits, multi-hit games and total bases, and ranked in the top five in average, runs and …

    Tampa Bay Rays designated hitter Corey Dickerson (10) connects for a sac fly, scores Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Steve Pearce (28) in the fourth inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, June 15, 2016.
  3. For starters: Rays at Twins, looking for another with Odorizzi starting

    Blogs

    UPDATE, 12:45: Cash said Robertson was taking better swings Friday and so he wanted to move him up today, liking the idea of having three straight right-handers vs. a LHP they don't know much about. ... Souza was still smiling this morning about his failed dive attempt last night, and the reaction it got. .. The …

  4. Why the Lightning would consider trading Jonathan Drouin

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — This summer, the Lightning could trade one of its most dynamic young players ever.

    Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Jonathan Drouin (27) celebrates with his team on the bench after beating Chicago Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling (33) to score his second goal of the period and to tie the score at 4 to 4 during second period action at the Amalie Arena in Tampa Monday evening (03/27/17).
  5. Why the Lightning should keep Jonathan Drouin

    Lightning Strikes

    Keep him.

    Jonathan Drouin is live bait. The Lightning is ready to run the hook through him and cast him out there again. Drouin has enough talent for the Lightning to meet some defensive needs in a deal.

    Keep him.

    Lightning wing Jonathan Drouin celebrates after beating Los Angeles Kings goalie Peter Budaj during the first period of Tuesday's win in Tampa. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]