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Tampa Bay Rays program to check up on prospects' health, off-field skills

ST. PETERSBURG — Though 22 Rays minor-leaguers (including some top prospects) will be at Tropicana Field this week, this won't be a showcase of their baseball skills.

Rather, the Rays' first Winter Development Program is an opportunity for an offseason checkup on players, testing their conditioning and following up on their rehabilitation from previous injuries.

Players ranging from touted prospects (OF Desmond Jennings, RHP Jeremy Hellickson and SS Tim Beckham) to 2009 draft picks (Jeff Malm and Luke Bailey) will work out at the Trop, getting trained in dealing with the media and making community appearances. They hope to have some fun, including possible trips to MacDill Air Force Base and a Lightning game.

The Rays hope the four-day program, which runs Monday to Thursday, will be a learning experience for the young players and help to evaluate them as well as prevent injuries.

"One of the problems in professional baseball is when a young player leaves you, what is he doing at home?" said Mitch Lukevics, Rays director of minor-league operations. "This is a way of having a checks and balances system of certain young men."

There are cases like medical checkups with Bailey, the fourth-round pick who is rehabbing from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, and RHP Nick Barnese, who missed two months with shoulder tendinitis. LHP Jake McGee, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, will be there, along with 3B Matt Sweeney and LHP Alex Torres, prospects acquired from the Angels in the Scott Kazmir trade.

The rest: RHP Alex Colome, RHP Joseph Cruz, RHP Devin Fuller, OF Todd Glaesmann, LHP Kevin James, C Jake Jefferies, LHP Kyle Lobstein, LHP Matt Moore, LHP David Newmann, SS Juniel Querecuto, OF Cody Rogers, RHP Scott Shuman and RHP Albert Suarez.

Prospect watch: Speaking of checkups, these are some of the Rays' thoughts on their top young players:

On what they want to see from Beckham in Year 2: "More consistency," Lukevics said. "Just making the routine play at short. He can make great plays because he has athleticism, but … the routine play, he doesn't do it as consistently as he needs to do. That is common in a young player."

On Moore: "This guy has an out pitch in his curveball and is maturing as a young pitcher. We expect big things from Matt Moore."

On Malm: "Malm came as advertised," Lukevics said. "It's so early in his career, so much to learn. … I think he's going to be a real good hitter that can spray the ball to all fields."

On Jennings: "The kid almost reminds me of (Evan) Longoria," Durham manager Charlie Montoyo said. "They were supposed to go to (the minors) and stay there, but they kept pushing your hand, they keep moving up. … He's a good kid, plays the right way and nothing bothers him."

On Hellickson: "They call him the 'Quiet Assassin' because he's even-keeled on the mound, doesn't show any emotion and just pitches," Montoyo said.

Rays rumblings: New C Kelly Shoppach said the first Ray to call and welcome him when he was acquired was LHP David Price. … Fox-sports.com's Ken Rosenthal reported that Rays scout Rob Ducey, a former big-league outfielder, is putting together a free agent showcase at Al Lang Field on Feb. 2-4. … The Rays will host a free coaches clinic as part of the team's youth baseball training program from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at the Trop. Rays third-base coach Tom Foley, hitting coach Derek Shelton and pitching coach Jim Hickey will be among the instructors (check raysbaseball.com). … Ex-Ray Eric Hinske agreed to a one-year deal with the Braves.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays program to check up on prospects' health, off-field skills 01/09/10 [Last modified: Sunday, January 10, 2010 12:40pm]

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