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The Tampa Bay Rays open training camp with plenty of decisions to make

The Rays open spring training this week with the most expensive and arguably the most talented team they've ever had. The events, injuries and decisions made over the next seven weeks will provide a better idea of whether it will have a chance to be among the most successful. Though much of the core returns and the 25-man roster seems basically set (from a record-low group of 56), the Rays still have a lot to do this spring. Much of their time will be spent sorting out playing time at three open positions: catcher, second base and rightfield. They also have to reconfigure their bullpen after the addition of closer Rafael Soriano, settle on a batting order (and how much disappointing DH Pat Burrell will be part of it) and monitor the development of their relatively young and inexperienced rotation.

Key additions

• RHP Rafael Soriano (trade from Braves)

• C Kelly Shoppach (trade from Indians)

• 2B Sean Rodriguez (trade from Angels)

Others: RHP Mike Ekstrom (waivers from Padres), 1B Dan Johnson (free agent signing), hitting coach Derek Shelton (previously with Indians)

Top prospects in camp: SS Tim Beckham, RHP Jeremy Hellickson, OF Desmond Jennings, LHP Jake McGee, LHP Alex Torres

In camp on minor-league deals: RHP Winston Abreu, RHP Joe Bateman, RHP Jeff Bennett, INF Angel Chavez, C Alvin Colina, LHP Jason Cromer, RHP Richard De Los Santos, INF Joe Dillon, INF J.J. Furmaniak, LHP Carlos Hernandez, LHP Heath Phillips, 1B Chris Richard, 1B Ryan Shealy, LHP R.J. Swindle

Primary subtractions

• 2B Akinori Iwamura (traded to Pirates)

• OF Gabe Gross (nontendered, signed with A's)

• C Gregg Zaun (option declined, signed with Brewers)

Others gone: RHP Chad Bradford (free agent), C Michel Hernandez (signed with O's #), RHP Joe Nelson (signed with Red Sox #), C Shawn Riggans (signed with Mets #), LHP Brian Shouse (option declined, signed with Red Sox #), RHP Russ Springer (free agent), RHP Mitch Talbot (traded to Indians)

# — minor-league deals

Medical matters

Much to the relief of head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield, they should open camp in relatively good shape. 1B Carlos Peña (broken fingers) and C Dioner Navarro (left elbow surgery) should be fully recovered for the start, INF Willy Aybar's sprained right wrist wasn't considered serious, and OF Fernando Perez (left shoulder surgery) should only be a few weeks behind.

The details

When: First pitchers and catchers workout: 10 a.m. Friday; First full-squad workout: 9:30 a.m. Feb. 24; Workouts (free and open to the public) continue through March 2

Where: Workouts and home games at the Charlotte Sports Park, 2300 El Jobean Road, Port Charlotte.

How to get there: I-75 south to Toledo Blade Road, go west 6½ miles to El Jobean Road (S.R. 776), go right 2 miles, stadium on left. Driving time from Tampa Bay area 1½-2 hours.

For information: raysbase ball.com; (941) 235-5025

Exhibition schedule

All games 1:05 unless noted

MARCH

3: at Orioles (Sarasota)

4: Orioles

5: at Yankees (Tampa)

6: Red Sox

7: at Phillies (Clearwater)

8: Pirates

9: at Orioles (Sarasota)

10: at Red Sox (Fort Myers)

11: at Pirates (Bradenton), Jays

12: Phillies

13: Marlins

14: at Tigers (Lakeland)

16: Red Sox, 7:05

17: Twins

18: at Yankees (Tampa), 7:05

19: Yankees, 7:05

20: Twins

21: at Twins (Fort Myers), at Pirates (Bradenton)

22: at Red Sox (Fort Myers)

23: at Phillies (Clearwater)

24: Blue Jays

25: Twins

26: at Blue Jays (Dunedin)

27: at Astros (Kissimmee)

28: Pirates

29: at Red Sox (Fort Myers), 7:05

30: Red Sox

31: at Twins (Fort Myers)

APRIL

1: Orioles

2: Mets (Tropicana Field), 6:10

3: at Durham, 3

Spring roster

(* — non-roster invitees)

Pitchers (26)

49Abreu, Winston (R) *

50Balfour, Grant (R)

73Bateman, Joe (R) *

47Bennett, Jeff (R) *

36Choate, Randy (L)

31Cormier, Lance (R)

74Cromer, Jason (L) *

40Davis, Wade (R)

72De Los Santos, Richard (R) *

54Ekstrom, Mike (R)

22Garza, Matt (R)

58Hellickson, Jeremy (R)

52Hernandez, Carlos (L) *

39Howell, J.P. (L)

57McGee, Jake (L)

34Niemann, Jeff (R)

76Phillips, Heath (L) *

14Price, David (L)

75Rollins, Heath (R) *

33Shields, James (R)

21Sonnanstine, Andy (R)

29Soriano, Rafael (R)

68Swindle, R.J. (L) *

59Thayer, Dale (R)

56Torres, Alexander (L)

35Wheeler, Dan (R)

Catchers (7)

65Albernaz, Craig *

61Ashley, Nevin *

67Colina, Alvin *

28Jaso, John

41Lobaton, Jose

30Navarro, Dioner

10Shoppach, Kelly

Infielders (15)

16Aybar, Willy

8Bartlett, Jason

64Beckham, Tim *

15Brignac, Reid

69Chavez, Angel *

26Dillon, Joe *

63Furmaniak, J.J. *

24Johnson, Dan

9Johnson, Elliot

3Longoria, Evan

23Peña, Carlos

32Richard, Chris *

1Rodriguez, Sean

43Shealy, Ryan *

18Zobrist, Ben

Outfielders (8)

5Burrell, Pat

13Crawford, Carl

27Desmond Jennings

20Joyce, Matt

19Kapler, Gabe

38Perez, Fernando

11Ruggiano, Justin

2Upton, B.J.

Five spring story lines

Catching on

Kelly Shoppach was acquired from Cleveland to challenge Dioner Navarro for the starting job, and that's exactly what he'll do. This will be an interesting competition because the players profile similarly (and are both coming off miserable 2009 seasons) and because no one seems to know how it will turn out. One or the other could win the job outright, or they could end up splitting time in a straight platoon or based on matchups.

The RF-2B triangle

Technically, both positions are open, though Ben Zobrist, left, is going to play one. That means there basically will be inter-related competitions, with youngsters Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez (acquired in the Scott Kazmir deal with the Angels) battling for the second base job yet, in a way, also competing with lefty slugger Matt Joyce, the Tampa native acquired in December 2008 from Detroit, who is making a bid to be the primary rightfielder. Since Zobrist can handle either spot, it may come down to whether the Rays prefer Joyce in right or the Brignac/Rodriguez winner at second. Or they could shuttle Zobrist, a switch-hitter, between both positions, say in a platoon with Joyce and Rodriguez (a righty hitter).

Lining up

Not knowing all the pieces will only make it tougher as manager Joe Maddon, left, tries to settle on a batting order. Expect Jason Bartlett to return to the leadoff spot, with Carl Crawford second and some combo of Evan Longoria, Carlos Peña and Zobrist in the middle. From there, he has to slot Pat Burrell, B.J. Upton, the catcher and the rightfielder or second baseman.

A little more relief

The addition of closer Rafael Soriano, left, improves the strength and depth of the overall bullpen. With six of the spots seemingly set (Soriano, J.P. Howell, Dan Wheeler, Grant Balfour, Lance Cormier, Randy Choate), there's one opening, with RHP Andy Sonnanstine the favorite.

Pat's bat

DH Pat Burrell was so disappointing last year, the Rays looked at several options during the winter, even trading him for troublemaking Milton Bradley. Burrell is said to be working out extensively and extremely motivated to redeem himself (and earn a 2011 contract somewhere), but if he looks bad during the spring — $9 million salary or not — the Rays may have to reconsider their alternatives.

The Tampa Bay Rays open training camp with plenty of decisions to make 02/13/10 [Last modified: Sunday, February 14, 2010 12:44pm]

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