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Rays face tough roster decisions with season approaching

Logan Forsythe, pictured, will get "the bulk of the playing time" at second with Nick Franklin (oblique) likely out a month. [WILL VRAGOVIC | Times]
Logan Forsythe, pictured, will get "the bulk of the playing time" at second with Nick Franklin (oblique) likely out a month. [WILL VRAGOVIC | Times]
Published Mar. 26, 2015

FORT MYERS — With the season starting in just 11 days, the Rays are talking about a lot of things they wouldn't have expected to be.

Such as how Nathan Karns is one of their top three starters, Logan Forsythe is the primary second baseman, Mike Montgomery is likely to pitch meaningful innings and Tim Beckham looks like a lock to make the opening day roster.

Spring training injuries/illness that have sidelined three of their top five starting pitchers and the lead in their second base platoon, in addition to a sprinkling of surprises, can do that.

And, as you'll see, make being on the 40-man roster a huge advantage, for Beckham and maybe others. The Rays will have only one open 40-man spot when they put Matt Moore on the 60-day DL, making tough decisions tougher when they have a half-dozen legit non-roster candidates competing for jobs, meaning a seeming front-runner, like catcher Bobby Wilson, could get squeezed out.

As of now, which is subject to change as soon as yet something else goes wrong, here is what we think we know about what the Rays know about how their team shapes up:

ROTATION: Chris Archer will be the opening day starter, followed by Jake Odorizzi and Karns, and not necessarily in that order. Matt Andriese, who pitched a strong five innings Wednesday, is the lead candidate for the fourth spot, though almost by default as they are looking for low-cost outside help. They'll start the season without a fifth starter, and if no one new shows up, Everett Teaford may be the choice to be added when the No. 5 slot comes up April 14.

BULLPEN: Five spots are set for veterans Grant Balfour, Ernesto Frieri, Kevin Jepsen, out-of-options lefty Jeff Beliveau and Brad Boxberger, who may be the first choice to pitch at the end of games.

That leaves two or, with no fifth starter, three spots to be filled. And the one thing that seems certain is that they won't stay the same for long.

Early on, given the uncertainty in the rotation, length will be important, which is why Montgomery, a converted starter, figures in heavily. Lefty C.J. Riefenhauser, Kirby Yates and Steve Geltz (who had his best spring outing Wednesday) are the three other rostered relievers in camp, but don't rule out the Rays calling back up Jose Dominguez or, even more likely, Burch Smith, who can also work multiple innings. As can Brandon Gomes, who has been extremely sharp though is not on the roster.

CATCHER: The more experienced Wilson seemed the favorite to serve as Rene Rivera's primary backup. But the shuffling required due to the injuries could make it an issue to use a roster spot for him, at least early on (assuming Wilson sticks around), and put Curt Casali in the job.

INFIELD: With Forsythe to get "the bulk of the playing time" at second with Franklin (oblique) likely out a month, the starters are set, with Evan Longoria at third, Asdrubal Cabrera at short and James Loney at first.

And the backups are even more unsettled.

By being on the 40-man roster, and able to play short and second, Beckham, despite a 5-for-33 spring, seems certain to make the team. That's because the Rays will need to use an open spot for the other middle infielder, with Jake Elmore, who can play the outfield and catch in an emergency, more valuable than Alexi Casilla. The only rostered alternatives — Hak-Ju Lee and Ryan Brett — aren't ready.

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OUTFIELD: The problem here is too many. Desmond Jennings, Kevin Kiermaier and Steven Souza Jr. are set, from left to right, to start, with Brandon Guyer (who starts in left with Jennings in center when Kiermaier is off vs. lefties) and usual DH John Jaso as backups.

But unless a market develops, the Rays still have veteran David DeJesus and don't seem predisposed to eating the $6 million he is guaranteed. Barring Guyer, or someone else, getting hurt, they may keep DeJesus, at least to start, at the expense of that extra reliever or middle infielder.

BATTING ORDER: Expect something like this against right-handers: Jaso, Souza, Cabrera, Longoria, Loney, Jennings, Rivera, Kiermaier, Forsythe. Vs. Lefties (with one of Loney, Kiermaier or Jaso likely to play): Guyer, Souza, Cabrera, Longoria, Jennings, Forsythe, Loney, Rivera, Beckham.

INJURIES: All three starting pitchers, Alex Cobb, Alex Colome and Drew Smyly, are targeted to return by the end of April, with Cobb and Smyly on a similar path and Colome, who still has symptoms of pneumonia, likely last. Franklin could be out four weeks, or eight.

ROSTER SPOTS: After getting one spot for Moore, the Rays can get another if they trade DeJesus. Otherwise, they have to drop, and risk losing, someone to make room. It would seem a push for team officials, as creative as they are, to find ways to add Wilson, Elmore and a couple of pitchers.

Here's one more thing we know: Expect something else to change.

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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