Rays have majority of roles set heading into spring
Odorizzi gets first crack at No. 5 rotation spot; lofty expectations for Longoria
ST. PETERSBURG -- Few jobs will be available once the Rays' camp opens in Port Charlotte, Fla., this spring.
That's a nice problem to have and a familiar characteristic of championship clubs. Rather than looking to fill slots this spring, the Rays will be going through their paces to round into form for the 2014 season.
"I am always excited to get back with the guys and work toward a World Series ring," manager Joe Maddon said. "Andrew [Friedman, executive vice president of baseball operations] and the boys have done a great job of assembling a championship-caliber roster. Beyond the starting group, I really like the potential of the bench and bullpen. Versatility again will be key, and the bullpen has the experience necessary to win the final game of the year."
Save for the addition of several new players, Tampa Bay will have the same outfield, infield, catchers, bullpen and starting rotation it had during the 2013 season, when the team won 92 games and reached the postseason for the fourth time in six seasons.
David Price headlines this year's team, which is a big surprise to many who felt the staff ace would be traded. With Price returning, the rotation will be the same group, sans Jeremy Hellickson, who recently underwent elbow surgery to have loose bodies removed from his right elbow.
Jake Odorizzi will be first in line to fill Hellickson's void. If the right-hander does not win the job, right-hander Alex Colome is the best bet to do so.
The Rays will head to camp with three Major League catchers. Jose Lobaton appears to be the most likely of the trio to be traded, but the club could suffer an injury, or another team might need a catcher, prompting a trade request.
The Rays also will have to decide which way to go with their 13 position players. Not having a true designated hitter will allow Tampa Bay some flexibility in this regard.
"Definitely an interesting group to go to work with every day," Maddon said.
Pitchers and catchers report
Full squad reports
First Spring Training game
Home vs. Orioles, Feb. 28 at 1:05 p.m. ET
Home vs. Blue Jays, March 31, 4:10 p.m.
Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1. Can Odorizzi take the No. 5 spot in the rotation?
Hellickson's elbow surgery will keep him out until at least May. In Hellickson's absence, Odorizzi should be considered the leading candidate to become the team's No. 5 starter. Odorizzi served five stints with the Rays in 2013 and showed enough to merit the consideration. His calm demeanor and makeup should allow him to assume the job and run with it.
2. Is this the year Evan Longoria makes a run at Most Valuable Player?
Longoria is the team's best player. With him on the field, Tampa Bay's chances of winning are significantly greater than if he is not. Longoria is a tough out, can hit for power, is a team leader, plays Gold Glove defense and he's a winner. He struggled with an injured hamstring in 2012. Playing on a surgically repaired hamstring in 2013, Longoria bounced back to play in 160 regular-season games. If he has another healthy season, Longoria could finally earn the American League MVP Award forecast for him for so long.
3. Can Wil Myers dodge the sophomore jinx?
Myers proved to be everything he was advertised to be by winning the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Award. If the Rays can get the same performance from him for a full season, the results will be fun to watch. But there's always the chance Myers gets smacked in the face with the dreaded sophomore jinx, or a less-than-stellar second season. How quickly Myers adjusts to the way opposing teams pitch to him will go a long way toward determining whether he has another quality season.
92-71, second in the AL East
Projected batting order
1. CF Desmond Jennings:
.252 BA, .334 OBP, .414 SLG, 14 HR, 54 RBI in 2013
2. LF David DeJesus:
.251 BA, .327 OBP, .402 SLG, 8 HR, 38 RBI in 2013
3. 3B Evan Longoria:
.269 BA, .343 OBP, .498 SLG, 32 HR, 88 RBI in 2013
4. RF Wil Myers:
.293 BA, .354 OBP, .478 SLG, 13 HR, 53 RBI in 2013
5. 2B Ben Zobrist:
.275 BA, .354 OBP, .402 SLG, 12 HR, 71 RBI in 2013
6. 1B James Loney:
.299 BA, .348 OBP, .430 SLG, 13 HR, 75 RBI in 2013
7. DH Matt Joyce:
.235 BA, .328 OBP, .419 SLG, 18 HR, 47 RBI in 2013
8. C Ryan Hanigan:
.198, .306 OBP, .261 SLG, 2 HR, 21 RBI in 2013
9. SS Yunel Escobar:
.256 BA, .332 OBP, .366 SLG, 9 HR, 56 RBI in 2013
1. David Price, 10-8, 3.33 ERA in 2013
2. Matt Moore, 17-4, 3.29 ERA in 2013
3. Alex Cobb, 11-3, 2.76 ERA in 2013
4. Chris Archer, 9-7, 3.22 ERA in 2013
5. Jake Odorizzi, 0-1, 3.94 ERA in 2013
Closer: Grant Balfour, 38/41 saves, 2.59 ERA in 2013
RH setup man: Joel Peralta, 3.41 ERA in 2013
LH setup man: Jake McGee, 4.02 ERA in 2013
The new guys
RHP Balfour: The Rays signed the veteran Aussie closer to a two-year, $12 million deal to return to the team he pitched for in a setup role from 2007-10. This time around, Balfour will be slotted as the club's closer. He is 62-for-67 (92.5 percent) in save opportunities over the last two seasons, the fourth-best percentage in the Major Leagues during that time behind Huston Street, Joe Nathan and Craig Kimbrel.
C Hanigan: The Rays acquired Hanigan in a December trade involving the D-backs and Reds before agreeing to a three-year contract extension covering the 2014, '15 and '16 seasons, with a club option for '17, worth a guaranteed $10.75 million. He is well respected for his defensive and game-calling skills and his ability to get on base as a patient hitter. Hanigan will likely take care of the bulk of the catching duties, with Jose Molina serving as a well-qualified backup.
RHP Heath Bell: The Rays also acquired Bell in the three-way deal involving the Reds and D-backs. The veteran closer has recorded 168 career saves over 10 Major League seasons with the Mets, Padres, Marlins and D-backs. Tampa Bay believes he still has good stuff after seeing him miss a lot of bats last season. In 2013, Bell went 5-2 with 15 saves and a 4.11 ERA in 69 games for Arizona. He recorded 72 strikeouts and only 16 walks, establishing a career-best 2.19 walks per nine innings. Bell will likely be slotted in a setup role.
IF/OF Logan Forsythe: The Rays acquired Forsythe from the Padres in a seven-player deal during January. He has played parts of the past three seasons with San Diego, hitting .241/.310/.349 in 228 Major League games. Forsythe will expand Tampa Bay's possibilities at different positions in the field, helping the team to play matchups on any given night depending on the opposing pitcher.
Prospects to watch
RHP Odorizzi: The 23-year-old is the Rays' highest-ranked prospect at No. 56 in MLB.com's annual rankings. Odorizzi came to the Rays from the Royals in the trade that also landed Myers in 2012. His first year in the organization saw him split time between Triple-A Durham and the Major Leagues. Odorizzi served five stints with Tampa Bay, finishing at 0-1 with a 3.94 ERA in seven appearances, four of which were starts. He posted a 9-6 mark with a 3.33 ERA in 22 starts for the Bulls.
rays top prospects
SS Hak-Ju Lee: After playing in just 15 games in 2013, when he tore ligaments in his left knee, Lee nevertheless ranks as MLB.com's No. 84 prospect. He has always been considered a magician in the field who needed his offense to catch up to his defense. Rays farm director Mitch Lukevics recently said that Lee is recovering well and should be ready for Spring Training. Tampa Bay acquired Lee, along with Archer, catcher Robinson Chirinos and outfielders Sam Fuld and Brandon Guyer from the Cubs for right-hander Matt Garza, left-hander Zach Rosscup and outfielder Fernando Perez on Jan. 8, 2011.
OF Kevin Kiermaier: In four Minor League seasons (376 games) in the Rays' organization, Kiermaier has a .275 batting average with 12 home runs and 109 RBIs, and he's stolen 75 bases and scored 205 runs. Not exactly eye-popping numbers, but Tampa Bay believes his offense will continue to keep getting stronger and will catch up to his off-the-charts defense (which earned him a roster spot in the postseason). Kiermaier stated his case for that thinking in 2013, when he hit .307 with five home runs and 28 RBIs in 97 games for Double-A Montgomery. He also played 39 games at Triple-A Durham, posting a .263 average with a home run and 13 RBIs in 39 games.
LHP Enny Romero: The southpaw has all kinds of talent, including the ability to throw a 97 mph fastball. He has dominated at every level that he has pitched and even made one start for the Rays in 2013. Harnessing his stuff -- and being able to repeat his delivery -- ultimately will determine Romero's Major League arrival date.
RHP Colome: Colome has the arm and the makeup to be a top-of-the rotation starter. Typifying that makeup, he handled with aplomb his 2013 stints with Tampa Bay when he went 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA in three starts. Colome will be right behind Odorizzi in contention for the No. 5 starter spot.
On the rebound
C Hanigan: The veteran backstop endured the worst offensive season of his career in 2013, when he played in just 75 games and hit .198 with two homers and 21 RBIs. Injuries nagged the catcher throughout last season, which included two stints on the disabled list. If Hanigan can bounce back, the Rays might finally have the everyday catcher they have coveted for so long.
IF/OF Forsythe: He batted just .214 with six home runs and 19 RBIs while being limited to 75 games last season due in large part to plantar fasciitis in his right foot. Forsythe now believes his problems are behind him, which means he'll be in the mix for Tampa Bay's utility rotation as he plays the corner outfield spots as well as third, shortstop and second.
OF/DH Joyce: The power-hitting outfielder is a streaky hitter, so playing matchups on an as-needed basis has never seemed to serve him well. Perhaps a more permanent role in the DH spot, with occasional play in the outfield, will allow this athletic and talented player to finally reach his full potential.
LHP Alex Torres: He had a coming-out party in 2013, so seeing him dealt to the Padres in the seven-player deal was a surprise. In 39 relief appearances last year, Torres posted a 1.71 ERA over 58 innings. Friedman explained that the Rays dealt from an "area of depth to address an area of weakness" when making the deal with San Diego. Losing Torres hurts, but Tampa Bay still has lefties McGee and Cesar Ramos in the bullpen.
RHP Fernando Rodney: He went 37-for-45 in save opportunities following his amazing 2012 season that saw him set a Major League record for a reliever (minimum 50 appearances) with a 0.60 ERA and lead the Majors with a 96 percent save rate. Rodney was a free agent following the 2013 season.
IF/OF Kelly Johnson: He played four positions during his first season with the Rays, starting 55 of 69 games before Myers was called up on June 18. After the callup, Johnson started only 32 of 94 games. A left-handed hitter, he hit 16 home runs, all against right-handers. Johnson signed a free-agent deal with the Yankees.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.