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News » Tampa Bay Rays Roster Report 2009-03-29


Tampa Bay Rays Roster Report 2009-03-29


Tampa Bay Rays Roster Report 2009-03-29
The Rays went into spring training figuring most of their team was set and there would only be a few decisions to be made, and that's turned out to be the case. The camp was relatively uneventful, with OF Fernando Perez, who was ticketed for Class AAA Durham, the only spring casualty. Otherwise, the Rays go into the season pretty much as they expected, with a few final decisions on the makeup of their pitching staff. Their lineup is better, and their rotation, bullpen and defense are at least as good as they were last year.

ROTATION:

1. RHP James Shields

2. LHP Scott Kazmir

3. RHP Matt Garza

4. RHP Andy Sonnanstine

5. RHP Jeff Niemann or Jason Hammel

ROTATION ANALYSIS: The Rays feel very good about their top three starters, figuring not only could any of the three start on Opening Day for them, but for most teams in the majors. Shields is the most consistent, a solid workhorse. Kazmir is the most frustrating because he has the ability to dominate but doesn't do it consistently and tends to pitch himself out of games more often than he should. Garza has the most dynamic stuff, evidenced by several dazzling games last season and his MVP-winning performance in the ALCS.

Sonnanstine is a solid No. 4 starter who gets by more on guile and stuff. The race for the fifth starter's spot is going to carry into the final week of spring training, but whoever wins between Niemann and Hammel is essentially a temp because the Rays sent down top prospect LHP David Price for what is expected to be a relatively short stay. And right behind him is RHP Wade Davis, which shows how much pitching depth the Rays have.

BULLPEN:

RHP Troy Percival (closer)

RHP Dan Wheeler

RHP Grant Balfour

LHP J.P. Howell

LHP Brian Shouse

RHP Joe Nelson

RHP Jeff Niemann or RHP Jason Hammel or RHP Jason Isringhausen

BULLPEN ANALYSIS: The biggest news of the spring might have been how good Percival looked coming off extensive back surgery following an injury-shortened 2008 season. Percival reported to camp saying he was 100 percent sure he'd be ready to resume the closer duties by Opening Day, and it appears he was right, which is of great benefit to the Rays.

As much as manager Joe Maddon likes to use a matchup approach in the bullpen and spread the tough innings around, he also likes being able to build toward one closer to work the ninth, and Percival can still be dominating. The support staff isn't bad, as Dan Wheeler and Grant Balfour both stepped up at times last season. Howell was another 2008 success story, and the addition of Shouse as primarily a left-handed specialist allows Maddon more freedom to use Howell.

Isringhausen, the former All-Star, went into the final week of spring training making an impressive bid for a job, which could force the Rays to restructure and go without a long man. But the decision won't be easy -- both candidates for the fifth starter/long reliever job, Hammel and Niemann, are out of options and would be lost if put on waivers.

LINEUP:

1. CF B.J. Upton

2. LF Carl Crawford

3. 3B Evan Longoria

4. 1B Carlos Pena

5. DH Pat Burrell

6. RF Gabe Gross/Gabe Kapler

7. C Dioner Navarro

8. 2B Akinori Iwamura

9. SS Jason Bartlett

LINEUP ANALYSIS: The Rays' primary offseason goal was to make their offense better, and they think they did so by signing Burrell, who provides power, patience and presence. He also gives the lineup, which lacked a right-handed power hitter, more balance.

They also believe they will be better because of expected improvements by Crawford, who had a down and injury-interrupted season; Upton, who played despite a torn labrum in his left shoulder that limited his power and pitch selection; and Longoria, who has the benefit of nearly a full season in the majors.

Manager Joe Maddon is also doing his part, planning to move Upton into the leadoff spot and dropping Iwamura, who didn't walk nearly enough, to the No. 8 slot.

RESERVES:

C Shawn Riggans

INF Ben Zobrist

INF Willy Aybar

OF Gabe Kapler/Gabe Gross

RESERVES ANALYSIS: Depth saved the Rays last season, when nearly every starting position player was sidelined by injury at some point, and they took steps to make sure it is as good or better this season.

Zobrist has evolved into a super-utility type who can play anywhere in the infield or outfield. He might be the Opening Day center fielder if Upton opens the season on the disabled list, as expected. Aybar was so impressive and came up with so many clutch hits last season that Maddon is determined to find playing time for him. Kapler and Gross will platoon in right field, so the one not starting is on red alert as a pinch-hitter.

If Upton does open the season on the disabled list, the Rays are looking at OF Matt Joyce, INF Adam Kennedy and OF Justin Ruggiano as possible replacements for the week or so he is likely to miss.

ROOKIE WATCH: LHP David Price would be among the favorites for the AL Rookie of the Year award, if only the Rays give him the chance. As it is now, Price will open the season at Class AAA Durham and won't be recalled until he gets better command of his fastball and the Rays are satisfied that he won't exceed their planned inning workload for the season. RHP Wade Davis could make a late season debut.

MEDICAL WATCH:

RHP Troy Percival (back surgery) has made a spectacular recovery and is showing more athleticism and sharpness in his pitches than he did at any point last season.

CF B.J. Upton (left shoulder surgery) has made a solid recovery but seems likely to spend the first week of the season on the DL. Missing a couple of days after he was struck on the left hand by a pitch in a minor league game didn't help.

RHP Chad Bradford (right elbow surgery) is making a good recovery and hopes to be back in late May or June.

OF Fernando Perez (dislocated left wrist) is projected to miss four or five months because further exams showed ligament damage as part of his injury. The Rays hope he will return in time to play regular-season games.

1B Carlos Pena (abdominal surgery) has shown no signs of being limited either in the field or when swinging a bat.


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: March 29, 2009

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