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Rays feel better about depth than they did in 2012

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Published:   |   Updated: March 30, 2013 at 02:38 AM
SARASOTA -

On the morning he was optioned to Triple-A Durham, pitcher Brandon Gomes took a minute to consider the Bulls' roster heading into this season.

Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Juan Sandoval, Josh Lueke and himself on the staff. Chris Gimenez, Shelley Duncan, Leslie Anderson, Mike Fontenot, Cole Figueroa, Jason Bourgeois and Rich Thompson among those available for the everyday lineup.

“We're going to be loaded,” Gomes said. “That lineup is stacked.”

Good for Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo.

And good for the Tampa Bay Rays, too.

“We sent some major-league players back to Triple-A this time,” manager Joe Maddon said on Thursday before the Rays' game against the Orioles. “That's not so good for them and good for us.”

That may not have been the case last spring, because when injuries hit hard last season, the Rays didn't always dip into the Bulls' roster.

“Our depth going back to last year, when we needed depth, we really didn't have it,” Maddon said. “We had to go outside the organization midseason to find guys that we felt good about. We believe this year if anything were to happen, we have the guys in tow.”

Pitching depth was not a problem. The Rays had Alex Cobb, Cesar Ramos, Gomes and Archer on call, and each contributed to the 90-win season.

It was on the position side where things broke down.

Evan Longoria's partially torn hamstring, Jeff Keppinger's broken toe and Desmond Jennings' sprained knee started the search outside the organization that netted the likes of Thompson, Brooks Conrad, Drew Sutton, Brandon Allen and Ben Francisco.

The Rays also signed Hideki Matsui to add a professional bat to the bench, but that move didn't work out. Neither did many of the others, though Allen did win a pair of games with a bases-loaded walk one night against the Los Angeles Angels and a walk-off, pinch-hit home run against them the following afternoon.

Still, Allen was designated for assignment in early June. Matsui, Sutton and Conrad were also designated for assignment.

This year, the Rays feel a little bit better about the group in Durham.

Gimenez would have made the Rays' Opening Day roster had he not had an option remaining. Duncan could find himself at Tropicana Field on Tuesday if the tightness in Luke Scott's right calf doesn't subside by then.

Bourgeois and Thompson are ready should a need arise in the outfield.

Fontenot, who has played in the big leagues for parts or all of every season since 2005, and Figueroa, a rookie who impressed Maddon during spring training, could be called up to plug a hole in the infield.

Maddon said early during the Grapefruit League schedule that Anderson, who can play first base and the outfield as well as DH, isn't far away from some big-league action.

One positive, Maddon said, is the players the Rays will turn to were in camp, so there is a familiarity with how things are done on the big club.

“They know how we do things here,” Maddon said. “There's not that accelerated learning curve that you're attempting to put in place when you get guys from outside the barn.”

Maddon wouldn't say the organization learned a lesson last year, though executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said at the start of camp that a conscious effort was made during the winter to improve the depth at Durham.

“We're always mindful of that, though last year I don't think we did as good a job of it as we did this season,” Maddon said. “You make your best guesses. You look at the people available. I don't know who was available last year as opposed to this year. It varies on an annual basis.

“All we know is every year we want to build depth on the Triple-A level, because we're not going to go out and purchase or trade for that guy that you may need when something breaks down.”


rmooney@tampatrib.com

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Twitter: @RMooneyTBO

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