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Rays

Rays season preview: Players to Watch

Published:   |   Updated: April 4, 2013 at 06:53 AM

 
Starting pitcher

LHP Matt Moore

Beginning his second full year in the big leagues, Moore did not have a good spring. His velocity was down. His command was off. The Rays are not concerned, because Moore is known for being a slow starter.

He showed what he can do last season during a 14-start stretch where he was 9-2 with a 2.79 ERA, matching David Price in wins during the course of that run.

What the Rays need is for Moore to find that rhythm earlier than June 3, the start of that span, and keep it going longer. They also need him to pitch deeper into games. He failed to reach the sixth inning in 13 of his 31 starts.

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Hitter

CF Desmond Jennings

The good news is Jennings is motivated by his .246 batting average last year. The better news is he worked hard in the offseason to ensure he won't repeat his 2012 production.

Jennings hit the ball well this spring. He stole bases. He even bunted, something he wants to do more this year.

The Rays think Jennings will handle his natural position of center field with ease. They need him to pick up his offense.

As leadoff hitter, they need Jennings to produce like he did when he was called up midway through 2011 - .356 on-base percentage, .449 slugging percentage, 10 home runs in 247 at-bats. Production like that over a full season at the top of the lineup will go a long way toward lifting the offense out of its 2012 doldrums.

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Bench

UTL Sean Rodriguez

Rodriguez couldn't hold on to the starting shortstop job in 2012, and when he struggled after being moved to third base in the wake of Evan Longoria's hamstring injury, Rodriguez struggled to hold on to his spot on the roster.

This year, the do-everything Rodriguez will do everything but pitch and catch, and he's willing to do those, as well.

His value to the team is his ability to play all four infield and all three outfield positions, which gives manager Joe Maddon great roster flexibility to match up lineups against opposing pitchers and to make late-inning switches.

Now, if Rodriguez can improve his offense he might be able to add the word "super" to his utility role.

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Reliever

RHP Joel Peralta

Closer Fernando Rodney was lights-out in 2012 - 48 saves in 50 chances and an ERA of 0.60 that was the lowest in baseball history for a pitcher with at least 50 innings pitched.

What allowed Rodney to have that success was the work of Peralta, who kept teams in check in the eighth inning, allowing Rodney to protect a lead in the ninth.

Every great closer has a great setup man, and Peralta is one of the best in the game. He takes the ball whenever asked, working 76 games last season, including 64 when he entered in the eighth inning. His 37 holds were the most in the American League since 1952.

Successful bullpens begin with the closer, but the closer isn't much of a factor without a good lead-in.

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Pitching Prospect

RHP Chris Archer

Archer accepted his assignment to Triple-A Durham early in March without a trace of anger, instead focusing on what he needed to do to get ready for Opening Day with the Bulls.

Archer pitched well in his six appearances (four starts) with the big club last season - 1-3, 4.60 ERA, 36 strikeouts, 23 hits and 13 walks in 29 1/3 innings. A little bit more offense, and his won-loss record could have been flipped.

Archer knows he can pitch at the big-league level. The Rays know he can, too. That's why he's patiently waiting in the wings for the opportunity to return.

Should the need arise to turn to Durham for a starter - and the need always arises - the Rays can confidently call up a big-league pitcher.

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Position Prospect

OF Wil Myers

The best thing that can happen to the 2012 minor league player of the year in 2013 is for the Rays to play well, stay in the playoff hunt and not find the need for an outfielder.

This will allow Myers to work on the areas the Rays feel he needs to improve - base running, defense, mental approach - at Triple-A. Because when he arrives at Tropicana Field for his much-anticipated big-league debut, it will be show time.

Still, fans will constantly check Myers's production with the Bulls. If he's hitting well, the question will be when that hot bat can join the Rays lineup. If not, the question will be whether this kid was worth the price.

Time will tell, and the Rays want to give Myers as much time as possible to be ready.

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