TBO.com, The Tampa Tribune and The Tampa Times - breaking news and weather
Thursday, Jul 31, 2014
Rays

Rays spring preview: Key to bench is versatility

By
Published:   |   Updated: February 13, 2014 at 07:49 AM

The Tampa Bay Rays begin spring training Saturday, when pitchers and catchers have their first workout on the practice fields at the Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte.

Much excitement surrounds this team, which finished second in the AL East in 2013 and won the AL wild-card game. The Rays added to that talent base over the winter, which has many thinking the 2014 team can be stronger than last year.

This is the final part of a three-day series by The Tampa Tribune and TBO.com looking at the nine most pressing issues surrounding the Rays heading into spring training.

Previously, we looked at the rotation, bullpen, catchers, infield defense, outfield and designated hitter.

Today, it's position depth, pitching depth and the competition.

 POSITION PLAYER DEPTH

The Rays were willing to part with left-handed reliever Alex Torres because they wanted the multi-demensional Logan Forsythe, a player they coveted for some time, who can play second base, shortstop, third base and the corner outfield spots.

Forsythe fits in well with Sean Rodriguez, giving manager Joe Maddon plenty of options on how to use his bench. Of course, Forsythe, who came to the Rays from the San Diego Padres in late January, has to make the team.

The Rays also signed veterans Wilson Betemit, who can play all four infield positions, and Jayson Nix, who can play second, third and short, to minor-league contracts with invites to major-league camp. Those two have limited experience in the outfield, but they are familiar with playing the corner outfield spots.

Versatility is a key word when it comes to position players. The Rays want the bench players to cover as many positions as possible. They also wanted to have versatile players at Triple-A Durham, who can come up to the big club and fill a need in case of an emergency.

Triple-A shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, who missed most of last season with a knee injury, is expected to be ready by the start of camp. Infielder Tim Beckham, who played well in a limited role when called up last September, won't be available until midseason at best.

Durham infielders Vince Belnome and Cole Figueroa could also find themselves in the mix this season.

Outfielder Kevin Kiermaier, called up at the end of last season and added to the postseason roster because of his defense, will push for a spot on the Rays' roster, as well.

PITCHING DEPTH

Right-hander Jake Odorizzi is the front-runner to replace Jeremy Hellickson (elbow surgery) when the season begins.

Alex Colome and Enny Romero each made one start last season. Both had impressive big-league debuts. Colome earned the win at Miami in May, and Romero started against Baltimore on Sept. 22 after an 18-inning game two days before that saw Odorizzi and Hellickson pitch and left the Rays without a starter.

They will get a look this spring as possible replacements for Hellickson. At the very least, the Rays are comfortable with each pitching at the major-league level should they have to dip to Durham for a starter.

Lefty Mike Montgomery, 7-8 with a 4.72 ERA in 20 games/19 starts last season at Durham, could pitch himself to the front of the line for call-ups.

THE COMPETITION

The Rays improved this offseason on a team that won 92 games in 2013 and beat Cleveland in the AL wild-card game to reach the AL division series. Of course, they made it even harder on themselves by having to beat Texas in a 163rd game to advance to the winner-take-all wild-card game.

“We don't want to have to do what we did last year, win that one game. But we did and it was great,” Joe Maddon said.

The division will remain strong. Boston won the World Series last October. The New York Yankees made another big splash by signing right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, the latest Japanese superstar to reach the big leagues, catcher Brian McCann and outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. Baltimore is expected to be in the postseason hunt. Toronto has talent.

The AL West could be the division to watch this year, with Oakland and Texas fighting for first place. Seattle added Robinson Cano and former Rays closer Fernando Rodney.

“The West has gotten real good,” Maddon said. “The Angels have struggled, but you know they're going to come back.”

Kansas City could join the list of wild-card contenders this year, meaning the Rays are battling more than their division foes for a spot in the postseason.

“It's going to be another rat race again. It's going to be the same thing all over again, and I'm getting ready for that mentally,” Maddon said. “There's not going to be any running away with it stuff. The goal is going to be to win the division and not have to go through that one-game playoff again.”

Comments