The Rays return in 2008 with a much different lineup than that which started the 2007 campaign as only catcher and left field figure to have the same opening day starters. With most of the regular lineup set, there are still a number of questions concerning the Rays entering Spring Training. Let’s consult the Rays Magic 8-Ball…

  1. Will Scott Kazmir get enough of a Spring tune-up to be ready for opening day? Magic 8-ball says: What? You couldn’t start me off with an easy one? Kazmir wants to be on the hill opening day. The team wants to be careful. The team usually wins. At this point it doesn’t seem very likely that Kaz will pitch opening day. Even if he is pitching pain free, the team will be tentative about sending out their young ace on opening day in front of a sold-out crowd in Baltimore with 40 degree weather. Kazmir may overthrow with the extra bit of adrenaline that will be flowing. Look for Kazmir to be skipped in the rotation the first time through the order with 80-90 pitch limits placed on him the first 3-4 starts.

  2. Will Evan Longoria be in the lineup on March 31? Magic 8-ball says: America…Fuck yeah! Stuart Sternberg has said that the needs of the prospect outweigh the needs of the team, but it won’t take long for everybody on down to Joe Maddon and the waterboy to realize that the best third baseman in camp is Longoria, both on the field and off. They might as well start stocking Longoria jersey in the Trop shops.

  3. Who will fill out the back end of the rotation? Magic 8-ball says: Joe Maddon has stated that the ability to throw strikes on a consistent basis will go a long ways towards deciding the final two spots. I also know that Maddon does most of his evaluating on the previous season. That means that Andy Sonnanstine is a lock for the rotation. The final spot is a bit more dicey. Edwin Jackson has the edge over the other incumbent Jason Hammel, due to his 98mph fastball and a second-half in 2007 that at least showed that he is moving in the right direction. Still, he is going to need to show further progress in the Spring. Hammel is a long-shot at best. With 23 major league starts under his belt he has never shown that he can be a major league starting pitcher. JP Howell may be better suited for the ‘pen. That leaves Jeff Niemann as the only serious contender for Jackson’s spot. With no big league experience to gauge, Niemann will have to show Maddon that he can consistently throw strikes, consistently dominate major league hitters and show that he has the endurance to work late in games. If he can do that, look for Niemann to sneak past Jackson.

  4. Will Rocco Baldelli be able to handle an everyday role in right field? Magic 8-ball says: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHA!

  5. How quickly will Akinori Iwamura adjust to life at second base? Magic 8-ball says: Aki may have said it best…If Wiggy can do it, Aki can do it. The only concern the team has at this point is turning double plays. This is not to be taken lightly, but as long as Aki makes sure of the first out, I am less concerned how long it takes him to get out of the way of the runner and safely deliver the ball to first base. Aki will be fine. Gold glove? Not in 2008. But it would not surprise me if he is at least considered for the award in 2009 or 2010.

  6. What happens to Jolly Guzbar if Evan Longoria is the opening day third baseman? Magic 8-ball says: One will be traded prior to opening day. With only four spots on the bench, three are spoken for: Jonny Gomes, Ben Zobrist and a backup catcher to be named later. If Longoria is the third baseman, that leaves one spot for Joel Guzman or Willy Aybar. Guzman has the glove, the pop and can play three infield positions and the corner outfield spots. Aybar is a switch-hitter. Has a solid OBP, but can only play third and second. Did I mention that both are out of options? The player to win the final spot may come down to which commands a bigger bounty in the trade market. Look for Aybar on the bench and Guzman on the Mariners with Edwin Jackson.

  7. Who will be the final two relief pitchers? Magic 8-ball says: We have come a long way in one year. Last year, the entire bullpen was up in the air and we actually thought Seth McClung was going to be the closer. And we were surprised the Rays only won 66 games?!? Troy Percival, Al Reyes, Dan Wheeler, Trever Miller and Gary Glover are locks. That leaves two spots in the ‘pen. One spot will go to one of the starting pitchers with Jason Hammel (out of options) the likely choice. JP Howell also has a good shot. Juan Salas is still stuck in the D.R. with no end in sight. He also has a minor league option left, so he is out. That means the final spot will be a Spring battle between Scott Dohmann and Grant Balfour. Dohmann should win that battle easily, but don’t count out Brian Anderson, the veteran lefty has looked strong so far in camp.

  8. Can Shawn Riggans really win the backup catcher’s job? Magic 8-ball says: After all the talk of wanting a veteran backup to tutor Navarro, and signing two such backstops in Josh Paul and Mike DiFelice, one of whom is very familiar with the pitching staff (Paul), it amazes me that Joe Maddon says that Riggans is the favorite. This one is truly baffling and the one I seem to have the weakest grip on. When the smoke settles, I still think Paul will be the guy, but if Riggans has a strong spring, the job will be his.

  9. Can Fernando Perez play well enough in the spring to convince the Rays that he should be the first option out of Durham? Magic 8-ball says: It is not a matter of if, but a matter of when either Rocco Baldelli or Cliff Floyd lands on the DL. When that happens, the Rays’ first option will most likely be Justin Ruggiano who has a full year of AAA experience and a handful of games in the big leagues. However, if Perez can play well enough in the spring and get off to a hot start in Durham, the team could conceivably bypass Ruggiano for the more talented Perez. The real answer to this question will come if the Rays choose to give Perez playing time in right field in the spring. If they do. Perez is their guy.

  10. Do wins and losses in March matter for a team like the 2008 Rays? Magic 8-ball says: For those that say wins don’t matter in the spring. I say stop farting and blaming it on the dog. Last year, of the 8 playoff teams, seven had winning records in the spring, including the D-Backs that had the second best spring record at 20-12. Of the 17 teams that posted winning records in the spring, 11 finished the regular season above .500. The Rays went 10-19 in 2007. A winning record in the spring will go a long way towards building some confidence in the young squad.

  11. What other players should we watch closely this spring? Magic 8-ball says: The three names off the top of my dome are Mitch Talbot, Chris Mason and Elliot Johnson. Talbot and Johnson both entered 2007 as top prospects in the organization. Talbot got off to a rough start and Johnson played horribly all year. Talbot pitched better in the second half and needs to have a strong spring or he will become an after-thought in the minds of the men that count. Johnson’s drop-off in 2007 was too great to be due to a lack of skills alone. Outside of Akinori Iwamura, Johnson is the only other potential major league second baseman in the organization. Johnson needs to build on a strong AAA-playoff appearance or he will soon be forgotten. Mason is another question mark. AA’s pitcher of the year in 2007, not many look at Mason as a big-time prospect. He will be at Durham in 2008 and if he has a strong showing this spring we could see him make a spot-start with the Rays sometime in 2008. Keep in mind when a pitcher is needed from Durham, the decision is often based on who’s turn it would be to take the mound as much as talent.

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5 Comments

  1. Robert Rittner says:

    I think most of your comments are on the money. I do have a quibble, not really a disagreement, with #10, the importance of winning in the spring.

    I have no statistics at hand, but I am dubious that winning springs generally have much predictive power for the season. There may have been some coincidental correlation in 2007, but one season does not make a case.

    On the other hand, it may help the Rays given their youth and losing history. So I would not discount it. But we do have to remember that if the Rays try very hard to win while other teams are far less concerned, it is probably a false sign and not to be credited much.

    Some people have commented that the record in the last 2 weeks or so might be more telling, but I am not sure how significant it is either.

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  2. The Professor says:

    Normally I would agree, but I look at the 2008 Rays as a special circumstance. A very young squad that only knows losing. I think a really good spring (maybe just the last two weeks) could be just the little bit of confidence the team needs heading into the season. And maybe the actualy Ws and Ls is not as important as we usually have scrubs late in games, but I would like to see the team be competitive in the first 5-6 innings every day.

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  3. Scot Gould says:

    I concur with Mr. Rittner - to paraphrase the master EW: "nobody remembers your March record in September".

    I think the evidence is pretty clear - the correlation between spring training records and regular season records is well below social scientist standards.

    Of course I don't believe much in team chemistry either. Randy Jones, who is quite a character, said it best, "you always have good team chemistry if your are winning."

    With regards to the Rays, the reason Young was traded is that he overrated. Historical evidence suggests that if you don't know how to be patient, you ain't going to learn.

    Of course there are also extremes like Elijah "see my picture" Dukes.

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  4. Pugh says:

    As to quibbling see item 2. In baseball there are bat boys and club house boys. No water boys.

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  5. The Professor says:

    well, officially you are correct. but when I played in college one of the freshmen (usually that year's big recruit with the big ego trip) was given the name 'waterboy' and had to fetch water for the seniors whenever they asked.

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