With most of the opening day roster set, there are still a number of questions concerning the Rays entering Spring Training, and not one will be “who will be the closer?” Let’s start to speculate…

  1. What can we expect from BJ Upton this season? Most Rays fans that have watched BJ Upton over the last two years will agree that Upton is capable of a huge season. But there are reasons to be concerned. Upton has injured his shoulder each of the last six seasons, each time while swinging a bat. We don’t need a graph to tell us there is something in Upton’s swing that irritates his shoulder. So does Upton keep his swing the same and risk another injury? Or does he change his swing and risk losing that amazing bat speed and quick wrists?
  2. Who is going to leadoff this season? With the addition of Pat Burrell, the Rays have five great hitters in the lineup. If Joe Maddon sticks with Akinori Iwamura in the leadoff spot, that means somebody like Burrell or Evan Longoria is batting sixth most days. That is great for the bottom of the order, but do the Rays really want Aki to have that many more plate appearances this seasons than Burrell? The alternative is to have BJ Upton leadoff, but do the Rays want to take BJ Upton’s run production out of the middle of the order?
  3. Will Pat Burrell’s glove see the light of day (or light of the Trop) this season? On paper, the Rays would be smart to burn Pat Burrell’s glove. But The Bat has made it clear that he is concerned about the transition to DHing full-time. Complicating matters are the finicky hamstrings on the back of Carl Crawford’s legs. Will Joe Maddon be willing to occasionally sacrifice the team’s defensive abilities for the sake of Burrell’s sanity and CC’s touchy legs?
  4. Will Jason Hammell still be a Tampa Bay Ray on opening day? Jason Hammell is out of options and while there is an opening in the rotation, he must beat out David Price, Jeff Niemann and Mitch Talbot for the spot. Working for Hammell is the possibility that Price may start in triple-A and Niemann may start in the bullpen. Also working against a trade is the idea that the Rays don’t have any obvious needs. Still, if another team loses a starting pitcher in the spring, they may come calling on the Rays.
  5. Will Scott Kazmir rediscover his slider and his mechanics? Scott Kazmir lost confidence in his slider in 2008, at times looking as if he didn’t have a slider in his arsenal. Equally troubling was his inability to keep his fastball down in the strikezone, which may have led to the high number of foul tips, which in turn contributed to his high pitch counts. Kazmir struggled with his mechanics last season and if he can recapture his form, he may be able to recapture his confidence.
  6. Will Matt Joyce show that he belongs in the big leagues now? The Rays gave up their best trade piece this off-season for a guy that may not help the team this season. Keeping Gabe Gross and bringing in Gabe Kapler showed that the Rays think Matt Joyce is still a work in progress. If Joyce can come in and hit righties and lefties in the spring, it will be interesting to see if the Rays will be willing to deviate from the plan.
  7. Can David Price win the final spot in the rotation? The biggest concern is David Price’s workload. Are the Rays ready to give Price 32 starts at the big league level? Probably not, especially if there are other options. But in the AL East, every game counts and if the Rays want the 25 best players on the roster, King David should be one.
  8. Will we recognize Dioner Navarro and how will his new physique affect his game? Dioner Navarro is a great line drive hitter, with zero pop (part of his lack of power is due to his very long stride). Some players have trouble adapting to their new bodies when the change is that drastic. Despite his Fat Catcher status, we actually have always thought Navi was a decent athlete. It will be interesting to see if he now can play up to his athleticism.
  9. Who will fill out the back of the bullpen? With Troy Percival and Chad Bradford likely starting the year on the DL, there are now more open spots to start the year. But we still don’t know if Joe Maddon will go with Jeff Niemann or Jason Hammel in the bullpen and we need to see if Derek Rodriguez can outperform somebody like Lance Cormier for the final spot.
  10. Will Morgan Ensberg or Adam Kennedy change the Rays plans and force their way onto the roster? The Rays struck gold with Carlos Pena and to a lesser extent with Eric Hinske as veterans brought into camp on minor league deals. Of course Hee Seop Choi never played a game for the Rays. Shawn Riggans and Ben Zobrist need spots on the bench as the backup catcher and shortstop respectively, and the Rays just gave an extension to Willy Aybar. So the question is whether Morgan Ensberg or Adam Kennedy can outplay Gabe Kapler enough to justify a spot on the bench and somebody else platooning with Gabe Gross in right field.

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