"I was really impressed with Aki," Maddon said. "I understand why he's a Gold Glover. He's really smooth picking up a bad hop."
Maddon thought [designated hitter] Jonny Gomes looked "much looser" taking batting practice, as did Jorge Cantu. And then Maddon was asked about talented youngster Delmon Young.
"I think he will tell you that he's going to boggle your mind," Maddon said. "And I'm good with that. ... This guy is out to make a mark on this game. God bless him. I'm with him. He's different. ... He wants to be a complete player."
Looking at the overall team, Maddon said the Rays are as athletic as any team in Florida or Arizona, but the "difference level is how we think at crucial moments."
"[We need to] do it when the stuff is hitting the fan against a team that is really good," Maddon said.
Not one to pencil in predictions, Maddon did note a mark he wants the team to achieve at home in 2007.
"We want to win 10 more games at home than we did last year," Maddon said. "If we can increase the number of wins at home by 10, we'll have a nice season."
Not only would the team have 51 wins at home, but Maddon believes there would be also be a residual effect on the
road from having even more success at home.
Camp ready to go: Shawn Camp is in a different position this spring.
In 2006, the right-hander found himself battling to make the team. But after a solid 2006 season in which he made 75 appearances while posting a 7-4 record with a 4.68 ERA, he's one piece of the Rays' bullpen that's set.
But Camp isn't resting on his laurels when it comes to his approach.
"[Last year] changes my approach, because I want to get better," Camp said. "Last year, I don't know if I established myself, but I had some points where I slipped up. But now I know where those slipups were. There were a lot of things I worked on during the offseason."
For starters, Camp worked on his changeup.
"I watched a lot of tape from last year," Camp said. "[I] just went hitter to hitter, [studying] hitters that gave me problems. Like Boston, they gave me a hard time last year, so I've watched them over and over. I think just getting my feet wet last year allowed me to know what I had to do this offseason, and I went home and did it."
Camp can enter a game and get a ground ball with his sinker, or he can pitch a longer stint of as much as two innings. So what will his role be in 2007? The right-hander doesn't care, he just wants to be used.
"Sometimes I like the long role," Camp said. "I'm not opposed to anything. I want to go out there and compete. I want to be a better competitor."
Camp's main goal for the coming season is to be more consistent.
"Consistency is the piece of the puzzle we're missing," Camp said. "Particularly in the bullpen."
Shields one of four: Maddon has said that James Shields paid his dues in 2006, which is why he's penciled in as one of the team's first four starters. Shields said being slotted as such is nice, but he isn't taking anything for granted.
"Obviously I still have to work hard," Shields said. "I think we've got 14 starters here in big-league camp. So no matter what, it's still a dogfight. Somebody's always trying to take your job. I'm just going to work hard every day to try and get better."
Because of the presence of young pitchers like Shields, the Rays did not enter the free-agent market. Instead, the team's management opted to take inventory of the young arms they have to see how they shake down. In essence, not making a move served up a nice compliment to the organization's starters.
"Without a doubt [it's a compliment]," Shields said. "I think there's a good group of guys here. I think you can choose a lot of different guys to be in the starting staff or bullpen. We've got a good group of guys in this organization, a lot of talent. I wasn't that surprised about that."