Closer: Troy Percival
, 0 saves,
1.80 ERA in 2007
RH setup man: Al Reyes
, 26 saves,
4.90 ERA in 2007
RH setup man: Dan Wheeler
, 11 saves, 5.30
ERA in 2007
The new guys
The veteran signed as a free agent in December and is
expected to be part of a three-man rotation for the right field and DH
positions with Gomes and Rocco Baldelli. Floyd will likely be in the
lineup most nights when the Rays' opponent is a right-hander. The fact
Floyd will bring a veteran presence to the Rays' clubhouse also
factored into the decision to sign him.
Bartlett: By acquiring Bartlett in a trade with the Twins,
the Rays hope to find stability at shortstop. There are questions
about Bartlett's defense after he made 26 errors last year -- and questions
about his offense after he hit only .265 with limited power -- but
the Rays believe he can provide some answers.
The righty was among a crowded group of Twins pitching prospects jockeying
for playing time over the past two seasons. He struggled during his
initial Major League splash in 2006, and didn't break camp with the Twins
last spring. But a strong showing on the farm significantly bumped his
stock, and in July he became a rotation fixture in Minnesota, finishing
the year with a 3.69 ERA in 16 games.
The Rays believe he has the stuff to be a top-of-the-rotation pitcher;
he goes to Spring Training in the No. 3 spot in the rotation.
The veteran reliever revived his career in 2007
with the Cardinals, going 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA in 34 games. Rays manager
Joe Maddon has a history with Percival from the Angels and plans to
insert him as the team's closer. Percival is 12th on the all-time saves
list with 324, but he hasn't earned a single save in nearly 2 1/2 years. Signing Percival strengthened the Rays' 'pen by giving them a
proven closer while also bumping last year's closer, Reyes, to a
The Rays acquired Aybar, along with Minor League
infielder Chase Fontaine, from the Braves in exchange for left-hander
Jeff Ridgway. Aybar, 24, missed all of last season due to an injured right
wrist and a stint at a rehabilitation facility for substance abuse.
The Rays like his defensive flexibility. He can play third and second, and
they plan on looking at him at first base and in the outfield. Aybar
is a switch-hitter, but the Rays particularly like him from the left
The 38-year-old was an original member of the Rays,
appearing in 242 games for the team from 1998 until he was dealt to
the Diamondbacks at the 2001 trading deadline. The veteran catcher signed
a Minor League contract with an invite to Spring Training. He has
spent all or part of the past 12 seasons at the Major League level, batting
.235 with 28 home runs and 163 RBIs in 548 career games with the Rays,
Cardinals (1996-97, 2002), Diamondbacks (2001), Royals (2003), Tigers
(2004), Cubs (2004) and Mets (2005-07).
The 27-year-old left-hander split time between
Baltimore and Triple-A Norfolk (8-4, 3.07 ERA over 19 starts) in 2007,
going 1-2 with an 8.13 ERA over 19 games (two starts) with the Orioles.
Birkins will compete for a job in the bullpen, and the fact he is
left-handed could bode well for his pursuit.
Signed to a Minor League contract with an invite
to Spring Training, Cannizaro, 29, arrives from the Yankees
organization, where he played 52 games at second base, shortstop and third base
with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2007 and completed an eight-game
rehabilitation assignment with Double-A Trenton. A right-handed hitter,
Cannizaro hit .250 during a 13-game stint with New York in September
2006, and entered 2007 Spring Training vying for a Major League roster
spot until a back injury during the first week of camp sidelined him
through June. He will compete for a backup infield spot.
Signed to a Minor League contract with an invite
to Spring Training, Rodriguez has played 11 seasons in the Yankees
(1997-2004), Indians (2004) and Cardinals (2005-07) organizations and
spent part of this offseason playing for the Caribes de Anzoategui of the
Venezuelan Winter League. Over 158 Major League games with St. Louis
between 2005-06, Rodriguez hit .298 with seven home runs, 43 RBIs, 18
doubles and a .378 on-base percentage. Given the precarious nature of right
field, Rodriguez could work himself onto the roster if certain
Prospects to watch
The third baseman played at Double-A Montgomery and
Triple-A Durham in 2007, and hit .299 with 26 home runs and 95 RBIs in 136
games, including a .402 on-base percentage and a .520 slugging percentage.
At the end of the 2007 season, the Rays announced Longoria would know
if he was going to make the team prior to the start of Spring Training.
That decision has not yet been announced.
The fourth overall pick of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft,
Niemann finally appears ready to make a run at finding a spot in the Rays'
rotation. At Durham in 2007, the 6-foot-9, 280-pound right-hander went
12-6 with a 3.98 ERA, 46 walks and 123 strikeouts in 131 innings.
He can be overpowering and has a nice assortment of pitches.
The 24-year-old right-hander is said to have some
of the best stuff in the Rays' system, but he occasionally lets his
emotions get the best of him. Talbot showed well at Durham in 2007, going
13-9 with a 4.53 ERA, 59 walks and 124 strikeouts in 161 innings.
He is a long shot to earn a spot in the Rays' rotation, but he is one of
the contenders for the two available spots.
Returning from injury
After teasing Rays fans with what he could do during
the second half of the 2006 season, Baldelli missed most of the 2007
season with assorted leg problems. When Baldelli is healthy, he is the
total package, showing splendid range and fielding prowess in the outfield,
along with power and speed at the plate. The big question -- and it's a
huge one -- will be his health. Even if he's used at DH, he'll be
considered a risk to go on the disabled list at any point of the season.
Riggans began the 2007 season at Durham, where he
hit .295 with four home runs and 14 RBIs before going on the disabled
list. He made three starts with the Rays before returning to the DL.
Eventually he had season-ending surgery to have a "loose body" removed
from his elbow. He will be in contention with DiFelice for the backup
On the rebound
The talented outfielder heads to Spring Training as the Rays' biggest question
mark. If he's healthy, he should be a productive part of a three-way
rotation to fill the right field and DH slots. In addition, he can back up
in center and left fields. If he is not healthy, it is fair to
speculate on whether he will ever be healthy given his injury history over the
past three seasons.
The shortstop committed 26 errors last season, the most at that position in the Major Leagues. But he has a strong arm and good
range, which are attributes not seen in a box score. Some of Bartlett's
struggles in 2007 can be attributed to neck and shoulder injuries that
plagued him throughout the season. Regardless, the Rays are sold on the
player who will take over at shortstop this season.
The Rays' top prospect was traded to the Twins
after playing his first full season in the Major Leagues in 2007. Young
played in every game, while hitting .288 with 13 home runs and 93 RBIs.
Those numbers -- particularly the home runs -- should improve. Young has a
good eye, but he likes to swing away, which contributed to his paltry
walk total of 26 and .319 on-base percentage. Young wants to be great,
he works hard, and his talents are obvious.
Now with the Mets, Stokes might have been thrown
in over his head to start the 2007 season when he was used in a setup
role and was not able to handle the assignment. The right-hander has
terrific stuff, including a power arm capable of producing 95-mph
fastballs. What he has lacked is command. His troubles mostly stemmed from
leaving fastballs up in the strike zone with predictable results.
Now a non-roster invitee with the Red Sox, Switzer
has been the prime left-hander to work out of the Rays' bullpen the
past two seasons, though he has spent parts of the 2006 and '07 seasons
at Durham. He does better against left-handers (.242 batting average)
than right-handers (.404) and he closed the season by pitching well in
September (4.66 ERA).
Norton, who's contract option was declined in November, struggled in 2007, primarily due to injuries,
and his numbers suffered accordingly. He had offseason surgery to
repair a painful left elbow and should be good as new. Norton provides
quality at-bats and can put up solid numbers when healthy. Based on his
makeup, Norton should be considered more for what he did in 2006 (.296,
17 HRs, 45 RBIs) rather than for what he didn't do in 2007 (.243, 4 HRs, 24 RBIs).
The infielder was a great find for the Rays in 2007
before going to the Twins in a trade after the season. He hit and played
well in the field at both shortstop and second base. Harris had better
numbers in the first half (.310, 8 HRs, 39 RBIs) than the second half
(.256, 4 HRs, 20 RBIs), but he also was adjusting to playing second base rather than
shortstop, where he played primarily in the first half.
Wilson has a slick glove, though he suffered
through a couple of inconsistent spells in the field. He has a weak bat no
matter what position he plays. He hit just .238 with an on-base
percentage of .290, showing little to no power (2 HRs, 24 RBIs). The Pirates
claimed Wilson off waivers.
Dukes began the year in center field for the Rays,
but off-the-field problems eventually led Rays officials to classify
him as a distraction, which resulted in him being placed on the
temporary inactive list. He did not play for the Rays again during the 2007
season and was traded to the Nationals at the Winter Meetings. Dukes hit
.190 with 10 home runs and 21 RBIs in 52 games.
The 27-year-old made his Major League debut with the
Rays in September after spending seven seasons in the Rays' Minor
League system. He made three relief appearances for the Rays and went 0-0
with a 189.00 ERA. He went 2-3 with four saves for Durham in 2007, his
first full season at the Triple-A level. He led the staff with 54
appearances and struck out 67 in 64 2/3 innings.
Triple play: Three questions that need
2007 hitting leaders (min.
Avg.: Crawford, .315
OBP: Pena, .411
SLG: Pena, .627
Runs: Pena, 99
RBIs: Pena, 121
Hits: Young, 186
2B: Young, 38
3B: Iwamura, 10
HRs: Pena, 46
SB: Crawford, 50
2007 pitching leaders
(min. 30 IP)
IP: Shields, 215
W: Kazmir, 13
L: Jackson, 15
Win %: Shields, .600 (12-8)
S: Reyes, 26
ERA: Dohmann, 3.31
K: Kazmir, 239
K/9: Grant Balfour, 11.05
WHIP: Shields, 1.11
1. Will the trio of Gomes, Baldelli and Floyd be able to cover the
Rays in right field and DH?
2. How much better will the bullpen be with Percival?
Baldelli has fought injuries the past three seasons, Floyd has been
injury prone throughout his career, and Gomes is inconsistent when he does
not play regularly. Still, this threesome has a lot of talent. Maddon
will have to do a masterful job of keeping Baldelli healthy, resting
Floyd enough for him to be productive, and keeping Gomes from getting
Percival did not have any saves in 2007 during his comeback with the
Cardinals. More importantly, he showed he still could pitch, which should
be all that matters, since the veteran has shown throughout his career
he is mentally tough enough to close games. Percival's addition allows
the Rays to move Reyes down to a setup role, which makes the bullpen
that much tougher. This year's bullpen should show a marked improvement
over Rays 'pens past.
3. Just how good is Longoria?
The bottom line
Is Longoria really the next Troy Glaus? Or will the Rays' top prospect
need further seasoning? That question should be answered this spring.
Once the Rays decide to bring him up to the Major Leagues, they sound as
though they will be committed to him. His Minor League resume is full
of glowing reports.
With a lot of new faces in camp, the Rays must blend into a unit. This
should not be a difficult task given the level of talent the team has
and -- for a change -- the number of positions that are not question
marks. Decisions must be made on whether Longoria is ready to take over at
third -- and if he's not, who plays there in the interim -- and the team
must decide on the final two spots in the rotation and who will occupy
the middle-relief spots.