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Around the Horn: Outfield

AL Rookie of Year Award winner Myers to patrol right, alongside Jennings, DeJesus

Around the Horn: Outfield

With the start of Spring Training just a few weeks away, anticipation is building for the 2014 season. MLB.com will go around the horn to break down each area of the Rays, starting with the outfield.

ST. PETERSBURG -- Looking ahead to the season, the Rays' outfield appears set, yet there are some interesting questions that should be answered by the time the team opens the regular season March 31 at Tropicana Field against the Blue Jays.

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If the season opened today, David DeJesus would play left, Desmond Jennings would be in center and Wil Myers would patrol right.

DeJesus, 34, was acquired from the Nationals on Aug. 23 after beginning the season with the Cubs. He played in 35 games (26 starts) for the Rays, and finished the season hitting a combined .251/.327/.402 with eight home runs and 52 runs scored. DeJesus also batted .341 (15-for-44) at Tropicana Field after joining Tampa Bay. In 11 Major League seasons, he holds a .279 career average with a .353 on-base percentage.

The Rays had coveted DeJesus before finally acquiring him for a player to be named (left-hander Matthew Spann). Having the veteran outfielder on their roster did nothing to diminish how the team felt about him.

DeJesus and Tampa Bay agreed to a two-year, $10.5 million contract this offseason that includes a club option for 2016.

Keeping DeJesus gives the Rays flexibility in several areas. Though he appears to be the everyday left fielder, he also can be plugged in for late-inning defense, pinch-running and pinch-hitting. In addition, DeJesus could see time as the left-handed component of a platoon at designated hitter.

Jennings, 27, spent his first full season in center field after B.J. Upton's exodus to the Braves, and the former left fielder came through with a solid season, hitting .252 with 14 home runs and 54 RBIs in 139 games.

Jennings also played his usual Gold Glove-type defense, save for a slight slump in the field when he dropped a couple of fly balls within a short period. Nevertheless, having him in center adds a comfort level to Tampa Bay's pitchers.

"Especially when you see a ball go to the gap," left-hander Matt Moore said. "You kind of hold your anger at yourself a little bit, you think you gave up a double and then here he comes snowconing it down. So it's nice to have that speed in the gaps."

Myers rounds out the group. Despite not joining the team until its 70th game on June 18, he hit .293 with 13 home runs, which helped lead the Rays to their fourth playoff appearance in six years. Tampa Bay was three games over .500 when Myers arrived (36-33). Then, with the eventual American League Rookie of the Year Award winner in lineup, the team went 18 games over .500 (56-38) to close the season.

Myers came to the Rays on Dec. 9, 2012, as the marquee player received in the trade that sent James Shields to the Royals.

At the end of the season, Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon called Myers' rookie campaign "very impressive."

"He hits the ball as far as anybody in baseball right now," Maddon said. "To all fields. He hits for average, too. Good baserunner and he runs well, better than I thought, too. Defensively, we've got to help him a little bit. I thought he showed signs of being at least a solid outfielder. I think with technique, he'll develop. We'll work with him in Spring Training.

"Makeup-wise, he definitely has a big league makeup. I talked a lot about him not being overwhelmed. ... This guy is going to be a big part of our future."

Among the questions facing the club is what to do with Matt Joyce. He will be included in the outfield mix as well as DH. But Joyce might have a harder time getting playing time than in past seasons. In addition, others who will likely see time in the outfield include starting second baseman Ben Zobrist, who can spot Myers in right field. Also, Sean Rodriguez will likely see some action.

The Rays could also acquire an outfielder or infielder, depending on how they want to construct the team. Free agent Sam Fuld could be brought back, or the team could go any number of ways, depending who is available.

Down on the farm, defensive standout Kevin Kiermaier is a possibility, but chances are Tampa Bay will want him to play every day at Triple-A Durham rather than come off the bench in the Majors.

Brandon Guyer, who has struggled with injuries since coming over from the Cubs in the Matt Garza trade, is also an option. The fact that he hits from the right side bodes well for him.

Injuries aside, it's safe to say the Rays have a talented and deep group of outfielders heading into Spring Training.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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