2. Is Zobrist a lock at second base?
With Akinori Iwamura gone and Zobrist having a lot of experience at second base after the 2009 season, Zobrist appears earmarked to take over at second. Zobrist's bat insures he will be in the lineup every day somewhere, but Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac could make the situation interesting. If either of them shows enough to grab a starting role, Zobrist might be used in right field. More likely is a battle between Brignac and Rodriguez for the reserve shortstop/second-base role. Both are well-qualified, and that could brew into one of the best battles of the spring.
3. Can a better approach at the plate pay dividends in the spring?
Hoping to create a better overall approach to hitting, the Rays hired Derek Shelton as their new hitting coach. Manager Joe Maddon hopes the move will bring improvements in hitting with two strikes and with runners on third and less than two outs. Given the way Maddon likes to make things fun for his team, it wouldn't be surprising to see some sort of spring competition established for succeeding in both areas.
84-78, third in the American League East
Projected batting order
1. SS Jason Bartlett
.320 BA, .389 OBP, .490 SLG, 14 HR, 66 RBI in 2009
2. LF Carl Crawford
.305 BA, .364 OBP, .452 SLG, 15 HR, 68 RBI in 2009
3. 3B Evan Longoria
.281 BA, .364 OBP, .526 SLG, 33 HR, 113 RBI in 2009
4. 1B Carlos Pena
.227 BA, .356 OBP, .537 SLG, 39 HR, 100 RBI in 2009
5. 2B Ben Zobrist
.297 BA, .405 OBP, .543 SLG, 27 HR, 91 RBI in 2009
6. CF B.J. Upton
.241 BA, .313 OBP, .373 SLG, 11 HR, 55 RBI in 2009
7. DH Pat Burrell
.221 BA, .315 OBP, .367 SLG, 14 HR, 64 RBI in 2009
8. RF Matt Joyce
.188 BA, .270 OBP, .500 SLG, 3 HR, 7 RBI in 2009
9. C Dioner Navarro
.218 BA, .261 OBP, .322 SLG, 8 HR, 32 RBI in 2009
1. James Shields
, 11-12, 4.14 ERA in 2009
2. Matt Garza
, 8-12, 3.95 ERA in 2009
3. David Price
, 10-7, 4.42 ERA in 2009
4. Jeff Niemann
, 13-6, 3.94 ERA in 2009
5. Wade Davis
, 2-2, 3.72 ERA in 2009
Closer: Rafael Soriano
, 27/31 saves, 2.97 ERA in 2009
RH setup man: Dan Wheeler
, 3.28 ERA in 2009
LH setup man: J.P. Howell
, 2.84 ERA in 2009
The new guys
RHP Rafael Soriano:
Acquired from the Braves in a trade completed shortly after the Winter Meetings, Soriano is expected to fill the void at closer. He throws in the mid-90s and always seems eager to take the ball. His arrival should immediately make the bullpen better as Howell, Wheeler and Balfour all move back to setup roles.
C Kelly Shoppach:
The Rays wanted to bolster their catching in the offseason, and the power-hitting former receiver of the Indians appears to be a solid choice. He should platoon with Navarro initially, and if he blossoms, who knows. Shoppach is coming off a down year, but should show improvement with more at-bats.
IF/OF Sean Rodriguez:
Formerly of the Angels, Rodriguez came to the Rays in the late-season trade that sent Scott Kazmir to Anaheim. There is a slim possibility that Rodriguez could be the starter at second base, but more than likely he'll battle Brignac for the backup infield position, a battle that might be won by the player who plays shortstop the best.
Prospects to watch
RHP Jeremy Hellickson:
RHP Wade Davis: The right-hander came up in September and showed the talent that should earn him a spot in the starting rotation in 2010. Included in his late-season showing was a dominant complete-game shutout at Baltimore. Davis found his way to the Major Leagues in 2009 after refining his stuff and his location. He incorporated a slider into his repertoire and continues to make progress with his changeup.
The 22-year-old will likely begin the season at Triple-A Durham to get a little more experience. He missed over a month last season due to injury, but came through it well enough to earn a promotion to Durham. He needs to show progress in his pitch development and location, which should improve after he logs more Minor League innings. There is a lot of competition in front of him in the Rays' starting rotation.
OF Desmond Jennings:
The speedster had an outstanding first full year of professional baseball in 2009. Jennings got hurt in his two previous seasons, which prevented him from playing a full campaign. He became the MVP of the Southern League in 2009 at Double-A Montgomery before advancing to Durham, where he showed he could play. He's a gifted athlete who can play center field -- he runs very good routes. He has the ability to hit, and will eventually hit for some power. Jennings is likely to begin the season at Durham.
IF Reid Brignac:
Brignac played in 31 games for the Rays in 2009 and appears ready for the Major Leagues. The slick-fielding Louisiana native has a slim shot at becoming the starting second baseman, but primarily he should battle Rodriguez for the backup infield position. He has shown a strong arm and quality skills at shortstop with an improving bat.
On the rebound
DH Pat Burrell:
Nobody on the team had a more disappointing season in 2009 than Burrell, who was expected to vastly improve Tampa Bay's power from the right side. The veteran slugger hit just .221 with 14 home runs and 64 RBIs. The Rays are hoping that Burrell went through a period of adjustment from joining a new team and a new league in 2009 and that he will rebound in '10.
C Dioner Navarro:
Navarro's stock went south in 2009, a year removed from his making the AL All-Star team. He struggled at the plate, hitting just .218, and his defensive skills seemed to decline with his bat. To guard against another subpar season by Navarro, the Rays acquired Shoppach. Navarro will platoon with Shoppach initially, and if Navarro does not play well, he could quickly become the backup catcher.
CF B.J. Upton:
Upton got off to a slow start, in no small part because of the surgery he had to his left shoulder after the 2008 postseason. In a disappointing offensive year, Upton did not let his hitting affect his defense in center field, where he is one of the best in baseball. Upton is a good bet to rebound in 2010 with the kind of power numbers he's capable of producing on a consistent basis.
2B Akinori Iwamura:
Iwamura was traded to Pittsburgh during the offseason, ending the run of one of the team's most popular players. Iwamura's defense will be missed, but if Zobrist is the second baseman and produces another season like 2009, the Rays will have an upgrade.