Tampa Bay Rays Roster Battles: 3 Most Intriguing Spring Position Battles

Douglas SiborContributor IMarch 19, 2012

Tampa Bay Rays Roster Battles: 3 Most Intriguing Spring Position Battles

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    After a season of miraculous comebacks, the Tampa Bay Rays enter spring training in 2012 with high hopes for their young squad.

    With perhaps the best starting rotation in baseball, the Rays and their fans have a lot to be optimistic about this season.

    Despite the large number of returning players, the team also has several key spots in the lineup and on the pitching staff undecided. The competition for these spots will be fierce, as the Rays have brought in talented players to vie for each position.

    Let’s take a look at three key battles yet to be decided.

4th and 5th Starter

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    The final two slots in the Rays rotation will come down to a three-way battle between Matt Moore, Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis.

    After his performance in September and the playoffs last year, Moore is likely assured one of these spots and is an early favorite for AL Rookie of the Year.

    Both Niemann and Davis saw plenty of action last year, logging 23 and 29 starts respectively.

    While both were effective at the back end of the Rays’ rotation, a full season of Moore means there is only room for one of them.

    Davis has struggled so far this spring, posting a 5.19 ERA in three starts. With an ERA of 4.32, Niemann has been almost a full run better in the same number of appearances.

    With time running out before manager Joe Maddon must make a decision, both pitchers will try to elevate their games and earn the final slot in the Rays’ formidable starting staff.

Shortstop

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    The biggest question mark in the Rays’ lineup is who will be playing shortstop.

    Last year saw incumbent Reid Brignac and the versatile Sean Rodriguez struggle to find their groove at the plate, as both players posted below-average numbers across the board.

    After a rookie year that showed enough that the team shipped starter Jason Bartlett out in the offseason, Brignac failed to live up to his promise when handed the starting job last year.

    He hit an abysmal .193 and logged only five extra-base hits in 249 at-bats.

    Rodriguez took over the bulk of the starting duties when Brignac sputtered, but he fared only marginally better. In 59 starts, Rodriguez hit .222 with a meager .644 OPS.

    Both players are off to good starts this spring at the plate and in the field, and this back-and-forth battle will likely wage on right up until Opening Day.

Middle Relief

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    After their great success last season, the duo of closer Kyle Farnsworth and setup man Joel Peralta will be back for another go-around.

    However, the Rays will be looking for better overall consistency out of their bullpen in 2012—excluding Farnsworth and Peralta, the bullpen posted a 4.28 ERA, which would have been good for 28th in MLB.

    To help provide depth and shore up their relief corps, the Rays have brought in several new faces to compete for spots on their 2012 roster.

    Former Tigers closer Fernando Rodney will look to rediscover his form of earlier in his career before a disastrous 2011 campaign saw him average 7.9 walks per nine innings.

    Burke Badenhop and Josh Lueke were brought in during the offseason to provide more depth for this group, and both will be relied upon early (especially if Rodney struggles).

    Also competing for innings will be the promising Jake McGee and Brandon Gomes, who both have climbed through the Rays’ farm system and are awaiting their opportunity.