The Rays' biggest battles in spring training will be fifth starter in the rotation, catcher and left field.
The injury to Jeremy Hellickson will open a spot for a fifth starter.
Jake Odorizzi is the favorite heading into spring training and the most likely to fill the void.
Odorizzi played in seven games for the Rays in 2013 including four as a starter. He finished the season 0-1 with a 3.94 ERA over 29.2 innings pitched.
He was most successful against right-handed hitters, holding them to a .208/.377/.627 line.
One concern with Odorizzi is the command of his four pitches (fastball, curveball, slider and change-up) as pointed out by Michael Valancius from draysbay.com
The common perception is that the high floor right-handed pitcher is entirely major league ready and, while not offering a ton of upside, can easily slide into the rotation and be an effective 3/4 starter. However, if Odorizzi wants to establish himself in the major leagues, there are several things he still needs to work on. While displaying solid control in his stint with the Rays, the young righty's command lagged behind, leading to a high hit rate. For a guy without overpowering stuff, commanding pitches (ie., locating them where intended) is imperative.
Competing with Odorizzi for the spot in the rotation will be Alex Colome primarily.
In his scouting report on Rays top prospects, Marc Hulet from fangraphs.com believes if Colome can be more consistent, he can add some average secondary pitches to his fastball.
Colome has a chance to have three average secondary offerings to pair with his mid-90s heat. He throws a slider, curveball and change-up although he needs to become more consistent with the offerings. His control took a step forward in 2013, but he needs to do a better job of keeping the ball down in the zone.
He started three games for the Rays in 2013 finishing with a 1-1 record and 2.25 ERA. He allowed only 14 hits over 16 innings. He was also effective in Triple-A going 4-6 in 14 starts with a 3.07 ERA.
The biggest obstacle for Colome is staying healthy, which will likely have him start the season with Triple-A Durham, as Hulet also pointed out.
After making 28 starts in 2011, Colome has failed to start more than 17 games each of the past two seasons while dealing with injuries. The 2014 season will be an important one for the right-hander; he needs to stay on the mound to both prove he can stay healthy and to further his development. He’ll very likely open the year in Triple-A.
Enny Romero’s name will also come up in the discussions for the rotation spot. Although Romero had an impressive 2013 in the minors, finishing with an 11-7 record and 2.61 ERA, he has not spent enough time in Triple-A to start the season in the majors. Only one of his 28 starts in 2013 was at the Triple-A level. In that outing he allowed only four hits and two walks in eight shutout innings.
Romero was called up to the majors for an emergency start in September. He pitched 4.2 shutout innings and gave up only one hit in his major league debut.
Winner: Jake Odorizzi
The addition of Ryan Hanigan and re-signing of Jose Molina during the offseason seem to indicate that Jose Lobaton will not be with the Rays in 2014. The Rays and Washington Nationals have been rumored to be in talks about trading Lobaton.
In the event that a deal is not made for Lobaton, he would be battling for the backup catcher position.
In 2013, Lobaton barely edged out Molina, playing in 100 games to 99, respectively. The numbers shift when you look at games started at catcher last season. Molina started 87 games at catcher compared to 76 starts for Lobaton.
Lobaton’s production offensively is much greater than Molina’s. In 2013, Lobaton had a .249/.320/.394 line with seven home runs, 15 doubles and 32 RBI. Molina, on the other hand, had a .233/.290/.304 line with two home runs, 14 doubles and 18 RBI.
Winner: Jose Lobaton (if not traded)
The battle for the left field will most likely come down to David DeJesus and Matt Joyce. DeJesus finished 2013 with a .260/.328/.413 line in 35 games with the Rays.
DeJesus’ offensive numbers do not drop significantly when you look at his platoon splits. He has a career .252/.321/.342 line against left-handed pitchers, which is not significantly lower than his .289/.365/.447 career line against right-handed pitchers.
Matt Joyce is a different story.
He finished 2013 with a .235/.328/.419 line in 140 games with the Rays.
Joyce’s platoon splits are consistently disappointing against left-handed pitching. His career .260/.354/.481 line against right-handed pitching is night and day to his .194/.270/.322 line against lefties.
If Joyce can revert back to his 2011 All-Star version of himself, this could be a tight position battle. In 2011, he had a .277/.347/.478 line and hit a career high 19 home runs, 32 doubles and 75 RBI.
The loser of the battle for left field will likely fill the designated hitter role since the team lacks a true DH.
Winner: David DeJesus