September 28, 2011; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays players celebrate at home plate after third baseman Evan Longoria (3) (not pictured) hit the game winning home run in the twelfth inning at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay Rays defeated the New York Yankees 8-7 to win the wildcard playoff spot. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Projecting the Rays' Opening Day Roster

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Just a week and one day until the regular season. We are so close. That being said, we have a better idea of how the Rays roster is going to shake out. Let’s see what we know.

Catchers (2): Jose Molina, Jose Lobaton

Infielders/UTIL (7): Evan LongoriaBen Zobrist, Carlos Pena, Sean Rodriguez, Jeff Keppinger, Elliot Johnson, Reid Brignac

Outfielders (3 definitely active): Desmond Jennings, B.J. Upton (DL), Matt Joyce, Luke Scott

Starting Pitchers (5): James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Jeff Niemann

Relief Pitchers (6): Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta, Wade Davis, Burke Badenhop, J.P. Howell, Jake McGee

Up in the Air (5): Sam Fuld (DL?), Fernando Rodney (DL?), Brandon Gomes (currently at Triple-A), Brandon Guyer (Triple-A), Will Rhymes (Non-Roster Invitee), Jeff Salazar (Non-Roster Invitee), Jesus Feliciano (Non-Roster Invitee)

As you can see, we have given out 23 definite spots on the Rays roster to begin the season and 24 once Upton comes back, and then we’ll have to see what happens with Fuld and Rodney, with Gomes, Guyer, Salazar, Feliciano, or Rhymes ready to take someone’s place if necessary. If Fuld comes back soon (which is unfortunately looking bleak at tis point), it would lead to Burke Badenhop, Jake McGee, or even Reid Brignac getting sent down. With Upton out, either Guyer, Salazar, Rhymes, or Feliciano will get an Opening Day roster spot before being sent down in mid-April (unless they unexpectedly hit extremely well against major league pitching). Let’s look at our projected Rays lineup (including Upton, who should hopefully be back by mid-April at the latest).

1. Desmond Jennings, LF
2. B.J. Upton, CF
3. Evan Longoria, 3B
4. Carlos Pena, 1B
5. Ben Zobrist, 2B
6. Luke Scott, DH
7. Matt Joyce, RF
8. Jose Molina/Jose Lobaton, C
9. Sean Rodriguez/Reid Brignac, SS

The Rays’ 2012 lineup may very well be the best they have ever had even with the questions at catcher and shortstop. I still retain hope that Reid Brignac, once he’s back at 100% from his foot injury, will seize the Rays’ shortstop job and give the Rays solid production from the shortstop position. But what will the Rays do with Upton and Fuld out? Here’s my prediction.

1. Desmond Jennings, CF
2. Ben Zobrist, RF
3. Evan Longoria, 3B

4. Carlos Pena, 1B
5.  Luke Scott, DH
6. Matt Joyce, LF
7. Jeff Keppinger, 2B
8. Jose Molina/Jose Lobaton, C
9. Sean Rodriguez/Reid Brignac, SS

Keppinger has been a starting second baseman the past couple years and we know Zobrist is an excellent defensive right fielder, so this lineup, while not ideal, works out fine. Hopefully Upton can come back strong and get the Rays’ lineup up to full strength.

The Rays have an extremely talented roster headlined by their starting rotation and the opportunity to do great things this coming season. We can’t take anything for granted, but we can look at this projected roster and smile. Rays fans have a lot to look forward to this coming season. Time to wrap up spring training and arrive at the regular season and beyond.

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Tags: B.J. Upton Fernando Rodney Jeff Keppinger Jeff Salazar Jesus Feliciano Reid Brignac Sam Fuld Will Rhymes

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