Second day of spring training, and it already feels like there’s something a little different in the air. No better feeling for Rays fans than to wake up and realize that the Rays are playing later in the day. The Rays take on the Twins in Ft. Myers later today, with no TV broadcast but radio on 620 WDAE, and here’s the Rays’ lineup.
Rays fans making the trek to Ft. Myers will get to see at least five players likely to see time with the Rays in Fuld, Rodriguez, Gimenez, and Archer (plus whatever MLB pitchers come after him). This lineup is interesting for several reasons. First off, it’s interesting that Rodriguez is at second base and Beckham is at shortstop given that the Rays have all but officially moved Beckham to second base. That tells you how little the Rays trust Rodriguez at shortstop after he failed to come through there the past two years. Also interesting is that the Rays are putting Vogt at first base, telling us that they have enough confidence in his bat to give him a chance to make their roster at some point this year even if they never love what he’ll do defensively at catcher. Finally, Chris Archer looked great in the major leagues in 2012, and what will he do in what could be his first season in the major leagues in 2013? We’ll begin to find that out today.
James Shields is gone and the Rays desperately need David Price to step up as a leader on their young pitching staff. Can he do it? Speaking to Marc Topkin, Shields expressed confidence that Price and the Rays will be just fine.
"“You know what — if I’d have been traded two years ago, then I would say those guys have a problem. But I believe that he’s matured so much over the last year, even the last two years. He’s really becoming a man. I know he’s a goofball, and I want him to stay that way the rest of his life, because that’s what makes him very, um, contagious. He really rubs off on people the right way. But he’s also become more of a leader. There’s no doubt in my mind he’s capable of doing that.”"
Shields was in trade rumors for so long. Why didn’t the Rays trade him until this offseason? One part of the equation had to be that they weren’t sure if Price was ready for a leadership role, but now they’re sure that he is. Topkin mentioned a time when Matt Moore violated team dress code and rather than making an example of him, Price took him off to the side and talked to him. From the leadership during games the clubhouse to the subtle we don’t often here about, Price has the ability to not just be the ace of the Rays’ rotation but the foundation that holds the team together, and while Shields will certainly be missed, Price is ready to step into his leadership role.
Heading from the Rays’ current dominant left-hander to the first one they ever truly had, Scott Kazmir, it’s time to start getting exciting about Kazmir’s big league comeback after hearing his manager with the Cleveland Indians, Terry Francona, stay this.
"“He’s looked so good it’s scary,” said Francona. “I wish we could bottle it right now for the season.”"
Kazmir has come all the way back, watching his velocity dip into the mid-80’s but now getting it back as high as the low-to-mid-90’s at times, and while it’s unrealistic to think he’ll ever pitch anything like he did when he was the Rays’ ace, he could very well still have something left. The Indians’ 5th starter spot comes up for the first time when they play the Rays at Tropicana Field on April 6th. How incredible would it be if Kazmir started that game?