Rays News

Nick Franklin Begins Case for Starting SS Job in Spring Game 2

By Robbie Knopf
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There will be the occasional off-day,  but baseball is back and it is not going anywhere. One day after falling to the Baltimore Orioles in their spring opener, the Rays will welcome another team to Charlotte Sports Park, the Minnesota Twins. Here is the Rays’ starting lineup.

1. Nick Franklin, SS
2. Rene Rivera, C
3. Asdrubal Cabrera, DH
4. Desmond Jennings, CF
5. David DeJesus, LF
6. Steven Souza, RF
7. Logan Forsythe, 1B
8. Juan Francisco, 3B
9. Jake Elmore, 2B

Starting Pitcher: Jake Odorizzi

After Tim Beckham led off in the Rays’ first game, Nick Franklin will do the honors this time and will receive the opportunity to play shortstop. Franklin is confident about his ability to win the Rays’ starting shortstop job and rightfully so. His Triple-A track record is substantially better than Beckham and he was always considered a potential average defensive shortstop.

Beckham is a nice story as the former number one overall pick who has fought hard to get to this point, but this is Franklin’s job to lose. His issues with left-handed pitching may be enough to get Beckham on the roster alongside him, but the Rays acquired him in the David Price trade believing that they were getting a strong hitter versus righties and a solid middle infield defender.

While Nick Franklin’s presence in that trade guarantees him nothing, he is certainly a player who deserves a chance for regular playing time in the Rays’ estimation. While trading Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar had a lot to do with a different middle infielder, Daniel Robertson, it also created an opening that seemed clearly marked for Franklin. Let’s see if he can seize it.

Speaking of trade acquisitions, we come to Souza and Rivera, both from the Wil Myers trade. Souza is coming off an MVP season at Triple-A and hopes to prove himself worthy of beginning the season in the majors. If he does, as we’ve been saying for a while, that will likely mark the end of DeJesus in a Rays uniform. The Rays like his power, plate discipline, speed, and defense, and they think he can be a productive starter for them in short order.

Rivera, meanwhile, is coming off a breakout of his own with the San Diego Padres. If his hitting can be remotely close to his 2014 production, his defense and durability will make him an extremely valuable player. Rivera will hope to be the first Rays starting catcher for an entire season since Dioner Navarro in 2009.

Forsythe at first base is something we have expected given the current construction of the Rays’ roster. Without Sean Rodriguez, Forsythe is the Rays’ backup first baseman and better be ready to play the position reasonably often. After Loney struggled again versus left-handed pitching, the Rays will have to consider spelling him with Forsythe versus southpaws a decent amount of the time.

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On the mound is Odorizzi, who was outstanding after getting past a rough stretch to begin his rookie season. As far as we know, there isn’t another pitch he is working on after he unveiled his split-change so successfully in spring training last year, but we can also say that he no longer needs one. Odorizzi was always missing an out-pitch, but the split-change gave up exactly such an offering. This spring, we may see him throw more sliders and curveball than usual in an attempt to complement it better.

Appearing behind Odorizzi in this game will be Matt Andriese, Burch Smith, Ernesto Frieri, Brandon Gomes, Kirby Yates, Jordan Norberto, and Mike Montgomery. Andriese might be the most underrated Rays pitching prospect at Triple-A Durham, and while he is a long-shot for the team’s fifth starter spot, he could be an interesting for 2016. He throws a strong sinker along with three solid secondary pitches in his slider, splitter, and cutter.

Frieri, Smith, and Norberto will all be making their Rays system debuts. Frieri, the former closer for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, is the Rays’ latest bullpen reclamation project. Even in his disastrous 2014, his velocity didn’t fade, and that bode wells for his future. Smith, meanwhile, could make an impact for the Rays as a starter or reliever at some point, but first he needs to prove his health after making just two appearances last season.

Other players expected to appear in this game are the aforementioned Daniel Robertson, Kevin Kiermaier, and Taylor Motter. It should be a fun time between the top prospects bursting onto the scene and the veterans showing us what they are capable of. The game will start at 1:05 PM and you can listen to the game on RaysBaseball.com (for free) or with MLB.com Gameday Audio.

Next: 10 Possible Rays Defensive Alignments Versus Lefties

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