A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE RAYS
Everything will have to break perfectly for them to contend. They have potential with a lot of young players who will help later, but this might be the year they take a step back.... Losing the home run threat of Carlos Pe√±a is huge for them—this is a club starved for power. Look at what they were using at first base for most of the spring: two bench guys, Dan Johnson and Casey Kotchman. Johnson's got some power, but he's not a very good defender; Kotchman's a good defender, but he has no power. I think Ben Zobrist is going to play a lot of first for them.... Manny Ramirez showed this spring that he can still hit a fastball. He showed he can still use the whole field. Now he has to show he can regain his power. The other question with Manny, as always, is how long he can stay interested.... With Carl Crawford out and Johnny Damon in, they're markedly worse in leftfield. And I did not see any improvement in outfielder Desmond Jennings, who will start the year in the minors, from last spring to this spring.... This is a pretty good rotation. David Price is obviously an ace. Jeremy Hellickson will be a solid replacement for Matt Garza.... The biggest concern is their bullpen, where they have no proven late-inning guy. Kyle Farnsworth is a veteran who hasn't fared well in the ninth inning. He's low 90s. He used to be high 90s. They'll probably open with him closing, but I won't be surprised if that doesn't last.... I think Tampa's really hoping that Jake McGee—a big lefthander with a good arm—will make quick, quick progress and become the closer by Memorial Day.
WITH 2010 STATISTICS
MANAGER JOE MADDON
6TH SEASON WITH RAYS
The Rays' winning percentage when they entered the ninth inning with a lead in 2010, best in the majors. That's likely to plummet: The current members of their bullpen have combined to blow 54.2% of their save opportunities.
Ben Zobrist was one of the game's best stories in 2009, making the All-Star team, earning MVP consideration and reaching career highs in, well, everything. He also played seven positions, and he signed a four-year, $18 million contract on the strength of that performance. In '10, however, he was a disappointment, slipping to .238/.346/.353 with just 10 home runs. After using him primarily in rightfield and at second base last year and starting him 144 times, the Rays should pull back on Zobrist's playing time now that they have options at all the positions where he might play. Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac may well be the best defensive middle infield in the AL and should play every day; Matt Joyce, when healthy, is a much needed lefthanded power source in right. Free-agent pickups Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez will eat at bats in leftfield and at DH. Turning Zobrist back into a supersub, starting four times a week at up to six positions, will reduce the team's reliance on his bat while providing Joe Maddon a valuable tool for keeping his somewhat fragile roster healthy.
CHUCK SOLOMON (RAMIREZ)
BOB ROSATO (ZOBRIST)