It is just 12 days until Opening Day and the have trimmed the number of players in camp to 34. The starting pitching is set. James Shields (28) will be the opening day starter. He will be followed in the rotation by Jeff Niemann (27), Matt Garza (26), David Price (24) and Wade Davis (24). Andy Sonnanstine will remain with the team, but coming out of the bullpen, not starting ball games. Eleven players were cut today. Dan Johnson, who came back to Tampa Bay after a year in Japan, will not be making the squad. Fellow first baseman Ryan Shealy was sent to minor league camp along with pitchers Winston Abreu, Joe Bateman, Jeff Bennett, Richard De Los Santos, Carlos Hernandez and Heath Phillips. Infielder Angel Chavez was also reassigned. The most surprising, make that shocking move involved Justin Ruggiano being optioned to AAA Durham. Ruggiano was leading the team with a .447 batting average and had 3 homers and 11 RBI so far this spring. He also had 3 triples, 3 stolen bases and an .868 slugging percentage. It makes you wonder how good a spring he would have had to have in order to make this team. Meanwhile, aging outfielder Gabe Kapler, who has yet to have a hit for extra bases, remains in camp. No matter how hard I try, I cannot grasp the logic behind cutting Ruggiano, I just can’t. What do you think Tampa Bay?
If spring training stats don’t matter, why are we keeping track? In Port Charlotte the Rays have 11 games left on their schedule. All Stars Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena are living below the Mendoza Line. That doesn’t worry me. Longoria, Upton and Bartlett aren’t setting the world on fire, but they are getting by. Ben Zobrist isn’t making last season look like a fluke just yet and Joe Maddon has made it known that Dioner Navarro and Kelly Shoppach will split the catching duties. Those 8 guys are locks. Beyond that, it should be left up to competition, based on what they are doing in spring training. With the 5 All Stars locking up their positions and the catching platoon established, there are still 4 positions that should be up for competition. I would be surprised if BJ Upton isn’t the opening day centerfielder, so I am not even going to consider that one. The positions that I am thinking about are second base, right field and designated hitter. Sean Rodriguez has shocked me with his absolutely torrid bat. The first day I saw him in spring training wearing number 1 I thought that was a bit cocky and it made me miss Akinori. Who? All Rodriguez has done so far is bat .425 with 6 homeruns and 14 RBI so far. He has been an animal at the plate and good enough in the infield. Defensively I prefer him to Zobrist at second. I give the second base job to Rodriguez giving the Rays an infield defense of Pena, Rodriguez, Bartlett and Longoria. Zobrist’s spring has been less impressive than Rodriguez’s, but still pretty great. He is batting .333 with 2 homers and 6 RBI and I like him in the outfield. He can still give Bartlett or Rodriguez a day off every now and then though, so the right field spot is going to be similar to a platoon as well. With last year’s right field platoon gone-Gabe Gross is in Oakland and Gabe Kapler is batting just .136 with no homers, I think it is time for a new two-headed-monster in right. The Rays have no shortage of talented young outfielders that is for sure. Desmond Jennings is going to be a star, but he isn’t ready yet and he has already been reassigned as has Fernando Perez. Calling Zobrist an outfielder and adding him to Crawford and Upton gives the Rays their starting 3-that leaves two spots open. I like the left-handed hitting Joyce in center field, but serving as a utility guy. So far this spring he has batted .375 with a homer and a couple of steals. I give him the 5th outfield spot. The 4th outfield spot or 3.5th spot should go to no one other than Justin Ruggiano. He is a natural right fielder with a GREAT arm. Honestly he is better in right than Zobrist, but I am not going to push Zorilla to the side just yet. Still though, Ruggiano’s time has come. He didn’t log a single inning in Tampa Bay spending the entire year with Durham and batting .253 with 15 homers and a high strikeout count, but spending a 4th year in Durham isn’t going to do him any favors and like Rodgriguez this spring, Ruggiano has been smoldering at the plate. He leads the team with a .429 average along with 3 homers, 3 steals, 3 triples and 11 RBI. As good as his arm is, I want to see him in right field, but if not I would much rather see him in the DH spot than Pat the Bat who holding to a .200 average this spring. To answer my own question in the opening-when they are impressive as Justin Ruggiano and Sean Rodriguez's have been, well they matter enough to give them a spot in the line-up. What do you think Tampa Bay?