Less than a week to go until pitchers and catchers report. Before I start getting into the Rays outfielders a couple of things worth mentioning has happened over the weekend.
First, the arbitration hearings between the Rays and Upton were held on Friday and the verdict came Saturday. The committee ended up ruling in favor of the Rays and Friedman who is now 4-0 in arbitration hearings. Giving Upton a salary of $3 million this year instead of the $3.3 million he wanted. In a short comment after the verdict Upton said he was disappointed but just wanted to focus on spring training now.
The second story is that the Rays invited six more players to spring training. The players are: INF Angel Chavez, INF J.J, Furmaniak, SS Tim Beckham, RHP Heath Rollins, C Craig Albernaz and C Nevin Ashley. The most interesting name is Tim Beckham who was invited for the second year in a row although it is very unlikely he will play in the major league until at least the fall if at all this year. It’s a long-shot for any of them to make the team but we’ll keep an eye on them.
That being said, let’s have a look at the Rays 2010 outfield.
Starting LF: Carl Crawford
None of the current Rays players have been on the team for longer than Carl Crawford. Through several years he was the lone bright spot in a long, tough season. At this point he remains the heart of the team and a favorite among fans even though he now has to share the spotlight with kids like Longoria. Unfortunately this is probably the last season for that as this is the final year of Crawford’s contract and it seems unlikely that the Rays will be able to re-sign him. That also means that the usual trade rumors about Crawford that you have been somewhat ignoring the past few years could easily become very real this summer.
What Crawford lacks in power he more than makes up for in speed. He just has to focus on his average which is pretty good and he can always steal the extra base to get into scoring position. The threat alone of having Crawford standing on 1st base is enough to give any pitcher a little bit extra to think about when they are on the mound. 60 stolen bases in 2009 was a personal record for Crawford and along the way he set a new league record with 6 stolen bases in one game. He is a lock to start at left field, but as mentioned, we’ll just have to see how long it lasts.
Starting CF: B.J. Upton
Upton was a kid making headlines even before he reached the majors. Along with teammates Elijah Dukes and Delmon Young he got involved in a bit of controversy after they criticized the organization in an article with USA Today back in 2006. But while Dukes and Young were later sent on their way Upton has matured and solidified his spot as the team’s starting center fielder.
21 players were listed as full time starters at center field in 2009 on espn.com. Upton had the lowest average and slugging percentage of all of them. But he made up for that by being striking out more than any of them except one. To be serious, the only thing that somewhat makes up for it is his defense. His main asset is his athleticism. The speed that helps him steal a lot of bases also helps him cover the field well and he’s got the strong arm to match it. But it’s not that hard to see how the Rays won the arbitration. I’m not ready to give up on Upton just yet but players at his age should be getting better, not stalling or getting worse. Like Crawford he has got the speed and ability to steal bases to make up for less than great power. But he has got to get his average back up.
Starting RF: Matt Joyce and Gabe Kapler
This is probably the most open spot on the depth chart going into spring training. At this point it looks like Joyce and Kapler will share it but a few things can happen to change that. If Reid Brignac or Sean Rodriguez impresses they could be awarded the starting job at second base which would move Zobrist to right field. That would probably send Matt Joyce down to the minors where he might end up anyway if the Rays decide they want him to play every day. A guy like Fernando Perez shouldn’t be overlooked either.
Where Joyce is one of the young upcoming players, Kapler at 34 years old is one of the most experienced players. That’s part of the reason Kapler is almost a lock to at least be a primary backup at the position while it is still uncertain if Joyce will even be able to stick with the Rays or go back to Durham. There’s not a whole lot more to say at this point as the future is too uncertain anyway. But this position battle is sure to be a topic of several articles during spring training. In a spring of a lot of locked up positions this one should be interesting to watch.
Other players worth keeping an eye on: Fernando Perez, Desmond Jennings