The Rays Tank: Roster Nearly Set But 5th Starter Spot Still Up in the Air

USA TODAY Sports

Does a scintillating finish to spring training mean anything at all?

After Brandon Gomes and Chris Gimenez were optioned to Triple-A Durham and Sam Fuld finally got into a major league spring training game on Wednesday, the Rays' 25-man roster is almost completely set in stone. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2013 Tampa Bay Rays.

Pitchers (12): Alex Cobb, Kyle Farnsworth, Jeremy Hellickson, Roberto Hernandez, Jake McGee, Matt Moore, Jeff Niemann, Joel Peralta. David Price, Cesar Ramos, Fernando Rodney, Jamey Wright

Catchers (2): Jose Lobaton, Jose Molina

Infielders (4): Yunel Escobar, James Loney, Evan Longoria, Ryan Roberts

Outfielders (3): Sam Fuld, Desmond Jennings, Matt Joyce

Utility Players (3): Kelly Johnson, Sean Rodriguez, Ben Zobrist

Designated Hitter (1): Luke Scott

(Always fun to align the roster like this and realize that the Rays have about as many players who will see significant time in both the outfield and infield as they do who will play only the infield and only the outfield respectively.)

But even with the 25-man roster essentially right there in front of us, there's one question we still can't answer: who is the Rays' 5th starter, Jeff Niemann or Roberto Hernandez? Hernandez has looked like the favorite all spring, but after he struggled in his last outing, Niemann came up huge on Wednesday in the Rays' 6-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, going 6 shutout innings allowing just 2 hits, striking out 3 while walking none. Most importantly, though, with that his fastball was more consistently in the 88-89 MPH range where he needs to be to be successful after staying too often in the low-to-mid-80's earlier this spring.

Even in a nearly flawless outing, Niemann was not without his warts, continuing his less-talked about command struggles as his groundball to flyball ratio was just 7-6. More importantly, are the Rays really going to throw out an entire spring's body of data after Niemann looked great one time? We know the answer to that question is no, and it's going to be captivating to find out what the Rays decide.

Making the decision even more interesting is this tweet from ESPN's Jayson Stark:

Scouts watching Jeff Niemann this month wary of lower velocity but "If they move him to pen he'll be up a tick or 2 & get his value back up"

That's an interesting idea by the scouts Stark is quoting, but is getting Niemann's trade value up really the Rays' endgame here? They're going to do whichever move they believe helps their ballclub the most and in any event, if Niemann joins their rotation and pitches solidly before say Chris Archer dominates hitters and makes the Rays decide to trade Niemann, his trade value will be just fine.

Here are your links for this morning:

If there will be an last second-changes to the Rays' roster, it will be because Luke Scott is nursing a calf injury. Joe Maddon told Marc Topkin, though, that "as of this moment I don't think from what I've heard that he's going to be unable to play."

The Rays made a minor trade, acquiring right-hander Steve Geitz from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for right-hander Dane De La Rosa. Look for more analysis later today at DRaysBay.

Three teams, three top outfield prospects, three very different results thus far. The contending Rays sent down Wil Myers without much of a chance to make the team, the semi-contending Boston Red Sox are on the fence over Jackie Bradley Jr., and the seemingly not-at-all contending Minnesota Twins named Aaron Hicks their starting centerfielder to begin 2013. All three players could be making a big impact in the majors by the end of the year, and it will be very interesting to see which team's strategy will work out the best.

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