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Spring Training Preview Part Two; The Teams

Part Two of Two Parts


Photo Credit: DevilRays.com

It is that time of year again. With only four more days until Pitchers and Catchers Report for the Devil Rays, it is time for a preview of one of the finest regular institutions in American sports, Spring Training in Florida. Forget that fake, four teams to a city Arizona crap. This is real spring training right here. So as we dawn upon the Devil Rays' ninth spring training, what questions do they, and their 17 Grapefruit League counterparts have to face in the next six weeks? I go team by team, with a focus on the Rays, as I preview the best time of the baseball year, in the last of a two part series with the previous chapter yesterday. Today, I will focus on the business side of things. What do the 18 teams coming south need to do to get ready for next season, and what did they do last offseason? Plus, I'll give a focus on the Devil Rays and what they need to do this spring, as well as gather some helpful spring training potpourri that could be useful to some of you. Here is the last part of the series, after the jump.

The Other 17 teams

The Devil Rays are unique in that they are the only modern baseball team to conduct spring training in their own hometown. In fact, Al Lang Field is only a walk away from the Trop. However, 17 other teams have made the Grapefruit League the enjoyable institution that it is today. And for doing so, and to broaden our horizons beyond the Rays a little, I have included capsules on those other 17 teams. Although the Grapefruit League has been decimated by the departures of teams out west to Arizona in the last few years, teams like Kansas City, Texas, and Chicago, it still remains the spring home of a good majority of teams. Here are those 17 other teams.

Atlanta Braves:

General Info
Location-Disney World (disgusting)
Stadium-(prepare to laugh) Cracker Jack Stadium
Reporting Dates:
Feb. 16-Pitchers & Catchers
Feb. 21-Position Players
Times Rays play-1

Baseball Info
2005 Record-90-72 (1st, Lost in Div., something new and different)
Manager-Bobby Cox (something new and different)
Key Additions-LHP Mike Remlinger, RHP Oscar Villarreal, RHP Lance Cormier, RHP Wes Obermueller, SS Edgar Renteria, RHP Brad Baker, C Todd Pratt
Key Departures-SS Rafael Furcal, 1B Julio Franco, OF Todd Hollandsworth, RHP Dan Kolb, C Johnny Estrada, RHP Jay Powell
Spring Training Battles-On the Braves? Good Luck. The only battle the Braves have going this year is for the fifth starter spot, which will either be former Ray Jorge Sosa's, or homegrown Kyle Davies, and considering Sosa had a career year last year, that probably won't amount to much of a competition.
2006 Outlook-The Braves look very strong this year, and I've lost every time I've picked the Braves not to win their division, and as the old saying goes, 'if you can't beat em, join em'. Seriously though, the division is all but locked up. The Mets made their usual batch of stupid offseason moves which will amount to nothing, and Pat Gillick looks senile by some of his moves in Philly, so the Braves by default get the nod.

Baltimore Orioles:

General Info
Location-Ft. Lauderdale
Stadium-Ft. Lauderdale Stadium
Reporting Dates:
Feb. 16-Pitchers & Catchers
Feb. 21-Position Players
Times the Rays play: 0

Baseball Info
2005 Record-74-88 (4th)
Manager-Sam Perlozzo
Key Additions-RHP LaTroy Hawkins, C Ramon Hernandez, SP Kris Benson
Key Departures-RHP Sidney Ponson, LHP Steve Kline, LHP B.J Ryan, RHP Jason Grimsley, C Sal Fasano, LF B.J. Surhoff, RF Sammy Sosa, LF Eric Byrnes, 1B Rafael Palmeiro
Spring Training Battles-The O's need to find a closer among their lot of mediocre relievers after B.J Ryan departed. The team also needs to decide on a centerfielder between Cubs castoff Corey Patterson and homegrown disappointment Luis Matos
2006 Outlook-The O's look like a more well-rounded team this year. They really didn't make too many dumb signings last offseason, and with the addition of Benson to the rotation, the team's pitching staff might actually be decent. If things break right, the O's can make a run for a playoff spot, although likely it will be a third place battle with the Blue Jays and Rays.

Boston Red Sox:

General Info
Location-Ft. Myers
Stadium-City of Palms Park
Reporting Dates:
Feb. 18-Pitchers & Catchers
Feb. 22-Position Players
Times the Rays Play-4

Baseball Info
2005 Record-95-67 (2nd; Wild Card; Lost in Div.)
Manager-Terry Francona
Key Additions-RHP Josh Beckett, 3B Mike Lowell, 2B Mark Loretta, SS Alex Gonzalez, CF Coco Crisp, 3B Andy Marte, RHP Guillermo Mota, GM Theo Epstien
Key Departures-CF Jonny Damon, 3b Bill Mueller, SS Edgar Renteria, 1B Kevin Millar, 1B John Olerud, LHP Mike Myers, C Doug Mirabelli, 3B Andy Marte, RHP Guillermo Mota, GM Theo Epstien
Spring Training Battles-Not a whole heckuva lot. Alex Cora and Gonzalez will battle it out for playing time at short, but other than that, nothing significant going for Boston.
2006 Outlook-They are an overall weaker team than the ones of years past, and their farm system was ransacked by offseason moves. Yet still, they are strong enough to contend for the division, and at the very least, the wild card.

Cincinnati Reds:

General Info
Location-Sarasota
Stadium-Ed Smith Stadium
Reporting Dates:
Feb. 16-Pitchers & Catchers
Feb. 21-Position Players
Times Rays play-3

Baseball Info
2005 Record-73-89 (5th)
Manager-Jerry Narron
Key Additions-LHP Dave Williams, 2B Tony Womack, LHP Chris Hammond
Key Departures-1B Sean Casey
Spring Training Battles-There are no real battles for the spring, although it will be interesting to see how top prospect Edwin Encarnacion fairs as he prepares to start the 2006 season as #1 on the hot corner depth chart. But assuming 2B Ryan Freel hasn't drunk his way out of a starting job (Go Tampa!!! WOOO!!!!), there is no competition.
2006 Outlook-Cover your eyes or else you may be looking at the worst team in baseball. Their pitching is a disaster, headed by Eric "Home RUn" Milton and Rays castoff Paul Wilson.Their bullpen is a mess, so about the only thing that can save them is a pretty good-looking offense. There is no way they finish below an improved Pirates team, or anyone else for that matter, in the very strong NL Central.

Cleveland Indians:

General Info
Location-Winter Haven
Stadium-Chain Of Lakes Park
Reporting Dates:
Feb. 16-Pitchers & Catchers
Feb. 21-Position Players
Times the Rays Play-2

Baseball Info
2005 Record-93-69 (2nd)
Manager-Eric Wedge
Key Additions-RHP Paul Byrd, IF Lou Merloni, RHP Danny Graves, RHP Steve Karsay, RHP Jason Johnson, 3B Andy Marte, OF Jason Michaels
Key Departures-RHP Bob Howry, RHP Scott Elarton, RHP Kevin Millwood, IF Jose Hernandez, OF Juan Gonzalez, P Arthur Rhodes, OF Coco Crisp
Spring Training Battles-The Indians may have some competition in spring training for their three outfield spots, as Jason Michaels and Casey Blake aren't your opportune corner guys, but Grady Sizemore should be safe in center. Otherwise, the infield is pretty much already penciled in, although Aaron Boone will get a run for his money from Andy Marte, and Marte could take the hot corner.
2006 Outlook-The Tribe took a step backwards in the offseason, and I can't believe that they will continue to get amazing production from some of their journeymen like Boone and Blake. Still, the team retains at least a half-decent offense, and the pitching looks alright. Expect a record around .500 and a second or third place finish.

Detroit Tigers:

General Info
Location-Lakeland
Stadium-Joker Marchant Stadium
Reporting Dates:
Feb. 15-Pitchers & Catchers
Feb. 20-Position Players
Times the Rays play: 3

Baseball Info
2005 Record-71-91 (4th)
Manager-Jim Leyland
Key Additions-RHP Todd Jones, LHP Kenny Rogers
Key Departures-RHP Jason Johnson, OF Rondell White, OF Bobby Higginson, 2B Fernando Vina
Spring Training Battles-Detroit doesn't really have any battles going on this spring. Justin Verlander, an All-Star with the Lakeland Tigers of the FSL last year, would have to bomb completely to lose his fifth starter job, so the only competition this spring will be for the CF job, between Curtis Granderson and Nook Logan.
2006 Outlook-Detroit looks stronger this year than it has at any point in the last ten years. With the farm system finally starting to kick in, and some free agent signing to complement it, Detroit could make a run at second or third place along with Cleveland and Minnesota. I would not be surprised if Detroit finishes a strong second to Chicago.

Florida Marlins:

General Info
Location-Jupiter
Stadium-Roger Dean Stadium
Reporting Dates:
Feb. 18-Pitchers & Catchers
Feb. 21-Position Players
Times Rays play-0

Baseball Info
2005 Record-83-79 (4th)
Manager-Joe Girardi
Key Additions-RP Kerry Ligtenberg, 1B Mike Jacobs, RHP Yusmeiro Petit, INF Dan Uggla, SS Hanley Ramirez, RHP Anibal Sanchez, RHP Sergio Mitre, LHP Renyel Pinto, RHP Scott Tyler, LHP Michael Megrew, INF Alfredo Amezaga, RHP Travis Bowyer, RHP Harvey Garcia, RHP Jesus Delgado, RHP Ricky Nolasco
Key Departures-1B Carlos Delgado, RHP Josh Beckett, 3B Mike Lowell, C Paul Lo Duca, 2B Luis Castillo, CF Juan Pierre, RHP A.J. Burnett, RF Juan Encarnacion, SS Alex Gonzalez, LF Jeff Conine, RHP Todd Jones, RHP Antonio Alfonseca, INF Damion Easley, RHP John Riedling
Spring Training Battles-Essentially, every position except for third base and #1 starter is up for grabs if someone is able to impress Girardi and his staff enough. A lot of prospects are in the mix, including Ramirez, Jeremy Hermida, Mike Jacobs, Scott Olsen, and Yusmeiro Petit. But the only official 50/50 going in competition is for the fifth starter, between prospects Olsen and Petit. Should be fun to watch the two future stars duel.
2006 Outlook-Not good. Though the Marlins, to their credit, learned from the mistakes of their first firesale and actually made deals to acquire talent for their unwanted salary. Mark my words, they will not leave South Florida, Selig hates relocation and Florida will eventually cave in and give the money necessary to build a stadium. In the present tense, however, the Fish will be in a battle with Washington for last place in the division, with the Marlins probably winning (or losing, depending on how you see it) that race. The team's staple of prospects looks incredibly bright, but they are not suited to help this 2006 club.

Houston Astros:

General Info
Location-Kissimmee
Stadium-Osceola County Stadium
Reporting Dates:
Feb. 17-Pitchers & Catchers
Feb. 23-Position Players
Times Rays play-0

Baseball Info
2005 Record-(89-73, 2nd, lost World Series)
Manager-Phil Garner
Key Additions-OF Preston Wilson, LHP Trever Miller, RP Joe Valentine
Key Departures-RHP Roger Clemens, IF Jose Vizcaino
Spring Training Battles-Not too many, Wandy Rodriguez and Ezequiel Astacio may get a run for their fourth and fifth starter jobs, but other than that, the offense and bullpen are pretty much penciled in.
2006 Outlook-I doubt the Astros make the playoffs next year, much less a repeat run at the World Series, though if their rotation remains intact and Andy Pettite doesn't age rapidly, the team has just as big a chance of winning the Central as do the Cubs, Cardinals, and Brewers. Since each team, except for Milwaukee, regressed in the offseason, this is a wide open competition. But how cool would it be to see the Brew Crew win the division?

Los Angeles Dodgers:

General Info
Location-Vero Beach
Stadium-Holman Stadium
Reporting Dates:
Feb. 15-Pitchers & Catchers
Feb. 20-Position Players
Times Rays play-0

Baseball Info
2005 Record-71-91 (4th)
Manager-Grady Little
Key Additions-RHP Takashi Saito, RHP Brian Meadows, C Pat Borders, LHP Joe Beimel, RHP Danys Baez, LHP Tim Hamulack, RHP Jae Seo, SS Rafael Furcal, 3B Nomar Garciaparra, OF Kenny Lofton, C Sandy Alomar Jr., 3B Bill Mueller, RHP Brett Tomko
Key Departures-RHP Edwin Jackson, RHP Chuck Tiffany, RHP Jeff Weaver, LHP Wilson Alvarez, C Paul Bako, OF Milton Bradley, RHP Giovanni Carrara, RHP Elmer Dessens, RHP Darren Dreifort, OF Jason Grabowski, INF Antonio Perez, C Mike Rose, INF Jose Valentin
Spring Training Battles-The Dodgers go into camp after an active offseason with little to fight for in terms of starting jobs. If someone impresses enough, they may be able to swing the fifth starter's job from D.J Houlton, but everything else appears nailed to the floor.
2006 Outlook-The Dodgers may very well have the best team in the West this year, as the Giants are fading, the Rockies are, well, the Rockies, the Giants are getting real old, real fast, and San Diego stagnated on doing anything productive to help a mediocre team. The acquisition of Baez gives the team an eighth inning option to bridge the gap to Gagne, and the starters look solid, as do a free agent-improved offense. If I were a betting man, I'd place my money on L.A.

Minnesota Twins:

General Info
Location-Ft. Myers
Stadium-Hammond Stadium
Reporting Dates:
Feb. 19-Pitchers & Catchers
Feb. 24-Position Players
Times Rays play-4

Baseball Info
2005 Record-83-79 (3rd)
Manager-Ron Gardenhire
Key Additions-LHP Darrell May, 2B Luis Castillo, 3B Tony Batista, OF Jason Pridie, DH Rondell White, OF Ruben Sierra
Key Departures-DH Matthew LeCroy, RHP Joe Mays, 2B Luis Rivas, LHP J.C. Romero
Spring Training Battles-No real battles going in, but SS Jason Bartlett and fifth starter Scott Baker can each be disposed of if a better alternative rises from the field.
2006 Outlook-Another mediocre year should follow for the Twins, as they could be in a three way battle with Detroit and Cleveland for the middle three spots in the division. They could surprise and make a run at the division, but their whole team is just so bland, with the exception of Johan Santana. But as long as the farm system keeps churning out prospects, the Twins have a chance in the very status quo Central.

New York Mets:

General Info
Location-Port St. Lucie
Stadium-Tradition Field
Reporting Dates:
Feb. 16-Pitchers & Catchers
Feb. 21-Position Players
Times Rays play-0

Baseball Info
2005 Record-83-79 (3rd)
Manager-Willie Randolph
Key Additions-RHP John Maine, RHP Jorge Julio, RHP Yusaku Iriki, 2B Bret Boone, LHP Billy Wagner, LHP Matt Perisho, RHP Chad Bradford, RHP Mitchell Wylie, 1B Carlos Delgado, 1B Julio Franco, INF Juan Tejada, OF Xavier Nady, INF Jose Valentin, OF Tike Redman, OF Julio Ramirez
Key Departures-RHP Kris Benson, LHP Felix Heredia; RHPs Danny Graves, Gabe Hernandez, Roberto Hernandez, Braden Looper, Yusmeiro Petit, Shingo Takatsu; 1Bs Doug Mientkiewicz, Jose Offerman; 2B Miguel Cairo; 3B Grant Psomas, Cs Mike Piazza, Mike DiFelice, RHP Jae Seo
Spring Training Battles-Thanks to another offseason of wasteful spending, the Mets have almost every position penciled in for next season. The team is sort of in a bind, however, with some starting jobs after expected starters Benson and Seo were traded out of New York, so there should be an interesting competition for those two rotation spots. Also, though Kaz Matsui is penciled in as the starting second baseman, the Mets will give any half-competent player a shot at the position, which should exclude Matsui himself. Alas, they will have one offensive hole next season.
2006 Outlook-They will lock horns with Philadelphia for second place in the division this year as well as an outside shot at the wild card. This may be the best of the free spending Mets teams, however they can't touch Atlanta. The Mets' improved offense should be able to deliver to them what was severely lacking last year-runs, although departures on one of the league's best pitching staffs might cancel that out. Overall, expect an 83-87 win year for the Metsies.

New York Yankees:

General Info
Location-Tampa
Stadium-Legends Field
Reporting Dates:
Feb. 16-Pitchers & Catchers
Feb. 21-Position Players
Times Rays play-2

Baseball Info
2005 Record-95-67 (1st, lost in Div. Round)
Manager-Joe Torre
Key Additions-2B Miguel Cairo, CF Johnny Damon, RHP Octavio Dotel, RHP Kyle Farnsworth, LHP Mike Myers, LHP Ron Villone, C Kelly Stinnett
Key Departures-RHP Tom Gordon, 1B Tino Martinez, C John Flaherty, OF/DH Ruben Sierra, RHP Kevin Brown, LHP Alan Embree, 2B/OF Tony Womack, OF Matt Lawton, INF Rey Sanchez, INF Mark Bellhorn, RHP Felix Rodriguez
Spring Training Battles-It's the Yankees, do you really expect a meaningful spring training battle?
2006 Outlook-Looks like it will be Yankees-Red Sox again for first in the East, with the other pretty much assured of the wild card. If the career years of several Yankees pitchers hold up into this year, they will cruise, as their hitting is not a problem. However, with the departure of one of their only competent relievers, Tom Gordon, the going will be rough. Still, expect another division title, and at the very least, a wild card playoff spot.

Philadelphia Phillies:

General Info
Location-Clearwater
Stadium-Bright House Networks Field
Reporting Dates:
Feb. 15-Pitchers & Catchers
Feb. 21-Position Players
Times Rays play-3

Baseball Info
2005 Record-88-74 (2nd)
Manager-Charlie Manuel
Key Additions-SS Alex Gonzalez (yes, our Alez Gonzalez), RHP Arthur Rhodes, RHP Ryan Franklin, OF Aaron Rowand, LHP Giovany Gonzalez, LHP Daniel Haigwood, RHP Tom Gordon, C Sal Fasano, INF Abraham Nunez, RHP Julio Santana, RHP Chris Booker
Key Departures-OF Jason Michaels, OF Kenny Lofton, INF Ramon Martinez, RHP Vicente Padilla, C Todd Pratt, 1B Jim Thome, OF Michael Tucker, RHP Ugueth Urbina, LHP Billy Wagner  
Spring Training Battles-The Phils look pretty set going into next year, as any chance of an outfield competition went out the window when Philly traded Jason Michaels to Cleveland for pitching help in the form of Arthur Rhodes. The signing of Ryan Franklin also pretty much sealed up the rotation.
2006 Outlook-Despite Pat Gillick's efforts to out-stupid Ed Wade, the Phils don't look half-bad this year, getting Tom Gordon to replace Billy Wagner in the closer's role and getting setup man Rhodes from the Indians by dealing out of a surplus. Although the farm system is about to run dry, the 2006 Phillies don't look half bad and might bring the city its first playoff appearance in 13 years.

Pittsburgh Pirates:

General Info
Location-Bradenton
Stadium-McKechnie Field
Reporting Dates:
Feb. 16-Pitchers & Catchers
Feb. 21-Position Players
Times Rays play-3

Baseball Info
2005 Record-67-95 (6th)
Manager-Jim Tracy
Key Additions-OF Jeromy Burnitz, 1B Sean Casey, 3B Joe Randa, RHP Jonah Bayliss, RHP Chad Blackwell, RHP Roberto Hernandez, LHP Damasco Marte, RHP Victor Santos, RHP Clayton Hamilton
Key Departures-LHP Dave Williams, LHP Mark Redman, RHP Jose Mesa, RHP Brian Meadows, RHP Rick White, INF/OF Rob Mackowiak, INF Bobby Hill, 1B Daryle Ward, 3B Ty Wigginton, OF Tike Redman, OF Michael Restovich
Spring Training Battles-The Pirates are actually pretty well settled in their 2006 starting lineup, although the catcher position remains a question of Ryan Doumit or Humberto Cota. On the pitching side of things, the story is different. Josh Fogg went up about a mile in the air to Denver, and Paul Maholm is not exactly a lockdown starter. Furthermore, a bullpen with Mike Gonzalez as your closer cannot be relied upon, so expect Pittstown to give every opportunity to any pitcher who is half-decent.
2006 Outlook-Say this for Pittsburgh, they will be better than their counterparts down the Ohio River in Cincinnati. Pittsburgh's future looks very bright as Jason Bay quietly put together the best offensive season of any outfielder in baseball, and the future is taking form all over the rest of the roster. However the pitching outside of the front three in the rotation looks horrible. Expect about 75 wins and a fifth place finish for this year's All-Star Game host.

St. Louis Cardinals:

General Info
Location-Jupiter
Stadium-Roger Dean Stadium
Reporting Dates:
Feb. 16-Pitchers & Catchers
Feb. 20-Position Players
Times Rays play-0

Baseball Info
2005 Record-100-62 (1st, lost NLCS)
Manager-Tony LaRussa
Key Additions-RHP Jeff Nelson, 2B Aaron Miles, OF Larry Bigbie, C Gary Bennett, IF Deivi Cruz, LHP Ricardo Rincon, RHPs Braden Looper, Sidney Ponson, OF Juan Encarnacion, RHP Juan Mateo
Key Departures-RHP Matt Morris, RHP Julian Tavarez, RHP Cal Eldred, LHP Ray King, OF Larry Walker, OF Reggie Sanders, 2B Mark Grudzielanek, UT John Mabry, IF Abraham Nunez, C Einar Diaz
Spring Training Battles-The Cardinals have most of their roster set, atlhough if someone wanted to unseat Larry Bigbie, the Cards would not stand in their way. But the only out and out competition is between Blatimore castoff Sidney Ponson and top (only) prospect Anthony Reyes. Whether Dave Duncan thinks he can work his magic and how much the St. Louis brass think Reyes can take will determine that one.
2006 Outlook-Let's play the game 'Which one is better?' Larry Bigbie or Reggie Sanders? Juan Encarnacion or Larry Walker? Mark G. or Junior Spivey? Reyes/Ponson or Matt Morris? The bottom line is, St. Louis regressed by a fair amount from last season's NLCS club. They have dropped down so much to the pack that the battle for the Central between Houston, Chicago, the Cards, and dark horse Milwaukee is pretty even. You have got to favor St. Louis slightly at this point, but with the dearth of prospects coming their way, St. Louis needs to change course soon.

Toronto Blue Jays:

General Info
Location-Dunedin
Stadium-Grant Field
Reporting Dates:
Feb. 17-Pitchers & Catchers
Feb. 22-Position Players
Times Rays play-5

Baseball Info
2005 Record-80-82 (3rd)
Manager-John Gibbons
Key Additions-C Bengie Molina, RHP Ben Weber, P Brian Wolfe, C Jason Phillips, 3B Troy Glaus, LHP B.J Ryan, RHP A.J Burnett, 1B Lyle Overbay, INF John McDonald
Key Departures-3B Corey Koskie, 2B Orlando Hudson, RHP Miguel Batista, RHP Dave Bush, OF Gabe Gross, RHP Chad Gaudin, INF Frank Menechino, C Ken Huckaby
Spring Training Battles-The Blue Jays' offseason spending spree left them with surpluses of players at certain positions where each will be pushing each other for playing time, but the only out and out competition will be for the backup catcher's job, where Guillermo Quiroz, Jason Phillips, and Gregg Zaun will battle it out. On top of that, Toronto's top prospect is another catcher, Curtis Thigpen. How do you spell l-o-g-j-a-m?
2006 Outlook-What do you dop when you have a nice 80 win team with a traditionally good farm system, and a nice core of players whose holes can be plugged with homegrown prospects or the right free agency signing? Why, remake the entire roster, of course. Just because you have $210 million to spend does not mean you should waste in foolishly by mortgaging the next five years in an attempt to sign top free agents. I don't know how they do things north of the border, but outside of New York we call that stupid. Alas, the Blue Jays are an improved team for 2006, just one with a terrible defense, patchwork offense, but a good pitching staff. The pitching will be key for the Jays next year. Their staff has the potential to dominate the American League if the hitting and defense will play along. So what should the Blue Jays expect from all of those singings? A third place finish.

Washington Nationals:

General Info
Location-Melbourne
Stadium-Space (Ghost) Coast (to Coast) Stadium
Reporting Dates:
Feb. 18-Pitchers & Catchers
Feb. 23-Position Players
Times Rays play-0

Baseball Info
2005 Record-81-81 (5th)
Manager-Frank Robinson
Key Additions-OF Sammy Sosa???, C/1B Matt LeCroy, RHP Felix Rodriguez, SS Royce Clayton, 1B Daryle Ward, LHP Valerio de los Santos, OF Michael Tucker, 2B Alfonso Soriano, OF/1B Robert Fick, INFs Damian Jackson, Bernie Castro, Marlon Anderson, RHP Brian Lawrence, RHP Ramon Ortiz, LHP Mike Stanton
Key Departures-RHP Darrel Rasner, IF Jamey Carroll, RHP Hector Carrasco, RHP Esteban Loaiza, LHP John Halama, OF Terrmel Sledge, OF Brad Wilkerson, OF Preston Wilson, 2B Junior Spivey, 3B Vinny Castilla, INF Carlos Baerga, INF Deivi Cruz, INF Rick Short; C Gary Bennett, C Keith Osik
Spring Training Battles-There is still the unsettled matter of exactly where 2B Alfonso Soriano, who recently 'lost' his arbitration case and got 'only' $10 million, will play. A good bet is in center, although Jose Guillen is the only sure thing in that outfield. Royce Clayton was brought in to compete with Christian Guzman at short, but the pitching staff is pretty much set. The entire outfield alignment could change between now and the start of the season, as could the starting shortstop, so stay tuned.
2006 Outlook-There is no nice way to say it. The 2005 Nationals were a fluke. They will finish nowhere close to .500, they just are not that good. The only thing cushioning them from last is the bargain bin Marlins. The pitching will be good, but Washington leaves something to be desired when it comes to hitting and defense. Expect a 65-69 win season.

Well, now that we have explored all of the teams the Rays will be facing in the Grapefruit League, it is time to get to them, themselves. What do the Rays need to do this spring to get ready for the regular season? First, some helpful info.

General Info
Locations:
Training Camp-Vince Naimoli Complex, 7901 30th Ave. N, St. Petersburg (Seminole area)
Stadium-Al Lang Field, 180 2nd Ave. SE (on the water in downtown)
Key Dates:
Feb. 16-Pitchers & Catchers Report
Feb. 17-First Workout
Feb. 21-Position Players Report
Feb. 22-First Full Workout
Mar. 2-First game, vs. Blue Jays in Dunedin
Mar. 3-First home game, vs. Blue Jays in St. Pete
Mar. 25-Last game at Al Lang, vs. Yankees
Apr. 1-Last spring game, exhib. at Trop vs. Tigers
Spring Schedule

Baseball Info
2005 Record-67-95 (5th)
Manager-Joe Maddon
Coaching Staff
Front Office
Key Additions-3B Sean Burroughs, RHP Edwin Jackson, RHP Shinji Mori, RHP Dan Miceli, 1B/3B Ty Wigginton
Key Departures-RHP Danys Baez, LHP Trever Miller, 3B/SS Alez Gonzalez, RHP Dewon Brazelton
Projected Lineup:
SS Julio Lugo
LF Carl Crawford
2B Jorge Cantu
RF/DH Aubrey Huff
RF/DH Jonny Gomes
CF Rocco Baldelli
1B Travis Lee
3B Sean Burroughs/Ty Wigginton
C Toby Hall

Projected Rotation:
LH Scott Kazmir
LH Casey Fossum
LH Mark Hendrickson
RH Seth McClung
RH Doug Waechter

Projected Bullpen:
Closer: RH Chad Orvella/RH Shinji Mori
Setup Men: RH Chad Orvella/RH Shinji Mori, RH Dan Miceli

Spring Training Battles-The Rays have a fair amount of things to settle in the next six weeks. For starters, which one of Jonny Gomes and Aubrey Huff is going to the outfield, and which is going to be the DH. Furthermore, will Rocco Baldelli start the season as the DH? That would create a potential outfield alignment of Huff-Crawford-Gomes, or Gomes-Crawford-Huff. The Rays' backup catcher is most likely going to be Josh Paul, but he will get a run from Kevin Cash and Shawn Riggans, who was brought along for the ride. In the infield, the Rays need to decide who among Nick Green and Luis Rivas is going to be the 'utility' infielder. Furthermore, who wins out the third base battle between Ty Wigginton and Sean Burroughs, and does Russ Branyan figure in? And in the outfield, the Rays are going to have to decide, p[ossibly, between Damon Hollins and Joey Gathright for their fourth outfielder, depending on how many pitchers they take into the regular season.

Meanwhile, on the pitching side of the ball, the Rays have their rotation as close as it is ever going to be to the actual thing, although one of the bottom three, Lurch, Big Red, or Waechter, might get a run from Jason Hammel, Chris Seddon, or Edwin Jackson. And the bullpen is a complete mess, with pretty much every position up for grabs, non-roster invitee or incumbent notwithstanding. So the Rays have a whole helluva lot to decide between now and April 2, I am just very interested to see how it will develop.

2006 Outlook-The Rays at the very least should not be worse than last year. If you are banking on the entirely possible scenario that our young rotation makes a quantum leap this year, the Rays could be looking at a .500 season. However the messy bullpen needs to cooperate. The talent is there among all of the wreckage of the Baez trade. Shinji Mori has to prove that he can make the transition from Japan, and he has locked horns with Chad Orvella for the closer's role. Still, the bullpen would be hard-pressed to be worse than last year. I honestly don't think the hitting will be as good as last year, but I don't think it will bomb out. I expect a middle of the pack AL offense doing just enough to win games, even if the pitching doesn't hold up their end. Overall, I think the Rays win a minimum of 75 games and a max of 85, going anywhere from third to fifth place in the division

Helpful Links

Here are some links I found helpful in compiling this story, which by the way I think is the longest I have ever written, and certainly the most researched. I have grouped the link into categories. The Rays, and spring training as a whole, including that "other" spring training.

Rays
-40 Man Roster
-Non-Roster Invitees
-News Archives
-Spring Training Preview
-Fan Guide
-Spring Main Page
-Al Lang Information
-STO Al Lang Page
-Devil Rays main page
-ESPN Rays Page

Spring Training
-Reporting Dates
-Grapefruit League Master Schedule
-Cactus League Master Schedule
-MLB Spring Training Main Page
-World Baseball Classic
-ESPN team index

Thus ends....

My 2006 Spring Training Preview. I hope that you found this at least a half-useful preview. After all, it took one more day than I thought it would take to complete. But spring training is a great institution, and I cannot stress enough how you should go to spring training at least once in your life, it is an entirely different experience than anything else in sports, and you'll get a trip to the beach out of it as well. Here's wishing you all a happy spring, and Go Rays!!!