Speaking with the media at the annual Rays Winter Development Program, new manager Kevin Cash discussed the immediate future of the middle infield at length, naming four candidates.
Foremost discussed was Asdrubal Cabrera, whom Cash knew from his days coaching in Cleveland over the last two seasons. Cabrera is an able defender (all shortstops can defend, when compared with their counterparts in other positions on the diamond) with suspect metrics at shortstop, and those numbers might indicate a move to second base, but apparently that has yet to be decided.
Regardless of his position, Cash said it would be "like pulling teeth" to remove Cabrera from the line up, which he seems to consider a compliment, calling 'Cabby' a positive presence on the team and in the clubhouse.
Alongside Cabrera, Cash narrowed the competition for the other starting role down to perennial prospect Tim Beckham, young switch-hitter Nick Franklin, and bench infielder Logan Forsythe.
Franklin, the front runner for the position, was acquired in the David Price trade. He had a strong showing with the Mariners in 2013 but found himself in the minors again last season for continued development. Issued jersey No. 2 in his mid-September promotion, Franklin is expected to make the club regardless of role. You can read more on Franklin here.
Forsythe was acquired last off-season alongside Brad Boxberger in a seven player swap with San Diego's former management. He had an excellent season as a platoon mate in 2012 but has yet to replicate that success. He has a stockier build than Franklin, though both players are listed at 6'1", 195, and both boast excellent defensive range.
Beckham is the new name in the conversation. The former first overall pick is a year older than Franklin, has no sustained experience at the major league level, has never posted impressive numbers in the minors, and missed serious time last season with a 50-game drug suspension (marijuana) and a torn ACL. On the other hand, the tools he was drafted for haven't disappeared, and he could have a real future off the bench in a utility role in the near future.
Conspicuously absent from this list is Durham SS Hak-Ju Lee, a former top-five worthy prospect who suffered a devastating knee injury in 2013. Reports indicated he was a shell of his defensive self, a step behind with his defense lurking behind either a slowed recovery or lost confidence in his ability. Rumor has it that Lee and Beckham have been working out extensively over the last year.
Cash went on to say the decision should be expected sometime during Spring Training.
Audio clips courtesy of Steve Kinsella.