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Rays Season Preview: Lineup outlook and remaining questions

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Longoria and Dickerson
Longoria and Dickerson
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After an influx of talent, there have been several positions battles in Rays camp this off-season, including battles for first base, left field, designated hitter, and catcher.

As things stand, the Rays have 43 players remaining on the Spring Training roster with another round of cuts sure to come. That doesn't mean we can't make some informed guesses on the roster, though.

Here is my initial projection for the Rays lineup:

Starting Lineup

Hank Conger C

James Loney 1B

Logan Forsythe 2B

Evan Longoria 3B

Brad Miller SS

Desmond Jennings LF

Kevin Kiermaier CF

Steven Souza Jr RF

Corey Dickerson DH

To be forthright, no player has won the catching positions yet, and if anything Hank Conger -- the new comer to the Rays organization, acquired for cash consideration -- may be the man sent to Durham. He and Curt Casali have an option remaining, and short of roster shenanigans to keep all three on the major league roster, one is likely to go.

Relationships with the current pitching staff matter. Developing long term ones with the staff in Durham also matter. Curt Casali will be under team control through the 2020 season, and whoever the third catcher is on the depth chart will inevitably find reps at the major league level. He showcased a ton of power in his new aggressive approach at the plate last year, and he can do that more in the near future.

James Loney has not been traded to date, and that's because the Rays value his defense higher than the market has offered in return. His plus receiving at first base will come in handy if Brad Miller is ever wild with his throws, as some in the media like to hype. There is no question Brad Miller is the starting short stop either way.

Desmond Jennings appears to be healthy enough for the field, and that is wonderful news. Given his history of knee problems, the Rays may be quick to rotate him to the bench when the team is home, but I would expect he makes his way into the lineup ~120 games this season (pending good health). Moving right, Platinum Glove Kiermaier and the ever promising Steven Souza get starting positions.

Corey Dickerson and his plus range could take his place otherwise, although he too has had injury concerns. Either way, expect him to hit in this lineup most days. I expect him to play in ~130 games this season (pending good health), whether in the field or DH is a matter for management to decide.

Oh, and Evan Longoria might be in the BSOHL, according to outside observers...

Bench

Rene Rivera C

Steve Pearce UTIL

Logan Morrison

Brandon Guyer

Rene Rivera is protected in this scenario, even though Casali is the better right handed compliment to Conger's left handed bat.

Steve Pearce is the 25th man on this roster, which is bit astonishing, but that is the consequence of carrying James Loney and Logan Morrison on the same roster. As of right now, having all three players on this roster is redundant, but short of a trade they all remain.

As a consequence, Tim Beckham and Taylor Motter are optioned to join Nick Franklin and Ryan Brett in Durham. All four players fit on a major league roster. All four will be in the minors.

The big omissions here, beyond Curt Casali are the absence of a true 25th man, are older-prospects Richie Shaffer and Mikie Mahtook. I agree with Tommy Rancel that both players would be every day starters on a weaker team.

In total that makes seven players who would will be rather disappointed come April to have not made the squad while having a legitimate shot at the roster. The Rays are blessed with depth right now, and Silverman & Co. deserves a nod for that. Let's not forget the horrors of 2012 any time soon.

The Rays are expected to reduce the roster for the third time this weekend.