Around The AL East: Rays

Before third base super-prospect Evan Longoria takes his first swing of the spring, the Rays might decide whether he will open the season in the major leagues or back at Triple-A.

Executive VP Andrew Friedman said discussions on the subject have already started and that the Rays may make the decision in their pre-spring training meetings, a scenario he would prefer.

The idea would be to make the decision on what Longoria has done in the minors and what team officials believe is best for him, rather than on his performance during the spring, when talent evaluations can be skewed by the circumstances and quality of competition.

Plus, doing so would relieve the pressure and eliminate the scrutiny on Longoria's day-to-day performance.

Such a move would be unusual, and even unorthodox, if Longoria has a chance to make the team. But if the Rays are planning for him to start in the minors anyway, it might make more sense in that it eliminates the issue—and the potential for controversy if he were to put up big numbers during the spring.

Manager Joe Maddon said he would prefer to let the situation play out during the spring and make a decision in mid- to late March.

"We know he's going to be our third baseman," Maddon said. "It's just a matter of when."

—A "super-utility" type player who hits left-handed, can play first and third and fill in at the corner outfield spots is the team's top remaining priority at this point. Most discussions have been on the trade front rather than the free agent market. The Rays are also seeking a left-handed reliever but haven't yet found what they are looking for.

—Five pitchers will open camp competing for the two open spots in the rotation—RHPs Edwin Jackson and Andy Sonnanstine are the incumbents, RHP Jason Hammel and J.P. Howell had their chances last season and RHP Jeff Niemann is considered ready for the chance. The top three starters are LHP Scott Kazmir and RHPs James Shields and Matt Garza.

—Former big-leaguer Tim Bogar was hired as an additional coach with the responsibility of "quality assurance." That means duties that include compiling advance scouting information, working before games with players on bunting and baserunning and spending the games in the stands analyzing the team's play. Bogar's charge, manager Joe Maddon said, is "keeping us ahead of our own mistakes."

—The Rays have asked the St. Petersburg City Council permission to play a three-game series April 22-24 against Toronto at Walt Disney World in Orlando. The team says it needs to expand its fan base beyond the Tampa area.

—Non-roster catcher Hector Gimenez is the only player among the 51 invited to spring training expected to be limited by injury. Gimenez spent all of 2007 on Houston's disabled list following March surgery to repair a torn labrum.

—3B Evan Longoria, SS Reid Brignac and pitchers Wade Davis, Chris Mason and Jake McGee are five top prospects invited to major league spring training.

—In an effort to increase their injury-prevention efforts, the Rays added a third major league trainer, promoting Nick Paparesta.

—Former bench coach Bill Evers was hired as a pro scout with some player-development responsibilities.

BY THE NUMBERS: $40 million—The Rays' projected Opening Day payroll, a significant increase over last season's $24 million.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I know this is a radical approach to baseball. But so was the bench coach when that came along, so was the DH, so was color television at some point." —Rays manager Joe Maddon, on hiring Tim Bogar as a "quality assurance" coach.

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