The 2012 Tampa Bay Rays head into the season featuring possibly the single most impressive roster in team history. Overfull of pitching talent, brimming with defensive talent and now upgraded on offense, the Rays roster has all the assets necessary to match and possibly overcome the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and improving Toronto Blue Jays.
The team still has a few weeks to make their final roster decisions, but the general shape of the team has come into focus. Barring any more injuries, the Rays opening day lineup and opening day roster should look a little like this:
- LF Desmond Jennings -- The Young One has 40+ steals, 15+ homers potential.
- 2B Ben Zobrist -- Underrated, underpaid and overtalented.
- 3B Evan Longoria -- If healthy, he can hit 30+ homers and give AL East pitchers nightmares.
- 1B Carlos Pena -- Past his prime, but still rich in power and slick with glove.
- CF B.J. Upton -- His power never blossomed, but he's still a threatening bat and glove.
- RF Matt Joyce -- He could realistically hit 25 homers -- or better -- with solid defense.
- DH Luke Scott -- If he rebounds from his 2011 injury, he will move up to about No. 5.
- SS Sean Rodriguez -- He has apparently won the SS competition on the merit of injury.
- C Jose Molina -- The Wizard may only play 100 games at most, but should make a huge impact.
- C Jose Lobaton -- With Molina needing extra breathers, Lobaton will play caddie in 2012.
- IF Elliot Johnson -- Wins the 25th roster spot on the merit of Brignac's injury.
- IF Jeff Keppinger -- Not enough defense to play SS much, but will platoon will vs LHP.
- OF Sam Fuld -- Super Sam should see less playing time this year, but is valuable nonetheless.
- RHP James Shields -- Won't repeat 2011, but still the AL East's 3rd or 4th best pitcher.
- LHP David Price -- Ignore his ERA; Price improved last year and he can do the same in 2012.
- RHP Jeremy Hellickson -- Even if the infield flies reduce to normal, he should get more Ks.
- LHP Matt Moore -- Watch out world; here comes a healthy Stephen Strasburg.
- RHP Wade Davis -- The No. 5 spot is a coin flip between Davis and Niemann.
- "Closer" RHP Kyle Farnsworth -- Will play closer, but still pitch at other times when needed.
- High-Leverage RHP Joel Peralta -- Quietly had amazing 2010 and 2011 seasons.
- High-Leverage LHP J.P. Howell -- With his injury behind him, he's again the best lefty RP.
- LOOGY LHP Jake McGee -- If he improves this year, McGee should shake the LOOGY role.
- Ground Ball RHP Burke Badenhop -- The Rays' secret bullpen weapon is a GB machine.
- Middle RHP Fernando Rodney -- A strange signing, but could add a second GB threat.
- Long RHP Jeff Niemann -- Given Wade's favorable contract and comparatively favorable injury history, I'm betting Niemann goes to the bullpen. On his career, Niemann gets hit increasingly and disproportionately harder with each additional time through the lineup, whereas Wade Davis is usually at his best the third time through the lineup.
- SS Reid Brignac -- He's hurt right now, and I suspect the Rays start him on the 15-day DL.
- OF Brandon Guyer -- Would make a deadly platoon mate for Joyce, but the roster is full.
- SP Alex Cobb -- Barring a trade, only injuries will give Cobb playing time.
- RP Brandon Gomes -- Could replace Rodney if the club is willing to eat nearly $2M.
- RP Josh Lueke -- File Lueke under "Closer Prospect." He should see some time in 2012.
- RP Matt Bush -- Another high-ceiling relief prospect. He should arrive in September.
- C Robinson Chirinos -- It looks like a concussion will take him out of the backup catcher competition, but if he hits well enough in Triple-A, he could put some pressure on Lobaton during the season.