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Rays Spring Training 2012: Tampa Bay Preps For Pitching, Shortstop Competitions

In 2011, the Tampa Bay Rays had one of the single most amazing seasons in the history of the sport. They may have lost in the first round of the playoffs, but the Rays' magical, most unprecedented September led to a 9-game comeback and a dramatic, Hollywood-esque winning of the AL Wild Card over their rival the Boston Red Sox.

Tampa Bay begins their quest to repeat and improve upon 2011's success in just a matter of days. The Rays officially head down to Port Charlotte on Monday when pitchers and catchers make their first showing, but the complex is already buzzing with players and activity ahead of the reporting dates:

Pitchers and catchers report

Monday, Feb. 20

Full team reports

Sunday, Feb. 26

The team heads into came with at least three unanswered questions:

1) Will Reid Brignac or Sean Rodriguez win the starting job at shortstop? Or will they end up in one of Joe Maddon's fancy platoons? The team would obviously prefer one of the two to wow Maddon and earn a full-time position outright.

2) Will Wade Davis or Jeff Niemann go to the bullpen? The two starters have to prove all their worth because it looks like rookie sensation Matt Moore has already earned his rotation spot. If an injury or trade does not open a spot for Davis or Niemann, one of them will be a reliever at the start of the season.

3) How many games will Jose Molina be asked to start? Let us be frank: Molina is a defensive diamond. He is the very definition of the Rays' search for the extra 2% -- but he is 36 and playing the most physically demanding position on the field. The Rays said they wanted more catchers to compete with Molina, but for now they have only the young duo of Jose Lobaton and Robinson Chirinos, neither of whom may be ready for heavy catching duties at the MLB level.

Rays 2012 Roster

The best for the Rays roster probably looks something like this:

LF Desmond Jennings
2B Ben Zobrist
3B Evan Longoria
1B Carlos Pena
DH Luke Scott
RF Matt Joyce
CF B.J. Upton
C Jose Molina
SS Sean Rodriguez

INF Jeff Keppinger
C Jose Lobaton
OF Sam Fuld
INF Elliot Johnson or Reid Brignac

1. James Shields
2. David Price
3. Jeremy Hellickson
4. Matt Moore
5. Jeff Niemann
or Wade Davis

Projected bullpen
Closer: Kyle Farnsworth
RH fireman: Joel Peralta
LH fireman: J.P. Howell
Groundball: Burke Badenhop
LOOGY: Jake McGee
Middle: Josh Lueke / Fernando Rodney
Swing man: Davis or Niemann

2012 Rays Spring Training Schedule

The Rays kick off their Grapefruit League action on March 3 and take only one off day (March 19) until Spring Training concludes in early April. Here's a look at their opening slate of games:

Saturday, Mar. 3: Rays @ Twins, 1:05 p.m.

Sunday, Mar. 4: Rays vs. Twins*, 1:05 p.m.

Monday, Mar. 5: Rays vs. Orioles*, 1:05 p.m.

Tuesday, Mar. 6: Rays vs. Twins, 1:05 p.m.

Wednesday, Mar. 7: Rays @ Yankees, 1:05 p.m.

Thursday, Mar. 8: Rays* vs. Tigers, 1:05 p.m.
Thursday, Mar. 8: Rays* @ Twins, 1:05 p.m.

Friday, Mar. 9: Rays vs. Orioles, 1:05 p.m.

*split squad

For more notes and analysis on the Tampa Bay Rays, check out the Rays blog DRaysBay. And stay tuned to SB Nation Tampa Bay for breaking news and schedules for all Florida sports teams.

Photographs by, thelastminute, turtlemom nancy , fesek, kthypryn, justinwright, sue_elias, pointnshoot, and scrapstothefuture used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.