Friday, March 24, 2006

Guessing game, Part II

I'm slipping this in just under the buzzer. I hit in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Friday and promised to have these predictions before I arrive. I made the deadline. After getting to St. Pete, I will start pumping out stories soon thereafter -- look for the first Biscuits tale in Monday's paper.

I posted a few guesses Monday on what pitchers should be in Montgomery to start the season. Now, as promised, here are some absolute guesses over the position players:

Elliot Johnson has become a prized second baseman in Tampa Bay's system after signing as a non-drafted free agent. The Devil Rays thought enough of him to send him to the Arizona Fall League last year and think enough of him to want him to play every day. The major-league job is set (Jorge Cantu) and Fernando Cortez is waiting in the wings if something happens to Cantu. With Cortez at Durham, that bumps Johnson back to Montgomery.

A week ago, I would have quickly listed Matthew Maniscalco as Montgomery's full-time shortstop this year. Now, I've read that Brent Butler is back in camp. Butler suffered a shoulder injury that prematurely ended 2005. Butler is a former major-leaguer (203 games experience with the Rockies). Julio Lugo and B.J. Upton will start in Tampa Bay and Durham to start the season. We'll see how it falls after that.

Both are great guys, but it wouldn't be surprising to see both Shawn Riggans and Chairon Isenia back at catcher. Riggans had a breakout season last year and, if he returns, won't be here long.

Francisco Leandro moved from low-Class A Southwest Michigan to high-Class A Visalia on July 4. He didn't need any adjustment time. Leandro hit .355, reached base 130 times in 60 games and was the Oaks' player of the year. His next swings will be with the Biscuits.

Wes Bankston played first at Montgomery last year. Now, he's trying out third. He mashed in Montgomery to the tune of a .292 average, 12 home runs and 47 RBIs in 82 games. Since he's at a new position, I'll take a guess that he's back with the Biscuits to start this season. Would the Rays give one of their top young hitters a new position and a higher level to master? Don't worry; he won't stay too long. If he's successful at third, Tampa Bay is currently in need at that position and will promote him. If Bankston isn't successful, Tampa Bay will move him back to first and beckon his bat upward.

Throw Gabriel Martinez back on the roster, too, but I'm not sure what position he'll concentrate on. He was a first/third baseman to start last year. After he was demoted to Visalia and returned, he played some left and right field, too.

There are my unfettered guesses before I even see a pitch thrown. We'll see how poor of an evaluator I am.

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