Friday, March 23, 2007

Flat out guesses

OK, here's my completely uneducated, show-how-much-I-know guesses on potential Biscuits this year. I've already pegged shortstop Reid Brignac and third baseman Evan Longoria to be on the Opening Day roster. Those, to me, were kind of simple.

I'll take Josh Arhart behind the plate after his .301-15-78 year at high Class A last year and Josh Asanovich at second base. Asanovich hit .293 at Visalia.

In the outfield, I see Fernando Perez in center and Shaun Cumberland in right. Patrick Breen should be back after coming up from Visalia at the end of July last year, just before Brignac and Longoria.

Perez runs fast enough that he stole 33 bases last year, but he needs some refinement (he was caught stealing 16 times). Cumberland had 16 homers and 98 RBIs last year -- and struck out 133 times, one off Perez's team lead.

Sergio Pedroza came to the Rays in a trade last year and played left, but the Rays said in the offseason that they wanted to try him at catcher. Not sure how that's going -- though I'll see soon enough.

John Jaso is a catcher by trade but caught only 24 games last year after some offseason shoulder surgery. He was mainly a DH for Visalia and swung a nifty bat: .309, 55 RBIs, 58 runs scored.

Maybe Jaso will also try some first base -- when Chris Nowak needs a day off -- though Jaso didn't do that last year. Nowak put up .308-11-103 numbers in the hitter-friendly California League.

I guess you want to know something about who's throwing the pitches instead of just about who will be swinging at them.

I tabbed Chris Mason as this year's opening day starter the night the Biscuits won the Southern League title in September. I won't stake my already-shaky reputation on that now, but I'll say he'll be in Montgomery's rotation. Mason was 12-10 with a 5.02 ERA last year at Visalia.

Let me repeat: Those were in the hitter-friendly California League. If I can think of a stronger term than "friendly," I'll share it. How about "hitter-nirvana California League?" There have been quite a few hitters get out of that and see their production drop. Pitchers, if they can crawl out of the mental bunker, can do a lot better away from Cali.

Let's put a tag on James Houser, Jon Barrett and Nick DeBarr. Barrett had a 2.93 ERA in that California League firing line, while Houser finished 12-4 with a 4.41 ERA. DeBarr was in Visalia and showed enough that the Red Sox took him in the major-league Rule V. The Sox returned him to the Rays early this month.

That's 14 guesses. The Biscuits can have 24 players on their active roster for the opener, though the Rays always send an extra hand or two on the "phantom DL."

I creep through the gates at spring training Friday. The minor-leaguers face the Yankee farmhands in an afternoon exhibition. I'll start there and work my way over to the Rays-Reds major-league game Friday night.

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