PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The Rays open their monthlong exhibition schedule on Feb. 28 with little to decide.
One byproduct of returning with their core roster intact is the lack of competition for any significant jobs, as their starting lineup is set and most of the pitching staff complete.
The only true openings are for the last spots in the bullpen and on the bench. The Rays also have to fill the fifth spot in the rotation on a temporary basis, as Jeremy Hellickson is due back in mid- to late-May after elbow surgery in late January.
With the first six spots in the bullpen assigned to Grant Balfour, Joel Peralta, Heath Bell, Juan Carlos Oviedo and lefties Jake McGee and Cesar Ramos, the Rays have three strong candidates for the final spot: Josh Lueke (who is out of options), Brandon Gomes and veteran Mark Lowe, who is in camp on a minor-league deal.
The bench spot is wide open, as the Rays have considerable versatility available with Sean Rodriguez and Logan Forsythe -- who can play the infield and the outfield -- penciled in. Outfielder Brandon Guyer, who is also out of options, would seem to be the leading candidate, but the Rays also have veterans such as Wilson Betemit and Jayson Nix on minor-league deals.
Right-hander Jake Odorizzi seemed like the leading candidate to take Hellickson's spot going into camp, though the late signing of veteran lefty Erik Bedard to a minor-league deal may have changed that. Either way, the Rays like to think this choice will be only for the short term.
Otherwise, decisions are limited to setting the batting order and determining the DH rotation.
--C Ryan Hanigan said the new home-plate collision rule is likely to force him to make a slight adjustment in his game, but nothing major. Hanigan tends to stick his leg out to block the plate ahead of receiving a throw and said he now may have to wait until he has the ball. He also said he actually may be more likely to block the plate with the ball knowing he can't be run over, or at least without penalty. "I've been doing it one way for so long, it's going to be tough to try to do anything different," he said.
--2B Ben Zobrist is likely to make his exhibition debut around March 4-5 after missing the first week of full-squad workouts due to a sore and tight lower back, which he injured working out in the weight room. Zobrist has been slowly increasing his workload with no setbacks; he took batting practice on the field for the first time Feb. 26.
--Minor-league non-roster RHP Juan Sandoval was expected in camp on Feb. 27, having finally resolved his visa issues in the Dominican Republic. Two players who have legitimate shots to make the big-league team, RHP Juan Carlos Oviedo and INF Wilson Betemit, remain delayed. Rays officials say the players have been working out and should not be behind when they do arrive.
--OF Wil Myers is gaining notoriety after his impressive 2013 debut and Rookie of the Year performance. Myers will be one of a small group of MLB players who will produce an episode of a new MTV2 show, "Off the Bat from the MLB Fan Cave." The weekly show, which debuts in April, is designed to showcase a mix of baseball and entertainment. Other players involved include Boston's David Ortiz, Seattle's Robinson Cano, Baltimore's Adam Jones, Miami's Jose Fernandez and Atlanta's Craig Kimbrel.
--INF Jayson Nix is playing from behind to get a roster spot since he signed a minor-league deal and the Rays already have two utility infielders likely on the team in Sean Rodriguez and Logan Forsythe, but Nix has made a good impression. "This guy is an uber-professional," manager Joe Maddon said. "That's all he's about. He just wants to play the game, play it right, be part of a group and understand what the overall philosophy is. I've known him for a week, I feel like I've known him for the last 10 years.''
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm old school." -- Rays 38-year-old catcher Jose Molina, on his preference for the collision rules to not be changed.