5 Tampa Bay Rays Players Who Are Sure to Shine at Spring Training

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5 Players Who Will Excel in Spring Training

Wil Myers
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Pitchers and catchers report to Port Charlotte, Fla. for Tampa Bay Rays Spring Training this Friday. Boasting what some have called their best team ever, the Rays are coming into the season with high expectations. There will surely be players who step up in camp to help prove them right.

Coming off a 92-win season, the team did lose some players, including Delmon Young and Fernando Rodney. Notably, they did not lose ace David Price. The Rays expected to trade Price for much of the offseason, but nothing came to fruition and he agreed to a one-year, $14 million deal with the team in January to avoid arbitration.

Key additions to the roster include catcher Ryan Hanigan and bullpen arms Health Bell and Grant Balfour. Overall, the offseason transactions look to have resulted in a net improvement for an already stellar 2013 squad.

Some injury concerns exist, but not many. Most impactful is the surgery pitcher Jeremy Hellickson had on his right elbow. The recovery will keep him out for the first 6-8 weeks of the season, and a suitable fifth starter must be identified during Spring Training.

The 2014 team will be excellent defensively, true to the Rays' nature. Hanigan is a gifted defensive catcher, and the Rays will have four Gold-Glove finalists in their infield.

Even though the Rays are returning to the field looking more familiar than different, there are still some wrinkles to be ironed out before Opening Day. Here is a look at five impact players who are sure to wow us at Spring Training.

Laura Depta is a New York Yankees writer for RantSports.com. Follow her on Twitter @LauraDepta and add her to your network on Google.

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5. Jake Odorizzi

Jake Odorizzi Rays
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

With Hellickson out until at least May, 23-year-old right-hander Jake Odorizzi is the front man to replace him as the fifth starter in the Rays’ rotation. Odorizzi tossed just 29.2 innings over seven major league games in 2013, compiling a 3.94 ERA. He held right-handers to .208/.377/.627 over that time.

Over six seasons in the minors, Odorizzi has thrown 605 innings for a 3.47 ERA. Not a power pitcher, he does need to work on command and pitch location, but all signs point to this youngster living up to expectations in Spring Training and stepping into the rotation, at least temporarily.

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4. Grant Balfour

Grant Balfour Rays
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The Rays signed the 36-year-old closer to a two-year, $12 million deal last month. Balfour pitched for the Rays in 2007-10 and posted his best year ever in 2008 with a 1.54 ERA. Last year with the Oakland Athletics, he recorded 38 saves and posted a 2.59 ERA.

Earlier this offseason, a deal that would send Balfour to the Baltimore Orioles was all but done, but the O’s backed out last minute citing issues with the physical. Balfour’s health record has been pretty clean since rotator cuff surgery in 2005, however, and the Opening Day closer job in Tampa is his. Look for him to bring that trademark tenacity and 93mph fastball with him to Spring Training and into next season.

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3. Ryan Hanigan

Ryan Hanigan
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The defense got a big upgrade with the addition of former Cincinnati Reds’ catcher Ryan Hanigan. Hanigan is known as a master pitch-framer and a sharp-shooter. He threw out 40 percent of runners attempting to steal in 2013, the third-highest rate among catchers with at least 50 games played.

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2. Wil Myers

Wil Myers Rays
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

There's no doubt there are high expectations for the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year heading into 2014 camp. In 88 games last season, Myers hit .293/.354/.478 with 13 home runs and 53 RBI. Rays fans are hopeful that this young right-fielder’s sophomore effort is even better.

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1. Kevin Kiermaier

Tropicana Field
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The 24-year-old outfielder made his major league debut in game 163 for the Rays last season and didn’t even get a chance to hit. That’s just as well since this young phenom is known particularly for his defensive skills.

According to MLB.com, Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said, "In our opinion, Kevin Kiermaier might be the best defensive outfielder in our organization, at any level. He is fearless, gets tremendous jumps, runs well and has a great arm." His bat isn’t too shabby, either. Kiermaier hit .307 with five home runs in 97 games for Double-A last year.

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