Will Carroll
Tuesday March 1st, 2011

Vince Naimoli gets a bad rap. It's deserved for some things, but the Rays built their franchise's success on a couple things he did. First, he got the team. Second, he drafted pretty well, proving Chuck LaMar was a good scouting director but a terrible GM. Finally, he looked at the money he was losing to injuries and said "enough!" He hired James Andrews, Koco Eaton, and Ken Crenshaw, now with the Diamondbacks, to revamp the medical staff. Hiring the top sports medicine doctor in the world might seem symbolic, especially when Andrews kept right on working with other teams, but it's the commitment to this area that started the turn around for the franchise and has kept their pitchers more healthy than not. Crenshaw has moved on to the D'backs, but Ron Porterfield has kept that excellence going. The Rays lost Assistant Trainer Nick Paparesta this offseason, as he'll try to turn around the A's medical situation. The Rays use their process to their advantage, understanding the principles of injury management as much as they do sabermetrics and economics. I can tell you which one's been more productive for them, but it's not as sexy a story, I guess.

(HEAD TRAINER: Ron Porterfield; FIVE YEAR RANK: 12; 2010 RANK: 2)
For explanation of these ratings, click here
 
GREEN LIGHT
C John Jaso
It's not that The System loves Jaso, it's that it doesn't. It simply doesn't believe he'll get enough time behind the plate to do too much damage to himself. Don't read that like it's a bad thing.

RF Ben Zobrist
Zobrist was just athletic enough to play a bunch of positions and had that one season where prayer and a hitting guru seemed to make everything good. A decade ago, people would be saying he juiced for that one season, a Brady Anderson-esque mirage. He might be healthy enough to rebound some, but he was much better off bouncing around. Having a shortstop who can hit like a right fielder is better than a right fielder who's dreaming of two years ago.

DH Manny Ramirez
As a pure DH, Manny can be Manny and Manny's knees and back can be left alone.

SP Jeff Niemann
Given how Niemann's career started, his arm laid waste to during his stint at Rice, seeing him in a rotation, let alone green is a victory for the Rays medical staff.

Also Green:
2B Sean Rodriguez
3B Evan Longoria
SP James Shields
 
YELLOW LIGHT
1B Dan Johnson
I'm not saying that the Rays should have kept Carlos Pena, but looking out at Dan Johnson is going to become a symbol of the new-look Rays. Prospects don't sell tickets until they make it to The Show and stick. Johnson's the guy you sign when you don't have anyone else, a Quad-A guy who's making the most of his latest chance.

SS Reid Brignac
A couple years back, I was in St. Pete watching the Rays in Spring Training. I'm walking over with beat writer Marc Topkin and notice the players as they warmed up. Brignac stood up ... and kept standing. The guy isn't huge in an NFL or NBA sense, but he's big for a shortstop. He's virtually the same size as Cal Ripken and Alex Rodriguez. He's not the same style of player, obviously, but the size does get a bit worrisome at this position. The bigger concern is the big jump in workload, since The System is locking him in as the starter. More Zobrist here could keep this risk lower, but increases it for Zobrist.

LF Johnny Damon
Famously healthy for most of his career, Damon's had a bit of a downturn. The Tampa turf -- even the new stuff -- won't do him any favors, but that could be a great chance to do some kind of Joe Maddon thinking. If they used speedy Desmond Jennings for half of Damon's home games, that should be a defensive and basepath advantage. I think Damon's attendance bonuses might cancel that idea out, so look for Damon to need the occasional day off or even a DL stint to recharge.

CF B.J. Upton
I honestly expected red here and dug back into the factors that The System used to figure it. Looking back, he's played 144 games or more each of the last three seasons. The really odd thing is that his power spike came with an injured shoulder. Once repaired, he went back to single digits, making him an expensive greyhound rather than a four-tool monster. Justin Upton just had the same surgery, so I'll be very curious to see how he recovers.

SP David Price
This yellow should remind you that Price is still relatively young, has had a high workload, and that betting that anyone is the exception rather than the rule is tough. That said, he's a very hard player to comp and has never had any major injuries.

SP Wade Davis
Davis had a big innings increase and spent August resting a sore shoulder. That DL stint saved him from putting up the innings that would take him red. Anything over 180 this season will put him in the same position. I'm a bit more worried about Davis than The System is.S5 Jeremy Hellickson
The fifth starter designation doesn't really mean much. Rotations tend to be linear these days, but the Rays will need to watch "Hellboy's" innings. That could turn the five slot into a "skip when possible" spot. Managing this slot could be a creative advantage, skipping him and slotting him in when there's some advantage to be had. I doubt they will, even with Maddon at the helm.

CL Jake McGee
McGee's a lefty with heat who's two years removed from Tommy John surgery. He started '10 as a starter at Double-A, but had been pegged by many as a reliever for years. There's no reason to think that he can't excel here, but there's also no reason to lock him in here either. Pitchers switching from relieving to starting show no real issues, but here's the key: It's better to work as a starter in the spring. The Rays have enough pitching depth that they probably won't do this, but I'm becoming more and more convinced that in all but extreme situations, all pitchers should work out like starters in the spring.
 
RED LIGHT
RP J.P. Howell
Howell lost all of 2010 with a labrum tear in his pitching shoulder. He's not going to be ready to start the year and ... well, there's not a great track record for guys coming back from this. It's possible, sure, but I wouldn't count on it, or think Howell might be in line for saves like some suggest. The stunning thing is that Howell arguably shouldn't be the "key reliever" and if he hadn't been, the Rays would go into the season with no red rankings. That doesn't happen by luck.
 

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