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Visa issues resolved, duo to join third-base battle

INFs Joel Guzman and Willy Aybar are expected to arrive at Rays camp today and Wednesday, respectively, and no one is more eager to see them than manager Joe Maddon.

By Joe Smith, Times Staff Writer
Published February 26, 2008


ST. PETERSBURG - INFs Joel Guzman and Willy Aybar are expected to arrive at Rays camp today and Wednesday, respectively, and no one is more eager to see them than manager Joe Maddon.

Guzman and Aybar, stuck with RHP Juan Salas in the Dominican Republic because of visa issues, could be options at third base if it is determined that touted prospect Evan Longoria should start the season in the minors.

Maddon saw flashes of what Guzman can do. The 23-year-old played in 15 games last season after getting recalled from Triple-A Durham and could play first, third and the outfield.

As for Aybar, acquired last month from Atlanta for LHP Jeff Ridgway, there's some intrigue. The 24-year-old, once one of the Dodgers' top prospects, hit .313 for the Braves in 36 games in 2006 but missed all of last season because of an injured right wrist and personal matters. In January, Aybar was arrested and jailed in the Dominican Republic on domestic violence charges that were eventually dropped.

"I've heard all about (Aybar), read all the different numbers and everyone speaks well about his offense, his plate discipline, his hitting abilities," Maddon said. "And I've heard different things about his defense - I want to see that - I've heard he could be a pretty good defender. So I want to see all of that, (and) imagine what he can play beyond one position."

Maddon said he's still uncertain when Salas will report.

INTRASQUAD SKINNY: With several position players sitting out today's 11 a.m. intrasquad game, the biggest thing to watch could be Akinori Iwamura's play at second, working alongside new SS Jason Bartlett. Maddon said OFs Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli and Cliff Floyd, along with C Dioner Navarro and 1B Carlos Pena, will not play today but will Wednesday.

The game will last seven innings, with LHP Scott Kazmir and RHP Troy Percival the scheduled starters. Dave Martinez's group will be called the Mud Dawgs and Tom Foley's the Feinsteins, after director of baseball operations Dan Feinstein.

STILL SORE: Percival was limited for a second straight day to rest his sore legs but remains scheduled to pitch today. "Running around on the soft grass out there (after) two years on the couch is taking a beating on my legs," he said. "They're starting to rebound now, and I'll be good to go."

MISCELLANY:Owner Stuart Sternberg will be at the Naimoli complex today, with part of his itinerary an interview with ESPN's Lisa Salters. ... The Rays signed Guzman, Bartlett, INF Ben Zobrist and C John Jaso, leaving six unsigned, including CF B.J. Upton.