By MARC TOPKIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2001
ST. PETERSBURG -- With three weeks left in spring training, there are some obvious decisions the Rays have to make:
Brent Abernathy or Bobby Smith (or Russ Johnson or Damian Rolls) at second base; Tanyon Sturtze, who has looked good, or Esteban Yan, who has not, as the closer; majors or minors for Josh Hamilton; 15- or 60-day disabled list for Wilson Alvarez.
But there are some other interesting issues to get sorted out as well, such as the batting order. The top, with Gerald Williams and whoever wins the second base job, seems set. And the bottom, with DH Steve Cox, catcher John Flaherty and shortstop Felix Martinez, may be as well.
The sequencing in the middle of the order, however, has yet to be determined.
Manager Larry Rothschild wouldn't say if it meant anything, but in the one spring game in which the big four hitters played together, he had Ben Grieve bat third, Fred McGriff fourth, Greg Vaughn fifth and Vinny Castilla sixth.
"I'm going to look at different sets of lineups," Rothschild said. "Some may have merit, some may not. I want to see different guys against different pitchers, and then see where everybody is when we get to the last week or 10 days and then nail it down."
The Rays may consider Grieve, who has a .278 average with 73 homers and 279 RBI in his three full seasons, their best hitter and, thus, top candidate for the No. 3 slot. He's done well there before, hitting .285, though not as well as he has fourth (.296) or fifth (.306) but better than sixth or below (.240).
McGriff is proud of his performance as the cleanup hitter during his three seasons here (.290 average, 75 homers, 280 RBI) and presumably wants to continue.
If Grieve is third and McGriff fourth, the Rays are using their two left-handed power hitters back-to-back followed by their top right-handers, Vaughn and Castilla.
Some advocate alternating the lefties and righties to make it tougher on the opposing manager seeking late-inning bullpen advantages, others like the consistency. Rothschild said he is looking at all factors.
Castilla enjoys hitting in the middle of the order, and has been best in the fifth and sixth slots. Vaughn likes to hit third or fourth, but says it doesn't matter. Plus, he's been more productive out of the fifth slot.
If and when Rothschild decides on an order, he'd like to stay with it: "There may be a platoon situation possibly, but I'd like to hope we could stay healthy and have more of a set lineup than I've been able to have in three years. That way they can get a feel for what they have to do in the lineup and trust each other, and the players that aren't starting know what their roles are."
NO JOSHING: Baseball America did plenty of research before naming Hamilton the game's top prospect. Included was a survey of 11 personnel experts (scouts, scouting directors, assistant general managers) asked to pick between Hamilton and Cubs outfielder Corey Patterson. Hamilton got the edge for power and arm, Patterson was ahead in speed and range, and they were even in hitting and intangibles. Hamilton was complimented for his John Olerud approach to hitting and a Larry Walker-type batting stroke and arm. Hamilton led the voting 6-5.
'SNUFF SAID: At the urging of son Cory and daughter Genay, Vaughn gave up using smokeless tobacco. He says he quit cold turkey at the end of last season and hasn't had a dip since. (For those watching closely, he has been sampling a tobacco-free herbal mix). "My kids kept telling me I needed to do it and I quit the day after, but they didn't say, "Good job,' or anything," Vaughn said. "Dad didn't even get a pat on the back."
EX-RAY REPORT: There is talk the Yankees are interested in acquiring Rolando Arrojo from Boston and using him as a setup man. ... Infielder Aaron Ledesma, who was in camp with the Dodgers, is sidelined after back surgery. ... The Padres are using Bubba Trammell as a reserve outfielder and emergency first baseman. ... Former bullpen coach Orlando Gomez will be the hitting coach for Seattle's Double-A San Antonio team in the Texas League. ... Former bench coach Bill Russell is managing San Francisco's Shreveport team in the same league.
HOO-RAYS: Celebrated outfield prospect Greg "Toe" Nash begins workouts this week at the minor-league training complex. ... Managing general partner Vince Naimoli's daughter, Alyson, had her wedding reception at Tropicana Field on Saturday.