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Maddon on the Rays top prospects, additional signings, the catchers and Pena

Posted Jan 12, 2010 by Roger Mooney

Updated Jan 12, 2010 at 06:48 PM

The Rays first Winter Development Program, held this week at the Trop, seems to be a hit.

The 22 prospects invited to the four-day program, which began Monday, enjoy having lockers in the Rays clubhouse and their names and numbers on the back of their own BP jersey.

Pitcher Jeremy Hellickson liked the idea of wearing No. 18 instead of the standard offensive linemen numbers given to prospects.

Outfielder Desmond Jennings liked the idea of dressing next to Carlos Peña’s locker.

Shortstop Tim Beckham, the first overall pick in the 2008 draft, liked the fact it was a lot warmer inside the chilly Trop than it is back in Atlanta, where he spends his offseasons. He can’t workout outside in Atlanta. Can’t take grounders and go through fielding drills.

He can inside the Trop.

“Back in Atlanta it’s like 20 degrees. It’s freezing up there. I can’t really get on any fields at this time,” he said. “When I come down here just to get ground balls, do drills, the little things that help, I’m taking full advantage of that.”

Rays manager Joe Maddon liked the fact Beckham dropped more than a few pounds – 12 according to Beckham.

“I do see the body type or style has changed a bit,” Maddon said. “It looks like he’s lost a little bit of his baby fat and is starting to lean out a little bit, which is nice to see. Not having seen him on the field skill-wise, I don’t know where he’s at with that. But I think physical appearance-wise, you can see he’s grown up a little bit in a good way.”

The winter development program enabled Maddon and his staff a chance to see and work with these prospects in person, many for the first time.

“The concept is something new for us,” he said. “We’ll probably grow it over the next couple of years. I like the idea of getting these young guys in here, and the primary purpose right now is to gage their physical conditioning. And why is that so important? Because you don’t want to lose your development through injury with a lot of these people. A lot of times that’s not talked about enough. When you get really young folks that you really think are going to impactful here (at the big league level), you want to keep them on-track. Of course, injuries are going to occur, but if you can prevent the leg injuries or whatever by just being a little more vigilant right now, and also the testing the trainers can do with the shoulders, the arms, etcetera. So, I like it. I like it for that purpose. It maybe something that we may be able to include more skill work in the future as we think it through a little bit more.”

The two big names, of course, where Jennings and Hellickson. Rays vice president of baseball Andrew Friedman said both have a good chance to play for the Rays this summer, though don’t expect either to break camp on the 25-man roster.

“To think they’re going to come out of camp and have a significant impact, I think that’s really laying a lot on them right now,” Maddon said. “I don’t anticipate that.”

Maddon said the Rays basically know who the 25 players will be on the Opening Day roster. Still, he thinks Friedman is still looking for more players like first baseman Dan Johnson, who signed a major league contract Monday.

Maddon said the Rays could still use some help at second base and in the bullpen.

“The answer to that is yes,” he said.

Also, Maddon said the Rays need more players just to make the big league camp work. Toward that end, expect them to sign at least three more catchers so there will be enough to catch the pitchers.

“You may still find somebody you really want to bring in to compete in some way,” Maddon said. “But you need enough guys to make the day run properly.”

As for the catching situation, like he’s said all along, Maddon likes the idea of having two catchers with major league experience. So, maybe the Rays aren’t as anxious to move Dioner Navarro as many believe despite trading for Kelly Shoppach and signing him to a deal worth $5.5 million.

Maddon, though, isn’t sure how the playing time will break down between the two.

“It is an open competition in a sense, but for me I think we have two really good catchers and I don’t know exactly how it’s going to work yet, I truly don’t,” he said. “I saw Navie yesterday, he looks really good. I talked to Shoppach on the phone, a really interesting, eager player. Everybody talks about him that knows him, they love. I just think we’re in a good position. I think we’re in an enviable position catcher-wise. I know they’re both going to play a like. I just don’t know how it’s going to shake.”

Maddon also said all reports on Peña’s broken fingers are positive, and he expects his power-hitting first baseman to be ready for spring training.

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