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Projected: Opening Day Lineup

Are there any position battles for Rays?

Sure, Opening Day is several weeks away and there is an international spectacle to witness before that but why not have a little fun with the Rays opening day lineup. We don’t know exactly how Kevin Cash will fill out the lineup card on April 2, but let’s start with what we do know.

The Rays will face the New York Yankees.

Barring injury, Masahiro Tanaka will be the opposing pitcher.

Injuries, position battles, and matchups will all play a role in how the lineup card shakes out on opening day. If the squad remains healthy and returns to full health as planned, this could be the nine guys facing off against the Yankees.

Chris Archer (SP)

Competing in the World Baseball Classic is a bit more intense than spring training. As long as Archer doesn’t have any health issues while competing for Team USA, he will toe-the-rubber come opening day. The Rays are hoping for another 12-strikeout performance on opening day like last year against Toronto. The Yankees were responsible for three of Archer’s losses last season. In his career, Archer is 5-5; 2.63 ERA against the bronx bombers.

#1 Matt Duffy (SS)

Duffy needs to prove that he is healthy after having achilles surgery late last season. He has yet to play in a spring game but he’s due back in mid-March. His career .281 average, and lack of another true lead-off man, should give him a chance to see the first pitch from Tanaka.

#2 Logan Morrison (1B)

Morrison will probably lose AB’s to Nick Franklin, and someone else you’ll see in a minute, during the season. These three guys should see the bulk of time at 1B and 2B. Morrison gets the nod for his experience and because his league-average 21% Line Drive rate coupled with a well below-average .278 BABIP suggest that the Rays could see an improvement from the .238 BA one year ago.

#3 Evan Longoria (3B)

Do I really have to explain why the greatest player in franchise history gets the start on opening day?

#4 Corey Dickerson (DH)

Only Longoria, and the next guy in this lineup, have more at-bats against Tanaka. Dickerson’s five hits against the Yankees ace though, are more than any of his teammates. Not to mention he’s off to a great start posting a .400 BA, 1 HR, 2 RBI, and 3 R in four February games.

#5 Brad Miller (2B)

The Rays have made it clear that Miller will get a shot to be the everyday second baseman. If 2016 was for real and not a fluke like many believe, offensively, the Rays have one of the best at the position in Miller. However, don’t be alarmed to see Franklin at second and Miller getting reps at first as the season progresses.

#6 Colby Rasmus (LF)

Despite what that amish-looking beard may have suggested, the Rays hope this $5M investment will provide a handsome reward. It’s worth noting that only Longoria has more home runs over the last five seasons. When was the last time the Rays got 25 HR and 75 RBI from the six-hole? It could happen.

#7 Steven Souza (RF)

Yet to make his spring debut, it appears the right-handed hitting Souza is a lock for the starting job in right field. Things could change, but Dickerson and Rasmus are the biggest threats to his playing time and both appear better suited for the roles of designated-hitter and left field, respectively. His right/left batting average splits of .234/.233 are not stellar but his predictability regardless of who is pitching, plus the defensive ability should once again award him the opportunity.

#8 Kevin Kiermaier (CF)

Outside of Longoria at third, this is the next biggest lock. Arguably the best defensive center-fielder in baseball, many people don’t realize that Kiermaier showed signs of offensive success. In 2016 the center-fielder doubled his walk rate to 10%. Among all MLB regulars (400 AB), only six guys had a combined higher BB%  and lower K%. If Kiermaier can get on base more regularly, he could easily steal 20-25 bags.

#9 Luke Maile (C)

Certainly this could change between now and opening day. The feeling is that Maile and Curt Casali will be the two primary catchers until the return of Wilson Ramos. However, that isn’t a guarantee. Jesus Sucre will have something to say about that. Maile batted .274 at home last season and .160 on the road. Clearly he has significantly more success at home. With the opening series being at Tropicana Field, give the start to Maile.

Bench: It was tough to leave Franklin out of the starting lineup. He deserves a shot after his breakout performance in 2016. I expect Rickie Weeks to make this team and be on the bench come April 2. His tremendous 5-for-6, 2 HR, 4 RBI, and 4 R through four games is a nice start. Casali and Tim Beckham round out the rest of the reserves.

Obviously a lot can happen over the course of a month but I don’t think there are too many question marks or position-battles here. Certainly no battles that might leave a guy off the opening day roster. Unless Sucre has an incredible spring training, sleep well knowing that these will be the faces on the field come Sunday afternoon, April 2.

Follow Kris Dunn on Twitter @KrisDunnNSR

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