ST. PETERSBURG -- Jake Odorizzi's locker in the Rays' clubhouse on Tuesday was not far from three fellow former Royals in Wil Myers, Mike Montgomery and Patrick Leonard, but the right-hander was still somewhat out of place.
Unlike the other 30 or so prospects in the room, Odorizzi, 22, has played in the Majors. But he went through Tampa Bay's prospect camp just the same as those who were hoping to reach the level Odorizzi climbed to last season in Kansas City.
"I kind of sit back a little bit and watch everything. I was in their spot not too long ago. It's kind of weird to have been there and see people who are working to get there, like you see yourself in them," Odorizzi said. "I'm taking it in just like they are, same mentality. I just want to get to know everything, learn everything as quick as I can, just kind of get familiar with everything as quick as possible then go from there."
Odorizzi already has made strides to fit in, working out three times last week with a few Major League pitchers he hopes to pitch alongside in 2013, including David Price, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb. Odorizzi will enter Spring Training with a chance to claim a spot in the Rays' starting rotation. He called that opportunity an honor but acknowledged that earning a job will be no easy feat, given the competition he'll face.
"But I think that's better, honestly. I think that's what breeds better competition, when you go up against the best," Odorizzi said. "Nothing's easy, so you want it to be as tough as possible to bring the best out of you. That's what I'm really looking forward to, is the competition between everybody.
"From what I hear, everyone tries to one-up each other in a competitive, friendly way, not 'I'm better than you and this person.' Like I said, that breeds good competition. I think that's why they're so good here, too. ... They're great guys. Took me right in, trying to get to know them; they're trying to get to know me. Hopefully it'll be a really good match."
Rays focus on drug awareness and prevention
ST. PETERSBURG -- Josh Sale, the Rays' top pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, found out by reading a letter from Minor League Baseball."Just letting me know," he recalled. "'You came up dirty.'" Sale said he didn't take anything illegal, but he received a 50-game suspension on Aug. 28 after testing positive for a substance banned by Major League Baseball, one of seven players in Tampa Bay's system to be suspended over the past year. The latest came Monday, when MLB announced that Double-A catcher David Wendt tested positive for the banned stimulant methylhexaneamine. The previous suspensions were levied to outfielder Cody Rogers (refusing to take an offseason drug test); Tim Beckham (drug of abuse); Ryan Brett, Charles Cononie and Justin Woodall (methamphetamine and an amphetamine). Rays farm director Mitch Lukevics pointed out that the organization thoroughly educates its players about what they should and should not take. "Obviously we're disappointed in the number of suspensions in our organization," said executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. "We have to remember that these are young kids, and as much as you try to educate them, mistakes will happen. The important part is that they learn from them. We will tolerate guys making mistakes. We'll talk through it again, and it's incumbent upon them to learn from their mistakes and make sure that it doesn't happen again." Sale, who will remain in Port Charlotte, Fla., for extended spring camp until his suspension is up, expressed remorse for the positive test and looks to put it behind him, taking a more optimistic outlook into 2013. If anything, Sale said, he has to let the mistake motivate him into proving that he was clean and that he can put together a full season without any performance-enhancing drugs. But as Lukevics put it, a 50-game suspension "puts a dent in a kid's career. You can't make progress in this game when you miss 50 games. "There are things that we can do, along with continual education, and things we can do on the field, but there's things that we can't do. He can't play in games. That hurts," Lukevics added. "Hopefully, with young men making a mistake in their life, they learn from that mistake and they get on with their career in a very positive manner. "We're teachers of not only the game of baseball, but we're teachers, all of us, of life for these young men that come from so many different social and economic backgrounds. ... That's our challenge in player development, and we welcome that challenge."
Rays preparing for arbitration process
ST. PETERSBURG -- While Andrew Friedman was at Tropicana Field on Tuesday to watch the Rays' future prospects, he was also mindful of the team's more immediate personnel issues.
The organization's executive vice president of baseball operations is facing Friday's deadline for clubs to exchange arbitration figures with players. Four Tampa Bay players filed for arbitration on Tuesday: Jeff Niemann, Matt Joyce, Sam Fuld and Ryan Roberts.
Friedman said the Rays could reach deals with some of those players before the deadline, as they did with David Price ($10.1125 million) and Sean Rodriguez ($1 million), but he didn't have any more news to report on that front.
"I just don't have a good feel," Friedman said. "Very well could, just don't know yet."
Niemann made $2.5 million in 2012 but missed most of the season due to injury. Joyce, who made $499,500 last year, posted a .241/.341/.429 batting line in 124 games. Fuld was under contract for $489,400 last season and sat out until July following wrist surgery. And Roberts, acquired in a midseason trade last year, batted .214 with a .647 OPS in 60 games with Tampa Bay.
Arbitration hearings will take place between Feb. 4 and Feb. 20 in St. Petersburg. Last year, Niemann was the only Rays player who went to arbitration, losing his case against the team. Tampa Bay has not lost any of its six arbitration cases, including five under the current front office.
Beyond that, the Rays still appear to have an opening for at least one more player. Friedman cautioned that they "certainly don't need to do anything" but admitted he'd like to improve his current roster and create more depth. That could happen via trade or free agency, with Friedman considering the latter a more realistic option.
The most glaring hole in Tampa Bay's lineup, as it stands now, would be the lack of a designated hitter. Friedman noted that the Rays could always utilize a rotation of their position players, keeping some of them fresh or putting out a stronger defensive group, but they are also looking at the market for more "traditional" DH options.
"Point is, there's a scenario where you have one position player who's not a DH and you just rotate a bunch of guys through to get them off their feet," Friedman said. "And then there's scenarios where you add a more traditional DH. We're just going through all those scenarios."
Friedman called the collection of prospects on hand at Tropicana Field on Tuesday "the most talented group we've had out here. ... Really good bodies, really talented guys and all really driven to get better. It's an exciting group." Right-hander Jeff Niemann, whose 2012 season was marred by injuries, was working out at Tropicana Field. Friedman said Niemann was feeling fine and shouldn't have any restrictions in place when Spring Training begins. Niemann made only eight starts in 2012 due to a broken right fibula and a right shoulder injury. Taylor Guerrieri, the Rays' top pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, was one of the 14 first-rounders attending the Winter Development Program. Guerrieri, Tampa Bay's No. 4 prospect as rated by MLB.com, put up dominant numbers for the Rays' New York-Penn League affiliate in 2012, posting a 1.04 ERA in 12 starts, and is set to move on to his first full professional season in 2013. "Taylor had a tremendous year," Friedman said. "This will be his first year in full season, which is a big step for these young pitchers. He definitely has the ingredients to be really, really good, and we'll keep working with him and refining the specific pitches and try to put him in a position where he can come up here one day, put 200-plus innings on his body and help us win games."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.