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Inbox: What are Rays' plans for Mallex?

Beat reporter Bill Chastain answers fans' questions
MLB.com @wwchastain

What are the Rays' plans for Mallex Smith? I hardly ever see his name penciled in any projected starting lineups. I really liked what he brought to the team with his speed and attitude.
-- Jeff C., Atlanta

I actually believe that Smith has a pretty good chance to be in the starting lineup. For some reason, this offseason has been slow to develop, and teams are holding back on free agents. I think that has slowed down the progression of possible trades. I mention this because I'd be surprised if Denard Span is still on the roster by Opening Day. If Tampa Bay does trade the veteran outfielder, Smith would seem to be the natural fit to become the left fielder.

What are the Rays' plans for Mallex Smith? I hardly ever see his name penciled in any projected starting lineups. I really liked what he brought to the team with his speed and attitude.
-- Jeff C., Atlanta

I actually believe that Smith has a pretty good chance to be in the starting lineup. For some reason, this offseason has been slow to develop, and teams are holding back on free agents. I think that has slowed down the progression of possible trades. I mention this because I'd be surprised if Denard Span is still on the roster by Opening Day. If Tampa Bay does trade the veteran outfielder, Smith would seem to be the natural fit to become the left fielder.

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With starting pitchers having shorter starts, do you think the Rays would ever consider going with 10 starters and two closers? Each starter would go two times through the lineup, with the closer pitching possibly the eighth and/or ninth.
-- Jim K., New Port Richey, Fla.

I think anything is possible. However, I'm not sure Tampa Bay would make such a dramatic change. New ideas often require baby steps to implement. But I do expect something different this season.

Last season, when Kevin Kiermaier came back from the disabled list, he seemed to approach his hitting differently. He stayed on the ball more, was more patient and looked like he was going with the pitch instead of pulling off everything. Was this purely coincidence, or did someone get in his ear? Also, any news on Colby Rasmus?
-- TW, Brooksville, Fla.

I agree with you. Kiermaier seemed to find something offensively when he returned from the DL.

Here's what hitting coach Chad Mottola said about Kiermaier last season: "He doesn't like to think too much at the plate, and he's kind of found a routine that slides in for him. That's what happens in this game. You go through things in life that people tell you what to do, and then you finally go out on your own and discover the things you like to do and blend them together, and that's what he's starting to do. ... The aggressiveness comes with confidence."

Video: TB@BAL: Kiermaier greets Tillman with a leadoff jack

As for Rasmus, he retired before finishing his first year with the Rays. All we heard was that it was a personal matter.

Tampa Bay needs to bring up position players Willy Adames, Christian Arroyo, Jake Bauers and Justin Williams together when the season starts. Playing them next to energetic young veterans such Kiermaier, Smith, Steven Souza Jr., Matt Duffy, Adeiny Hechavarria, Corey Dickerson and Daniel Robertson can create a kind of camaraderie that makes everyone play better. What do you think?
-- John S., Fairborn, Ohio

I think that scenario would be fun to watch. I really like what I've seen of prospects Adames, Bauers and Williams -- though I think Williams will have to spend some time at Triple-A Durham first. As for Arroyo, Duffy told me last week that Arroyo is a versatile infielder and he really likes what kind of player he is. For now, we'll have to wait and see.

What position will Arroyo play?
-- Joaquin M., Clovis, Calif.

I haven't seen Arroyo play before, but I'm told he can play third or second, and can give the Rays some innings at shortstop if needed. Sounds like a pretty good acquisition.

Video: Arroyo headlines package to Rays for Longoria

I saw your projected lineup for the season if the season began today. How do you think your proposed lineup would do on defense?
-- Ben C., Tampa, Fla.

Defense is a priority for Tampa Bay since it backs the foundation of the organization, which is the pitching. I had the following players in the field: Span, left; Kiermaier, center; Souza, right; Duffy, third; Hechavarria, shortstop; Robertson, second; Brad Miller, first; and Wilson Ramos, catcher; with Dickerson at designated hitter.

Employing this lineup, the Rays will be strong defensively, particularly up the middle.

Hechavarria dazzled Tampa Bay fans last season after being acquired from the Marlins, and Kiermaier could be the best fielder at any position in the Major Leagues. While Robertson struggled offensively in his first season with the team, he glowed on defense. And Ramos is strong behind the plate.

Span and Souza can each cover a lot of ground, and having Duffy at third should cover for the loss of Evan Longoria, an American League Gold Glove Award-winning fielder. Miller has struggled in the field, so having him change to first on a full-time basis with occasional stints at shortstop and second appears to be the right tact.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

Tampa Bay Rays