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Rays' prospects getting taste of big league life

ST. PETERSBURG -- Tropicana Field's infield resembled ripening fruit on Wednesday morning, and that fruit was Major League prospects.

The Rays were in the midst of the organization's annual Winter Development Program. Now in its sixth year, the program is for select Minor League players. Before this week is complete, the 29 players on hand will have attended daily workouts, received instruction from Minor League and Major League staff as well as instruction on a variety of subjects, including media training. They also will have served as goodwill ambassadors for the organization by making visits to MacDill Air Force Base and the Northside Boys & Girls Club.

Among those attending was a pair of highly touted shortstops: Wily Adames, 19, who was acquired from Detroit in the David Price trade, and Adrian Rondon, 16, a highly-rated Dominican prospect the organization signed last summer. Also on hand were catcher Nick Ciuffo and first baseman Casey Gillaspie, the organization's No. 1 picks the past two seasons, along with right-hander Burch Smith, who came to the team from the Padres in the Wil Myers deal.

"I'm really enjoying my experience here with the Rays," said Gillaspie, who hit .262 with seven home runs and 42 RBIs in 71 games at Class A Hudson Valley last season. "It's cool to be here, obviously, in a Major League locker room and a Major League setting, be able to work out at the facilities these guys work out at. So [it's been] a great program, and I'm just happy to be a part of this."

Smith sounded pleased to be with the Rays and to be a part of the camp.

"It's great, it's awesome," Smith said. "I'm fortunate that I was able to come to this camp and kind of get to know everybody, some of the staff [and] get to know my way around and everything. It's a good deal."

Farm director Mitch Lukevics noted of the camp, "I'm excited, but that's not unusual."

And that was an understatement given the enthusiasm that spews from Lukevics, who has seen the organization bring in a host of new prospects during the offseason.

"We're in the development business. ... It's exciting to see this young group that we acquired," Lukevics said.

"The thing is, with the new group here, they're all Tampa Bay Rays, and I made that clear to them when I talked to them all. But it's nice to see the new players with the maturation that they have at a young age. And it's also really good to see skill. Those are two good things in young players. ... To see these kids come in here, it's exciting. We all look forward to the challenge of developing them and getting them to the big leagues -- and hopefully they can make an impact and win games for us. That's what it's all about."

Lukevics sounded happy with the way the camp has matured since its inception in 2010.

"Well, it's a privilege for them to be here, and Chris Archer did tell them that," Lukevics said. "He talked to all of our players on the first day. And then our first year in 2010, eight of the 22 players played in the big leagues for us."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for
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