Fielding questions: Positions up for grabs for Rays’ cadre of middle infielders

Tampa Bay Rays' Nick Franklin, left, and Tim Beckham, right, watch Asdrubal Cabrera during infield drills at spring training in Port Charlotte.

Tony Gutierrez/AP

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Their situation remains unsettled, the moving parts a blur, the possibilities for how their roles will shake out now standing as their team’s largest mystery.

They’re ready for this race to begin.

The Tampa Bay Rays own few position questions to start spring training, but the one about where Asdrubal Cabrera, Logan Forsythe, Nick Franklin and possibly Tim Beckham will fit within the middle infield will hover for weeks.

"There’s a lot more opportunity up the middle," Forsythe said Saturday at Charlotte Sports Park, before the Rays’ first full-squad workout. "It’s going to be a competition this spring, which is going to bring the best out of everybody."

That "everybody" includes an eight-year veteran who happens to be a two-time All-Star (Cabrera), plus a pair of utility players (Franklin, Forsythe) and a former No. 1 overall pick who has lived a crawl to the majors since he was drafted in 2008 (Beckham). Their ages range from 23 (Franklin) to 29 (Cabrera), their major-league experience stretches from five games (Beckham) to 963 (Cabrera), and their certainty about where this spring will lead starts and ends with zero.

"I don’t know yet," Cabrera said.

"I just want to go out there and just play the game," Franklin said.

"There’s no telling where it’s going to shake out," Forsythe said.

Likely, there are two scenarios. If Franklin proves he’s capable at shortstop, where he has 10 major-league starts, then Cabrera will be used at second base. If that plan becomes fit for the paper shredder, then Cabrera will be a mainstay at shortstop, where he has 720 major-league starts, and Franklin and Forsythe will form a platoon at second base.

Then there’s the wild card in Beckham, who has scant major-league experience with five appearances in 2013, but he has an opening to make the regular-season roster with a strong spring, thanks to the vacuum left behind after Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar were shipped away in a deal with the Oakland Athletics in January.

"There are a lot of moving parts at short and second, and there are going to be for a while," manager Kevin Cash said. "And coming into camp, that’s probably one of the areas that I’m really excited to see how that unfolds a little bit."

Likely, the whole situation will revolve around Cabrera, the blazing sun of this solar system. Matt Silverman, the Rays’ president of baseball operations, said team officials planned to have talks with the veteran on Saturday afternoon to gauge his thinking. Monday, Cabrera made clear to reporters that he would prefer to stick with one position.

"The only prediction is that he’s going to be an everyday player and hitting in an important part of our lineup," Silverman said of Cabrera. "Where he is positionally is to be determined. … He came here to be an everyday player, and that’s what he’s going to be."

Overall, this competition’s value depends on the eye of the beholder. Take Forsythe, who said, "I love it. I think it’s good, not only for myself, but I think it’s going to be good for the other guys. Everybody is going to want to step up to be a step ahead of the other guy." Then take Franklin, who said, "I don’t really think it’s a competition at all. I think if we just try to put it that way, we kind of just try to put our own pressure on ourselves. … We’re all a team here."

Whatever the outcome, the middle-infield question will add spice to a camp that lacks sizzle in the drama department.

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Think about it. The Rays’ rotation is settled, aside from the fifth-starter job before Matt Moore returns from Tommy John surgery in June at the earliest, though Alex Colome enters as the favorite to secure that role. The outfield should include some combination of Kevin Kiermaier, Desmond Jennings and Steven Souza, with Brandon Guyer mixed in. Then James Loney will be at first base, Evan Longoria at third and, most times, Rene Rivera will start at catcher.

"You don’t get your hopes up," Forsythe said. "You don’t think too far ahead. I’ve learned my lesson doing that in the past."

"I’m just going to try to get as much info as I can," Franklin said, "and just kind of learn and watch and do what I can."

Certainly, Cash and Silverman will do plenty of watching to solve their middle-infield puzzle.

Game on. Race on.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.