LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Due to the offseason construction to make Tropicana Field's center-field area more fan friendly, a new batter's eye has been installed. Several Rays players took time to go to Tropicana Field to check out the new hitting background on Friday.
"Just more curiosity that it would be sufficient," said manager Joe Maddon of the pursuit. "That they saw the ball well. I'm not expecting a whole lot.
"It's one of those things that sounds really good. But I don't know exactly how important it is, other than from a construction perspective. It's high enough, it's wide enough, there's no obstructions."
David DeJesus, Ben Zobrist, James Loney, Ryan Hanigan and Evan Longoria were accompanied to Tropicana Field by Rays hitting coach Derek Shelton for the assessment. As usual, Maddon conveyed a sense of humor about the mission.
"If they don't like it, they'll have to scrap it, re-do the whole backdrop," said Maddon with a smile. "If there's anything interfering with the hitter's perspective, they're going to have to start the whole thing over and get the thing done by Opening Day. So they should have done this months ago."
Maddon sees elite potential in Jennings
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- B.J. Upton once played center field for the Rays. Now Desmond Jennings plays the position, which he did Friday afternoon against the Braves.
That allowed the former Rays center fielder to weigh in on Jennings, who played left field when Upton patrolled center.
Upton noted that Jennings is capable of anything he wants to do.
"He's very talented," Upton said. "He can hit for power. He can hit for average. Sometimes it takes a little while to put it together. He has all the ability in the world."
Joe Maddon is high on Jennings, too. The Rays manager sees only good things for his center fielder.
"I still think you're going to see Desmond keep getting better and better," Maddon said. "... With Des, to me, a lot of it's about his offense, being more consistent getting on base. That would be the primary thing. Once he starts doing that, everything else is really going to take off after that. His base stealing will get better. His confidence will drive up. You're going to see him do even better stuff on defense. So, as a result, his offense becomes better."
Maddon would like nothing better than to see Jennings become the guy he pencils in at the leadoff spot every day. But the Rays have not arrived at that point yet, even though Jennings led off for most of the 2013 season. Jennings has a .330 career on-base percentage.
"If he can arrive at that 35 percent for getting on base, this guy can become an elite player," Maddon said. "He's on the borderline of that right now."
While Maddon feels Jennings is on the brink of greatness, he also thinks the center fielder is still going through the learning process. Maddon allowed that he's had some "great conversations" with Jennings in which the manager told the player that he holds him in high esteem.
"I'm really trying to hold these guy to high expectations, whether it's [Jennings] or Wil [Myers]," Maddon said. "And it's not just about hitting, like I've already talked to Wil about winning a Gold Glove. I think it's within the abilities of Desmond to win a Gold Glove. I want these guys to think that way."
Maddon believes that defensive work benefits offense by keeping a player from over-thinking at the plate.
"So if we can balance this out, have them become more balanced in their work and keep them more centered in their approach, you're going to see a better complete game out of all of these guys," Maddon said, "which benefits them and us."
Visa in hand, Oviedo expected Saturday
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Juan Carlos Oviedo has missed all of camp thus far due to visa issues. Now the veteran right-hander has his visa and is expected to be in camp on Saturday.
Heading into Spring Training, the Rays were expecting Oviedo to be one of the team's late-inning options. Manager Joe Maddon said he's eager to see how ready Oviedo is.
"Get him in some games," Maddon said. "We had researched it more before this actually occurred, and apparently he was actually throwing to hitters on the side, but not in any kind of game situation. He needs a game situation. I don't know how many times we'll get him out there."
Given the Rays' stage of camp, there are questions as to whether there is enough time for Oviedo to get ready for the regular season if he's not already.
Maddon believes the Rays will be able to get Oviedo four or five appearances, depending on his level of readiness. Maddon allowed that he is anxious to see how Oviedo looks, which will help him get closer to piecing together the Rays' Opening Day bullpen.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.