November 29, 2007


Rays look like a future force (Buster Olney, November 29, 2007, ESPN)

[I]f the Devil Rays have a proverbial 29,028-foot climb, well, they are at least at base camp and rising, as they develop a competitive pitching staff for the first time in the organization's history. Matt Garza, the centerpiece of the trade for Delmon Young, has the stuff to develop into a viable No. 3-type starter in the AL East, and in a year or two, you can foresee a series when Tampa Bay's threesome of Scott Kazmir, James Shields and Garza could go into Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park with an on-paper advantage over their counterparts, depending on the matchups.

And within a couple of years, rival talent evaluators say, the Rays' rotation has a chance to fill out, with Andy Sonnanstine or 2007 No. 1 pick David Price or Mitch Talbot. Edwin Jackson may turn out to be Tampa Bay's version of Daniel Cabrera, a high-ceiling talent that is manifested too inconsistently. But Jackson, 24, did show signs of progress down the stretch, allowing three earned runs or fewer in nine of his last 14 starts.

The Tampa Bay bullpen has a chance to be much improved, with the makeup of the relief staff much different than the group that finished with a 6.16 ERA last season. Percival figures to be the Rays' closer, and in a market starved for relief, Tampa Bay could trade Al Reyes, who had 26 saves last season. Either way, the back end of Maddon's staff will have much more experience than it did at the All-Star break last year, with Dan Wheeler, Percival, Reyes, Juan Salas and Scott Dohmann.

And the Rays, who finished eighth in the AL in runs scored last year, should continue to be an improving offensive team, even without Young. Their lineup may look something like this by June 15:

2B Akinori Iwamura
LF Carl Crawford
1B Carlos Pena
CF B.J. Upton
DH Jonny Gomes?
3B Evan Longoria (who figures to start the year in the minors)
RF Rocco Baldelli?
C Dioner Navarro
SS Jason Bartlett

Bartlett can run and put the ball in play and fits Maddon's aggressive style. Navarro made a lot of progress in the second half of last season, his numbers climbing from .177/.238/.254 pre-All-Star break to .285/.340/.475 in the second half. There are more moves to come this offseason for Tampa Bay, which cannot count on Baldelli, given his recent injury history; the Rays clearly could use another hammer for the middle of their order (Tony Clark might fit in very, very nicely here, as a DH and clubhouse mentor).

He didn't even have to include the three young Ray starting prospects who are every bit as good as the Yanks & Sox best three--Wade Davis, Jacob McGee & Jeff Niemann.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 29, 2007 8:53 PM
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