Leading up to the start of the 2008 Regular Season, Diamond Hoggers will preview each of MLB’s 32 teams. Teams will be rated on a 10-point scale in the following 5 areas: Lineup, Pitching, Manager, Intangibles/Chemistry, and Overall. Today’s team is the Tampa Bay
Diamond Hoggers Tampa Bay Rays Blog of Choice: Rays Index
This lineup has some really nice young players in it that are sure to grow together should Tampa Bay be able to keep them together for a while. Akinori Iwamura will lead off most likely, and play third base. This allows the Rays to hit Carl Crawford 2nd, giving him a chance to drive in some more runs. The player I’m most excited to see in 2008 is B.J. Upton. Upton was one of only 4 major league players to hit 20 HR and steal 20 bases last season (with A-Rod, David Wright being two of the others). I think Upton is going to be a star, and the fact he already has hit .300 in a season makes him legitimate as a player in this league.
Carlos Pena might have finally found a home. After carrying his bat and bouncing around the league for a number of years, he was signed to an extension after an impressive season of resurgence last season. Ageless Clifford Floyd will DH, this should be his last stop; and although he’s got a couple bad knees he could have numbers that approach 17 HR and 70 RBI if healthy.
Rocco Baldelli and Johnny Gomes are locked up in a duel to claim the RF job. Baldelli had a promising start to his career and was a hit machine, but was derailed by injuries. Gomes is not as good of a contact hitter but might have a bit more pop. They’ll probably share duties. Evan Longoria (pictured above) is getting all the hype. He’s the talk of spring training and rated in the Top 10 of baseball’s entire prospect catalogue on many different publications. We’re guessing he wins the job and hits low in the lineup to begin the season. Longoria is going to be a fine player that is in the mold of a David Wright.
Dioner Navarro will catch and do what catchers do, hit towards the bottom of the lineup. Jason Bartlett came over from Minnesota and he’s got some promise as a shortstop.
It appears that the Devil Rays might have finally assembled the ground level it takes to build a top-flite pitching staff at the Major League level. Scott Kazmir is supposed to develop into an ace (similar to the stuff Erik Bedard offers), while James Shields threw like one for much of last season. These two are solid 1-2’s and they’ve got 22 year old David Price waiting in the wings. Price was the #1 overall pick and has looked very good by all reports in making his debut in spring training. He figures as the type of talent who could move up through the ranks of the minor leagues start by start and be in the rotation at some point this season.
Matt Garza, Andy Sonnastine, and Edwin Jackson (another can’t miss prospect at one time) round out the rotation. All are young and all it would take is for 1 or 2 at most to emerge and make this group a high end starting rotation.
What you need to know about the bullpen is that Al Reyes (former closer) and Dan Wheeler (former closer) are the set-up guys who will get the tough innings. The Rays have decided to come into the season with 38 year old Troy Percival as their closer. Percival came out of retirement to put together an extremely solid season last year, and he earned himself a nice contract by doing so. Percival should hold the job down this season but the Rays need to develop a guy for this role for future endeavors.
I never like to underestimate the capability of a young team playing together. A lot of these guys are just breaking into the big leagues. They’ve got a chance to prove a lot of doubters wrong. There’s a real chance here to be the best story in all of baseball in 2008. I think many of these players enjoy their manager, Joe Maddon. I also think a lot of these players are high-end character guys. With new stadium blueprints on the horizon they’ll have good energy and they will come from behind a fair amount; they might be behind a lot more than premiere teams are to begin with.
I like the mix of speed and hitting on this team. It will come down to how well they field the ball and their 3-4-5. Still, this is a group I see playing fine together. This has a chance to really rise in rating by 2009 at this time.
I will always remember Joe Maddon as the guy who Baseball Tonight decided was MLB’s closest version to Lou Brown. You know, the manager of the Major League movie series. Maddon got his first managerial experience in Anaheim to close out the 90’s, but let’s throw that out and look what he’s done in two seasons in Tampa.
Maddon has went 127-197 in two seasons in Tampa Bay. It is what it is. Sure, he didn’t have the greatest roster to work with when he showed up; but it’s time for Maddon to show that he is not the piece of the puzzle that is holding this team back. If Maddon can’t get this team closer to .500 this year, he might lose his job. It’s a critical year for him.
Remember, this is the guy who lost the managerial job of the Red Sox in 2004 to Terry Francona. He should have the talent to get it done.
Obviously in a division with the Yankees and Red Sox, this team needs to grow a bit before they starting thinking about contending for a spot in one of the final 4 playoff teams in the AL. Still, there is reasons for optimism finally. Upton is going to be a star, they still have Carl Crawford, and a plethora of other budding young superstars. They’re not the joke of baseball anymore. They can thank the Orioles for taking that title from them.