Preseason preview: Tampa Bay Devil Rays

The Devil Rays won seven more games in 2004 than they did in 2003, and they hope to win even more in 2005. The Rays have added skilled veterans to their young team. They hope that the combination of experience with young talent will prove to be fruitful in their 2005 campaign.


2B Roberto Alomar (free agent – 1 year); OF Danny Bautista (free agent – 1 year); SS Alex Gonzalez (free agent – 1 year, $1.75 million); 1B/DH Josh Phelps (free agent – 1 year); OF Dee Brown (free agent – minor league contract); OF Marty Cordova (free agent – minor league contract); INF Shane Halter (free agent – minor league contract); C Tim Laker (free agent – minor league contract); RHP Brian Sweeney (free agent – minor league contract); RH starter Hideo Nomo (free agent – minor league contract); OF Chris Singleton (free agent – minor league contract); LH reliever Mark Guthrie (free agent – minor league contract); RHP Angel Garcia (trade); C Kevin Cash (trade); LH starter Casey Fossum (trade – 1 year, $1.05 million); 1B Travis Lee (free agent – 1 year, $1.3 million).


3B Geoff Blum (free agent – San Diego); RH starter Jeremi Gonzalez (released); LH reliever John Halama (free agent – Boston); 1B Tino Martinez (free agent – New York Yankees); C Keith Osik (free agent – Washington); RH reliever Todd Ritchie (free agent – Pittsburgh); OF Damian Rolls (released); SS Rey Sanchez (free agent – New York Yankees); RH reliever Jason Standridge (free agent – Texas); RHP Chad Gaudin (traded to Toronto); OF Jose Cruz Jr. (traded to Arizona).


1: CF Carl Crawford/Rocco Baldelli

2: 2B Roberto Alomar

3: LF Danny Bautista

4: RF Aubrey Huff

5: 1B Travis Lee

6: SS Julio Lugo

7: DH Josh Phelps

8: C Toby Hall

9: 3B Alex Gonzalez

Rocco Baldelli was a breakout player in 2003 and followed up his stellar rookie season with an exceptional 2004 season. However, Baldelli had to have surgery on his left knee during the off-season after he tore his ACL while playing with his younger brother. He is expected to miss at least the first two months of the season, which brings the normal left-fielder Carl Crawford, into center. The speedy Crawford had an All-Star season of his own last year, as he led the American League in stolen bases for the second year in a row, with 59. In 2004, Crawford improved defensively, making only two throwing errors, and offensively, hitting 11 homeruns (up from 5 in '03), 26 doubles (up from 18), and 19 triples (up from 9). The Rays are hoping that his numbers continue to climb.

The Devil Rays signed the 16-year veteran Roberto Alomar to bring experience to their infield. Alomar is a 10-time Gold Glove winner at second base and has been one of the best all-around infielders in the history of baseball. Tampa Bay is looking for Alomar to help them win games and to be a mentor for their younger infielders.

Danny Bautista was signed to hold down the fort in left field while Rocco Baldelli is recovering. Eventually, he will become the fourth right-fielder. Until then, the 32-year-old will contribute with his bat at the plate and his arm in the outfield.

Aubrey Huff started at third base for most of 2004, but the Devil Rays are looking to move back to right field this season. Huff started 102 games in right field in 2003 for the Rays, which was the first time he had done so since his junior year in college. His defense should only get better with a steady position to play this season. Offensively, he is usually slow to start the season. However, he is a career .342 hitter in August and .290 in September. With more time on the field, Huff should continue to prove himself to be an asset to Tampa Bay.

Travis Lee is coming back to the Devil Rays to play first base again for his old team. Lee, 29, only played in seven games for the Yankees in 2004 before a torn labrum in his left shoulder ended his season. In 2003, Lee had a great season with the Rays, leading the team in walks (64) and was 2nd in on-base pct. (.348), doubles (37), home runs (19) and extra base hits (59). He's looking forward to getting back to baseball and the Rays are hoping he will return to his 2003 form.

The Rays are happy and hopeful with their shortstop Julio Lugo. He has a little power, drives in runs, and steals bases all with a driving enthusiasm for the game. Lugo has developed into an all-around good player, as he developed patience on the field and at the plate. Tampa Bay is looking to him to continue to bring his enthusiasm and his A-game to the ballpark this season.

While he is known to play first base, new addition Josh Phelps will mostly get his at-bats at DH this season. Phelps' right-handed bat will definitely add some power to the Rays lineup. Last season he had 19 doubles, 2 triples, and 17 homeruns, including two Grand Slams. The Rays will try to make room for his powerful bat as much as possible.

With so many young pitchers on their team, the Devil Rays often look to their catchers to be their leaders on the field. They have a good leader in catcher Toby Hall. While not known for his offensive skills, Hall more than makes up for it with his defensive skills. He has a strong and accurate arm with a career rate of runners thrown out at 32.9 percent. The Rays continue to look to Hall to be their leader on the field.

Alex Gonzalez was signed to play third base for Tampa Bay this season. The Rays are confident that the former shortstop won't have any problem making the transition. Gonzalez has an above average arm and some power at the plate.


INF Eduardo Perez

INF Jorge Cantu

INF B.J. Upton

C Kevin Cash

After missing most of last season with a ruptured Achilles tendon, veteran Eduardo Perez is looking to get back into the game. Perez can play first and third, but will be most useful as a pinch hitter.

The 22-year-old Jorge Cantu had a breakout season in 2004. He finished the year with a .301 average and 20 doubles in just 173 at-bats. However, the team feels that he will best suit them as a backup infielder. Cantu can play second, short, and third, and is continually working on his footwork and glove work.

The 20-year-old shortstop B.J. Upton made his Major League debut on August 1 and displayed a major league bat. Upton is considered one of the top prospects in baseball, but is still learning defensively. Depending upon his Spring Training performance, Upton may or may not start this season with the Devil Rays.

Back-up catcher, Kevin Cash, lacks a little offensively with a career .173 average. However, in his three seasons in the Majors, he has thrown out 42.4 percent of would-be base stealers. He will have to prove himself more at the plate if he wants to see more playing time.


LH Mark Hendrickson

RH Dewon Brazelton

LH Scott Kazmir

RH Doug Waechter

RH Rob Bell

Left-hander Mark Hendrickson finished the 2004 season with a 10-15 record. His 10 wins were a team high. He started the season slow and was sent to the bullpen before finding his way back into the rotation in late September. Tampa Bay is hoping that Hendrickson turns into a dependable starter.

Dewon Brazelton had eight quality starts for the Rays in 2004. He finished the season 6-8 and took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Marlins on June 25. Brazelton was 6-3 at home last season, and 0-5 on the road. The Rays are hoping that he can overcome his mental block about pitching on the road.

Scott Kazmir, 21, made his Major League debut in August 2004. He started seven games for the Rays and struck out 41 batters in just 33.1 innings. Kazmir is a bright young pitcher who looks great on the mound. He has a good arm and makes veterans look like the rookies. He struck out nine batters against the future World Series Champion Boston Red Sox on September 19. The Rays are confident that he will be a stellar starter for them in 2005.

Doug Waechter made the team out of Spring Training in 2004, but was sent back down to Triple-A Durham to get more starts. He rejoined the team on April 24 and looked good winning his first start 4-1. In mid-season, Waechter developed a strain on the middle finger of his right hand and spent almost two months trying to recover. He returned on September 4 and won two of his final three starts. The Rays are hoping that a healthy Waechter can have continued success in 2005.

Rob Bell made eight quality starts for Tampa Bay in 2004. He ended the season strong pitching his second career complete game against the Tigers October 1, and only an unearned run kept the game from being a shutout. One of the reasons for Bell's success is his ability to quickly get ahead in the count against batters. He should round out the young starting rotation nicely for the Devil Rays.

The rotation isn't set in stone with new additions lefty Casey Fossum and recent free agent Hideo Nomo joining in the competition. Fossum, 27, was 4-15 with a 6.65 ERA in 27 starts with the Diamondbacks in 2004. Nomo, 36, was 4-11 with an 8.25 ERA in 18 starts for the Dodgers last season.


Closer Danys Baez

MR Jesus Colome

MR Trever Miller

MR/LR Travis Harper

MR Lance Carter

Closer Danys Baez had a good first season with the Devil Rays. He had 30 saves in 33 opportunities and got the win in the other three situations. He had a Major League-high 18 saves in a row from June through September. The Rays are looking to him to continue his success as their full time closer.

Right-hander Jesus Colome developed into a reliable and dominating setup man for the Rays in 2004. Unfortunately he was sidelined in mid-September with a sore shoulder. However, Colome was told by his doctors that his shoulder only needed and rest and that he should be 100% ready for Spring Training. Tampa Bay is relying on Colome, who allowed just a .193 average last season, to be their primary setup man in 2005, with the possibility of becoming their closer later on.

After a rough start, lefty Trever Miller also became a reliable pitcher for the Rays in 2004. He pitched in 60 games, which was the second most on the team. The Devil Rays are expecting Miller to be their primary left-handed specialist in 2005.

Lou Piniella used Travis Harper for middle and long relief appearances last season. The right-hander established himself as a dependable pitcher and is looking to continue his role as a middle relief pitcher for the Rays.

Right-hander Lance Carter lost his closer role to Danys Baez in 2004, but developed into a nice middle relief pitcher. He made 56 appearances and led all Devil Rays relievers with 80.1 innings. Carter also stranded 22 of the 34 runners he inherited. The Rays are looking to put him back in that middle relief role.


Can the starting pitching hold up? Because of injuries and ineffectiveness, the Rays used 14 starting pitchers in 2004. They have a very young staff that needs to stay healthy and continue to progress with more experience.


Scott Kazmir

Kazmir looked brilliant in his brief months with the Rays in 2004. He has great stuff and he just might prove to be the ace of the Rays pitching staff.


The Rays have made some moves that will bring them closer to the .500 mark in wins. They pretty much have the short end of the stick, being in a division with the Yankees and the Red Sox. The Devil Rays have a lot of potential, but will probably finish second to last or, more likely, last in the AL East.

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