Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Monday, February 11, 2008

Tampa Bay Rays 2008 Preview: Sympathy For The Devils Rays

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

Based on the final record of 66-96, you'd think that the Devil Rays 2007 season sucked, as every season has sucked since the team was founded. But I think that the season was pretty groovy. The team unleashed a corps of talented kids who played exciting baseball, and lots more was developing just beneath the surface. Over the winter, team management caved in to a silly group of bed wetters concerned group of citizens and exorcised the Devil from the team name. On a more important note, they traded a talented but excess young outfielder (Delmon Young) to the Twins for a terrific young starter and a guy who can really play shortstop.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

Playing in a warehouse park that depressed offense by around 6%, the 2007 Devil Rays scored 782 runs, a league-average figure. In road games they outscored the Red Sox. The breakthrough of Carlos Pena, considered a failed prospect by almost every other team in the league and the emergence of B.J. Upton were key factors.

LF Carl Crawford
2B Akinori Iwamura
CF B. J. Upton
1B Carlos Pena
3B Evan Longoria
DH Cliff Floyd/Johnny Gomes
RF Rocco Baldelli
C Dioner Navarro
SS Jason Bartlett

Given good health, this is almost a lineup without weakness. Crawford is an established, exciting star at age 26. If he only could increase his walk rate, he'd be one of the top five players in the game. Upton, finally freed of the burden of trying to play shortstop, is going to play in a lot of all-star games. Pena's 2007 season is certainly the best he'll ever have, but I expect him to be able to hit 30 homers and get on base; that's what everyone thought he'd start doing six years ago. Longoria is an Edgar Martinez-type hitter. Even the bottom spots are not without use. Navarro was terrible for half the season but hit .285-.340-.475 over the second half. I think he's capable of continuing that. Bartlett has no power but drew 50 walks and stole 23 bases in 26 tries for the Twins in 2007. Pitcher's park or no, I think that this team will score 850 runs this year.

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

Scott Kazmir and James Shields gave the 2007 Devil Rays a one-two punch at the top of the rotation that was capable of beating anyone. Over the second half of 2007 Kazmir posted a 2.39 ERA with 124/31 K/BB ratio in 94 innings. That's Koufax-like. Shields is his Drysdale, going 12-10, 3.85 and striking out 184 batters. The rest of the starting rotation was, to be charitable, unsettled, and the bullpen was a disaster. Despite having a top two as good as anyone's, the Rays posted a 5.53 team ERA. In road games they allowed 6.22 runs per game.

SP Scott Kazmir
SP James Shields
SP Matt Garza
SP I don't know and neither does Joe Madden. Andy Sonnenstein, Edwin Jackson, Jason Hammel, Jeff Niemann, and J.P. Howell will all get a chance this spring.

CL Troy Percival
RP Al Reyes
RP Dan Wheeler

Garza, who came over from the Twins in the Delmon Young trade, will give the Rays a third outstanding young starter. The rest of the rotation is unsettled, although all of the candidates have the potential to be decent. I like Sonnenstein, and the other four listed above have been considered top prospects in the past. If they fail, Wade Davis and Jacob McGee are on the way up and could step in later this season, and David Price isn't far off either. The bullpen will be better partly because it can't get worse. Percival showed last year that he can still get batters out. Reyes and Wheeler give the Rays better setup guys than they had last year, and there are some other good candidates as well.

Witnesses for the defense

The piles of runs that the 2007 Rays allowed weren't all the fault of the pitchers. The defense was really, really bad, too. Upton started the season at second base until management finally gave up on forcing him to be an infielder and moved him to center. Ben Zobrist, expected to hold down shortstop, was an offensive and defensive disaster; replacing him with Brendan Harris helped the offense but didn't do any more for the defense. Putting Longoria at third, moving Iwamura to second and plugging in Bartlett at short will give the Rays at least an average defense in the infield; Crawford, Upton, and Baldelli make up a fast outfield. Between the pitchers and the defense, the Rays may knock as many as 150 runs off of their 2007 performance.

Farm aid

Longoria is my spring favorite for rookie of the year. I'm thinking George Brett, but with better defense at third. Bartlett is only a placeholder at short; Reid Brignac will be playing the position by September and has some 30 homer seasons in his future. Price, Davis and McGee can pitch their way into the rotation by season's end. These aren't just guys who have a chance to move up and take over starting spots; these are guys that have a chance to move up and become some of the best players in the game. And the Rays have even more further down the system. All those years of losing are finally paying off.

Watch out for that tree

No one really worth commenting on. Floyd, maybe, or Percival. Most of the roster is on the way up.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

The 2007 Devil Rays were one of my favorite teams to watch. They were exactly where the Oakland A's were in 1997-1998, or the Milwaukee Brewers in 2005-2006. The A's took the steps forward and became one of the top teams in baseball over the eight years after that; the Brewers are reaching that level now. I think that this team is going to be a big surprise to a lot of people. If they cut down the runs allowed the way I think that they will, they are going to win around 85 games, hang around the fringes of the wild card race, and become something of a media darling. This is an organization that was a pathetic joke for a long time. No longer; the Tropicana dome will be a fun place to be this summer.

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  • Jim/Bob, what about the Barry Bonds to Tampa Bay rumor??? LOL


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:08 PM  

  • I have to give you your "props" for your prediction on the Rays. Very accurate, excpet for the AAA guys moving up during the year.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:06 PM  

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