In 2004 the Devil Rays finished out of last place in the AL East for the first time in team history, which was more an indictment of how bad the Blue Jays were than how much the D-Rays improved. Expect this year to start slow for Tampa Bay in terms of fantasy value, but once all of the veteran experiments fail by the middle of the year, the Rays will be forced to put a young and exciting team on the field.
Worth Every Penny
For the second season in a row, outfielder Carl Crawford flashed his speed by leading the AL in stolen bases (59) and triples (19) while becoming the first Devil Ray to score 100 runs in a season. Crawford boosted his home run total to 11 and average to .296, two figures that should keep climbing. Not only is he a great choice for this year, but he's a great player if you're in a keeper league.
About to Blossom
Jorge Cantu won't have a starting job entering the season since Alex Gonzalez is penciled in at third and Roberto Alomar is the early spring favorite to snag the second base job, but it's only a matter of time before Cantu takes over one of the spots. At Class AAA Durham last season, Cantu hit 22 home runs and drove in 80 runs. Unlike most middle infield types, Cantu is a meat-of-the-order hitter who drives the ball to all fields. He's the perfect sleeper pick for your draft.
How many teams are going to gamble on Alomar? On his fourth team in three years (not counting the White sox twice), the one-time Hall of Fame lock is lucky to be in the majors, let alone have a starting job. The last time he stole 15 bases was 2002 and the last time he hit .300 was 2001. Last year he was shutout on the basepaths for the first time in his professional career.
Do You Feel Lucky?
Rocco Baldelli is going to miss approximately three months while recovering from torn knee ligaments suffered in the offseason. In the interim, the Rays will shift Crawford to center and move Aubrey Huff to left with newcomer Danny Bautista in right, so there won't seem to be a spot for Baldelli upon his return. Or at least that's what you hope your league mates think. Baldelli will make his way back into the lineup, hopefully by June and should gain eligibility at DH as well as the outfield. Also keep an eye on first baseman Travis Lee, who returns to Tampa Bay after spending nearly all last season on the Yankees DL. He should have a good average and RBI total this year and will be a stabilizing influence on the infield defense.
Tampa Bay's shortstop is going to run. The only trick will be figuring out who that will be. Julio Lugo is the incumbent and stole 21 bases last season, one off of his career high. He'll start the year at short but it's likely that super prospect B.J. Upton will end the year there. Upton is often compared to Derek Jeter and has 30-30 potential. For this season however, he'll be closer to 15-15.
If Something Should Happen To Danys Baez
You've heard this many times before, but the Devil Rays two longtime candidates for closer duties once again are 2003 top man Lance Carter and fireballing veteran setup man Jesus Colome. Look for Colome, who allowed opposing batters only a .193 average and can get a strikeout when he needs it (40 Ks in 41 1/3 innings last season), to end up with the job.
Don't Forget About
Huff, Lee, Bautista, Scott Kazmir
Don't Bother With
Josh Phelps, Alomar, Denny Neagle, Hideo Nomo
David Sabino is the associate editor in charge of statistics at Sports Illustrated and the author of the book, Dominate Your Fantasy Baseball League (Muska & Lipman/Premier-Trade).