1999 Recap: The Devil Rays only improved six games from their inaugural season, but Tampa Bay took a couple more baby steps in Year 2. Believe it or not, the Rays were above or at .500 for the first two months of the season. Then the bottom dropped out. Injuries to Jose Canseco, Quinton McCracken and set-up man Jim Mecir crippled the club. The Rays had more than their share of troubles -- especially with their starting pitching -- in their second season, but they also were a half-game better than the high-payroll Baltimore Orioles heading into September.
1999 Highlight: The "Wade Watch" was the only race Devil Rays fans had to follow come August. And Wade Boggs made it historic, becoming the first player to hit a home run for his 3,000th hit off Chris Haney on Aug. 6.
1999 Lowlight: The Devil Rays learned first-hand how potent the Cleveland Indians' offense is on May 7 at Jacobs Field. Tampa Bay had a 10-2 lead after 5 1/2 innings, only to allow the Indians to score four in the sixth, seven in the seventh and seven in the eighth in the 20-11 loss.
Manager: Larry Rothschild (132-192 with Devil Rays in two seasons)
Coaches: Orlando Gomez (Bullpen), Jose Cardenal (First base) Billy Hatcher (Third base), Leon Roberts (Hitting), Bill Russell (Bench), Rick Williams (Pitching).
Camp Site: Florida Power Park, St. Petersburg, Fla.
Reporting Dates: Pitchers and catchers on Feb. 17 and full squad on Feb. 22.
Additions: 3B Vinny Castilla, C Mike Figga, OF Greg Vaughn, OF Gerald Williams, RHP John Burkett, RHP Juan Guzman, RHP Chad Ogea, RHP Steve Trachsel
Subtractions: RHP Rolando Arrojo, 3B Wade Boggs, 1B Paul Sorrento, IF Aaron Ledesma, RHP Bobby Witt.
Spring Cleaning: For the first time, the Devil Rays head to spring training with more answers than questions. But there will be a couple of good battles, mainly in the outfield. Newcomer Gerald Williams is the likely inheritor of the center field and lead-off hitter roles over Quinton McCracken, who has been recovering from a knee injury. In right field, the triumverate of Dave Martinez, Jose Guillen and Bubba Trammell have probably the most competitive fight in Rays' camp. The possible lone exception? The No. 5 starter spot. Any of five or six guys (Dan Wheeler, Chad Ogea, John Burkett, Esteban Yan, Bryan Rekar or perhaps even Tony Saunders) can earn the final spot in the Rays' rotation.
Key Acquisition: In the last two years, only three players have hit more home runs than Greg Vaughn -- Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Ken Griffey Jr. Pretty good company for a man who may not even be considered the center piece of the Devil Rays'
Pivotal Player: Wilson Alvarez was the Devil Rays' inaugural Opening Day starter and the 30-year-old lefty likely will get the ball again when the Rays open Year 3 at Minnesota on April 3. Alvarez finally showed the stuff of a staff ace last August, posting a 4-0 record with a 2.12 ERA. If Alvarez, who has a 15-23 record in his two seasons in Tampa Bay, can recreate his August magic for a full season, the Devil Rays will have a lot more to offer than their "slow-pitch softball team" image.
The Future is Now: The impact 22-year-old right-hander Dan Wheeler has could be the biggest factor to the Rays' progress. That's a little odd considering all of Tampa Bay's thirty-somethings. Wheeler, who may have the inside track to win the No. 5 starter spot, struggled after a late-season call-up, but Tampa Bay thinks he has a promising future -- starting in 2000.
Opportunity Knocks: For all the talk about the Rays' reluctance to trade, it's the one trade they did make last season that may make them look like genuises. Jose Guillen, acquired from the Pirates for two minor-league catchers after Jason Kendall's injury, has star potential, but he's still experiencing growing pains. The five-tool Guillen, who will only be 24 in May, has a chance to become the starting right fielder, but Tampa Bay isn't eager to rush him, either.
Prospects to Watch: 1B Steve Cox, RF Josh Hamilton, 3B Aubrey Huff, OF Alex Sanchez, 3B Jared Sandberg, RHP Bobby Seay, RHP Jason Standridge, RHP Matt White.