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Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Team Page | Roster | Spring Training Schedule | Regular Season Schedule
On this page: Arrivals | Departures | Spring Cleaning | Team Breakdown | Prospects | Predictions


   Ice age: Gerald Williams set career highs in home runs (21) and RBIs (89) last season. Steve Babineau /Allsport

By Ryan Hunt, CNNSI.com

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays are entering their fourth year, yet the franchise still has tried to point in more directions than a compass.

After the "Hit Show" was a no-go in 2000, Tampa Bay has come to the realization that older does not mean wiser for a fledgling expansion team. Thirty-somethings Jose Canseco and Roberto Hernandez are gone. Vinny Castilla, Greg Vaughn and even consistent producer Fred McGriff may not be too far behind.

No, Tampa Bay isn't just a retirement home anymore. The Devil Rays' mantra in 2001 will be patience. And it was one offseason move that signified the change in attitude.

Ben Grieve, acquired from Oakland in a three-way deal that sent 36-year-old closer Hernandez to Kansas City, will be a big part of the Rays' present and future plans. The sweet-swinging lefty brings a proven bat to the middle of the lineup -- something that was sorely missing last season with the Rays' all-or-nothing hackers.

The Rays tried to rely on the three-run homer in 2000. It rarely came. Tampa Bay finished last in the AL in batting average and runs scored, while finishing a surprising 12th in homers. That's where Grieve -- a .280 career hitter in a pitcher's park, while averaging 24 homers and 93 RBIs in his first three major league seasons -- will help the most.

However, the addition of Grieve only adds to one of the Rays' biggest problems -- team speed.

 
Top Guns
Devil Rays 2000 team leaders
Avg.  Fred McGriff  .277 
HR  Greg Vaughn  28 
RBIs  Fred McGriff  106 
SB  Miguel Cairo  28 
Wins  Albie Lopez  11 
ERA  Albie Lopez  4.13 
Ks  Esteban Yan  111 
Saves  Roberto Hernandez  32 
 
Go Figure

$3,000,000

Dollars paid per out to pitchers Wilson Alvarez and Juan Guzman. Alvarez ($9 million) missed the entire season; Guzman ($6 million) pitched only 1 2/3 innings.
 
 

Gerald Williams is the only player on the Rays' roster with more than 10 steals last year, which is fitting because Williams seemed to do it all for the Rays last season.

With all of the attention given to the arrivals of the big bats of Vaughn and Castilla, it was the unheralded signing of Williams that had the most impact. He was a steady, if not spectacular, leadoff hitter, was second on the team in RBIs (89) and third in homers (21). But can he repeat it?

Even with all the talk about offense, it's no surprise that consistent pitching will be the key to whether Tampa Bay is able to improve in 2001.

While big-ticket pitchers Juan Guzman and Wilson Alvarez did absolutely nothing, Albie Lopez, Tanyon Sturtze and Paul Wilson all came from nowhere to show flashes of brilliance -- but not nearly enough to avoid a third consecutive 90-loss season.

And if the starting staff is good enough to give the Rays a lead, who is going to protect it? If likely closer-to-be Esteban Yan can match the success that Hernandez had in his three seasons in Tampa Bay, the Rays will be ecstatic.

And who knows, it could point them to respectability.

For more on the Devil Rays, bookmark this page and check back March 21 for a Sports Illustrated Scouting Report.


Arrivals
Pos.  Player  From  Via 
RF  Ben Grieve  Athletics  Trade 
LHP  Bill Pulsipher  Mets  Free Agency 
LHP  Paul Spoljaric  Royals  Free Agency 
RHP  Sean Bergman  Twins  Free Agency 

Departures
Pos.  Player  To  Via 
RHP  Roberto Hernandez  Royals  Trade 
LHP  Cory Lidle  Athletics  Trade 
2B  Miguel Cairo  Athletics  Free Agency 
LHP  Dave Eiland  Athletics  Free Agency 
OF  Quinton McCracken  Cardinals  Free Agency 

Spring Cleaning
 
Vinny Castilla
  • Sure, Coors Field tends to inflate offensive numbers, but the Devil Rays never thought Castilla would finish with a .221 average and only six homers in his first season at Tropicana Field. And with Aubrey Huff's emergence while Castilla was sidelined with an injury, Castilla and his large salary will need to rebound quickly if he is going to stay in Tampa Bay.

  • Grieve brings his all-hit, no-field reputation to a team that already wasn't considered very fleet of foot. But at least they don't wear white shoes. Grieve likely will spend some time as the Rays' DH, giving strong-armed RF Jose Guillen more time to try and live up to his potential.

  • Perhaps manager Larry Rothschild has stock in Rolaids. With the Rays' bullpen, it may be a wise investment. With Hernandez's departure, Yan and Doug Creek are the only pitchers on the roster who had a save last season.

  • The middle of the infield remains a huge question mark. Miguel Cairo is gone, giving rookie Brent Abernathy (acquired in a deadline deal with Toronto) a chance to earn the job at second. Infielder Bobby Smith remains an enigma. After a hot start, a midseason injury cost Smith six weeeks -- and apparently confidence. Smith hit .175 after his Aug. 19 return. Steady defender Felix Martinez, who hit a meager .214 in 2000, will start at short.

  • Team Breakdown
    Projected Lineup  Projected Rotation 
    CF  Gerald Williams  RHP  Albie Lopez 
    2B  Brent Abernathy/Bobby Smith  LHP  Wilson Alvarez 
    RF  Ben Grieve  RHP  Juan Guzman 
    LF  Greg Vaughn  RHP  Paul Wilson 
    1B  Fred McGriff  RHP  Ryan Rupe/Bryan Rekar 
    3B  Vinny Castilla  Bullpen  
    DH  Steve Cox/Jose Guillen  RHP  Esteban Yan (closer) 
    John Flaherty  RHP  Tanyon Sturtze 
    SS  Felix Martinez  RHP  Travis Harper 
    Key Reserves   LHP  Doug Creek 
    Mike DiFelice  LHP  Jeff Wallace 
    3B  Aubrey Huff  RHP  Bill Pulsipher 
    IF  Russ Johnson  LHP  Paul Spoljaric 
    OF  Jason Tyner  RHP  Dan Wheeler 

    Prospects to Watch
  • OF Josh Hamiton -- The future. The former No. 1 pick likely will open the season in Class AA Orlando, but if the 19-year-old has another season like he did in 2000 (.301, 13 HR, 61 RBI in 96 games at Class A Charleston), a trip to Class AAA Durham and a late September call-up isn't out of the realm of possibilty. Look for Hamilton to be in the 2002 Opening Day lineup.

  • C Toby Hall -- The emergence of Hall through the minor league system could make backup Mike DiFelice expendable. Hall hit .327 between Orlando and Durham with 16 homers and 85 RBIs.

  • RHP Jesus Colome -- The Rays may not have a definitive closer this season, but help is on the horizon. With a fastball that has been clocked in triple digits, Colome has the Rays' brass drooling -- but he has a ways to go before he's big-league ready.

  • LHP Bobby Seay -- Seay, on the other hand, has been on the horizon for a few years. He's nearly ready. The southpaw had a solid year at Orlando and could make an appearance with the big club in 2001.

  • CF Carl Crawford -- One of the many center-field prospects in the organization, Crawford's strong suit is pure speed, leading the South Atlantic League with 55 stolen bases and 11 triples last season.

  • Best-Case Scenario
    Devil Rays fans finally get to feel the heat of a pennant race. After Paul Wilson and Bill Pulsipher bloom in Tampa Bay, the Rays make a deadline-day deal with Oakland for Jason Isringhausen to shore up their weak bullpen -- completing the ex-Mets-of-the-Future triumvirate.

    In the last weekend of the season, Tampa Bay sends Tropicana Field into a frenzy with a four-game sweep of Toronto behind the surprising play of September call-up Hamilton as the Rays overtake ... uh, Baltimore for fourth place.

    Worst-Case Scenario
    See last season. Alvarez and Guzman continue to steal money from the Rays, each missing the majority of the season with more injury problems. That thins the already light bullpen even more. Meanwhile, Yan fails miserably at his attempt to become the Rays' full-time closer.

    Offensively, the Rays' kids (Abernathy, Smith, Aubrey Huff and Steve Cox) regress and force the team to play more aging veterans just to stay marginally competitive. Tampa Bay also makes the mistake of rushing phenom Hamilton, who struggles mightily and stunts his development.

    Bottom Line
    It's baby steps for the Rays, and getting to 70 victories for the first time would be a success. Fourth place is also within reach. But with no playoff expectations whatsoever, Rothschild's key this season will be toeing the fine line between developing young talent and rushing it.



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