NO, HE IS NOT
even distantly related to her. No, his girlfriend's name is not Toni—it's
Savannah, and they've been dating, off and on, for seven years. No, he can't
recall ever being involved in anything more scandalous than the time in high
school he was required to pick up trash for four hours on a Saturday as
punishment for shooting spitballs in class. � Evan Longoria's laid-back SoCal
mien won't allow him to get too worked up about the uninspired gibes that come
from having a name so similar to a certain actress's—the chants of
"EEEE-va! EEEE-va!"; the playing of the
when he steps to the plate in opposing ballparks. He's nowhere near as
disgruntled as, say, Michael Bolton, the character in the 1999 cult comedy
classic Office Space who angrily declared, "There was nothing wrong with it
until I was about 12 years old and that no-talent ass clown became famous and
started winning Grammys."
All that Longoria
will allow is that "it's kind of a funny coincidence, but it does get
pretty old." Carl Crawford, Longoria's Tampa Bay Rays teammate, believes
Longoria won't have to worry about the cracks much longer. "He's going to
make Evan Longoria the manliest name you can possibly think of," says
Crawford, "once he shows what he can do on the baseball field."
negligee-favoring doppelg�nger continues to dominate the Maxim Hot 100 list,
Evan Longoria, 22, has soared up some lists of his own since he was drafted
third overall out of Long Beach State by the Rays in June 2006. The 6'2",
210-pound third baseman is generally considered to be among baseball's three
best prospects. (He tops Scouts Inc.'s list, and both
Baseball Prospectus and
rank him in the top three.) His skills are so obvious that
teammates and opponents alike keep coming back to one phrase in particular to
real deal," says a player development executive for a National League club.
"We had him ranked as the best college bat in the nation the year he came
up—great bat speed, balance—and he's proved that out."
light-tower power," says Gary Gaetti, the former big league slugger who was
Longoria's hitting coach last season at Triple A Durham. "But he's a good
hitter too, and he uses the whole field. He's one of the better players I've
ever seen coming through the minor leagues. He's the real deal."
"He looks as
smooth at third base as anybody I've seen out there," says Rays
centerfielder B.J. Upton. "My brother [ Justin Upton, the first overall pick
in 2005] played against him in Double A, and he called me and said, 'Dude, this
guy Longoria you've got—he's the real deal.'"
In the 171 games
in which he played in 2007 (Double A, Triple A, the Arizona Fall League and
with Team USA in November's World Cup) he had 33 homers, 115 RBIs and 42
doubles, while maintaining an on-base percentage above .400. And all signs
indicate that his ascent will continue in Tampa Bay sooner rather than later.
While the Rays say that they want to see how Longoria performs during spring
training before naming him the Opening Day starter, they have already shifted
last year's third baseman, Akinori Iwamura, to second. "For having played
only a year-plus of pro baseball, he's extremely advanced," says Rays
general manager Andrew Friedman. "But what's most important here is what's
best in terms of his development, and whether that's at Triple A or on the big
league level, or a combination of the two, remains to be seen."
There are, of
course, other factors at play in the Rays' decision-making process. They ranked
last in team payroll ($24.1 million) last season, and even though they've
committed to ramping up the budget since Wall Street financier Stuart Sternberg
acquired the team in 2005, they're not free spenders. The Rays might want to
delay the start of Longoria's big league service clock—and, consequently, his
eventual eligibility for free agency.
The team also
knows too well that "real deal" prospects are not the same thing as big
league stars. It was only a year ago that SPORTS ILLUSTRATED printed a mock
2010 Baseball Preview cover that read BELIEVE IT! THE DEVIL RAYS ARE THE BEST
TEAM IN BASEBALL, and pictured the smiling faces of outfielders Delmon Young
and Elijah Dukes. The prodigiously talented but temperamental Young, who was
the first pick in the 2003 draft, was dealt in late November to the Minnesota
Twins, and the prodigiously talented but troubled Dukes is now with the
Washington Nationals after a series of well-publicized incidents of domestic
violence prompted the Rays to trade him in December.
housecleaning complete, Rays players and management are confident that the
sentiment expressed on that SI cover remains valid. "When we came in [two
years ago], we inherited a lot of stuff that had been going on in the
past," says manager Joe Maddon. "Delmon was in there before that;
Elijah was in there before that. It was up to us to evaluate what we saw and
create the Ray way of doing things. Evan Longoria is part of that reinvention.
In essence he will be the poster child of that new beginning."