The Tampa Bay Devil Rays 2006 Team Preview
by Asher B. Chancey, Baseball Evolution
March 3, 2006


2005 Record: 67-95 (5th Place AL East Division)

2005 Runs Scored: 750

2005 Runs Allowed: 936

Pythagorean 2005 Record: 65-97

The Devil Rays have been part of Major League Baseball since 1998, and they have finished higher than fifth only once. After years spent acquiring high priced talent that has fizzled, the Devil Rays have been building from within for the last few years, and the result is a young exciting team full of promise. If these players can be kept healthy, kept together, and can be joined by some pitching help, then the Devil Rays should be solid in 2007 and ready to make a run in 2008. Unfortunately, the 2006 squad probably makes too many mistakes, and is too young, and has too many holes on its pitching staff, to hope for much better than fourth this season.

Catcher

2005 Starters: Toby Hall

Projected 2006 Starters: Toby Hall, Josh Paul

Not a lot to say. Hall managed somehow to score only 28 runs in 432 at-bats last season, which is shocking. Paul hasn't done anything in the last few years except famously not tag A.J. Pierzynski in the playoffs last year. Does this mean he has been Bill Bucknered out of Anaheim?

First Base

2005 Starter: Travis Lee

Projected 2006 Starters: Travis Lee

What the Devil Rays need to do is take Aubrey Huff and put him at first base to make room for all of the outfielders that this team has. You really don't want Travis Lee to be your number one option at first base.

Second Base

2005 Starters: Nick Green, Jorge Cantu

Projected 2006 Starter: Jorge Cantu, Nick Green

As is so often the case in Major League Baseball, the Devil Rays went into the 2005 season thinking one prospect would have a big year, but got a big year out of another prospect instead. Nick Green failed to live up to the hype, but Jorge Cantu did not.

Cantu's strengths are obvious. His 28 homeruns and 117 RBIs are the type of production that any team in the majors would take at second base. But his minuses are just as obvious. His on-base percentage was 25 points higher than his average, a demonstration of his inability to take a walk (19 in 150 games). His strikeout total, while a modest 83, was over four times his walk total. His OPS hovered around league average, and he hit into 24 double plays. Still, for a first time Major League regular he was great, and at the age of 24 should only improve.

If Nick Green were to live up to the hype, Cantu could be shifted around and create depth in the Devil Rays lineup.

Third Base

2005 Starters: Alex Gonzalez

Projected 2006 Starters: Sean Burroughs, Ty Wigginton

Unfortunately, Aubrey Huff's days at third appear to be over. After Huff, the options are abyssmal . . . Sean Burroughs is fun trivia guy. He is a stocky 6'2" 200 lbs. Nevertheless, last season in 93 games, he managed to register of slugging percentage of .299! I regularly make fun of guys who have on-base percentages under .300, but my brain really isn't equipped to ponder such low slugging percentages. Burroughs got himself run out of town in San Diego when he failed to live up to the hype. He will find the D'Rays tolerance level a lot higher, but it would be hard to find a team to appreciate Burroughs' inability to do anything well.

Speaking of unfulfilled potential, the D'Rays also have Ty "Twiggi" Wigginton in camp this spring. Tampa needs to hope Nick Green can come around and send Jorge Cantu to third, because Burroughs and Wigginton really give the club a whole lot of nothing.

If these guys suck enough, it may be time for B.J. Upton to come on up.

Shortstop

2005 Starters: Julio Lugo

Projected 2006 Starter: Julio Lujo

Lujo joined the Devil Rays two years ago after the Astros tossed him because of some off-the-field issues. Lujo was fantastic last year, cutting way down on his strikeouts (thats right, a D'Ray cutting down on strikeouts), and walking more while setting a career high for stolen bases and a career low for double plays.

Outfield

2005 Starters: Aubrey Huff, Carl Crawford, Damon Hollins, Joey Gathright

Projected 2006 Starters: Crawford, Huff, Rocco Baldelli

Rocco Baldelli is like the Wayne Chrebet of baseball. Ladies love him, girls adore him... I mean even the ones who never saw him. He is hugely popular in the northeast, but is a merely solid centerfielder. He is coming off of an injury which caused him to miss all of last season, but the Rays expect him to be ready. His average should dip early in the season, but if he can make it through the season he should be fine in the second half. Still, a high strikeout empty average type player.

Carl Crawford, on the other hand, is simply fantastic. Last year was his fourth season and, at the age of 23, he continued to mature as a player. His average has improved every season in the league. Interestingly, last season he was more conservative running the bases, which resulted in fewer steals but a much better stolen base percentage. Additionally, he hit career highs in home runs (15) and RBI (81) indicating that sometime in the future he may be destined for the number three spot in the lineup, but not before he gets his OBP up. Last season he had a career high OPS of 800 exactly. The few sore spots in Crawford's game last season were peripheral - fewer walks, more strikeouts, and he more than doubled his career GDP in one season.

Aubrey Huff had a down year last season, though his second half was better than his first. Huff was amazing in 2003 and 2004, and needs to return to that form lest we begin to whisper the name "Bobby Higginson."

If any of these guys falter, youth may be served in 2006. Delmon Young is Baseball America's top rated prospect. Joey Gathright is not quite as polished as Young, but has already gotten his feet wet with the big club, so he could see some time this season. And Elijah Dukes has shown both power and speed in the minors and could make the jump straight from AA if necessary.

Designated Hitter

2005 Starter: Jonny Gomes

Projected 2006 Starter: Jonny Gomes

Jonny Gomes is a real good news/bad news type of player. After only 13 games of experience in two seasons, Gomes burst onto the scene last season, hitting 21 homeruns in only 101 games and posting a 282/372/534 for an OPS of 906. Really fantastic stuff. What's more, he was hit by a pitch 14 times, which shows remarkable maturity at a young age. The bad news is that he struck out like it was going out of style, to the tune of 113 Ks in 348 at-bats. He will have to cut down on the Ks. In limited duty, he performed fine in the field, but seems destined for the designated hitter position once again this season with an already crowded outfield

Pitching

2005 Front Three Starters: Scott Kazmir, Mark Hendrickson, Casey Fossum

Projected 2006 Front Three: Kazmir, Hendrickson, Fossum

The Devil Rays have never ever ever had a pitching staff to be excited about, so this year's crew is an improvement on previous staffs only by comparison. Scott Kazmir had a solid first full season, and got better as the season went on, but needs to cut down on the walks. Mark Hendrickson was awful, but eats innings and doesn't walk a lot of guys. Casey Fossum showed marked improvement over 2004, and should continue on the upswing in his third full season as a starter at the age of 28. Expect Hendrickson to be fourth or fifth starter behind Fossum, Kazmir and Seth McClung by the break.

Other 2005 Starters: Doug Wachter, Hideo Nomo, Seth McClung

Other Possible 2006 Starters: McClung, Wachter, Edwin Jackson

Seth McClung got off to a rough first season as a Major League starter last season, but should show improvement in 2006. He was mistake prone in 2005, giving up 20 homeruns and walking 62 in 109.3 innings, and will have to cut out the mistakes to stick around. Doug Waechter never recovered from the ribbing Scott Glab gave last season in Vero Beach, and was pretty bad, but showed vast improvement over 2004 by reducing his homeruns per inning and walks per inning while raising his strikeout per walk from almost 1:1 to over 2:1. If he improves by that margin again this season, his second as a full time starter, he will actually be pretty good. Edwin Jackson was much lauded as a prospect for the Dodgers for a couple of years, and now will try to make it with the D'Rays. In theory, a rotation with Kazmir and Jackson in it should be powerful in 2007, and maybe sooner.

2005 Top Relievers: Danys Baez, Trever Miller, Travis Harper, Lance Carter, Chad Orvella

Projected 2006 Top Relievers: Edwin Jackson, Dan Micelli, Harper, Orvella

D'Rays traded away Danys Baez, and it is unclear who will be taking over as closer for the team. No one performed particularly well out of the bullpen last season other than Baez, so the Rays may be looking to Edwin Jackson in relief instead of as a starter. This is kind of a blackhole for the Rays, which could mean lots of wear and tear for the young starters.

Final Word:

Predicted 2006 Record: 76-86

Simply put, the Devil Rays are a young exciting team. The D'Rays have legitimate star potential at every offensive position, but two major problems: They do not get on base very well, and they strike out a lot. The pitching has too many problems to even go into. Still, this will be an exciting team to watch this season, and if healthy they could challenge for third place in the AL East.




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Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Asher B. Chancey resides in Alexandria, Virginia, and can be reached at asher@baseballevolution.com.




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