Devil Rays Should Win Title In 2010




CHICAGO--The Indians should win the American League Central, thanks to Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez, C.C. Sabathia and Grady Sizemore. The Brewers will finally return to the playoffs, due largely in part to a young infield that includes Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy and Rickie Weeks.

Not exactly shocking predictions. But I made them in this space three years ago.

In 2004, I forecast that the Blue Jays, Angels, Phillies and Dodgers also would win division titles, while the Red Sox and Cubs would claim wild cards. In our league previews on Pages 15 and 17 of this issue, the Baseball America staff concurs on six of the same playoff teams. My crystal ball had the Dodgers beating the Jays in the World Series--that one looks better than my Cubs over the Twins in 2006 call--while our consensus pick now is the Red Sox over the Phillies.

In subsequent years, I tabbed the Twins to defeat the Braves in a 2008 rematch of the 1991 World Series, and the Dodgers to vanquish the Angels in a 2009 Freeway Series.

Now it's time for my boldest call yet. The Devil Rays will win the 2010 World Series.

Lots Of Young Talent In Tampa

Though the Rays are payroll-challenged--a huge handicap in the AL East--they will be able to field a formidable and cost-effective club in 2010. Tampa Bay can build a lineup around Reid Brignac and Evan Longoria in the infield, and Rocco Baldelli, Carl Crawford and Delmon Young in the outfield. And B.J. Upton should have found a position by then.

Developing pitching always has been problematic for the Rays, but not any longer. Scott Kazmir already is in the big leagues; Jeff Niemann soon will join him and Jacob McGee isn't far behind. Throw in projected 2007 No. 1 overall pick David Price, and that's four frontline starters.

The Indians already have much of their future core in place in the majors. Cleveland will win the Central behind the AL's deepest rotation (Sabathia, Adam Miller, Jeremy Sowers, Cliff Lee, Jake Westbrook), while third baseman Andy Marte and outfielders Trevor Crowe and Brian Barton will bolster the offensive nucleus already in place.

The AL West champion Angels will have an entirely homegrown infield (Casey Kotchman, Howie Kendrick, Brandon Wood, Erick Aybar) and rotation (Nick Adenheart, John Lackey, Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, Stephen Marek). Free-agent addition Andruw Jones will fit nicely beside Vladimir Guerrero in the outfield.

The Yankees will edge the Red Sox and Tigers for the AL wild card. Free-agent pickup Johan Santana and Philip Hughes will give the New York the game's top pitching duo, and the Yankees will have added Dellin Betances and Joba Chamberlain to a young rotation.

Dodgers Grab NL Pennant

The Mets won't have to rely as heavily on free agency as they do now to win their division in 2010. New York will have spent dearly to add Carlos Zambrano, but Jose Reyes and David Wright still will be its cornerstones. Fernando Martinez and Lastings Milledge will flank Carlos Beltran in the outfield, and Deolis Guerra, Philip Humber and Mike Pelfrey will bolster the rotation.

The Brewers will capture the NL Central with a team built around baseball's best infield (2007 first-rounder Josh Vitters joins Fielder, Hardy and Weeks) and slugging outfielder Ryan Braun. Milwaukee will have signed and developed its entire lineup, as well as staff aces Yovani Gallardo and Ben Sheets.

While the Dodgers have favored free agents over prospects the last two years, by 2010 they will have built a division winner around self-developed products such as outfielder Matt Kemp, third baseman Andy LaRoche, first baseman James Loney, catcher Russell Martin and pitchers Chad Billingsley, Jonathan Broxton, Scott Elbert and Clayton Kershaw.

An offensive-minded club led by first baseman Conor Jackson, shortstop Stephen Drew and outfielders Carlos Quentin, Justin Upton and Chris Young, the Diamondbacks will beat out the Rockies and Phillies for the NL wild card. Backing Brandon Webb in Arizona's rotation will be 2006-07 draft picks Brett Anderson, Ross Detwiler and Max Scherzer.

In the World Series, the Devil Rays will outlast the Dodgers. Niemann will strike out 10 in seven one-run innings to win Game Seven, backed by homers from Longoria, Upton and Young. All four players were top-four-overall draft picks by Tampa Bay, which finally will reap the benefits of being pounded on for the first decade of the franchise's existence.

You can contact Jim Callis by sending e-mail to jimcallis@baseballamerica.com.