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Top Ten Prospects: Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Bill Ballew
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2006.
During what proved to be his final season as general manager of the Devil Rays, Chuck LaMar actually said, “The only thing that keeps this organization from being recognized as one of the finest in baseball is wins and losses at the major league level.”
Yet most Baseball America readers understood what LaMar was getting at. After all, the only area Tampa Bay can consider a success while failing to top 70 wins in each of its first eight years of existence is its development of position players. While the Rays were at times forced to operate with a big league payroll only slightly higher than Alex Rodriguez’ annual salary, they have produced Rocco Baldelli, Jorge Cantu, Carl Crawford, Jonny Gomes, Toby Hall and Aubrey Huff.
After finishing in last place for the seventh time in eight seasons, Tampa Bay went for a full makeover at the end of the season. Stuart Sternberg, who purchased 48 percent of the franchise in 2004, replaced Vince Naimoli as managing partner. Sternberg immediately fired LaMar, the only GM in club history, along with a significant chunk of his front office, including assistant GM Scott Proefrock, director of player personnel Cam Bonifay and director of international scouting Rudy Santin. Manager Lou Piniella, who criticized Sternberg’s ownership for being more concerned about the future than the present during the season, was bought out of the final year of his contract.
To replace LaMar, Sternberg promoted Andrew Friedman. Friedman, 28, worked on Wall Street before joining the team in 2004 as an assistant for baseball development. He hired former Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker as his second-in-command and Angels bench coach Joe Maddon as manager.
Since taking over, Sternberg has worked hard to change the Devil Rays’ image, trying to win over fans with lower ticket prices and free parking. He also is playing up the nucleus of homegrown players with an “under construction” advertising campaign centered on a theme of “rebuilding the dream.” But while Tampa Bay has impressive young talent in the majors and more on the way, it will be a tall order to contend in the American League East.
The Devil Rays may have had the two best position players in the minors last year in shortstop B.J. Upton (who no longer qualifies for BA’s prospect list) and outfielder Delmon Young, Baseball America’s 2005 Minor League Player of the Year. LaMar’s regime antagonized both players by declining to promote them in September in order to delay their eligibility for arbitration and free agency.
Beyond that pair, the farm system may be deeper than ever. Special
assistant Tim Wilken, who left to become Cubs scouting director in December,
played a major role in the club’s 2004 draft and ran the 2005
effort, both of which have yielded several promising prospects. Last
year’s crop could get even stronger with the eventual signing
of third-round righthander Bryan Morris, who is at Motlow State (Tenn.)
Community College and can negotiate again once his juco season ends.
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