Devil Rays’ Durham Woes Continue

With new ownership and management in place, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays adopted the slogan “Under Construction” this offseason. Based on the numerous incidents the organization has endured this season, it is clear the Rays are still a work in progress.
The organization’s latest headaches came when shortstop B.J. Upton, currently playing for Triple-A Durham, was arrested and charged with driving while impaired at 3:30 a.m. Friday in Chapel Hill, N.C. A day later, the organization suspended his teammate, outfielder Elijah Dukes, for an indefinite period.

The 21-year-old Upton was pulled over for driving 51 mph in a 30 mph zone, according to a spokesman for the Chapel Hill Police Dept., and registered a .11 on a Breathalyzer test. Under North Carolina law, a person is presumed to be impaired at a blood-alcohol level of .08. Upton was released on a written promise to appear in court, with an Aug. 1 court date.

Dukes played Friday for the Bulls and went 0-for-4, but did not play Saturday and the team announced his suspension prior to its game with the Phillies. Executive vice president Andrew Friedman declined to comment on Dukes’ suspension.

Upton’s arrest and Dukes’ suspension continue a frankly embarrassing year for the Bulls and the Rays farm system. Most notably, outfielder Delmon Young was suspended 50 games by the International League for throwing a bat at an umpire. Young is due to return to the field Tuesday. Dukes was removed from the team for a week soon after Young’s suspension after an altercation with a coach. And manager John Tamargo was also suspended 10 days by the league for bumping an umpire.

Now come more incidents with Upton and Dukes. Baseball America ranked Upton as the No. 2 prospect in the minors prior to 2004 and seemed destined for stardom after reaching the big leagues as a 20-year-old that summer. His career has stalled, however, because of an inability to make accurate throws to first base. In 63 games at shortstop this season, the second overall pick in 2002 has 24 errors and is hitting .270/.375/.399. Last season, he made 53 errors in 133 games at short and hit .303/.392/.490.

Dukes, who had been Durham’s best player this season, was hitting .295/.398/.516 with eight home runs and 41 RBIs while seeing time at all three outfield positions. He’s been considered one of the organization’s toolsiest prospects since being selected in the third round in 2002. However, his volatile makeup, which has led to suspensions, arrest and anger-management counseling in the past, has tempered his prospect status.