Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Top 10 Prospects

1. Delmon Young, of
2. Evan Longoria, 3b
3. Reid Brignac, ss
4. Jeff Niemann, rhp
5. Jacob McGee, lhp
6. Elijah Dukes, of
7. Wade Davis, rhp
8. Matt Walker, rhp
9. Jeremy Hellickson, rhp
10. Joel Guzman, of/1b/3b
Best Hitter for Average Delmon Young
Best Power Hitter Evan Longoria
Best Strike-Zone Discipline Chriw Nowak
Fastest Baserunner Fernando Perez
Best Athlete Elijah Dukes
Best Fastball Juan Salas
Best Curveball Matt Walker
Best Slider Jeff Niemann
Best Changeup Mitch Talbot
Best Control Andy Sonnanstine
Best Defensive Catcher Shawn Riggans
Best Defensive Infielder Patrick Cottrell
Best Infield Arm Neil Walton
Best Defensive Outfielder Fernando Perez
Best Outfield Arm Delmon Young
Catcher Dioner Navarro
First Base Joel Guzman
Second Base Jorge Cantu
Third Base Evan Longoria
Shortstop Reid Brignac
Left Field Carl Crawford
Center Field Rocco Baldelli
Right Field Delmon Young
Designated Hitter B.J. Upton
No. 1 Starter Scott Kazmir
No. 2 Starter Jeff Niemann
No. 3 Starter Jacob McGee
No. 4 Starter Wade Davis
No. 5 Starter Matt Walker
Closer Juan Salas
Year Player, Position 2006
1997 Matt White, rhp Out of baseball
1998 Matt White, rhp Out of baseball
1999 Matt White, rhp Out of baseball
2000 Josh Hamilton, of Devil Rays
2001 Josh Hamilton, of Devil Rays
2002 Josh Hamilton, of Devil Rays
2003 Rocco Baldelli, of Devil Rays
2004 B.J. Upton, ss Devil Rays
2005 Delmon Young, of Devil Rays
2006 Delmon Young, of Devil Rays
Year Player, Position 2006
1997 Paul Wilder, of Out of baseball
1998 Josh Pressley (4) Marlins
1999 Josh Hamilton, of Devil Rays
2000 Rocco Baldelli, of Devil Rays
2001 Dewon Brazelton, rhp Padres
2002 B.J. Upton, ss Devil Rays
2003 Delmon Young, of Devil Rays
2004 Jeff Niemann, rhp Devil Rays
2005 Wade Townsend, rhp Devil Rays
2006 Evan Longoria, 3b Devil Rays
Matt White, 1996 $10,200,000
Rolando Arrojo, 1997 $7,000,000
B.J. Upton, 2002 $4,600,000
Dewon Brazelton, 2001 $4,200,000
Josh Hamilton, 1999 $3,960,000
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Tampa Bay Devil Rays

The Devil Rays had to keep telling themselves that it’s always darkest before the dawn. Otherwise, the team’™s revamped ownership and front office never would have kept its sanity in 2006.

Tampa Bay entered the season trying to change the tone of a franchise that has struggled on most fronts since it started play in 1998. Despite the best of intentions, trouble reared its head, with many of the problems occurring at Triple-A Durham. Delmon Young, the 2005 Minor League Player of the Year, received a 50-game suspension for tossing his bat and striking an umpire in April. Elijah Dukes was sent home twice after altercations with teammates, the coaching staff and an umpire. Bulls manager John Tamargo was suspended for 10 games by the International League for a run-in with an umpire in May, while B.J. Upton was charged with driving while impaired in June.

Dukes, Upton and Young are three of the most talented young players in baseball, and they all were critical of the organization in interviews with USA Today in July. Upton and Young concluded the campaign in the majors. Dukes, who didn’t play after July 26, contemplated giving up the game. The Rays fired Tamargo and the rest of his Durham staff after the season ended.

All the turmoil in Durham overshadowed the Devil Rays’ efforts in building what has become the strongest system in baseball. Though Upton no longer qualifies for this prospect list, Young remains among the game’s elite prospects and has been joined by Evan Longoria and Reid Brignac, who should take over the left side of Tampa Bay’s infield in short order. The Rays finally are having some success developing pitching, with Jacob McGee, Wade Davis, Matt Walker and Jeremy Hellickson showing off quality arms in the lower minors.

Tampa Bay had good depth to begin with and supplemented it with a series of trades. The Rays used big leaguers Joey Gathright, Mark Hendrickson, Aubrey Huff and Julio Lugo to add players such as J.P. Howell, Dioner Navarro and Ben Zobrist to their big league club and prospects such as Joel Guzman, Sergio Pedroza and Mitch Talbot to their system.

First-year scouting director R.J. Harrison not only nabbed Longoria with the third overall pick in the draft, but also added talents such as righthander Josh Butler (second round), catcher Nevin Ashley (sixth) and outfielder Desmond Jennings (10th). Given the problems with several high-profile prospects, Harrison pushed his staff to find players with strong character and makeup to match their physical promise. The Rays also are trying to make a more concerted effort to find talent in Latin America.

Perhaps the most troubled prospect in franchise history, outfielder Josh Hamilton returned to the diamond after spending more than two seasons on Major League Baseball’™s suspended list because of drug problems. The first overall pick in the 1999 draft appeared to be in excellent physical condition before a knee injury led to arthroscopic surgery. If Hamilton, now 25, can overcome his demons and live a productive life, his comeback will be considered a success regardless of how well he progresses in baseball.

Tampa Bay won one minor league championship (Double-A Montgomery in the Southern League) and narrowly missed another (high Class A Visalia lost in the California League finals), and hopes that core of players eventually will enjoy similar success at the big league level. For a team that has yet to break the 70-win plateau in the majors, anything positive must be considered a step in the right direction.