Tampa Bay Rays 2008
The Rays hands down, and please quote me on this, will be the funnest “never heard of’s” to watch since the “evolution of dance” guy on YouTube. I am predicting a finish of no worse than third place in the AL East in 2008, if they remain healthy.
Dioner Navarro, starting catcher batted .285 after the all star break with an .815 ops. Did I forget to mention that since he joined the Rays in 2006 he has thrown out 50 base stealers in 103 attempts, giving him a .485 CS%. Carlos Pena gets my feel good story of the year award in ’07. He can put in next to the AL Silver Slugger he was awarded for finishing top 5 in home runs, walks, slugging percentage, rbi’s, on base% and OPS. Akinori Iwanmura batted out of order at the leadoff spot and finished with a .285 average showing some speed with 10 triples and 12 stolen bases. In 69 at bats last year not at the leadoff spot he hit .362. You do not have to be a good hitter when you finish tops in the majors with a .975 fielding percentage at the most difficult position in baseball. And, if you think Iwamura plays a good third base wait until you see Evan Longoria, a highly touted prospect referred to as the best pure hitter of the 2006 draft by Baseball America. Between double-A and triple-A in 2007, he finished with a combine .299 batting average, 26 dingers, 95 ribbies, 73 walks and an astounding .402 on base percentage. Since 2004 Carl Crawford has averaged 186 hits, 97 runs, 15 triples, 53 stolen bases, and a .304 batting average. Even more impressive than his weekly diving catches is his career .992 fielding percentage, which would have ranked 2nd in the majors this past season. And speaking of highly touted, playing in only 129 games in his first major league season, B.J. Upton scored 86 runs with a .300 ba, .386 obp, and adding 24 homers and 25 doubles to give him a .508 slg. And, in 78 games as a center fielder he had 11 assists and a .991 fielding percentage. And lets not forget the recently acquired Cliff Floyd, who hit .284 this past year for the cubbies. Moving to the DH is a perfect move for Floyd who has been injury prone in the outfield the last few seasons. A career .279 hitter, Floyd posses the veteran leadership experience that these young players need to have. A major piece of the puzzle for the Rays in 2008 is Rocco Baldelli. Can he remain healthy? If so the Rays can expect 80 runs, 30 doubles, 15 homers, 75 ribbies, 15 sb and a .290 average. Jason Bartlett may not be the most sought after shortstops in the majors but his solid defensive skills and 23 stolen bases in 26 opportunities makes this team a run manufacturing genius.
This may sound ridiculous but the Rays, yes the Rays top three pitchers may rank at year’s end as top 5 #1-#3 starters in the AL East. Scott Kazmir (3.48 era), James Shields (3.85 era), and Matt Garza (3.69 era) are expected to pitch at least 200 innings each and set up to a much improved bullpen that now include the recently added Troy Percival who finished 3-0 with a 1.80 era in 34 appearances last season.