Baseball preview: Tampa Bay Rays

In 10 seasons, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays never finished with a winning record. Will the franchise have more success as the Tampa Bay Rays? The team hopes that the name change and new uniforms will translate into more victories.

According to most analysts, the Rays made significant offseason moves that seem to be pointing the franchise in a successful direction. But they still have to play in the AL East, which will provide the biggest problem for a young squad.


Their success will depend on right-handed pitcher Matt Garza, who was acquired in a trade that sent outfielder Delmon Young to the Minnesota Twins. Garza will need to show that he's capable of being a solid No. 3 starter behind Scott Kazmir and James Shields.

The Rays will also need two veteran acquisitions to show that they're capable of making meaningful contributions this season. Troy Percival, who has 324 career saves, has to show that he still has the ability to protect leads in the ninth inning. Cliff Floyd needs to be able to serve as the team's designated hitter or as a power option that comes off the bench in clutch situations.


Overall, the Rays should be improved in 2008. The players seem to believe that they'll be better this season, which could translate into some close victories. Still, they have a long way to go before they'll be competing in the AL East. Their first goal should be to finish with a winning record, which could happen this season.

Tampa Bay Rays

2007 record: 66-96 (5th in AL East)

Key additions: RHP Troy Percival, RHP Matt Garza, OF/DH Cliff Floyd, SS Jason Bartlett

Key losses: OF Delmon Young, SS Brendan Harris

Most valuable fantasy performers:

1. Carl Crawford, LF – Despite playing six seasons in Tampa Bay, Crawford remains one of the most attractive fantasy options in the outfield. He'll hit around .310 with 50-60 stolen bases again this season. Look for Crawford to hit 10-15 home runs in 2008 and score close to 100 runs. He should be a first-round pick, but avoid him if you expect a lot of home runs from your outfielders.

2. B.J. Upton, CF – After being unable to find a position in the infield, Upton seems to have found a permanent spot in center field. This bodes well for fantasy owners because he'll likely be one of the best options in the outfield for several years. Upton has the rare blend of speed and power that makes him a hot commodity. He hit .300 with 24 home runs, 82 RBIs and 22 stolen bases last season. Look for a slight improvement across the board this season. And don't forget that he's likely eligible as a second baseman in most fantasy leagues because he played there for 48 games last season. Grab him in the third or fourth round and you'll be happy with his performance.

3. Carlos Pena, 1B – Before last season, Pena had 86 career home runs and 243 career RBIs in 507 games in the majors. He erupted for 46 home runs and 121 RBIs in 148 games last season. While he's unlikely to duplicate that performance in 2008, Pena will probably hit around .280 with 30-35 home runs and 100-110 RBIs. Draft him in the fifth or sixth round if he's available and you still need a first baseman.

4. Scott Kazmir, LHP – Last season, Kazmir won 13 games with a 3.48 ERA. He led the American League with 239 strikeouts in 206 2/3 innings. Look for Kazmir to win 13-17 games in 2008 and establish himself as one of the top lefties in the league. He'll have over 200 strikeouts again this season, so draft him in the eighth or ninth round.

5. James Shields, RHP – Shields emerged as a reliable starter behind Kazmir last season and he'll likely continue to be successful in 2008. Look for him to win 10-15 games with an ERA around 4.00 and 170-180 strikeouts. He's a good option in the middle rounds of your draft, but don't overvalue him and pick him any earlier than the 13th or 14th round.

Hidden gems:


1. Evan Longoria, 3B – It's still not certain if Longoria will start the 2008 season with the Rays, but he'll eventually be a superstar third baseman in the major leagues. Grab him in the later rounds if the Rays decide to keep him. He could be called up later in the season even if they send him back to the minors, so it might be a good idea to draft him anyway. Longoria could replace your fantasy team's struggling third baseman later in the year, so be aware if he's available.

2. Akinori Iwamura, 2B – Iwamura had a solid debut in the major leagues by hitting .285 with seven home runs, 34 RBIs and 12 stolen bases in 123 games. While he won't be one of the top second basemen, Iwamura could be a nice option to plug into your lineup if you're regular guy is struggling. Get him with one of your last few picks and at least you'll have some injury insurance.

3. Matt Garza, RHP – Garza was only 5-7 in 16 games (15 starts) for the Twins last season, but he had a 3.69 ERA and 67 strikeouts. Look for him to win 10-15 games and collect 140-150 strikeouts in 2008. Don't be afraid to take a chance on him in the later rounds of your draft, but you can probably grab him as a free agent after the season starts.

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