Fantasy Articles
Young Talent - especially offensive talent is the name of the game in Tampa and they have some interesting players who’ll fit nicely into your fantasy team.  The pitching offers some potential but after Scott Kazmir and James Shields it’s all a little speculative.
 
 
The Best of The Bunch:
 
Carlos Pena (1B):
  Assuming last year wasn’t a total fluke, Pena might be one of the best options at first base in the Majors right now.   Last year’s numbers (282-46-121 with 99 runs scored) look good and with a Rays offense which looks poised to improve on last year it’s possible his secondary numbers could go up.  However I’d expect a small fall off.
 
Carl Crawford (OF):
Crawford may not be oozing power but the fact he’s capable of stealing 50 plus bases more than makes up for the fact he’s never managed to hit more than 18 home runs in a single season.   He’s a top option for stolen bases and will contribute across the board and could even improve based upon wher he hits in the lineup.  Last year’s numbers (.315-12-80 with 93 runs scored and 50 steals).

The Second Tier:

 
Scott Kazmir (SP):  Well he won’t make a run at 20 wins, and his WHIP could scare you a little but Kazmir is one of the best in the game at striking out opponents.  His 3.48 ERA is decent enough, but it’s the strikeouts that make him a top 15 pitcher.  Of course he’s only 24 so there is hope that he’ll be better than he was last year.

B.J Upton (2B/OF):  Upton won’t be playing many games at second base this season but in most leagues, including Yahoo! leagues he’ll still qualify as a second baseman and that will make him very valuable indeed - making him a top ten, maybe even a top five option at second base.  He’s a true five category threat and at just 24 he still has a lot of growing to do.  He should build on last year’s numbers (.300-24-82-86-22), especially if he bats third in the lineup.

James Shield (SP): 
The uninitiated may well laugh at you when you draft a Rays pitcher who’s name isn’t Scott Kazmir but the 23 year old Shields may actually be the best pitcher on the Rays staff especially when you consider he walked just 36 batters last year in 215 innings..  Outside of wins he’s a very solid pitcher with the potential for a 200 strikeout season to go with some terrific peripheral stats.   Last year’s numbers 12-8, 3.85 ERA, 184 Ks, and 1.11 WHIP - expect better and maybe a few more wins to boot.  

The Third Tier:
 
Dioner Navarro (C):
  Navarro hasn’t shown much thus far in his Major League career but he’s got a tiny bit of power and is will only be 24 going into this season.  His strikeouts and average will weigh you down but if you are desperate for power and you believe in the upside that’s always been touted he might be worth a late (or very late) round pick.

Jason Bartlett (SS): 
The light hitting Bartlett struggled a little bit in his first full season as a shortstop with his average falling off to a .265 with 5 home runs, but his steal total climbed up to 23 but his OBP fell from .367 to .339.   The steals make him valuable but the Rays have better options at the top of the order than Bartlett and that could cut his value somewhat - as could his age (28).

Troy Percival (CL):  The Rays brought in Percival to try to shore up a bullpen that was used, abused and slapped around last season.  He’ll almost certainly get the nod as closer right off the bat, but with his surgically repaired knees and having taken a year off, the job could easily end up belonging to Al Reyes or Dan Wheeler.

The Question Marks:

 
Rocco Baldelli (OF):  Baldelli, once the most highly touted of all Devil Rays, managed only 35 games last season due to hamstring injuries and injuries have shaped his career - managing only a single season (2004) in which he managed 500+ At Bats.  In that season he managed a .280-16-74-79 (in 518 AB) while 2006 with 150 less AB he went .302-16-57-59.  That bodes well for his upside if he can stay healthy in 2008 and so far he looks to be.   Odds are he’ll go in the late rounds of most drafts - but he’s a serious sleeper.
 
Cliff Floyd (OF): At 36 with bad knees and two consecutive seasons of declining numbers of at bats hide just how much he still has in terms of skills.  He won’t be an everyday player and will get a lot of time on the bench when the Rays face left handers against who he struggles mightily.  Still in the late rounds he might be worth a pick up - especially if your league is deep or you get to platoon players.

Jonny Gomes (OF/DH):  The 27 year old Gomes has never had more than 385 at bats in a season but he’s twice passed the 20 home run plateau.   However he struggles against righties and probably will end up platooning with Cliff Floyd.  Last year’s numbers .244-17-49-48-12.

Al Reyes (CL):  Is Reyes the closer or not?  Odds are he’s not going to be given the job over Troy Percival but with Percival’s medical history it’s not impossible that Reyes could impress enough to claim the job in Spring Training or will inherit it at some point during the season.  For that reason alone he’ll be worth a flyer in the late rounds of drafts.
 
Jeff Neimann (SP):  Neimann will vie for a starting job this spring but he’s still a fairly raw talent.  He’s got a 131 innings of AAA experience where he struck out 123 batters but his ERA (3.98) and WHIP (1.45) are a big of a concern especially with him giving up 144 hits and 46 walks in that span.  His potential down the road is very solid - but out of Spring Training it might be a bit much to ask of him.

The Great Debate:

Akinori  Iwamura (2B/3B):  Will Iwamura improve on last season’s debut and turn into a premier leadoff hitter or was last year about as good as he’s going to get?   He’s 28 and showed a decent amount of doubles power (21) to go with 7 home runs and 12 steals.  If he could turn some of those into home runs, or improve a bit in terms of average or OBP he could be a lot more valuable.   Last year’s numbers (.285-34-7-82-12) were based on only five, rather than six, months worth of statistics since he miss a month with an oblique injury.  In AL only leagues he’s a middle tier second or third baseman while in mixed leagues he’s lower tier but he could be a sleeper if he adjusts further after a year in the Majors.

Prospect Watch:


Evan Longoria (3B):
  Is he seasoned enough to play at the big league level?  This kid sure has looked good in the minors but he’s only had 104 at bats at any level above AA.   At AAA he still showed power but his average fell from a .307 (AA) to a .269.  Still his AA numbers (.307-21-76 with 78 runs scored and a .403 OBP) were impressive and unless he flops in the spring he’ll be given every chance to win the third base job.