4 Tampa Bay Devil Rays Help is on the way from the farm system, but it won't arrive soon enough

March 26, 2001
March 26, 2001

Table of Contents
March 26, 2001

Baseball 2001 Preview

4 Tampa Bay Devil Rays Help is on the way from the farm system, but it won't arrive soon enough

Soon after they were ordained, the New Testament tells us, the
apostles "cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that
were sick, and healed them." Three years after it was ordained,
Tampa Bay's baseball team has cast out its devils: The club's
new green-blue-and-black jerseys have dispensed with the d word
and identify the team simply as the Rays. Now it's time for Step
2, the healing. Injuries ravaged the Rays in 2000. They got a
combined 1 2/3 innings out of their top two starters, Wilson
Alvarez and Juan Guzman; slugging third baseman Vinny Castilla
made three trips to the disabled list and hit a paltry six home
runs; and leftfielder Greg Vaughn spent three weeks in the
summer on the DL and drove in only 38 runs over the season's
final four months. "I don't want to think about what happened
last year," says manager Larry Rothschild. "The one good thing
that came out of it was some other players got chances to
perform and get comfortable."

This is an article from the March 26, 2001 issue Original Layout

One of those was righthander Albie Lopez, who vaulted from the
middle of the bullpen to the front of the rotation. Plucked from
the Indians in the 1997 expansion draft, Lopez, 29, spent most of
his five years in the Cleveland system as a starter, but Tampa
Bay quickly made him a reliever. "Starting never crossed my mind
last year," says Lopez. "I figured one day I'd take over for
[then closer] Roberto Hernandez."

That changed on May 28 when, with the rotation in tatters (and
sporting an American League-worst 6.81 ERA to that point),
Rothschild handed Lopez the ball for his first start in three
years. Lopez pitched five strong innings in a 14-4 win over the
Mariners, and the Devil Rays had stumbled upon an unlikely ace.
In 24 starts Lopez was 9-9 with a 3.88 ERA, seventh best among
American League starters. In the second half only Boston's Pedro
Martinez pitched more innings.

Lopez is a rarity, a power pitcher with a 95-mph fastball who
relies more on ground balls than whiffs to get outs. Last year he
began throwing his big overhand curveball consistently for
strikes and finished with one of the league's best ground
ball-to-fly ball ratios. He also helped stabilize a staff that
kept the league's lowest-scoring team from utter disaster: After
May 30, Tampa Bay had the league's best starters' ERA (4.52).
"What impressed me was how Albie went after hitters," says
catcher John Flaherty. "A lot of times we have to tell newer
starters how to pitch guys, but Albie came in and said, 'This is
how I'm going to do it.' He wasn't always right, but if you
believe you're right, that's half the battle."

"I'd never be the pitcher I am today if I hadn't gone to the
bullpen," Lopez says. "I learned not to waste any pitches, to be
aggressive and be happy no matter how I got outs."

For a franchise that's half veterans on the downswing and half
hot prospects still a couple of years away, Lopez is one of the
few Rays of immediate hope. The Tampa Bay system boasts six
players on Baseball America's list of the top 100 prospects in
the game, tied with the Braves and Cubs for the most. Stud
19-year-old outfielder Josh Hamilton is the top-rated player on
the list and could be a force in the Rays' lineup by the summer.
But most of the young talent is at least a year away from making
an impact in the big leagues.

That's not soon enough for a team full of fragile veterans,
especially in the rotation. Alvarez and Guzman are still
recovering from shoulder surgeries, meaning the Rays have $15
million tied up in two pitchers who aren't likely to give them
more than 40 starts this season. On paper, the brittle trio of
Castilla, Vaughn and first baseman Fred McGriff (946 home runs
among them), plus newly acquired outfielder Ben Grieve (93 RBIs
per year over the last three seasons), form a modestly dangerous
lineup. It certainly can't be worse than it was in 2000, when the
Rays hit .257, 10 points lower than the next worse American
League team. "It was tough on our pitchers," Rothschild says of
the pitiful output. "There were a lot of times they pitched well
enough to win and didn't. Maybe it toughened them up."

The baptism by fire worked for Lopez. But the Rays, by any name,
will have a devil of a time avoiding a fourth straight losing


COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON The unlikeliest of aces, Lopez emerged from the Tampa bullpen to become a Ray of sunshine for the starting rotation. COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON GRIEVE

an opposing team's scout sizes up the Devil Rays

He could use a little more seasoning, but Josh Hamilton has a
chance to be Tampa Bay's first superstar. He has one of the
quickest bats around. He can hit with power, and he can run. But
it'd be a mistake for the Rays to rush him this year....Gerald
Williams is a decent player, but he's a guess hitter. If a
pitcher throws a changeup or breaking ball on a fastball count,
he won't hit it....Felix Martinez is one of the best fielding
shortstops around. He made a lot of careless errors last year,
but he looks better. He gets to everything....Vinny Castilla can
hit, but only in Colorado. The Rays will be better off playing
Aubrey Huff at third and dealing Castilla--who is in great
shape. Huff has a very quick bat with 20-home-run power, and
he's disciplined. Steve Cox is the same way; he'll be a good
hitter, but Tampa has to stop blocking their kids with older
players....John Flaherty is an O.K. starting catcher, but the
guy I like is Toby Hall. He may not start the year in Tampa, but
he throws well, and he has some juice in the bat. He's their
future....Ben Grieve can do one thing: hit. He doesn't have the
instincts to be a good outfielder. It'll be rough on Williams in
center, because Greg Vaughn in left can't play the outfield
worth a damn....Paul Wilson looks great. He has an average-plus
fastball, and his mechanics are good again. The more he pitches,
the more confident he'll be that his arm won't fall
off....Esteban Yan throws hard, but he's no closer. His fastball
is flat....Doug Creek is a perfect setup guy for one or two

projected roster with 2000 statistics

2000 record: 69-92 (fifth in AL East)
Manager: Larry Rothschild (fourth season with Tampa Bay)


CF Gerald Williams R 122 .274 21 89 12
2B Brent Abernathy*(R) R 263 .290 5 50 23
RF Ben Grieve[1] L-R 103 .279 27 104 3
1B Fred McGriff L 102 .277 27 106 2
LF Greg Vaughn R 126 .254 28 74 8
3B Vinny Castilla R 236 .221 6 42 1
DH Steve Cox L 163 .283 11 35 1
C John Flaherty R 225 .261 10 39 0
SS Felix Martinez S-R 340 .214 2 17 9


OF Jose Guillen R 249 .253 10 41 3
C Mike DiFelice R 305 .240 6 19 0
OF Jason Tyner[2] L 350 .226 0 13 7
IF Russ Johnson[2] R 376 .239 2 20 5


RH Albie Lopez 67 11 13 6.6 1.45 4.13
RH Juan Guzman[3] 199 11 12 6.1 1.40 3.74
LH Wilson Alvarez[3] 113 9 9 5.7 1.49 4.22
RH Paul Wilson 148 1 4 5.9 1.14 3.35
RH Bryan Rekar 204 7 10 6.1 1.38 4.41


RH Tanyon Sturtze 83 5 2 0 1.48 4.74
RH Esteban Yan 106 7 8 0 1.45 6.21
LH Doug Creek 288 1 3 1 1.45 4.60
RH Travis Harper (R) 321 1 2 0 1.41 4.78
RH Dan Wheeler 346 1 1 0 1.74 5.48
RH Ken Hill[1] 347 5 8 0 2.03 7.16
RH Ryan Rupe 324 5 6 0 1.67 6.92

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 156)
*Triple A stats
[2]Combined AL and NL stats
[3]1999 stats

"Hamilton has a chance to be a superstar, but it would be a
mistake to rush him."