5 Tampa Bay Devil Rays The hiring of Lou Piniella was a major upgrade, but the lineup's look is minor league

March 31, 2003

All eyes are on Rocco Baldelli, but Baldelli's are on outfielder
Jason Tyner, who's lounging mischievously in the folding chair in
front of Baldelli's spring training locker. As Baldelli shoos him
aside, Tyner says with a laugh, "I've given three interviews
today as Rocco Baldelli."

In a clubhouse crowded with the unfamiliar faces of overachieving
minor leaguers and crumbling journeymen, Baldelli can find, if
not for long, a measure of anonymity. The 21-year-old
centerfielder was Baseball America's 2002 Minor League Player of
the Year, hitting .331 with 19 home runs while vaulting from
Class A Bakersfield to Triple A Durham. And though he has as many
big league at bats as Rocky Balboa, the Devil Rays have written
him into their starting lineup. A half-dozen lockers down from
Baldelli's sits leftfielder Carl Crawford, also 21, who hit .297
with 26 stolen bases at Durham and whose 63 games with Tampa last
season make him a comparative veteran. The Devil Rays hope
Baldelli and Crawford are the nucleus around which the team can
construct a future winner.

Without any better options, Tampa has decided the future is now.
"If there's no veteran behind them, there's no risk, no risk at
all," says new manager Lou Piniella, whose Mariners teams won 300
games over the last three years. "Everybody talks about patience.
You know what? Too much patience is stupidity."

Baldelli and Crawford are natural athletes--Baldelli attracted
interest from Division I basketball and volleyball programs,
Crawford accepted a scholarship to play quarterback at Nebraska
before signing with Tampa instead--with speed and defensive
grace. But neither is a disciplined hitter, a message Piniella
has hammered home in one-on-one chats. Last year Crawford walked
29 times in 612 at bats, while Baldelli drew 23 walks in 478. "He
told me not to lose my aggressiveness but to look for an area of
the plate to cover," Baldelli says. "In the past I've pretty much
been looking for strikes, and if it's around the plate, I take a
hack at it. But if you're looking at a spot, maybe you can lay
off the tougher pitches and draw more walks."

During the winter the laid-back Baldelli lived at home in
Warwick, R.I., lifted weights five days a week and lounged at his
father's combination coffee shop--pawnbroker--check cashing
establishment, which also has a batting cage in the basement. In
describing the place Rocco pauses and then says, "Sounds like a
party house."

One of the few players in Tampa Bay's lineup with anything to
celebrate in 2002 was Aubrey Huff, who led the team in batting
average (.313), slugging (.520) and home runs (23) while playing
in only 113 games. Last March a throw from third baseman Jared
Sandberg struck Huff, who was playing first, in the left eye and
fractured three bones around the socket. (Doctors told Huff that
had the ball struck an inch to the right, it would have driven
his eyeball deep into the socket and blinded him.) He spent five
days in a hotel room bed, waiting for the swelling to subside
enough for surgery. After a titanium-alloy plate was inserted,
however, Huff returned in late May, when he was installed as the
DH.

In bidding to become the every-day third baseman, Huff made his
defense a priority this spring. He's trying to loosen his wrists
and soften his hands to catch the ball better, and he starts
moving his feet during the pitcher's windup so he isn't caught
flat-footed reading the ball off the bat. "I want to be respected
as a position player," Huff says. "I don't want to be considered
a 26-year-old DH."

The Devil Rays are also aggressively promoting their young
pitching talent. Joe Kennedy, 23, who has made 50 major league
starts, is the putative ace after going 8--11 with a 4.53 ERA.
Though Tampa Bay's potential appears to be greater than ever, it
won't yet translate into wins. "I never thought I'd say, 'Boy, if
we win 75 games, we're doing well,'" Piniella says, "but I have
to be realistic, too."

The new manager may not be patient, but he's not stupid
either. --D.G.H.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO ON THE FAST TRACK Baldelli, 21, who started last season in Class A, begins this year as one of the AL's most-hyped rookies. COLOR PHOTO: EZRA SHAW/GETTY IMAGES ORDONEZ

IN FACT
In 2002 the Devil Rays became the first team to claim sole
possession of last place in their division five years in a row
since the Blue Jays did it from 1977 through '81.

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Devil Rays

"My advice to Lou Piniella: Go to church every morning before you
go to the ballpark, because you'll need miracles to get this team
to win.... Rocco Baldelli is about as natural a big league star
as I've seen in years. He can go get the ball with the very best
outfielders, has a plus arm and can run like hell. He's my choice
to be Rookie of the Year.... Aubrey Huff is a kid who has a
pretty good bat and some power, but where do you play him? I
don't ever see him being an every-day third baseman in the big
leagues. First base may be his best position.... Rey Ordonez is a
showboat at short. He'll slide and do all that jazz on routine
plays. He could be a hell of a shortstop, but he makes a lot of
foolish errors.... Damian Rolls will help the club more than Greg
Vaughn [who was cut on March 22] would have, but right now, he's
a below-average hitter. Playing regularly, he has a chance to hit
.260.... I like Joe Kennedy. He's got a lot of deception in his
delivery because he throws way across his body. His fastball is
always sinking or doing something. And he's learning to throw all
speeds.... Lance Carter knows how to pitch. Some say he may be
their closer. That's how bad they are."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2002 statistics

BATTING ORDER

LF Crawford
CF Baldelli
3B Huff
DH Grieve
1B Lee
RF Rolls
2B Anderson
C Hall
SS Ordonez

CARL CRAWFORD

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 97. 259 2 30 9

ROCCO BALDELLI* (R)

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 116 .333 14 51 21

AUBREY HUFF

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 67 .313 23 59 4

TRAVIS LEE [#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 71 .265 13 70 5

DAMIAN ROLLS [**]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 243 .266 6 35 15

MARLON ANDERSON [#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 258 .258 8 48 5

TOBY HALL

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 126 .258 6 42 0

REY ORDONEZ [#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 364 .254 1 42 2

BENCH

BRENT ABERNATHY

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 334 .242 2 40 10

JASON TYNER

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 357 .214 0 9 7

DESIGNATED HITTER

BEN GRIEVE

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 188 .251 19 64 8

ROTATION

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

LH Joe Kennedy 154 8 11 6.6 1.32 4.53
RH Victor Zambrano 190 8 8 5.9 1.65 5.53
LH Nick Bierbrodt 209 3 4 5.6 1.60 4.55
LH Jim Parque[#] 292 1 4 3.6 1.97 9.95
RH Steve Parris[#] 212 5 5 5.4 1.74 5.97

BULLPEN

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Jesus Colome 104 2 7 0 2.15 8.27
RH Lance Carter(R) 145 2 0 2 0.98 1.33
RH Travis Harper 236 5 9 1 1.49 5.46

[#] New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
*Class A stats [**] Triple A stats
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 157)

2002 RECORD
55--106
fifth in AL East

MANAGER

Lou Piniella
first season with Tampa Bay

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)