With the pitchers and catchers reporting in a near two weeks, we can start to look forward to another fun baseball season. This is especially true for the Tampa Bay area, as fans and the world wanna see what this team does to back up its '08 performance.
With the money flying in New York and Boston looking to get back on top, will the Rays falter back down to the lower half of the AL East or will they reign supreme and surprise the baseball world yet again.
As a diehard fan and past two year employee of the Rays, I can say for myself and others that this Rays team is back and hungrier than ever to prove last season was not a fluke. Let's take a look at the projected '09 starting lineup and pitching staff.
Akinori Iwamura 2B. Aki has served as a great leadoff hitter in the fact that he takes pitches, works the count and slaps the ball to all fields. He is best when he is spraying the ball to the opposite field.
He provides a good stolen base threat and has surprising pop to the gaps for a leadoff hitter. He also was a major improvement at the 2nd base position defensively.
B.J. Upton CF. The world saw what kind of an athlete and baseball player BJ can be. His power numbers struggled due to a torn labrum that prohibited him from being able to turn on the inside fastball. In the playoffs he exhibited a power stroke like none other as he was feeling closer to 100 percent than he had all season.
After offseason surgery one can only hope that he continues where he left off. BJ also is a future gold glove centerfielder. Teams learned the hard way that you cant run on him. His athleticism allows him to get to any ball gap to gap. It's also not far off to project him as a possible 40 home run 40 stolen base guy.
Carl Crawford LF. Carl is one of those five tool players that everyone wants on his team. One of the best stolen base threats in the league. With B.J. and him on the base paths, that spells bad news to pitchers and catchers.
Let the track meet begin. Crawford's power numbers are still not where they should be but when you least expect it he can sure give one a ride.
Evan Longoria 3B. Hard to believe this guy was a rookie last year. One of the prettiest right handed swings this game is seeing right now. As he grows with this game he will only get better. With the top three hitters getting on base and wrecking havoc on the paths, Evan will be served up fastball after fastball which will soon be deposited into the left field bleachers.
Not to mention he is another gold glove candidate at third base. He is going to be a 40/100 type player in the middle of this lineup for years to come.
Carlos Pena 1B. Not bad protection for Mr. Longoria. Carlos is one of the streakiest power hitters in the game today. When he is ridin' hot, look out. His towering home-run shots just seem second nature to this guy. Very big emotional leader for this team and a big bat at the No. 5 spot.
Pat "the bat" Burrell DH. In my opinion, this was the one guy that the Rays really needed. They needed to add power from the right side of the plate and that's exactly what this guy does. His change of scenery will mean a new beginning for Pat. He can also spell Crawford in left field and save his legs from the turf at the trop.
Right field. I did not put a name here because this is the biggest question mark heading into spring training. I personally would like for Matt Joyce to get the opening day start.
Joyce is a local boy who came her via trade with Edwin Jackson heading to Detroit. Matt Joyce has tremendous upside and his power stroke is through the roof. He will be a great addition to the lineup.
Dioner Navarro C. One guy who doesn't get much credit for everything he does but this guy does it all. He hits for average very well from both sides of the plate but what makes him so special is what he does behind the plate.
He has a true cannon behind the plate and his game management for man of his age is incredible.
He handles the young pitching staff better than anyone I would ever want to see do it. I was his biggest fan when he struggled in '07 and I couldn't be more right about this guy.
Jason Bartlett SS. This guy was voted as the team MVP. Yes, the No. 9 hitter. J.B. does everything you ask of him and more. He is the second leadoff hitter for this team and does it so well with his speed and knowledge of the game.
Great stolen base threat to get on in front of the top of order. Great leader as well in the middle of the infield.
Man just writing that lineup gets me excited for Opening day. Whats a good lineup though without a good pitching staff. Here's a look at the projected 2009 rotation.
James Shields. Big game James is exactly that. When he gets the ball he puts the team on his back. His competitive nature and slew of pitches makes this guy my easy choice for opening day.
Scott Kazmir. Scott is a very streaky pitcher. He is dominant at times and other times looks lost on the mound. For Rays fans we all hope he gets back to his dominant self. He no longer has to lead this team and hopefully that will help him out in 2009.
Matt Garza. Explosive. That's how I describe Matt Garza. His personality, attitude, and fastball are all explosive. He comes right after hitters with his best stuff. Emotional pitcher feeds off the atmosphere of the game. When he is locating his fastball, he has "no hit" stuff.
David Price. Everyone saw him come out of the bullpen in the playoffs and remember him for ending the Red Sox come back threat in Game Seven at the Trop. He will be in the running for a starting job this year and I have already given it to him.
He stands tall on the mound and thinks he will get everyone out. That's the confidence this young man has. His mid 90s fastball and devastating slider will be on display in 2009.
Andy Sonnanstine. This man just out pitches hitters. Not overpowering but gets the job done. Moves the ball in and out, up and down and mixes speeds and arm angles with the best of them. Andy came into his own last year and is a quality No. 5 starter for this young pitching staff.
This is the outlook for the 2009 Tampa Bay Rays baseball season and may it be as enjoyable as the past season. Who's ready for baseball?