All 25 players on a Major League Baseball team are important. However, some stand out more than others. They are the ones who are essential to a team's success. Here are my top five essential players for the Tampa Bay Rays:
5. Pat Burrell
Burrell was the Rays' top free agent pick up this season. He was brought in to add power to an already impressive lineup.
The Rays need Burrell to have a good season to protect Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena, and B.J Upton. If Burrell can hit 30 home runs and drive in 90+ runs, the Rays will be happy.
4. Scott Kazmir
Kazmir has been a pretty good starter over his first four full seasons in the majors. However, injuries and inconsistency has plagued him lately. He had the ability to be a number one starter, but has yet to fulfill all his promise.
This is not a make-or-break year for Kazmir, but he probably needs to take a big step soon. Barring injury, I look for Kazmir to have a huge season. If he can stay focused, I see a 15+ win season with 200+ strikeouts.
3. Carlos Pena
Like Scott Kazmir, Carlos Pena had an inconsistent season. He followed a monster 2007 campaign with a mediocre 2008. Pena has the ability and the raw power to hit 40+ home runs again.
The Rays made it to the World Series despite an unspectacular season and playoffs by Pena. I expect Pena to have a comeback year. Imagine what the Rays will be like behind a rejuvenated Pena!
2. James Shields
Arguably, Shields is the best starter on the Rays' staff. He is essential to the Rays' success. In two short years, he has become the ace of the staff. If Shields were to get injured, the Rays would not be totally done, but it would be a tough loss.
Shields is a durable pitcher who rarely walks anyone. I don't see Shields having an off year. The Rays are hoping for the same thing.
1. Evan Longoria
Longoria makes the top of this list because of his impressive rookie campaign. He is a major reason the Rays made it all the way to the World Series. His clutch hitting and outstanding defense gave the Rays the boost they need.
Now, the Rays need an encore. They are hoping that Longoria doesn't fall into the dreaded sophomore slump. The good news for Longoria is that he has added protection from Pat Burrell and hopefully a rejuvenated Carlos Pena. However, the spotlight will be shining bright on Longoria in 2009.