Tampa Bay Rays: Time to Shine

Greg GiardiniContributor IMay 1, 2008

One month into the baseball season and the Tampa Bay Rays are not out of it.

This might not seem like much, but to the folks down in St. Pete (not Tampa) it is a reason to celebrate. For the last decade or so, the Rays have offered almost no competitive baseball in a market that produces many baseball stars and has a strong desire for good sports.

Now, the Rays are no longer an afterthought. Ever since Vince Naimoli sold the team and the new administration has put forth an effort to spend the money, draft good players, and sign players that fans actually know, the future is coming to fruition.

The Rays future began when the New York Mets agreed to most likely the worst trade in baseball history—unloading prospect Scott Kazmir for the much maligned Victor Zambrano.

However, this year the rotation has thrived without the service of Kazmir, who is injured, but returning shortly with the newly acquired Matt Garza, and Rays minor league products James Shields, Andy Sonnanstine, and Edwin Jackson.

With none of the starters over the age of 27, this could be a solid foundation for many years to come. With veteran Troy Percival closing games the Rays have also built the best bullpen in baseball—who would've ever imagined that?

The lineup, although lacking power, is anchored by super prospect, Evan Longoria (insert Desperate Housewife joke here), who in just a short amount of time in the majors has already established himself as the starting third baseman at the age of 22.

Rounding out the infield is the speedy and good defensively Jason Bartlett, Aki Iwamura, a developing catcher in Dioneer Navarro and perhaps the one hit wonder Carlos Pena. If Pena can reproduce the 46 home runs of last season, the Rays would be thrilled.

The outfield is comprised of now-veteran, although still young, Carl Crawford who has been a perennial All-Star and emerging star BJ Upton. So it appears the Rays have survived the Rocco Baldelli debacle and built a solid outfield.

So, will the Rays be up there with the Red Sox and Yankees?

Probably not, but they won't be handing the division to them this year.

Already, they have swept a three-game series against the Sox and won two of three over the Yankees which proves there is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel for the first time ever at Tropicana Field.

The Rays are proving that persistence pays off. By drafting developing solid young players they are an organization that can compete in the AL East, which gives hope to the destitute of baseball like the Royals and Pirates.

So, tune in to some Rays games—hey they might even get on ESPN once or twice this year and catch a glimpse of what may become baseball's next big thing.