Tampa Bay Rays: Resurging Veterans, Upstart Youngsters

Matt St. JeanContributor IMay 4, 2008

Can this be the year that the youth movement in Tampa Bay actually pays off?

Is this the year that they come out of the basement and begin to compete with the likes of the Red Sox and the Yankees?

The biggest difference in the Rays this season is not the new prospects or young guns, but some revived veterans who are giving the Rays a much needed boost.

Troy Percival has six saves on the season and has not given up an earned run. Most people thought that Percival was finished after K-Rod replaced him in Anaheim.

In the past seasons that was the Rays' biggest issue: closing out ballgames. Now with Percival in the back of the lineup as well as Dan Wheeler setting up, the Rays have a formidable bullpen, which any baseball fan knows is just as important as hitting and the starting rotation.

Another seasoned veteran paying dividends and lending experience to the younger Rays is first basemen Carlos Pena. Carlos had a career year last season batting .282 with 46 home runs and 126 RBI and if it weren't for A-Rod's ridiculous season and the Rays not doing so hot, Pena would have been a serious candidate for MVP.

A lot of people have been throwing around the term, "flash in the pan," when they talk about Pena this season, but the numbers speak for themselves. He is tied for the team lead in home runs (six) and third on the team in RBI (16). 

Wait a second, how can we begin to talk about the Rays and not talk about the young talent on the team?

It almost seems that the Rays’ organization has an endless supply of talent as they brought up top prospect Evan Longoria. The Dirtbag from Long Beach State is hitting a measly .239, but has 11 RBI and three home runs.

The biggest impact on the season so far has been center fielder B.J. Upton, who has 21 RBI and is hitting .294. Upton seems to have an infinite upside, playing second base as well as center field and a swing that will make a grown man blush. 

We have yet to see Rocco Baldelli, but after three years of nagging injuries, it is doubtful that we are ever going to see him at 100 percent. Also, Tampa's ace, Scott Kazmir, hasn't been around either.

The Rays are currently two games out of first place behind the Red Sox and close to the lead in the wild card. Should we as fans expect the Rays to continue their winning ways? Or are they going to run out of gas and show the Tampa Bay that we have known and laughed at year after year since the beginning of their existence?

Based on newfound veteran leadership in the clubhouse and young players coming into their prime, the Rays have one more year before they can get and good whiff of the playoffs, but they will be in front of the Orioles and Blue Jays at seasons end.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the Tampa Bay Rays as they have crawled out of the basement and have become a contender in Major League Baseball.