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Rule 5 helps Rays' Rule 1: proficiency

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 31, 2002


DURHAM, N.C. -- There has been some criticism, some questions and some in-house discussions about why the Rays would want to carry three Rule 5 draft picks who have yet to play past the Class A level.

There is, according to general manager Chuck LaMar, a reason.

It's because they have to do it.

LaMar has been given a difficult charge -- to make the team better now, to improve it for the future, and to reduce current and future payroll.

And he said infielder Felix Escalona and pitchers Steve Kent and Jorge Sosa, regardless of their experience, help move toward those goals.

"You have to do what you have to do to get better," LaMar said. "If you don't have money to spend to get better, if your organization development-wise is not at the stage yet to continue to put those kind of young players on the field, you've got to get the job done and you've got to find a way to do it.

"The Rule 5 draft has become an extremely good vehicle. We don't have any better left-handed reliever coming up in our system than Steve Kent. We don't have any better young middle-infield prospect coming up in our system than Escalona. We don't have any better power arm in our system than Sosa. So it adds three prospects.

"It just so happens we think a couple of these prospects are going to help us at the major-league level this year. But even if they don't, here's an organization and a major-league club trying to get better and trying to get less expensive and we have three players that will help us."

LaMar looks at the three and sees excellent work by his scouts, since players eligible for the draft weren't deemed worthy of inclusion on their old team's 40-man roster. Others look at them, and knowing Rule 5 requires they be kept on the big-league roster when they may not be ready, and see manager Hal McRae having to play the season short-handed.

"If I was the manager of this club would I question carrying three, quote, Rule 5 picks? Yes, I would," LaMar said. "Hal McRae wants to try to win as many games as we possibly can this year and in the future. I believe the Rule 5 guys are going to help us win more games this year. But I know they're going to help us win more games in the future. And I have to do what's best for the organization."

NIGHT OWLS: Expect to see the Rays play more home night games next spring.

Impressed with the turnout at Thursday's lone home night game of the spring, and aware of how the Yankees sell out their night games, managing general partner Vince Naimoli is interested in putting the Rays under the lights to improve their average attendance of 3,630, which ranked 15th among the 20 Florida-based teams.

"I think we have to be doing some things to increase attendance," Naimoli said. "Our fans are basically working people. The crowd of almost 5,000 showed the benefit of a night game.

"When you think about it, the Yankees (who average 10,000-plus) seem to have found the ingredients. Naturally it's because they've been world champs and they're such a wonderful team to go watch, but you have to look at the number of night games they play."

While at least two Florida training sites will be open next year, Naimoli said the Rays, who have two more years on their lease, aren't looking to move. "We're not contemplating anything at this point, we're not talking to anybody, we're not in any discussions," he said.

NO MAS: The Rays will start the season with a Spanish-language radio deal. The station they had been with, WLCC-AM 760, no longer wants to carry sports programming. The Rays have talked with other stations and might get a deal to have some games broadcast.

COMPUTER GEEKS: The brainiacs at the Diamond Mind web site projected statistics for 1,500 players and programmed their computer to play out a season pitch bypitch 50 times and average the totals.

The results?

The Rays finish last at 61-101 and have the worst offense in the league.

HOO-RAYS: Last weekend's Grand Slam Gala raised more than $39,000 for the Rays of Hope Foundation, which supports several area charities. ... Former pitcher and front-office man Tony Saunders is still in the area, working part-time recruiting clients for his agent and hoping to get back into scouting or player development.

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