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It's a lesson learned: downplay prospect

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published July 28, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- If you are going to make plenty of mistakes, the least you can do is learn from them.

When the Rays called up 20-year-old blue-chip prospect Carl Crawford last weekend, team officials went out of their way to deflate any hype, with general manager Chuck LaMar going as far as to admit the outfielder was not "truly ready" to play in the big leagues.

That is significantly different from how Rays officials went along with and, in some cases, fueled the hype and inflated expectations for other prospects such as catcher Toby Hall and outfielder Jason Tyner.

They were given starting jobs and star treatment based on their performances at the end of last season, but both ended up back in the minors before the end of May. Hall returned last month as a platoon player, and Tyner is struggling to hit .250 at Triple-A Durham. Pitchers Victor Zambrano, Jesus Colome and Travis Phelps required similar handling.

Manager Hal McRae vows it will be different with Crawford and other young players who come up this year.

"One thing I'm not going to do is get caught up in the young guys," McRae said. "I'm going to just watch. If they play good, I'll enjoy watching them play good. The hype deal, the high-expectation deal, I'm not going to get caught up in that again.

"I don't think that's necessary because they are no better than their last game. That's the attitude we should assume and the attitude they should assume. Past performance is no indication of future success. It's a daily process. "I did it yesterday. I've got to do it today, and I've got to do it again tomorrow.' That kind of attitude. ...

"Because we say they're going to be good doesn't mean they're going to be good."

McRae admits Rays officials mishandled the previous group of young players.

"We probably put them in a bad situation, counting too much on them to carry too much of the responsibility for the ballclub and the organization," McRae said. "The expectations and responsibility should lay on the shoulders of the veteran players and let the young players mature and blend in.

"I think what we were trying to do was put a positive spin on the thing, but in retrospect, it probably was a mistake. They all came into spring training with their demeanor a little different than it was when they left. They had lost some of the shine over the winter. We didn't know what we were seeing initially. But watching them and evaluating the way they played it seemed like something had changed from the end of last season to the beginning of spring training. So maybe the expectations were too great."

HANDY ANDY: It wasn't just a few clutch hits by Andy Sheets that impressed McRae last week.

"He's a hungry player," McRae said. "He's trying to climb, and I need climbers at this point. I don't need guys who are trying to hang on. I need climbers."

GOING SOUTH: Best of luck to former Rays scouting director Dan Jennings, who gets a promotion (and hopefully a guaranteed contract) in going to the Marlins as vice president of player personnel. Jennings, who has hopes of becoming a general manager, reunites with Florida GM Larry Beinfest, an old buddy from Seattle.

IT'S THE PLAN: The Rays certainly didn't expect to have Luis De Los Santos, Brandon Backe and Crawford in the majors before the end of July. But it wasn't that far off the plan, either.

"Our goal in spring training was to call up as many young players as we possibly could," LaMar said. "No one knew we'd have the horrendous record we have, but our goals still have to be the same.

"We've got to give as many young players as we can a chance to play and see how they respond."

WELCOME ADDITION: While the Rays seemed happy to get rid of Doug Creek, the Mariners were eager to get the reliever.

"We think this is a nice little piece for us," manager Lou Piniella said.

"Was I surprised the Devil Rays let him go? Yes," pitching coach Bryan Price said. "You never know about the inner workings of another club."

HOO-RAYS: Commissioner Bud Selig wouldn't discuss the Rays' problems during an appearance at Fenway Park on Monday but said, "I don't have any new and I don't have any additional concerns." ... TV man Todd Kalas is in Coopers-town, N.Y., today to see his father, Harry, inducted into the broadcasters wing of the Hall of Fame. ... The window to sign top draft pick B.J. Upton in time to play this minor-league season is just about closed.

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