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Uptons anticipate a smooth transition

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 15, 2002

Now that top draft pick B.J. Upton has agreed to a deal he can start working, beginning 8:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Naimoli complex, on becoming a major-leaguer.

Upton -- quiet but confident, if not a dash cocky -- thinks he can get there in two years. His father, Manny, who has been around the game as a player, coach and scout, thinks it might take a little longer, like three, but feels it shouldn't be a difficult adjustment.

B.J. has been using a wood bat every summer, so that shouldn't be much of a problem. Neither should being away from home, as a stint with the junior national team was a good experience.

"I think the main thing will be the schedule," Manny Upton said. "That's going to be a big thing for him, playing 120-130 games for his first year in Charleston (S.C.)."

Otherwise, Manny said his 18-year-old son isn't far from being a five-tool major-leaguer. "He's got the defensive skills and the arm, and he runs well," Manny said. "He has those tools every big-leaguer is looking to have. Once he develops his hitting he'll have four and power will be five. (Derek) Jeter is a good comparison. He runs well, he throws well and he's always a winner. People don't see that, but he's got that inner toughness."

The Rays have shown a willingness to move players quickly. Carl Crawford and Joe Kennedy made the majors within three years of being drafted, Dewon Brazelton is getting a shot one year later and Rocco Baldelli made it as high as Triple A in his second full season.

"It's not that we rush players to the major leagues, it just so happens that we drafted some very talented players that have made the major leagues very quickly," general manager Chuck LaMar said. "We're selecting some very talented young men that I think would go through any system relatively quickly.

"We've never put any timetable on any of them. I told B.J., we're not going to put a timetable on you. I said we'll push you as far as we think your abilities allow without putting you over your head and without ever putting a ceiling on your head from a developmental standpoint.

"Yet he has the talent to drive that train through the minor leagues relatively quickly if given the opportunity."

NOT-SO-MINOR MATTERS: The Rays have two possibilities for bringing their advanced Class A affiliate back to the east coast: the Potomac (Va.) Cannons in the Carolina League and the Brevard County team in the Florida State League, which plays at the Marlins' spring complex near Melbourne.

If the Rays strike a deal with the Brevard team, there's a chance they could end up even closer to home: in Sarasota. Red Sox owner John Henry, directly or indirectly, owns both the Brevard and Sarasota teams, and it's possible he'd agree to a swap, allowing the Rays team to play at Sarasota's Ed Smith Stadium. That would be better for the Rays in terms of proximity and marketing.

With some teams dropping out of the fall instructional league, the Rays stayed in on a condensed basis, with two weeks of workouts and one week of games against other teams.

The players, including Upton and many other top young prospects such as Seth McClung, Doug Waechter, Elijah Dukes and Joey and Jonny Gomes, will get in serious work, spending about seven hours a day on the field. "It will be a more concentrated instruction period," director of player personnel Cam Bonifay said.

There will be afternoon games at the Naimoli complex Sept. 23, 24, 26 and 28.

JUST WONDERING: Will there be a ceremony when the Rays draw their 1-millionth fan of the season Wednesday (in their 77th home game) or Thursday? ... Was Baldelli not called up because he had a long season, because it didn't make sense to put him on the 40-man roster earlier than necessary (and risk losing whoever was taken off), because he'd get 17 days' service time and about $18,500 pay or a combination of the three? ... Did the Red Sox gain an advantage when interim GM Mike Port called MLB umpiring supervisor Ralph Nelson the morning of Pedro Martinez's start and convinced him to tell the umpires to tone down their "zero-tolerance" policy on ejecting pitchers for throwing at batters?

HOO-RAYS: The rescheduled Rays of Hope golf tournament is noon Monday at the Vinoy course in St. Petersburg. ... Muscular Dystrophy Association volunteers on Tuesday will start selling $1 tickets for the Sept. 22 "Shirts off our Backs" promotion, where fans win autographed game jerseys. ... The 2003 schedule will be released this week.

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