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By MARC TOPKIN
Published July 12, 2004
NEW YORK - Sometime in the next couple of weeks, if not in the next couple of days, the Devil Rays will start making changes designed to make the team better in the future.
General manager Chuck LaMar said the Rays "will walk the fine line" between maintaining the momentum from a solid first half that could lead to the team's most successful season, and bringing up and evaluating a group of five young players - including top prospect B.J. Upton - who could be key to future success.
"We can't fool ourselves, this organization is still building," LaMar said Sunday. "We're building through the farm system, we're building through young players. If I can somehow incorporate four or five of the young players into this club building for the future and somehow continue this momentum, that would be the best scenario.
"If we err in an area, we're going to err going with our young guys. We have got to continue to look for good young players, and that's our objective."
By early August, LaMar said the Rays are likely to have five new faces: pitchers Doug Waechter and Seth McClung, outfielder Joey Gathright, and infielders Jorge Cantu and Upton.
Waechter and McClung are recovering from injuries. Waechter, out five weeks with a strained middle finger tendon, will go back in the rotation; McClung, who had Tommy John elbow surgery in June 2003, is likely to be a reliever.
Gathright, impressive during an earlier week-long stay, will be at least a reserve, adding speed and defense off the bench.
Cantu, 22, has emerged as a legitimate middle-infield prospect in his sixth minor-league season, hitting .311 with 21 homers and an organization-leading 76 RBIs at Triple-A Durham. Upton, the top prospect in the minors, has battered Triple-A pitching with a .323 average, 12 homers and 26 RBIs in 52 games; the questions are whether he is ready defensively to play shortstop and what to do with current shortstop Julio Lugo, whom the Rays would like to move to second.
To make room for young players, the Rays will have to make decisions about some veterans.
Among those is Fred McGriff, whose unimpressive numbers since rejoining the team (.188 average, two homers, seven RBI, 18 strikeouts in 69 at-bats) make him a candidate to be released, or steered toward retirement, perhaps even before play resumes Thursday.
Other veterans who might be moved or let go include infielders Rey Sanchez and Geoff Blum and reserve Robert Fick.
There is also a chance they will add a veteran to improve the team this season, though that possibility sounds less likely as the Rays have lost seven of nine and dropped 61/2 games behind the wild card-leading Red Sox.
STARRY-EYED: Carl Crawford was eager to get home to Houston to enjoy what will be a busy three days of All-Star activities. There was a family party planned Sunday night, a full day of All-Star events today and a trip to city hall and a few other appearances Tuesday morning. And then there is the game Tuesday night.
"I just want to get everything started," he said.
FUTURES GAME: Two Rays prospects played for the winning U.S. team in the Futures Game in Houston. Upton started at shortstop and was 0-for-2. Delmon Young appeared in leftfield and was 0-for-1.
MISCELLANY: The Rays finished the 11-game, 10-day road trip 4-7. ... Manager Lou Piniella gave the team and staff three days off, with an early practice scheduled for 3 p.m. Thursday. ... Victor Zambrano and Mark Hendrickson will pitch the first two games against Baltimore. Piniella hadn't decided between Rob Bell and Dewon Brazelton for the third; the other will face the Yankees on July 19. ... Tampa Jesuit product Sam Marsonek made his big-league debut for the Yankees, pitching the final 11/3 innings. ... Yankees catcher Jorge Posada left the game with a sprained right ankle; X-rays were negative. ... Orlando Hernandez improved to 9-3 against the Rays. ... Durham outfielder Matt Diaz extended his hitting streak to 22 games on Sunday.
[Last modified July 12, 2004, 01:00:30]