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Rays decide brightest hopes aren't quite ready to shine
Most of the team's top prospects are sent to the minors for seasoning.
By MARC TOPKIN
Published March 17, 2005
ST. PETERSBURG - The Devil Rays always seems to be building for the future. Wednesday, they made it clear that future isn't now, sending B.J. Upton, Delmon Young and several other top prospects back to the minor leagues.
Upton and outfielders Joey Gathright and Jonny Gomes were optioned to Triple-A Durham; Young and pitchers Chris Seddon and Jose Diaz were optioned to Double-A Montgomery; and pitchers Chad Orvella and Brian Sweeney were reassigned to minor-league camp. Also, veteran reliever Mark Guthrie was released.
"Their time is coming," manager Lou Piniella said. "It's not that far into the future. There's no particular need at this time to rush anybody. ... It's not going to hurt any of them to go down and get some at-bats and continue to improve as players."
Upton knew, based on what Rays officials had said, that no matter what he did this spring he was going down, and a .118 average and two errors didn't help. But that didn't make it any easier to accept.
"They did what they said they were going to do, so it's out of my hands," Upton said. "Whatever it is they're looking for, I don't know. I'll just have to go out and keep playing."
Essentially, that's what the Rays want all of them to do: Keep playing and developing, readying for a time when the organization feels they are all ready to play, and perhaps to win, in the big leagues. At the same time, they are not accruing major-league service time that would accelerate their eligibility for arbitration and free agency, and the huge raises that come with it.
"I think everyone who got a chance to see them play understands how good a group they have a chance to be," Rays general manager Chuck LaMar said. "It's time for them to go down and get to work and continue to develop on their way to becoming good major-leaguers."
The Rays are unsure if Upton, 20, can handle the defensive responsibilities of shortstop and want him to play every day at Triple A and convince them. But having spent the final two months of last season in the big leagues, hitting .258 with four homers (and nine errors) in 45 games, he was still stung by the decision.
"That's what's making it a little bit harder to take this year than the last two years," Upton said. "I've got to play my way out of it."
Young has been one of the Rays' top players this spring, hitting .350 with one homer and three RBIs and playing strong defense. But at 19, with only one year of professional experience, he pretty much knew he wasn't going to make the jump from low Class A to the majors.
"They already have stuff predetermined where you're going, so you really can't change their views unless you really go out and do something ridiculous," he said. "Carlos Beltran-type stuff."
Still, Young said he made good use of his opportunity.
"I think I showed them an all right impression of what I've got to contribute to the team to help them win," he said.
Gathright, 23, and Gomes, 24, both came to spring training hoping to be considered for the open extra outfield spot, but neither got much playing time.
"If they saw what they need to see in 15 at-bats, then that's fine," Gomes said. "I just have to go down to Triple A and keep adding on to my resume."
Gathright, who was called up three times last season, was also hoping for more of a chance. "I came to spring training thinking I'd have a better opportunity to play," he said. "I guess things change."
As disappointed as the players were Wednesday morning, most realized better days were ahead.
Young, who grew up around the game with older brother Dmitri, said he wants to make sure that when he gets called up, he is ready to stay. And Gathright said that when he makes it back, he'll plan on not going down again.
LaMar said that is the idea.
"You truly want a player ready so that when you call him up to stay he's capable of staying, he's capable of struggling through the tough times because any young player is going to face those times," LaMar said.
"That's the stage of development most of these players are in. They are good enough to play, or within the next year are going to be good enough to play, but we've got to truly make sure that they are ready to be productive on a winning baseball team. There's a difference between playing in the major leagues and playing on a winning team, and we've got to make sure this group of players is ready to do that."