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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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What they're saying
By wire services
Published April 2, 2006
Another year, another slew of offensive prospects, another lame pitching staff. The only difference this year in Tampa (Bay) is that Lou Piniella won't be managing the team like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli. Jorge Cantu and Jonny Gomes look like legitimate sluggers and future All-Stars. With speedsters Carl Crawford, Joey Gathright and Julio Lugo setting the table, the Rays could cause some problems for opposing pitchers.
The problem in Tampa (Bay) will once again be the AA-quality starting staff. Scott Kazmir is the only starter who stands a chance against AL East offenses. ... The D-Rays will continue to be the doormat of the division until they add at least three more quality starters to the staff.
- Major League Baseball Yearbook
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Manager Lou Piniella had enough of the penny-pinching Devil Rays and quit, and Joe Maddon was hired. There's a new controlling owner (Stuart Sternberg), new general manager (Andrew Friedman), and a new nickname might follow in 2007. For now, the best thing that happened to Devil Rays fans during the offseason was the team's decision to make parking free at Tropicana Field, where a major league-low 1.1-million spectators showed up last year.
Centerfielder Rocco Baldelli returns after missing last season with knee and elbow injuries. All-Star leftfielder Carl Crawford and infielder Jorge Cantu, part of a pesky but undermanned lineup, are joined by new third baseman Sean Burroughs. Lefty Scott Kazmir has shown flashes of promise mixed with inconsistency. More than likely, the Devil Rays will finish last for the eighth time in their nine-season history.
- Ronald Blum, Associated Press
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The good news?
(Stuart) Sternberg has plenty of room for his planned improvements, because it doesn't get any worse that it has been in Tampa Bay for the last eight years.
The bad news?
It's probably going to be a long time before the Devil Rays can even sniff the top of the AL East.
There is a core of talented young offensive players in Tampa Bay. Leftfielder Carl Crawford is already an elite player. Rocco Baldelli was on his way before an injury cost him the 2005 campaign. Jorge Cantu, Joey Gathright and Jonny Gomes all showed serious promise last year. ... However, none of those guys are pitchers.
- Street & Smith's Baseball
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The Devil Rays are making progress, slowly but surely. This is the year that B.J. Upton and Delmon Young join the lineup for good.
- Jim Callis, Baseball America
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Last year Jonny Gomes, Jorge Cantu and Joey Gathright joined a growing group of young talent that is rivaled by few in baseball (and could get bigger with phenoms Delmon Young and B.J. Upton this year). There's also plenty of speed throughout the lineup, and new owner Stuart Sternberg is committed to turning things around.
The pitching, especially in the bullpen, doesn't match up well in the AL East. The paltry payroll doesn't help, either.
In most any other division, the Devil Rays would be close to contention, but the imposing payrolls and loaded rosters in the AL East leave them playing for third place.
- Steve DiMeglio, USA TODAY Sports Weekly
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There are few teams that can match the Devil Rays in terms of sheer athleticism. Leftfielder Carl Crawford may be the most exciting player in the majors, and centerfielder Rocco Baldelli is pretty high on that list, too.
But Tampa Bay was athletic last year and still finished last in the AL East. New manager Joe Maddon hopes to harness that raw ability and mix in a renewed focus on fundamentals - and a strong bullpen - to lift his team to the .500 mark for the first time in franchise history. The young Rays don't have an excess of power, so the focus will be on producing runs by moving runners over, stealing bases and hitting with runners in scoring position.
The Rays ranked last in the American League with a fielding percentage of .979 in 2005; Maddon will stress fundamentals throughout the season to improve that. In the bullpen, Maddon wants to develop four relievers he can count on in tight games. He believes doing so will allow his team to sustain prolonged winning streaks.
- Bill Chastain, Sporting News
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Devil Rays fans (you are out there, aren't you?) again go into a season with virtually no hope of contending for the playoffs. The biggest offseason moves came in the front office, and any big deals involved getting rid of veteran talent, not bringing more in. But this team should be fun to watch, with a core of young players who are legitimate building blocks for a first-division team, from young big-leaguers like Scott Kazmir to prospects who should be in the big leagues soon like Delmon Young.
- Lindy's Baseball Scouting Report
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The Devil Rays did little to make themselves a better team for 2006. Increases to their MLB-low budget were negligible and there were no blockbuster trades. Yet, thanks to sweeping ownership and front office changes, the once-poisonous atmosphere polluting the club and alienating its dwindling fan base is now more giddy than at any point since the 1997 expansion draft.
There is a new, buoyant manager (long-time Angels bench coach Joe Maddon) to replace exasperated Lou Piniella, a stable of young hitters nearly ripened on the vine and a sense that management finally "gets it." On the field, an error-prone defense and a ghastly starting rotation make for a bad marriage, but at least the Rays have earned themselves a second honeymoon.