Gathright gets a fresh start; Rays get an arm

Published June 21, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - Just like that, Joey Gathright went from minor-league afterthought to starting centerfielder. All it took was a trade to the Royals.

The Devil Rays on Tuesday dealt Gathright and minor-league infielder Fernando Cortez to Kansas City for minor-league left-hander J.P. Howell, one of the Royals' top pitching prospects.

Gathright has been with Triple-A Durham since June 6 after failing to secure a roster spot while Rocco Baldelli recovered from a strained hamstring. The popular and speedy Gathright, 25, whom the Rays drafted in the 32nd round in 2001, was batting .201 when demoted.

"I wouldn't say it didn't work out," Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "He's young and he has lots of talent, and I'm fully expecting him to put things together. We have some depth in the outfield, and pitching is something we can never get enough of."

As recently as four months ago, Gathright was rumored trade bait for Marlins hotshot pitching prospect Scott Olsen. That was before he struck out 30 times in 155 at-bats, walked just 20 times and showed deficiencies on defense.

Still, Gathright could start for the Royals tonight. Cortez will be sent to Triple-A Omaha.

Howell, 23, was a 2004 sandwich pick (31st overall) between the first and second rounds after going 25-4 with a 2.31 ERA and 271 strikeouts in 249 innings for the University of Texas.

Howell, who broke Roger Clemens' two-season Longhorns strikeout record, was 3-5 with a 6.91 ERA in 15 starts in 2005 for the Royals and 3-2 with a 4.75 ERA in eight starts this season for Omaha. He will start at Durham.

"He's a left-handed pitcher with a lot of know-how," Friedman said. "He'll pitch in the rotation for us at some point."

"We hate to give up on J.P. because we thought he could be a big part of our future," Royals manager Buddy Bell told the Kansas City Star. "He's just someone who needs a little better fastball command to be successful."