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Young may cap outfield for ages
By MARC TOPKIN
Published September 3, 2006
ST. PETERSBURG - Tuesday could forever be remembered as the day Delmon Young started what could be a legendary career. But it also may have been something of a seminal moment for the entire franchise, the time when the future may have officially arrived.
With Carl Crawford in leftfield, Rocco Baldelli in centerfield and Young in right, the Rays could have one of the most exciting and talented outfields the game has ever seen, as well as the nucleus of what finally could become a winning team.
With B.J. Upton at third, Ben Zobrist at shortstop, Jorge Cantu at second and Dioner Navarro behind the plate, the Rays have seven potential front-line impact players all 25 or younger. Put a healthy Scott Kazmir and James Shields in the rotation with Jeff Niemann coming, and the Rays have enough young pieces that through trades and free agency they should have the opportunity to fill the other holes - though how well they fill them will be interesting to see.
"I think the combination of our lineup going forward and a lot of the arms that will be up will provide a pretty extended look at a big nucleus of the team going forward for many years," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said.
The Rays will use the remaining four weeks to get a sense of exactly what they have. From the looks of it, the outfield could be set for a very long time.
"A lot of times you've seen teams with two solid outfielders and they're always trying to figure that other spot out," manager Joe Maddon said. "It's rare that you get all three positions filled. And you're talking about offense, defense, speed, base-stealing ability, power; you're talking about the whole ball of wax in the pasture out there. That's pretty nice."
"The sky's the limit for that trio," Friedman said. "How they can impact the game with their bats, with their gloves and on the basepaths makes them very unique. They will contribute to us winning a lot of games in all different ways."
NOT-SO-MINOR MATTER: The Rays had two minor-league affiliates (Double-A Montgomery and advanced Class A Visalia) make the playoffs (though the overall organizational record through Friday is 330-349), had the Most Valuable Players in two leagues (Kevin Witt for the Triple-A International League, Reid Brignac for the Class A California League), and - for the first time since fielding a complete organization - had players named to the postseason all-star teams for each of their six affiliates.
"We were very focused this year on increasing the depth in our system," Friedman said. "Part of that comes from starting a Latin American program, some it comes from trades and a lot of it comes from players stepping up their games to another level. We feel like we have improved the depth of our system tremendously, and that is something we have to continue. We're never going to get to the point where we feel like our depth is sufficient."
RAYS RUMBLINGS: The Rays are getting close to a decision on new turf for Tropicana Field for next season and are leaning toward keeping the all-dirt infield configuration. ... Also planned is a new, significantly larger video board and a streamlining of the signs on the back wall. ... The most outlandish conspiracy theory about Young being hit by the first pitch he saw was that White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen ordered it to curry favor with the umpires who, the theory goes, were upset with Young for his bat toss. ... More interesting is why it took the Rays until the eighth inning to retaliate with Ruddy Lugo hitting A.J. Pierzynski, raising the question why the previous pitchers - Chad Orvella, Jon Switzer and Shawn Camp - didn't do it. ... Padres hitting coach Merv Rettenmund said ex-Ray Russell Branyan ranks "up there with the top 10 guys I've ever seen in terms of being able to compress a baseball," such as George Foster, Mike Schmidt, Jose Canseco, Mike Piazza and Mark McGwire. ... Crawford said he probably wouldn't be interested in being on the postseason team headed to Japan so he can rest his left wrist.