No limit Rays

Young and gifted outfield trio may soon be baseball’s best.

By Marc Topkin
Published February 28, 2007

Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli and Delmon Young can do a lot of things.

They fly through the air to make catches, race around the bases and hit the ball all over — and out of — the park. But what makes them most special to the Devil Rays is that they should continue to do things better.

All are under 26, and years from free agency. All have the rare combinations of power, speed and defensive skills.

All can impact a game at the plate, on the bases and in the field.Manager Joe Maddon says they have the potential — barring injury, trade or unexpected failure to progress — to be the best outfield trio in the game. Senior adviser Don Zimmer, in his 59th pro season, said they already could be.

To get some insight into each of the Devil Rays outfielders, Times staff writer Marc Topkin went to the source, asking each to describe the other two:

Carl Crawford

As seen by Rocco Baldelli: Straight off the bat, he’s the most athletic and fastest leftfielder, and possibly outfielder, in the game. … He’s improved his arm since I first met him to where it’s going to help us out. ... It’s almost like he’s at one speed and everyone else is playing a little bit in slow motion on certain plays. ... He changes the way the other team has to play defense when he comes to the plate.

As seen by Delmon Young: I see the same thing everyone sees: speed. … He doesn’t have an overpowering arm but he gets rid of the ball quick and he’s fundamentally sound with his techniques so it makes up for not having the Ichiro arm out there. … Offensively, he’s learning to hit for power home-run wise and anything that takes more than two hops in the infield, he’s going to be on base. … He’s going to hit close to or above .300 year in and year out.

Rocco Baldelli

As seen by Carl Crawford: He’s not blazing fast or anything, but he has that long stride, which means he covers a lot of ground. And if there’s a short fence he can jump so high he can go over and get the ball. … He’s got a strong enough arm to throw runners out at home plate; we’ve seen that time after time. … He has kind of a nice line-drive stroke that turns into home runs at times. … He looks even better this year. I wouldn’t see why he wouldn’t be hitting 20 to 25, maybe even 30, home runs … as long as he stays healthy.

As seen by Delmon Young: He’s not as fast as Crawford, but he’s one of the fastest guys in the major leagues. ... He covers a lot of ground in centerfield and he’s got a good accurate arm. … I really hadn’t seen him play until last year; he’s very talented, too. … He has the potential to hit 25 to 30 home runs, maybe more, playing a full season.

Delmon Young

As seen by Carl Crawford: I’m impressed by his IQ about the game, knowing his own swing, doing things the fundamentally right way in the outfield. … He knows exactly what to do in rightfield. … Everyone keeps forgetting he’s 21, so of course he’s going to be a little bit jumpy. When I first came up, you remember I swung at every pitch that came my way, too. … We saw his arm and we know he has a cannon, so that definitely helps. And he’s accurate.

As seen by Rocco Baldelli: First, he has a cannon (arm), he has a good release, he knows what base to throw to. …

Yes, he’ll probably make some mistakes because … he’s so young, but he’ll make more plays, and he’ll make as many unbelievable plays in rightfield as anyone in the game this year. … He has a combination of strength and hand-eye coordination and just overall knowledge of how to hit that’s beyond his age.

Thursday’s schedule

The Rays practice from 9 to about noon at the Namoli Complex before moving camp to Progress Energy Park for Friday’s sold-out Grapefruit League opener against the Yankees. After playing intrasquad games the past two days, Rays manager Joe Maddon said today’s workout will be a light one with batting practice thrown by coaches.

Number of the day

2Base runners that Charlie’s Angels — the intrasquad team made up of Rays starters — had in Wednesday’s six-inning game. The Angels had no hits, and only Ty Wigginton (hit by pitch) and Dioner Navarro (walk) reached base. The game ended in a scoreless tie, but Maddon wasn’t upset. “That is not my focus for today,” he said, saying the execution and fielding of bunts was more important.

Quote of the day

“With Kaz, all I’m looking for is some hesitation at the point of release. That indicates, 'I’m protecting something.’ And I don’t see that.” — Maddon on Scott Kazmir’s one inning Wednesday.