tampabay.com

The year in lights both high and low

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
Published September 30, 2007


TORONTO - A lot of things were obvious in the last season of Devil Rays baseball. Carlos Pena was the MVP. Delmon Young was the top rookie. James Shields was the best pitcher.

And some things, as they shed their first name and green color scheme after today's finale, require further thought.

BEST MOVE: Relocating B.J. Upton. He relaxed enough to become a dynamic hitter, and turns out to be a dazzling centerfielder. Runnerup: Getting Brendan Harris from the Reds for almost nothing.

WORST MOVE: Trying to convert Brian Stokes to late-inning reliever. Runnerup: Making Ben Zobrist the starting shortstop and No. 2 hitter. Special mention: Keeping Elijah Dukes around.

MOST PLEASANT SURPRISE: Pena's remarkable renaissance. Not even Scott Boras saw that coming. Runnerup: Upton, Al Reyes, Harris, Gary Glover.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Rocco Baldelli's continued injury problems. Runnerup: Shawn Camp, Ruddy Lugo, Jae Seo, Casey Fossum.

MOST PROGRESS: C Dioner Navarro went from a .177/1-homer/13-RBI first half to a .284/8/31 second; their hope is he gets serious and keeps progressing. Runnerup: RHP Edwin Jackson proved he can dominate; their dream is he does it more often.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Though attendance went up only 1.36 percent from last season, principal owner Stuart Sternberg said he's "far from concerned" because TV and radio ratings and Web site hits are "up significantly." ... Names to keep in mind as the Rays again have the top pick in the draft: Vanderbilt 3B Pedro Alvarez, South Carolina 1B Justin Smoak, San Diego LHP Brian Matusz, Missouri RHP Aaron Crow, Georgia high school SS Tim Beckham and Missouri prep RHP Tim Melville. ... SI.com's Jon Heyman ranks the Rays 10th on his list of possible destinations for Barry Bonds, after a top three of Texas, Oakland and Seattle. ... The Rays are flying in most of the players for the new uniform unveiling on or around Nov. 8. ... ESPN.com's Buster Olney predicts Upton will win a batting title and brother Justin,the Diamondbacks' rookie outfielder, a home run crown.