tampabay.com

Prospect hopes to control fate

Evan Longoria just wants a chance.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published February 3, 2008


Evan Longoria just wants a chance.

The Rays are considering the unusual move of deciding before the Feb.14 start of spring training whether the promising third-base prospect will make the team, but Longoria prefers to show them what he can do.

"I heard they might tell me beforehand but not for sure, so I assume it will be based on how I do," Longoria said from California. "It's only fair. I feel I'm coming into spring a lot more ready than I was last year. I'd kind of be a little disappointed if they told me beforehand I didn't have a chance to make the team."

The Rays have their reasons for making an early decision, preferring not to evaluate during the spring given inconsistent competition and hoping to reduce the pressure and scrutiny. Plus - if the decision is, as expected, that Longoria won't make the opening-day roster - it eliminates the potential controversy if he were to have a great spring.

Hint: They're already citing how Milwaukee's Ryan Braun benefited from time in the minors last season while Kansas City's Alex Gordon struggled from the start in the majors. Plus, there are benefits to delaying Longoria's arbitration and free-agency eligibility.

But Longoria, 22, has his reasons, noting that manager Joe Maddon - who has some say - hasn't seen him much and how much more prepared he is with a full (and spectacular) minor-league season behind him.

"I haven't had that many at-bats at Triple A (104, with a .269 average), but I feel confident coming into spring that I can hit no matter where I'm at," Longoria said. "But I know I still have a lot to prove. It's not something I expect to be handed to me. I expect to go in there and work hard and have to impress at least a couple people."

And to have the opportunity to do so.

"If they are going to make the decision beforehand, I'd rather not know," he said. "I'd rather go in, play my best and throw it all on the table. It's only my second year, so it's not like it's a make-or-break year or anything, but a chance is always nice."

READY TO ROCK?: OF Rocco Baldelli - perhaps the biggest X factor on the team - has been working out with the other early reportees, hitting, shagging and running "almost all out" with no problem from the sore hamstrings that limited him to 35 games last season.

But expect him to take it very slowly in spring training, limiting his time in the field and holding back when running the bases with the goal of getting to opening day healthy. "I think it's just logical," Baldelli said.

NEXT WAVE: Surprised to see OF Desmond Jennings - who played last season at Class A Columbus - ranked as the No.11 prospect in all of baseball by ESPN.com?

So was he.

"I didn't even know what to say," Jennings said.

A 10th-round pick in the 2006 draft (after a year as a wide receiver at Itawamba Community College), Jennings, 21, has shown speed, smooth defense, signs of power, solid instincts and potential to be a frontline centerfielder. In 155 minor-league games, he has 181 hits (a .302 average), 77 steals and a .387 on-base percentage.

Longoria was No.1 on the list of 100 by Keith Law, and there were nine Rays overall - more than any team. Baseball Prospectus has Longoria No.3 (behind Cincinnati's Jay Bruce and Boston's Clay Buchholz) and six Rays in its top 40.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: It's not quite a no-trade clause, but 1B Carlos Pena gets $350,000 if dealt in 2008-09 and $750,000 if traded in 2010. RHP Troy Percival gets $500,000 if he's traded. ... The Hot Stove Radio Show, hosted by Andy Freed and Dave Wills, debuts at 7 p.m. Monday on 620-AM from the St. Pete Ale House (7901 Dr. Martin Luther King St. N) with Baldelli and executive VP Andrew Friedman as guests. ... With new SS Jason Bartlett taking No.8, C Josh Paul will wear 88. RHP Matt Garza will be 22, Percival 40, Cliff Floyd 15, David Price 14 and Longoria 3. Andy Sonnanstine switches to 21 and Shawn Riggans to 9. ... Guessing LHP Scott Kazmir noticed Johan Santana's $137.5-million, six-year deal with the Mets. ... The Rays were picked overwhelmingly (62-38) as the better 2010 team than the Marlins in an ESPN.com poll of 13,000.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com

.FAST FACTS

How they're looking

12 days till spring training

Our best guess on what's decided and what has to be done:

On the team

Pitchers (7): Matt Garza, Gary Glover, Scott Kazmir, Troy Percival, Al Reyes, James Shields, Dan Wheeler

Catcher (1): Dioner Navarro

Infielders (4): Willy Aybar, Jason Bartlett, Akinori Iwamura, Carlos Pena

Outfielders (5): Rocco Baldelli, Carl Crawford, Cliff Floyd, Jonny Gomes, B.J. Upton

In the running

Pitchers (for 5 spots): Grant Balfour, Kurt Birkins, Scott Dohmann, Jason Hammel, J.P. Howell, Edwin Jackson, Jeff Niemann, Chad Orvella, Juan Salas, Andy Sonnanstine

Catchers (for 1): Mike Difelice-x, Josh Paul-x, Shawn Riggans

Infielders (for 1 or 2): Andy Cannizaro-x, Joel Guzman, Evan Longoria-x, Ben Zobrist

Outfielders (for 0 or 1): Chris Richard-x, John Rodriguez-x, Justin Ruggiano

x-nonroster