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Brazelton agrees, will join Rays soon

No. 1 pick's $4.8-million deal includes a spot on roster for final month of season.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 26, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- All along, top draft pick Dewon Brazelton has been confident that once he signed it wouldn't take long for him to be in a major-league uniform.

Next Saturday should be soon enough.

Brazelton and the Rays finally negotiated a deal, agreeing to terms Saturday on a four-year major-league contract that is worth $4.8-million and includes a spot on the roster for the final month of the season.

"That's going to be ridiculous," Brazelton said. "I will probably seem like a little girl to them because I'm pretty sure the first time I step on that field I'll probably break down in tears or something."

Because Brazelton is 20 and hasn't pitched competitively since Middle Tennessee State's finale in late May, he likely won't get into a game during the final month.

But the chance to start his career in the big leagues, the 19th player to do so since the 1965 advent of the draft, was enough of an appeal.

"It's something I wanted more than anything," Brazelton said from Tennessee. "I realized they were not going to give me all the money but that's something you can't put a price tag on. If I get to play some that would be fine, but you can't put a price tag on being able to live the life of a major-league ballplayer. I feel like the next time won't be my first time, that I'll already have major-league experience.

"I feel like I'll already know how these guys work out, what they eat, what they do, how they do things and how they get to be where they are, so in the offseason I can work hard and know what is expected of me."

Because the negotiations dragged on for nearly three months, the Rays thought it was a sound idea. Brazelton at least will work out with the big-league players and coaches for September, then go to the Florida Instructional League and possibly the Arizona Fall League, keeping him on the mound through late November.

"I like the idea of getting him exposed to this young team," LaMar said. "If we were fighting for a championship or had a team of veterans it might be a different type of atmosphere, but he's got a chance to be one of the pieces to the puzzle with these players and I wanted him to get exposed to this level of competition and see our major-league staff and then go straight into the instructional league. I think it helps recoup some of the lost time."

The more important issue is when the right-hander will be in the majors to stay. Brazelton didn't rule out making next year's team out of spring training. LaMar and scouting director Dan Jennings were more cautious, saying he should get his chance within a few years. "The whole package of the person, the stuff and the desire is going to let this guy potentially get on the fast track," Jennings said. "I hate putting timetables on players, but everything is there for Dewon to try to move this thing as fast as he wants to."

Talks between Jennings and Brazelton adviser Bo McKinnis were intensive over the past week. Brazelton said the negotiations all but ended Friday when he rejected the latest offer.

Saturday, the Rays agreed to a significant change, spreading payment of the $4.2-million signing bonus over four years instead of five. It is believed Brazelton will get salaries of $50,000 this year (a prorated share of $305,000), $200,000 in 2002 and $350,000 in 2003, with his 2004 salary to be negotiated.

"I believe the agreement on the number of years is what allowed us to make a fair deal," McKinnis said.

The deal will become official after Brazelton passes physical exams on Friday.

During the negotiations, Brazelton referred to the Rays' offer as "chump change." On Saturday, he said he expects no hard feelings with team officials or cold shoulders from his new teammates.

"I think it will be great to be part of the Devil Rays," Brazelton said. "I'm happy those guys are young, they'll be more like me and I'll understand them. They'll be more open to take me in and show me the ropes because I'm young just like they are and they all remember how it was for them like a year ago when they first came up.

"I don't think there will be any problems. I feel once I go in there and everyone gets to know me my personality will take over and everyone will love me."

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