Aug 18, 2009, 3:27 PM EDT
This is part of a series of articles examining what every team’s roster would look like if given only the players it originally signed. I’m compiling the rosters, ranking them and presenting them in a countdown from Nos. 30 to 1.
No. 30 – Cincinnati
No. 29 – Kansas City
No. 28 – San Diego
No. 27 – Milwaukee
No. 26 – Baltimore
No. 25 – Chicago (AL)
No. 24 – Chicago (NL)
No. 23 – Pittsburgh
No. 22 – Detroit
At this point, having been around for a mere 12 years is only a modest disadvantage for the latest expansion teams. Most of the other clubs here still have a couple of players drafted or signed prior to 1996, but those players are largely on the downsides of their careers. Unfortunately, while the Rays were allowed to start drafting players in 1996, they didn’t start really piling up talent until 1999 and there have still been some lean years since. They’ve gotten a whole lot better, but the Rays still rank in the bottom third here.
The rotation is still one pitcher short, but that should change when Wade Davis or Jeremy Hellickson emerges next year. Price still projects as an ace, and Shields should look nice as a No. 2 starter for a few more years.
Closing out games is the one major leaguer the Rays did draft and develop in 1996: Wheeler. The bullpen is stacked with quality arms that have produced mixed results. Stokes, though, has turned into a decent enough sixth- or seventh-inning guy as a Met, and Gaudin’s ability to shift between the rotation and pen makes him fairly valuable.
Seay, along with Travis Lee, was one of the 1996 draft picks declared a free agent on a technicality. He signed with the Rays after being picked by the White Sox, so he’s listed here.
CF B.J. Upton
LF Carl Crawford
3B Evan Longoria
RF Josh Hamilton
1B Jorge Cantu
DH Aubrey Huff
2B Akinori Iwamura
SS Reid Brignac
C Shawn Riggans
OF Jonny Gomes
OF Elijah Dukes
INF Edgar Gonzalez
C Toby Hall
It’s hardly a big surprise, but the outfield is the Rays’ strength: Crawford, Hamilton, Upton, Dukes, Gomes, Delmon Young, Rocco Baldelli, Matt Diaz and Fernando Perez, with another quality center fielder on the way in Desmond Jennings. I opted to use a bench spot on Gomes so that he could start at DH against lefties. I considered dropping Huff from the roster, going with Dukes and Gomes at DH and adding Diaz, but there still wouldn’t anyone for Diaz to platoon with.
The depth elsewhere isn’t nearly as impressive. Brignac hasn’t developed as hoped and probably isn’t ready to be a regular shortstop. The lone legitimate utilityman is Gonzalez, and he’s a weak defender at the middle-infield spots. Neither catcher ranks among the game’s top 60 backstops. Still, Riggans isn’t a bad defender. The offense figures to be very good even with a couple of easy outs at the bottom of the lineup.
All things considered, the Rays don’t rank as highly as they should. Between 1999 and 2008, they drafted first four times and in the top eight every year, yet only five of those players crack the top 25. Still, it is an improved group over what the Rays would have boasted a couple of years ago. The team is doing a better job of developing pitching now, and the offensive core remains quite young. As is obvious to everyone, the organization is headed in the right direction.
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