Wednesday, April 15, 2009

AL East: Tampa Bay Rays

Prediction: Tampa Bay Rays: 2nd place finish

Strengths: Tampa Bay is one of the most talented young teams top to bottom in baseball. Their lineup features the perfect combination of power and speed. Last year's Rookie of the Year Evan Longoria is one of the best players in baseball and headlines the middle of the Rays batting order. Longoria is joined in the middle by first baseman Carlos Pena and designated hitter Pat Burrell each capable of hitting 30 plus home runs a year. Center fielder B.J. Upton and left fielder Carl Crawford provide the speed at the top of the lineup. Tampa's starting rotation is another strength of this team, they have three young starters (Scott Kazmir, James Shields, and Matt Garza) that all have the ability to anchor a rotation. With as good as their lineup and pitching rotation are the Rays best attribute is their defense. At every position the Rays start a quality defender. They have great speed and range in the outfield and probably the best left side of the infield in the AL.

Weaknesses: Though the Rays are one of the better teams in baseball they are not without their flaws. While they have a quality bullpen from top to bottom, the Rays lack the shutdown closer that their division rivals possess. Another area of concern for the Rays is their 5th starter. Rookie sensation David Price was expected to take the job but he is starting the year in the minors, leaving the 5th spot for Jeff Niemann. Niemann a former first round draft pick has a ton of potential but hasn't yet shown he's a major league starter. He'll need to give the Rays some quality starts while Price is in the minors for the first month or two of the season.

Farm Aid: Price is the best pitching prospect in the the game and will likely be up with the Rays sometime in May. Price will join the big three at the top of the rotation to form possibly the best group of starters in baseball. Beyond Price Tampa has one of the deepest systems in baseball and has quality prospects at every level. Pitcher Wade Davis, shortstop Reid Brignac and outfielder Fernando Perez should all be up with the big league club at some point this season.

Outlook: The Rays won't be making any return trips to the AL East basement anytime soon. Tampa will be in the hunt for their 2nd division title all season. Though they may come up short in the division they should be the favorite to win the Wild Card.

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