Devil Rays Opening Day outlook

Devil Rays Opening Day outlook

The Devil Rays went to Spring Training hoping to shore up their everyday lineup, establish their starting rotation, cobble together a bullpen and change the attitude of the team.

Aubrey Huff's move to third base strengthened the club's everyday lineup and helped clear up some confusion about which players would play in the outfield. Meanwhile, the starting rotation that finished the 2005 season showed well enough not to make changes.

Putting together a totally reliable bullpen was the only goal not reached, but the team will leave Spring Training with several promising bullpen candidates.

Perhaps most important, the attitude about being a Devil Rays player seems to be changing thanks to the new ownership group and to the positive outlook of new manager Joe Maddon.

Rays fans might have to be patient a little while longer, but for the first time in the organization's history, the future looks bright.

1. Julio Lugo, SS:
Lugo brings speed and a selective bat to the top of the lineup; the Rays went 29-26 with him leading off.

2. Carl Crawford, LF:
Crawford has power and speed. One of the best young players in the game, he should improve on the career year he had in 2005.

3. Jorge Cantu, 2B:
Cantu led the team in home runs, doubles and RBIs in 2005. Now that he'll be settled in at second base and in the third spot of the order every day, he should improve those numbers.

4. Aubrey Huff, 3B:
Huff returns to the position he broke into the Major Leagues playing. He's coming off a tough offensive year, but he did a lot of work in the offseason on his swing and his conditioning, which could pay dividends in the way of a quick start.

5. Jonny Gomes, RF:
Gomes brings a power presence to the lineup and an attitude. His enthusiasm is infectious on the batting order.

6. Travis Lee, 1B:
Lee got off to a slow start in 2005 after missing most of 2004 due to injury. He had a stellar second half in 2005, so there's no reason for his offensive production not to continue.

7. Rocco Baldelli, CF:
Baldelli returns after missing 2005 due to elbow and knee surgeries. He looked back to normal in Spring Training. He will likely play two days in center field and one at DH to start the season.

8. Toby Hall, C:
Hall provides solid defense, as he threw out 37.8 percent of attempted basestealers in 2005. He hits for a high average but has not developed in the power department.

9. Joey Gathright, DH:
Gathright could be the fastest player in the Major Leagues, and now he's learned to bunt. He can be counted on to disrupt opposing defenses and he'll spot Baldelli in center field.

1. Scott Kazmir, LHP:
The young left-hander finished the 2005 season in dominant fashion. He appears ready to build on that performance in 2006 -- and will do so if his strikeouts grow and his walks decrease.

2. Seth McClung, RHP:
The big redhead has dominating stuff, but he has lacked consistency. Now that he's completely healthy, he should find more consistency in 2006.

3. Casey Fossum, LHP:
After splitting time between the bullpen and the starting rotation, Fossum will start the 2006 season as a starter. A couple of alterations to his delivery should help improve his control.

4. Doug Waechter, RHP:
Waechter had several stellar performances in 2005, but he struggled with the long ball. He's had a good spring and hasn't surrendered many home runs.

5. Mark Hendrickson, LHP:
After experiencing a hip problem early in Spring Training, Hendrickson, who led the staff in wins in 2005, worked a little slower than the rest of the staff, but he came on and should be prepared to start the season.

Danys Baez closed for the Rays in 2005 and finished the season with 41 saves; he was complemented by the work of setup man Joe Borowski. Both players will be elsewhere in 2006, leaving the Rays to begin the season without a true "hombre" -- the term Maddon reserves for his closer. In absence, the team will go with a closer-by-committee situation that includes Dan Miceli, Shawn Camp, Chad Orvella and Jesus Colome. Of that group, Colome has the dominating stuff to take the job if he can show some consistency. Long man Travis Harper will be back to lead the long-relief effort. Due to the instability of the bullpen, Maddon will break camp with 12 pitchers rather than 11 at the cost of an extra position player.

Baldelli is questionable for Opening Day with a sore left hamstring; if he misses the opener, he shouldn't be out long. Utility man Luis Rivas broke a knuckle on his right hand and should miss approximately a month of the season. Right-hander Shinji Mori, who was supposed to contend for the closer role, is out for the season with a torn labrum.

Can the bullpen develop into a formidable unit? The answer to this question likely will dictate whether the team moves toward .500 or above. Colome has the best arm in the 'pen and showed signs during Spring Training of how he can dominate a game. The Dominican right-hander's fastball hits the 97-99 mph range, but he was inconsistent during the 2005 season, which can be attributed in large part to his not being completely healthy. Miceli's veteran influence should help while Camp and Chad Harville seem capable of establishing themselves as steady bullpen performers. If the Rays don't get a solid performance from the bullpen, the effect could be disastrous given the nature of the young starting rotation.

"I want us to play the same on April 3 the same we would play on June 7. ... We cannot afford to have a switch. ... Some teams, some players, are good enough to turn this thing on and off when they want to. We cannot afford to do that, regardless of if we're playing a team we perceive to be very good. We have to be in the same gear on a daily basis." -- Maddon

Bill Chastain is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.