Minor League Report: Evan Longoria

Minor League Report: Evan Longoria

ST. PETERSBURG -- One of the biggest questions heading toward Opening Day is whether Evan Longoria will make the jump to the Major Leagues or spend another year as a prospect in Tampa Bay's farm system.

While lockers of teammates are slowly being emptied around him, Longoria is surprisingly even-keeled when asked about his future.

"I'm avoiding the cut dates, so that's the goal right now," he said. "But that's their decision, it's not mine to make."

On Feb. 13, manager Joe Maddon was quoted as saying it would be at least a month before a decision could be made on his top prospect, and as the Rays delve deeper into Spring Training, Longoria's future still remains unclear.

What Longoria has made clear, in arguably the most important spring of his young career, is this: He can flat-out play.

Longoria has seen action in eight games and is batting .368 with five RBIs and a .520 on-base percentage. He has marveled fans, impressed teammates and done everything possible to convince the Rays staff that he belongs.

"He is a professional beyond his years," said first baseman Carlos Pena.

Pena, who had a breakout year last season after spending 2006 being shuttled around different farm systems, says Longoria looks ready.

"He has the talent, he handles himself well -- he can definitely play at this level," Pena said. "His [player] makeup is outstanding."

While Maddon says the decision will be based solely on how Longoria handles himself on a daily basis, it is hard to ignore the 22-year-old's solid swing and near-flawless defense.

After hitting his first home run in Tuesday's game, Longoria showed the exact poise Maddon has stressed, attributing the blast to a favorable wind and saying while it was great to get that first one "out of the way," it does little to affect his long-term goal.

As the Rays' No. 1 pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, Longoria entered his second Major League camp this spring with a singular focus: To make the club.

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"I feel like I have to be a contributor in some way, more or less play the role that they want me to play to help the team," Longoria said on Feb. 26.

Nearly three weeks later, it is hard to argue Longoria's obvious talent and maturity.

What is up for debate is the decision by the Rays, who have been known to show extreme patience in developing young talent.

Rays director of Minor League operations Mitch Lukevics says while the issue warrants plenty of discussion, it will ultimately come down to what is best for Longoria.

"They're not doing the expedient thing, they're doing the right thing," Lukevics said. "Evan's an outstanding young man, he's a good player, and he's going to be a better player, all in due time."

And with no one knowing when Longoria's time will be, the 22-year-old is simply enjoying his second spring in Major League camp.

"I've been really happy," Longoria said. "This spring, I'm getting my at-bats, I'm getting my playing time. It's the only thing I can ask for. I get a chance to prove some things."

Roster revamping: As of Thursday morning, 11 Rays have been optioned out or reassigned. The biggest news came Tuesday, when 2007 No. 1 overall Draft pick David Price was sent to the Minors following his second Spring Training appearance. It is unknown at what level of the Minors Price will start. The Rays also optioned righty Jae Kuk Ryu and outfielder Justin Ruggiano to the Minors on Tuesday evening.

The Rays' first cuts were done following Monday's game, as pitchers Wade Davis and Jake McGee and catcher Matt Spring were optioned to the Minors. The Rays optioned out outfielder Fernando Perez, lefty James Houser and catcher John Jaso. Righty Chris Mason was also reassigned to Minor League camp on Wednesday.

Throughout Spring Training, Maddon has reiterated the importance of getting experience for the young Rays prospects, and "getting their feet wet" this spring.

"It's very important for these kids to learn their lessons along the way," said Lukevics. "When they get there [to the Majors], we want them to have impact and we want them to have longevity."

We're No. 1: Several Minor League players remain in the mix as the Rays continue to whittle down to a 25-man Opening Day roster.

The final two starting rotation spots are still unclear, with righty Jeff Niemann still looking to make his Major League debut. Niemann, the Rays' first-round selection in 2004, is competing with Edwin Jackson, Andy Sonnanstine, J.P. Howell, and Jason Hammel.

Following a shaky Spring Training debut, Niemann bounced back in his second outing. The lanky right-hander tossed three hitless innings in Friday's win over the Phillies, and says he doesn't feel any pressure to prove himself.

"I'm just going out there and trying to remain consistent, trying to keep my fastball down," he said. "Everything else will fall into place."

What they're saying: "I just enjoy every second I'm here, because you never know when it's going to end. I don't take anything for granted." -- outfielder John Rodriguez, on being invited to camp

Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.