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February 10, 2005

Team Health Reports

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

by Will Carroll

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Yellow light C Toby Hall: Catchers...I think I'll end up writing about every one. The baseline for catchers is such that it throws nearly all of them into the yellow band of the THR system. Hall is no exceptional risk, even perhaps less risky than most. He has a good defensive backup in Kevin Cash and has had no real health problems. Don't be afraid to draft a yellow-light player or even a red--just know what you're getting.

Red light 1B Travis Lee: Sometimes, there's a little too much "Office Space" in baseball. You know the guy that dresses nice, maybe has a degree from a good school, and really does nothing of value? That pretty much describes Lee. His lost season in New York translates into yet another opportunity to do, well, whatever it is that keeps him employed. I'd love to hear the explanation of how Lee is expected to help this team.

Red light 2B Roberto Alomar: Remember when this guy made highlight plays, competed for Gold Gloves and was able to finish a season without hitting the DL two or three times with injuries that signify he's held on for too long? Me, too. I'm just going to pretend he's not playing any longer.

Green light SS Julio Lugo

Red light 3B Alex Gonzalez: Gonzalez has been around a long time, most of it spent waiting for the season we all thought was in him. We're not waiting any more. Basically, he's just standing here, cashing checks and waiting for B.J. Upton to take his place. There's nothing wrong with the former; the latter should put Chuck LaMar on the street.

Yellow lightLF Danny Bautista: PECOTA doesn't like something it sees in Bautista. I don't, either. At age 32, he was able to make it through a season as a starter for the first time, but wore down significantly late in the season as knee and back problems hampered him. If he only has to start for half a season, everyone will be happier.

Yellow light CF Carl Crawford: Rocco Baldelli will probably move over to a corner on his return from ACL reconstruction, leaving Crawford in center field. I'm unsure how this will work out defensively, but there's little worry about adding injury risk. Although Crawford has been healthy, one hamstring injury would ruin his game. Players of this type tend to have nasty collapse rates. Just check the speedy Tampa trio of Baldelli, Crawford and Joey Gathright.

Yellow light RF Aubrey Huff: Here's another light I don't particularly like. (It's my system and I can point out the holes.) Huff is changing positions and playing on turf more often than most players. He's still a heck of a hitter and only a slightly elevated risk.

Green light DH Josh Phelps

Red light OF Rocco Baldelli: Baldelli is recovering from ACL surgery this offseason. His rehab timeframe is longer than, say, those of Carlos Guillen and Lance Berkman, which is to say that his timeframe is more realistic. There are degrees of ACL tears and multivariate factors that contribute to that projection. For the Rays, losing Baldelli hurts, but more in a "that's half a season closer to free agency" sense than "darn, now we won't win the East" sense. Expect Baldelli to slot back in to a corner spot and continue developing into a player the Rays will mourn losing.

Green light IF B.J. Upton: BP's Dave Kirsch had the greatest take on this. He said that the Rays' pursuit of Joe Randa was stupid, but that it kept them from the greater stupidity of shifting Upton to third base. Signing Alex Gonzalez is a worse move and not likely to keep thoughts of Upton from entering…well, someone's head. Whose decision is this? When it happens, we'll need someone to blame.

Yellow light SP Mark Hendrickson: Hendrickson has spent the last two seasons watching balls go out of the park, so it's hardly any wonder that he came up with a stiff neck last season. At 31, he's old enough for Lou Piniella to ride a bit farther, freeing up the bullpen to back up Dewon Brazelton and Scott Kazmir.

Red light SP Dewon Brazelton: A first-round draft pick in 2001, Brazelton is the red flag people wave when expectations for Jeff Niemann get too high. He had some sick splits in 2004 and is due to take a big jump in innings from his 161 last season. That usually spells trouble, though he has made it through the injury nexus with only minor problems.

Red light SP Scott Kazmir: If Mark Prior is the mechanical ideal, does that make Kazmir some sort of Bizarro Prior? Hardly, especially if you consider results. Kazmir had the stuff to keep the heavy-hitting 2004 Red Sox off balance, and the mechanics to make Frank Jobe cringe. I'd like this a lot more if Kazmir were down a few lines, in the closer slot, but he does have a chance to be an impact starter; just not this year. Success this year is a healthy Kazmir in September.

Yellow light SP Doug Waechter: Waechter's mechanics got left behind when he returned from a finger injury. Adjustments in the offseason were supposed to bring him back to his 2003 success, but that delivery put a lot of strain on his elbow. He faces the same conundrum many young pitchers do; because he's never been healthy enough to put up innings, he'll face a big jump in his workload the first time he is.

Yellow light SP Rob Bell: He's yellow because someone in this rotation will have to take the ball. There are a lot of innings to go around without much better options and, while everyone will be watching the younger pitchers, no one's going to scream if Bell comes up lame. Fifth starter types make excellent sacrificial lambs and at $800,000 this season, lamb is expensive in southwest Florida.

Green light CL Danys Baez

There's not much to like here. That's been a given for the Devil Rays since they entered the American League nearly a decade ago. Looking at this roster gives every impression that this is the expansion team, not the product of years of high draft picks and lofty promises.

Instead, about the only thing that the Devil Rays have won is the 2004 Dick Martin Award for best medical staff. In a situation where a team doesn't have much talent to begin with, keeping what there is on the field is the only way to provide some chance of success.

The Devil Rays are a team with a lot of ticking going on. Service time combines with injury risk to make the next (or should I say, "first") winning Rays team look rather blurry in the crystal ball. It's important to remember that there's an adjustment in the THR formula for the training staff's three-year average in injuries, so the work that Ken Crenshaw and his staff have done the past couple seasons has brought down the risk. Imagine what the lights would look like without their work.

The Rays are one of just three teams with turf in their home park. The reduction in turf games would appear to reduce some injury chances across the league, leaving AL teams and AL East teams to contend with it. It will take a couple more years to see if this reduces leg injuries in any significant way. I think there won't be as much of a difference due to advances in turf, though the problematic Minnesota turf may skew the data.

What we're left with is something of a dissonance between a risky pitching staff and a medical staff that's focused on keeping them healthy. Looking at the staff, this will be a sore test, one where it will be difficult to judge what success might be. Is it keeping Kazmir healthy despite his mechanical challenges? Is it getting the staff through the year with the minimum pressure placed on their minor-league arms?

One interesting note about this team is the bullpen's relative youth and how much it impresses the radar gun. Jesus Colome, Jorge Sosa and Franklin Nunez all hit triple digits last year. Colome ended the season with a shoulder strain but is said to be coming back healthy. Add in strapping young Tommy John surgery survivor Seth McClung and this is a pen that can bring it. If the Devil Rays can turn a couple of throwers into pitchers then they'll have something, but you should note that their more pedestrian relievers are the better ones at this stage.

Related Content:  Rocco Baldelli,  Year Of The Injury

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