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March 1, 2006

Team Health Reports

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

by Michael Groopman and Will Carroll

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Click here for the Devil Rays' 2006 depth chart

Green light C Toby Hall: It's tough to find a 30-year-old catcher who warrants a green light, but Hall has been healthy throughout his career, and really doesn't seem even that old. If the Devil Rays keep him down around 400 plate appearances, he's as close to an iron man as you'll find for a backstop.

Yellow light 1B Travis Lee: Lee is fortunate to be a first baseman. Not having to throw the ball around the diamond all game has, for the most part, hidden the after-effects of his recovery from a torn labrum. Unfortunately, his position can't squelch his chronic groin injuries, the most recent instance of which sidelined him for 17 days in early May last year.

Green light 2B Jorge Cantu: Cantu gets a green, but if the Devil Rays plan to put him at second base, his limited range could increase his injury risk dancing and diving around the bag. The THR rating system does not factor in range, but maybe it should. Is a player without much range more or less likely to dive for balls? Is he slower to get to the bag and collide while turning a double play?

Green light 3B Sean Burroughs: Burroughs has earned a reputation as an injury-prone underachiever. If you take a closer look at his injuries, though, he really hasn't been seriously affected by a severe chronic injury for a couple of years now. It's possible there is something about him that makes him predisposed to small, isolated aches and pains, but a stiff neck or swollen ankle shouldn't make him miss that much time, especially if the Rays plan on having him split time with Russ Branyan at third base.

Green light SS Julio Lugo

Green light LF Carl Crawford: Although he's known for his speed, less running will be a good thing long term, both on the basepaths and in the field. Slotting Crawford at a corner instead of in center will help the Devil Rays keep him fresh and productive. He also claims the wrist injury that kept him out at the tail end of last season is no longer an issue, but those types of injuries do have a tendency to recur.

Red light CF Rocco Baldelli: We hate this red, but ultimately, there's good reason for it. Coming back from two surgeries (Tommy John and ACL) makes it look like he'll be further hampered and well off schedule for a normal return. He would be better off if he shifted to right or left, but the Devil Rays already have a glut of corner outfielders. Joey Gathright could conceivably allow Baldelli to shift over, but that starts a domino effect, displacing Gomes, Huff, and the pending arrival of Delmon Young.

Yellow light RF Jonny Gomes: Gomes gets a very low yellow. The system doesn't like that the Rays ping-ponged him across the outfield last season--it much prefers position consistency. He's certainly capable of being an everyday outfielder, but if Delmon Young pushes him to DH, everyone will be happy.

Green light DH Aubrey Huff: As a third-baseman, he warrants a yellow, and if you slot him in a corner outfield spot, he's green, but just barely. Huff's production dropped immensely last year, but injuries weren't his problem.

Yellow light SP Scott Kazmir: Keeping a young fire-baller with wacky mechanics like Kazmir healthy is good evidence that the Devil Rays' medical staff is among the best in the game. Getting him through the injury nexus would merit sainthood.

Green light SP Mark Hendrickson

Green light SP Casey Fossum: Fossum's career has been marred by an assortment of injuries, but he stayed off the disabled list last year, and the THR system gives him a green light. What we're wondering is how does a guy who's 6'1" and 160 pounds soaking wet get a reputation as a headhunter?

Yellow light SP Seth McClung: McClung would be better suited to short-relief duty with his reliance on a nasty fastball and not much else. If the Devil Rays have him slotted into the rotation all season, taking him past the 160 IP mark will be a challenge.

Green light SP Doug Waechter: Waechter gets a green because his DL stint last year was the result of a traumatic injury to his right index finger. Given all of the organization's high draft picks, you might think that somebody like Waechter shouldn't even be here, but drafting two pitchers out of Rice University--a school whose pitchers are known for having injury problems--was not the best draft strategy for team health.

Green light CP Chad Orvella

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Being the perennial basement dwellers of the AL East has made the Devil Rays the butt of many jokes. You have to wonder how much longer that is going to last. After revamping their front office, the Rays are looking to put their mismanaged past behind them. Their plethora of high draft picks is finally starting to bear some fruit, the health of the pitching staff is markedly improved from last year's audit, and the new front office has made some shrewd off-season moves. Nobody, especially Tampa's management (just take a look at the header of their web site), thinks that a Russ Branyan here and a Chad Harville there is all that it's going to take to turn the Rays' ship around, but incorporating young talent onto the roster and the ability to learn from past mistakes will help their cause.

For all of their faults, the one consistent positive of the Devil Rays has been their medical staff's unquestioned track record for success. The organization has made a strong and lasting organizational commitment to team health. As such, the Rays implemented measures to realize player longevity and potential, although at the apparent cost of short-term value. One example of this was how they treated Kazmir with kid gloves. After his mid-season acquisition from the Mets in 2004, Tampa capped Kazmir's innings that season, knowing the team would need him more in future years when more of their talent matured and they might have a legitimate shot at competing. Though displeasing to their fans, this kind of organizational plan has worked very well for the Devil Rays, as they find themselves among the leaders in all of the Dick Martin Award categories year after year. Even though Ken Crenshaw, winner of the 2004 Dick Martin Award, left the team to go to the Diamondbacks, the Rays are in the very capable hands of Ron Porterfield. Porterfield was Crenshaw's assistant and was deeply involved in the tasks and responsibilities of the medical staff. The benefit of Crenshaw's tutelage should pay immediate dividends for Porterfield and Drs. Jim Andrews and Koco Eaton as they try to keep a young, inexperienced team on the field.

Coming with the territory of relying on young players is the inherent risk of greater opportunity to break down. But there is an upside to youth as well: the ability to quickly recover. Luckily for the Devil Rays, both BP's #1 prospect in 2005, Delmon Young, and B.J. Upton get green lights from the THR system. The problem is with the always trickier question of the pitching staff. Younger pitchers are more likely to suffer a traumatic season-ender such as a broken bone, or an elbow injury requiring a ligament repair or full transplant. Scott Kazmir, Edwin Jackson, Seth McClung, and, to a lesser extent, Chad Orvella will present a daunting challenge to the medical staff. McClung is not that far removed from Tommy John surgery, and Jackson still suffers from chronic right forearm injuries. If Porterfield and company can watch these pitchers closely and make it an organizational goal to keep them healthy, as they have done with Kazmir, the Rays can position themselves well for the future. If you had to bank on any one medical staff to pull it off, it would have to be Tampa Bay's.

Michael Groopman is a Researcher with Baseball Prospectus. You can contact Michael by clicking here or click here to see Michael's other articles.

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