Cockcroft: Tampa Bay Devil Rays preview

Updated: February 27, 2007, 3:55 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com
In the age of free agency, some major-league expansion teams have been able to build a winning foundation in a relatively short time span. However, that isn't the case in Tampa Bay. In nine seasons, the Devil Rays never won more than 70 games or finished higher than fourth place in the American League East and they've averaged 97 losses per year. Meanwhile, their expansion partners, the Arizona Diamondbacks, won a World Series title in their fourth season of existence, have won three division titles and had five winning seasons during that span.

Of course, their track record of poor finishes has afforded the Devil Rays some advantageous draft positions over the years, and, with those draft picks, they've been able to develop a strong stable of prospects. Tampa Bay is a young organization from top to bottom, and many of those top prospects are now either mainstays in the big-league lineup -- left fielder Carl Crawford, center fielder Rocco Baldelli and second baseman Jorge Cantu -- or on the verge of making big splashes with the big club -- right fielder Delmon Young and infielder B.J. Upton, to name two. Potential is an attractive commodity in fantasy baseball. With so many owners chasing future stardom, the Devil Rays lineup might be a popular place for sleepers.

You might not find a more exciting young outfield than Baldelli (age 25), Young (21) and Crawford (25). That trio will comprise the top three spots in the batting order, which is a good mix for their differing offensive skills. Look for these three players to feed off each other and be safer bets for runs scored and RBIs. Behind them, a host of less-proven, higher-risk youngsters should be in the mix for playing time. Cantu will look to rebound from a dreadful 2006; Jonny Gomes will hope his surgically repaired shoulder allows a return of his power; Akinori Iwamura will bring his power bat and penchant for strikeouts over from Japan; and Ben Zobrist will stabilize the infield defense while attempting to carry over his .324 career minor-league average to the majors. If even two of those question marks pan out, this offense won't be too bad, at least not as bad as its 2006 incarnation, which ranked last in the league in 2006 in runs per game (4.25).

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