If you have been hanging around these parts for a while, you know that the model for this site is to tell you what the Rays have done, what they are doing and what they will do, and why. Unlike most team blogs, we do not very often tell you what the Tampa Bay Rays should do. However, for the next 12 days we will step away from the standard, and we present to you 12 “presents” the Tampa Bay Rays should give to their fans.
On the first day of Raysmas, the Tampa Bay Rays gave to us, ONE Evan Longoria in the opening day lineup…
The main purpose for keeping any player in the minor leagues is for that player to learn how to compete at the major league level. For a hitter, that means, learning how to hit major league pitching. Evan Longoria has been ready to hit major league pitching since the Dirtbag was drafted out of Long Beach State in 2006. Longoria is already a great hitter, with great instincts and great natural ability. There is nothing left to learn and in fact, starting him at Durham in 2008 may actually hinder his development.
The only step left in Longoria’s maturation into a major league hitter will be the adjustment that all hitters must make to facing major league pitchers. If Longoria begins 2008 in the minors, he will spend the first few week adjusting to AAA pitching. If he was still learning how to be a major league hitter, that would be an important step. However, with Longoria’s ability, adjusting to AAA pitching will not teach him very much and it will only delay the more important step…adjusting to major league pitching. With any hitters, teams risk a step-back in progress if they are rushed to the majors. With only 31 games at the AAA level, Longoria’s adjustment to the big league may take a little longer, but he is too good a hitter for it not to happen.
The Rays also have the added benefit of a lineup that is loaded with offensive talent. There is no need for Longoria to put up big numbers as the team can hide him in the bottom third of the lineup. Akinoria Iwamura, BJ Upton and Carl Crawford are locked in at the top of the order with Carlos Pena, Cliff Floyd and the two-headed monster of Rocco Baldelli and Jonny Gomes filling out the next three spots [Ed. note: Joe Maddon could decide to bat Pena 3rd, Upton 4th and Floyd 5th to break up the lefties]. That means, Longoria is most likely hitting in the 7th spot of the lineup, and there will be no pressure to be a run producer early in his career.
With that in mind, the Rays need to make an announcement prior to Spring Training that Evan Longoria will be the opening day starter at third base and that the job will be his all season long no matter what the numbers say. Longoria projects as a .300-35-120 hitter in the big leagues. That compares favorably with one hall-of-fame third baseman. In his first full season, George Brett hit .282-2-47 (133 games). The Royals knew Brett was their third baseman of the future and gave him the job without looking back. And despite a Sean Burroughs-like performance his first full season, the Royals did not waiver.
With no obvious detriment to Longoria, the only reason to keep him in the minors to begin the season is if the Rays have a better option to man the hot corner. In short…they don’t. If opening day was tomorrow and Longoria was not on the roster, the starting third baseman would most likely be Joel Guzman, and we don’t see Guzman outperforming Longoria, even if the Dirtbag struggles out of the gate. The team could also try and find a third baseman through free agency or via trade. Neither of these moves is likely as the Rays will not want to surrender a prospect or any significant amount of money for a player that will only be a starter for half a season. Signing a player such as Greg Norton is a possibility as he would be cheap, can start at third base and then fill the role of super-utility player once Longoria arrives. This is a move you make only if the Rays truly think Longoria needs more seasoning, because even during his adjustment phase, Longoria would outperform Norton with one arm tied behind his back.
Will Evan Longoria be the next George Brett? Only time will tell, but one thing is for certain. He has nothing left to learn that the minor leagues can teach him. Evan Longoria is ready to be a major league third baseman. He may struggle at first, but eventually he will hit. It is what he was born to do. There may be a period of adjustment, but as he has shown over and over again as he has progressed through the minors, the period of adjustment will be short and sweet.
On the first day of Raysmas, all Rays fans want is ONE Evan Longoria in the opening day lineup.