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AL East Fantasy Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

It’s just about that time of the year. Pitchers and Catchers have already reported, the Boys of Summer are getting ready to captivate us for the next 7 months. Most importantly, FANTASY BASEBALL is set to start. Fantasy is a lot of fun, but it can be a frustrating love/hate relationship if you don’t play your cards right. We’re here to help. Over the following weeks, Dev and I will introduce you to the AL East and the top Sox threats (Tigers, Angels, etc.), but from a fantasy perspective. We won’t cover every player at every position, but instead every potential fantasy impact player on each team. We leadoff with the lowly, yet promising, Tampa Bay Rays.

Speaking of fantasy, there is still ONE spot left to join the Sports of Boston Friends and Family League. We are a private 12-team league on Yahoo! Fantasy Sports with a 12×12 scoring format and Head-to-Head scheduling.

If you would like to join, email dev AT sportsofboston DOT com.

Tampa Bay made some changes during the off-season. In addition to trading a potential future franchise player in Delmon Young, they removed “Devil” from their team name and also changed their uniforms. Will these changes finally get them out of last place in the AL East? Probably not. In the mean time, let’s see what their players can do for your fantasy team.

OFFENSE

Carlos Pena, 1B: It seems like Pena’s monster season (46 HR, 121 RBI) came out of nowhere, and that is because it did. Pena set career highs in almost every offensive category. This only means that he will not be able to duplicate his 2007 campaign. Frankly, I believe it was a fluke. Pena’s high walk total (103) can be attributed to pitchers fearing his raw power. Pena also struck out 142 times which means he loves to hack at anything. Once pitchers exploit this, Pena will come back down to earth.

Pete’s Prediction: 90 R, .270 AVG, 25 HR, 91 RBI, 1 SB

Carl Crawford, OF: Crawford will turn 27 this season which means he is just entering his prime years. He has been a model of consistency for years and he is only going to get better. What makes him more valuable is his speed. In four out of five full seasons in the majors, Crawford has stolen 50+ bases. There is the potential for slightly more pop to his bat, but don’t overbid if you think 2008 will be the year Crawford will mash 20+ homers.

Pete’s Prediction: 100 R, .310 AVG, 13 HR, 80 RBI, 54 SB

B.J. Upton, 2B/OF: Like a blooming teenager, Upton broke out last season. Like his teammate Pena, Upton’s great season came out of the blue. He had 24 HR in just 129 games. What I also like is Upton’s eye (65 BB in 129 games). Upton’s potential to get on base will lead to more stolen base opportunities, which leads to him being more valuable. He also qualifies as a 2B. Throw in the power and we have a great 25/25 player on our hands.

Pete’s Prediction: 95 R, .290 AVG, 25 HR, 84 RBI, 28 SB

PITCHING

Scott Kazmir, SP: Since being acquired from the Mets, Kazmir has found bliss with the Rays. At 24, he is still developing an already deadly pitching game. If he can just get his walk total under control, then he can be a top five pitcher in the AL. Unfortunately, being on the Rays means getting very little wins. Despite having electric stuff, Kazmir’s career high in wins came last season with 13. You can bank on the K’s and ERA, just hope the offense provides more support.

Pete’s Prediction: 15 W, 3.30 ERA, 210 K

James Shields, SP: Again, another Tampa Bay player with a breakout season. Shields improved upon his rookie year by cutting down his ERA by almost a full run. Shields also had a terrible June and July which really brought down his overall numbers. He finished strong with a superb August and September (ERA’s of 2.79 and 1.64). Like Kazmir, he is a great source for K’s and also like Kazmir, do not expect a lot of wins.

Pete’s Prediction: 12 W, 3.90 ERA, 190 K

Notable Potentials

Matt Garza, SP: Garza was acquired in the Delmon Young trade. He vastly improved on his rookie campaign by posting a 3.69 ERA in 15 starts. Minnesota’s non-existent offense lead to very little wins. Do not expect that to change in Tamp Bay. I do however expect his overall numbers to improve. He is still pitching indoors and is still very young. Being put with other youngsters will help create a great chemistry for the Rays.

Pete’s Prediction: 11 W, 3.60 ERA, 164 K

Troy Percival, RP: Being a Tampa Bay closer is never a fun job. Percival came out of retirement last season to pitch for St. Louis. In 40 innings, he logged a minuscule 1.80 ERA while fanning 36. Heading back to the AL and being a mentor for all the young players will be great for the clubhouse. The few wins the Rays get will be on the shoulders of Percival.

Pete’s Prediction: 2 W, 3.40 ERA, 70 K, 29 SV

Evan Longoria, 3B: If you know me, then you know I love my rookies. Between AAA and AA last year, Longoria combined for 26 HR, 95 RBI, .299 AVG, and a .402 OBP. A player with this much potential just gets me so excited. He will have to compete for the job in Spring Training. The worst case scenario is that he starts the year in AAA Durham, but don’t expect that to last too long.

Pete’s Prediction: 70 R, .270 AVG, 18 HR, 60 RBI, 4 SB

Next up, the “in transition” Baltimore Orioles.

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