ST. PETERSBURG - There is a very good chance that former number one pick Evan Longoria's future has already been read.
Those that matter, Rays' skipper Joe Maddon and Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman, are saying that spring training will decide whether the 22-year old will break camp with the big club.
"We'll wait until the middle of next month, play it all the way through and look at him," said Maddon. "He could be hitting .500 and we decide he isn't ready or hitting .130 and think he is ready. We just have to wait until that particular moment to see what it looks like, to evaluate him on a variety of fronts. He has to get ready for the season regardless of whether it's here or the minor leagues."
If you ask the casual Rays' fan they will tell you that he is ready now and there is a chance that the decision makers within the organization agree. However, the one thing that may be sticking in the back of their minds is that the California native has not had a lot of experience on the pro level and has yet to experience failure.
So what if Longoria is one of those once-in-a-lifetime players who may never experience big time failure? A look at his minor league career will give one pause if it comes down to that simple criteria.
The third overall selection in the 2006 June Amateur Draft out of Long Brach State has not only had individual success, his teams have also enjoyed the same. In his first two pro seasons his teams have gone a collective 127-91 (.583) while he was on their roster.
Then there are the numbers. Eye-popping, to say the very least.
In a grand total of 171 games with Durham (AAA), Montgomery (AA), playoffs, Arizona Fall League and Team USA, who won the IBAF World Cup, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound third sacker has a .298 average (188-for-630), 42 doubles, 33 home runs and 115 RBIs.
As if that was not enough, he was named Southern League MVP as a member of the Biscuits despite his promotion to the Bulls on August 1st. That year he was .307 (21-for-76) in just 105 games. Add to that a .528 slugging percentage and .403 OBP.
Longoria also toiled in the very competitive Cape Cod League in 2005 and was the MVP with eight round-trippers, 35-ribbies, a .500 slugging percentage and extra-base hits in the wood bat-only circuit.
"I've never been on the field with this guy except for a little bit last year when he had, what, six at-bats in spring training?" Maddon queried. "We really don't have a lot of interaction with the guy on the major league level. Obviously he'll see a lot more action this spring. We'll take it nice and slow."
Friedman then addressed the failure issue.
"That's been a big question with us throughout the winter," he said. "We always punted until yesterday and it was important for us to have everyone who has been around him to talk about the player. That drives a lot of it, talking about his strengths and weaknesses. To Evan's credit, we haven't seen him fail and that's a big part of fully understanding the player. We haven't seen that."
While both Maddon and Friedman say there are many other things other than batting average to look at like his defense, how he carries himself, hearing from those who have been around him and combining all the information and deciding on what is best for Longoria.
Last year's starting third-sacker, Akinori Iwamura, is not firmly entrenched at second so third is wide open for the right-hand hitting slugger. Should he have to be sent down, the hot corner could be a mix-and-match scenario until Longoria returns.
One thing seems certain: Once he plays his first big league game, the minors will be nothing more than an image in his rearview mirror.
AKI KNOCKS AROUND SECOND: Joe Maddon has yet to see Akinori Iwamura around second base but he is encouraged by what he has been told. "I heard he is doing fine," he said. "He has really embraced the opportunity. The progress is good."
MUM ON DEAL: Andrew Friedman would not comment, as is the policy of the team, on the rumored trade with the Athletics that could bring starter Joe Blanton to Tampa Bay. "We will continue to explore throughout spring training on any type of trade we feel that will make us better in our overall plan. If we match up with a team, we'll be aggressive and act on it. By no means are we putting our feet up because the workouts are starting."
YEAH, BUT CAN HE RUN? One of the big questions that will be asked many times is how is Rocco Baldelli and his hamstring. Maddon and Friedman both agreed that they will take things slowly and if things progress they way they hope, the Rays will open up with three guys, Baldelli, Jonny Gomes and Cliff Floyd sharing time between right field and designated hitter.
SO WHAT'S OPEN? The Rays will have their smallest camp, numbers wise, in team history and that could be due to the number of roster spots available. Maddon said that the Rays are about "80%" toward their opening day roster, which means that two starters, two bullpen spots, backup catcher and infielder are all that is up for grabs. The skipper did say, however, that third base is open and who makes the team depends on whether Evan Longoria is on the roster come March 31.
BUILDING A FOUNDATION: The Rays Baseball Foundation announced the formation of three grant programs for Tampa Bay nonprofit organizations: The Community Fund Grant, All-Star Grant and the Field Renovation Program. An application for the Field Renovation Program is currently available online. Grant applications are available on the Rays websitehttp://tampabay.rays.mlb.com/tb/community/index.jsp. For more information on any of the grant programs listed above, please contact the Rays Community Relations department at 727-825-3135 or e-mail email@example.com.