Devil Rays have latest 'best young outfield'

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:20 AM ET

The education of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' young outfield continued last night against Roy Halladay.

Don't look now, but their learning curve is rising off the charts.

We've seen the tab Best Young Outfield in baseball dropped on a few trios before, but it fits this threesome like a glove.

The Rays have Rocco Baldelli, 24, leading off, playing centre.

Then, comes right fielder Delmon Young, who celebrated his 21st birthday Thursday by knocking in a run in a 7-4 loss to the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium.

And hitting third is left fielder Carl Crawford, 25, the best of the bunch.

Against Halladay, the three high school draft picks combined for three strikeouts, a broken-bat ground ball and two weak ground balls the first two times through the order.

In the fifth, Baldelli reached on a bloop single, went to third on Young's double and scored on Crawford's ground ball.

And Young drove in the lead run in the 10th with a double off B.J. Ryan.

They weren't bad either with their gloves.

"Look at the ground they cover," Jays manager John Gibbons said. "Young's closing speed was outstanding on Troy Glaus' line drive. You really have to smoke the ball in the gap to get the ball to the wall against those three guys."

Baldelli made a leaping over-the-shoulder catch off Lyle Overbay for the final out of the seventh to make a 3-1 lead stand. Later Baldelli made a sliding grab on Gregg Zaun.

"If we open next year with all three of them healthy I don't see how anyone else can be better (in the outfield)," Rays coach Don Zimmer said. Zimmer, 73, turned pro with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1949, and has seen his share of outfield combos. As a coach with the Boston Red Sox he saw Fred Lynn, Jim Rice and Dwight Evans break into the majors.

He remembers the Montreal Expos' outfield of Warren Cromartie, Andre Dawson and Ellis Valentine and George Bell, Lloyd Moseby and Jesse Barfield of the Blue Jays.

"No one matches the three of them in speed, the centre fielder and right fielder throw extremely well, all three hit for average and all three hit with power," Zimmer said of his current outfield.

Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon was with the Angels when Garret Anderson, Tim Salmon and Jim Edmunds broke in.

"The thing I like about Delmon is that he's a thinking man's player," Maddon said. "He's much more advanced than the average 21-year-old."

Young threw out Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners attempting to go first to third, a first for the Mariners speedster.

Baldelli, who had seven homers in his previous 13 games -- behind only sluggers Frank Thomas of Oakland and Philadelphia's Ryan Howard -- tripled and homered in his first three at-bats Thursday in New York. He's the first visiting player to triple and homer in three at-bats at the Stadium since Bo Jackson in 1990, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Signed by scout Matt Dodd, Baldelli was a first-round pick of the Rays in 2000 out Warwick, R.I. He's hitting .308 with 13 homers and 47 RBIs, and has played only 79 games because of injury.

Young is hitting .373 with two homers and nine RBIs. He was the first overall pick in 2003 after being signed out of Camarillo,Calif. by scout Rich Aude.

Crawford has 14 triples and needs one for 15 in three consecutive seasons. Crawford is hitting .306 with 17 homers, 72 RBIs and 52 steals.

"If he hits it on the ground he has a chance for a hit, that's how quick he is," one scout said.

Crawford was a second-round pick in 1999 from Houston and was signed by Doug Gassaway.

"All three have the capability of scoring 100 runs and driving in 100," said Maddon, who was wearing black-rimmed glasses.

They weren't rose-coloured.

"I respect Crawford," Devil Rays infielder Tomas Perez said. "He's like Bobby Abreu. No one knew how good Bobby was until he went to New York. Crawford runs everything out, he runs hard when we are down 10-1."


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