Devil Rays have latest 'best young outfield'

BOB ELLIOTT

, Last Updated: 11:33 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.

“If we open next year with all three of them healthy I don’t see how anyone else can be better (in the outfield),” said Rays coach Don Zimmer. At 73 Zimmer, who turned pro with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1949, 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 team matches the three of them in speed, the centre fielder and the right fielder throw extremely well, all three can hit for average and all three can hit with power,” Zimmer said.

Tampa Bay 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 works on all aspects of his game, he backs up bases, his throws to the bases are low enough to be cut off, 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. Young displayed his cannon again in the fourth inning last night when he nearly got Troy Glaus tagging on Adam Lind’s fly to right.

Baldelli, who had seven homers in his previous 12 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 the same game at Yankee Stadium since Bo Jackson on July 17, 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 entered the game hitting .310 with 13 homers and 47 RBIs in only 78 games because of injury.

Young was hitting .371 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.

Triples threat

Crawford had 14 triples and needs one for at least 15 in three consecutive seasons. He would become the first in 76 years to do so and the previous three are Hall of Famers Earle Combs, Paul Waner and Charlie Gehringer.

On the season Crawford was hitting .309 with 17 homers, 71 RBIs and 52 steals.

“It’s almost like if he hits it on the ground it’s a hit, that’s how fast he is,” one scout said. “He got to a ball a week ago that I thought he had no business even getting near.”

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

“The guy I respect the most is Crawford,” said Tomas Perez, “he plays the game right. He’s like Bobby Abreu ... no one knew how good Bobby was until he went to New York.

“He runs everything out, he hustles. He runs hard when we are down 10-1.”

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

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

“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. He wasn’t saying anything different than advance scouts.


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