10/17/2003 10:06 AM ET
Rays prospects faring well
By Paul C. Smith / MLB.com
Dmitri Young (left) visited younger brother Delmon at an instructional league session. (Ben Platt/MLB.com)
ST. PETERSBURG -- The combination of a successful but short instructional league and a very good start to the Arizona Fall League has the Devil Rays quite happy with the progress of many of their top prospects.
"Overall, we have been very pleased," said Tampa Bay director of player development and scouting Cam Bonifay. "There has been a lot of good work accomplished."
The Rays' instructional league consisted mostly of intrasquad games at the Naimoli Complex in St. Petersburg and lasted just 15 days. Bonifay said there might be more time added in the future.
"We think three weeks would be a good structure," Bonifay said. "That would give our pitchers a chance to get in a few more starts and our hitters some more at-bats."
Nine of the Rays' top prospects moved on from the instructional league to the Arizona Fall League. Delmon Young and B.J. Upton, both former No. 1 picks, are with the Mesa Solar Sox as taxi squad players. That means they can only play twice a week.
"They are both there to continue their baseball work, their everyday routine," Bonifay said. "[Upton] is taking a lot of ground balls and getting good work on defense. He's learning to adjust in several areas. This is an excellent opportunity for him. "And [Young], he missed all summer, so he's getting back into it. Trying to refine his skills. He's just an impressive young player. It's good to see his bat."
Upton and Young may be Tampa Bay's most promising prospects in Arizona, but a couple of other young Rays are setting the power pace for the entire league.
Outfielder Jonny Gomes leads the league with four home runs in seven games and has 11 RBIs, tied for third in the AFL. He also is second in the league with a .478 batting average.
"Gomes has had a very good start out there, hitting some very long home runs, I'm told," Bonifay said. "He is playing the game hard -- the right way. We consider him a bat prospect."
Also, catcher Pete LaForest is tied for second in the league in homers with three. He started his professional career as an infielder, so he is gaining valuable experience, too.
"He's made a lot of progress in a year and a half," Bonifay said. "And [the instructional and Arizona Fall leagues] have given him more and more opportunity to get behind the plate and work on defense."
LaForest won't be with the Solar Sox for long. At the end of next week, the native of Quebec, Canada, will join the Canadian national Olympic team for a trip to play games in Panama.
LaForest will be replaced on the Mesa roster by another Rays prospect, catcher Shawn Riggans.
First baseman John-Paul Davis is struggling with a hand injury and has gotten only 13 at-bats in four games in the AFL.
A couple of Tampa Bay's young pitchers are doing well in the AFL, too. Former No. 1 pick Dewon Brazelton is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in three games and has not walked a batter in nine innings.
"He's getting back to where he used to be," Bonifay said. "He's continuing to make a lot of progress with his pitching rhythm and his changeup."
Brazelton spent much of the 2003 season working with Single-A Bakersfield pitching coach Marty DeMerritt.
"The work that was put in has been very impressive," Bonifay said. "His improvement is a credit to his hard work and getting back to basics."
Also in the AFL, right-handed reliever Carlos Hines is ninth in the league with a 1.35 ERA. In four appearances, batters are hitting .208 against Hines.
"He's a back-end-of-the-bullpen guy with good command of the strike zone," Bonifay said.
Reliever Jose Veras has pitched in four games and is 1-0.
"He has mostly been pitching in two-inning stints," Bonifay said. "He's working on all facets of the game."
Notes: The Rays had 11 players who, as six-year minor leaguers, became free agents on Wednesday. They are: pitchers Cedrick Bowers, Delvin James, Lee Gardner, Todd Belitz and Todd Williams; catcher Hector Ortiz; infielders Jeff Liefer and Chris Truby; and outfielders Ryan Jackson, George Lombard and Scott Neuberger. The Rays still can re-sign any of those players and, after next Wednesday, can start to sign any other six-year minor league free agents. ... During the instructional league, the Rays welcomed a special guest to one of the sessions -- Young's brother Dmitri. The elder Young, now a first baseman/outfielder for the Tigers, used to spend a lot of time at the complex in 1993 when the St. Louis Cardinals trained in St. Petersburg and he was a prospect. Dmitri Young was picked by the Rays in the Expansion Draft before the 1998 season but was immediately traded to the Reds for outfielder Mike Kelly. ... Minor league outfield/base running coordinator Dwight Smith will not return next season.