Saturday, April 12, 2008

Why we love Longoria

Sorry to mislead you, but I couldn't resist the cheap joke. This post isn't about everyone's favorite Desperate Housewife. No, it's about our boy Evan Longoria, another hot young talent who was finally called up to the big leagues Friday night, the Bradenton Herald reports.

Longoria is considered by most observers to be a superstar-in-waiting and checks in at No. 2 on Baseball America's list of Top 100 Prospects. The third overall pick in the 2006 MLB First-Year Player Draft has been favorably compared to David Wright as a future impact player at third base.

Many assumed Longoria would make the Tampa Bay Rays' major league roster out of spring training, but it soon became clear the franchise planned to keep him in the minors at the start of 2008, partly to delay him from becoming arbitration eligible. Despite a pretty solid spring campaign (.262, three HRs, 10 RBIs), Longoria was assigned to Triple-A Durham, and the Rays handed third base duties to the illustrious Willy Aybar. But you know what they say about the best-laid plans ... Aybar is on the DL, and Longoria is on his way to Tropicana Field.

This isn't the blueprint the Rays drew up. They hoped to have Longoria dominating Triple-A pitching when he got called up, but instead he was barely hitting .200 at Durham. They hoped to permanently install him as their third baseman, but this move was made out of sheer necessity, and if he doesn't hit right away, I could see them sending him back down for more seasoning and using another stop-gap third baseman. That would tick off a lot of Rays fans who are starting to believe in the team's youth movement and its march toward respectability.

Luckily, we don't need to worry about that right now. We need to get Longoria on our teams and in our lineups.

You may recall what Wright did the first time he got called up (.293, 14 HRs, 40 RBIs in 263 at-bats in 2004). You may have seen what Ryan Braun did last year as a rookie with the Brewers (.324, 34 HRs, 97 RBIs in 451 at-bats). And if you missed out on either of those phenomenons or have been reduced to tears watching Ryan Zimmerman or Edwin Encarnacion struggle to reach the Mendoza Line for your team, it's time to plug Longoria in at 3B and see what he can do.

The slow start at Durham is a little unsettling, especially when you take into account Longoria hit .269 in a 31-game Triple-A stint at the end of 2007, a number that doesn't exactly scream "superstar!" He also doesn't have the same kind of wheels Wright or Braun have shown, so don't expect double-digit steals. But these are small concerns. It's only a matter of time before Longoria blossoms at the big league level. I believe he can be a top-12 first baseman as early as this season if he sticks around. You'll want to be there from the beginning.

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