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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Usual Suspects

The "Rebel Rays" :

B. J. Upton - 2B
Delmon Young - RF
Elijah Dukes - CF

A year ago, the news out of Raliegh-Durham was that B. J. Upton was a drunk driver, Delmon Young was an aggressive bat-tossing hothead, and Elijah Dukes was a pothead thug. Put them together with tweeker Josh Hamilton, another first-rounder coming to terms with the Cougar Mellencamp credo - "I fight authority, but authority always wins." - and the Devil Rays seemed to have accumulated a quartet of future middle of the order hitters in the North Carolina Prison League. Many assumed by the end of last season that Dukes and Hamilton were already out of baseball for good, while Upton and Young were likely to be delayed in their big league appearances by the infamous "makeup" issues.

Turns out, on opening day 2007, all four were major-league starters. Josh Hamilton's emergence as Rule 5 draftee turned 3-hole hitter in Cincinnati has been among the most followed stories of the young season, but the dominance of the trio of young Rays - none of them older than 22 - has gone largely overlooked. The Devil Rays have a better record than the Yankees after Carl Crawford's grand slam lifted them over New York last night, and they've beat some of the league's best pitchers in the early going, including Johan Santana, thanks to the high-octane offense which has been bolstered by Dukes, Young, and Upton. The trio is batting .277 with 7 HR, 34 R, 11 2B, and 29 RBIs. Granted, A-Rod's been worth about as much as the three of them, but for the Devil Rays to be getting this type of production from players not named Carl Crawford is an indication of great things to come. If Tampa can keep them happy, healthy, and honest into their mid-20s, they will remind us of controversial young threesomes turned superstars like Bonds, Bonilla, and Bell in Pittsburgh; Belle, Baerga, and Ramirez in Cleveland; and Jones, Jones, and Jordan in Atlanta.

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