BP nailed the '08 Rays -- in '05

Baseball Prospectus sized up Tampa Bay three years ago and figured the team was three years away.

Published October 14, 2008 5:30PM (EDT)

I was looking at back issues of the Baseball Prospectus annual Monday to research the item on former Tampa Bay general manager Chuck LaMar, and I was impressed by the prescience of the 2005 edition about the artists formerly known as Devil Rays, which I thought I'd share with you.

Things were looking up for the Devil Rays following the 2004 season, when they'd gone 70-91, which stood as their best record and only non-cellar finish until this year.

The Baseball Prospectus chapter on the team detailed the scouting and development success stories of Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, Jorge Cantu, B.J. Upton and Delmon Young, as well as the other side, busts such as Dewon Brazelton and, at the time, drug washout Josh Hamilton.

"Now is the time for patience," the book said. "The window of opportunity for the Rays to make the playoffs is not yet open ... [But] by 2008, the baby Rays currently on the field will be just entering their primes: Baldelli and Crawford will be 26, Cantu 25, Upton and Young still youngsters at 23 and 22. Aubrey Huff will be the grand old man at 31, still likely to be a prime year for a player with his skill set, though he probably will no longer be a Ray."

Pretty good. Crawford and Upton are a big part of the Rays' success, while Baldelli has struggled with injuries and a medical condition. Cantu had a solid first full season in '05, fell off a cliff in '06 and was shipped to Cincinnati in a minor deadline deal in '07. He found his stroke there and reinvented himself as a slugging third baseman for Florida this year. Young was traded to Minnesota last off-season for Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett. Huff, at 31, just finished his best season. For Baltimore.

The book then goes on at some length about the Rays needing to find some pitching to go with all these talented young position players, and criticizes the team for rushing these kids to the big leagues, which started their free-agency clocks and meant they'd become expensive sooner rather than later, which would be a problem for the cash-strapped franchise.

"With all that said," Baseball Prospectus concluded, "a championship run in 2007-08 is possible."

That's pretty good prospectin'.

Of course, I also looked elsewhere in that 2005 book. Here's the thumbnail prediction for that season's Chicago White Sox: "Their opportunity has passed; the constant exodus of talent will relegate this team to second-tier status." The White Sox won the World Series that year.

Two years later Baseball Prospectus made its most famous prediction by saying the White Sox, 90-game winners in 2006, would go 72-90. They did.

It's an up-and-down game, that seeing the future.

By King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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