Evan Longoria calls 2010 Tampa Bay Rays their best team yet

PORT CHARLOTTE — Things are going so well for 3B Evan Longoria, even his vacations turn to gold.

Longoria, 24, coming off his second straight All-Star season, was on a trip to Rio de Janeiro in November and didn't know he won a Gold Glove until a friend e-mailed him. Though Longoria loved Rio's beaches, "I'll take a Gold Glove any day," he said.

It also sounds as though Longoria would take this year's Rays over any other club in the big leagues, saying it's the "best team we've probably put on the field."

• There's the rotation: "They might not be the marquee names of major-league baseball, but stuff-wise and mentally, the way they go about their work, they're the best there is in the game," Longoria said.

• There's closer Rafael Soriano, acquired from the Braves; "I thought the Soriano move was the huge move for us."

• There's LF Carl Crawford, whom Longoria labels "the best leftfielder in the game" and the face of the Rays. "I think sometimes him being here and with the Rays, he's been overlooked a lot in his career. He's just so good. I don't think anybody comprehends how good he is."

Longoria "loves where the lineup is at," and thinks CF B.J. Upton and DH Pat Burrell will bounce back from what he called fluke seasons. "Those guys are hungrier than ever to get back into the lineup and really prove what they can do," he said.

As Longoria's status as one of the league's stars continues to grow, he said he plans to continue to lead by example, rather than being outspoken in the clubhouse. "This is still only my third year," he said. "It's definitely not my place to jump on guys."

Longoria learned a lot from last season, when the Rays missed the playoffs after their 2008 World Series run, an experience he said "really put it into perspective" how tough it is.

He said the pending free agency of Crawford and 1B Carlos Peña, among others, won't be a distraction for a team and feels the Rays will play with a lot of intensity from the beginning to avoid a slow start like last year.

MINOR MATTERS: Baseball America released its ranking of the game's top 100 prospects, and seven Rays made the list, topped by OF Desmond Jennings at No. 6. The seven are the most of any team in the majors.

MEETING MATTERS: What has stood out to manager Joe Maddon so far about this camp has been the players' receptiveness in their annual individual meetings. "It seems like they're more in-tuned," Maddon said. "They get it."

Maddon pointed out how some players are more "harsh or more critical of themselves" than the coaches are.

"When you first start doing something like this, you get some guys that look at you like, 'Okay, big deal,' " he said. "They leave the room and that's pretty much the end of it. But these guys really take it to heart and everybody is motivated by one thing, and that is to get back to the playoffs."

MISCELLANY: Everyone has reported except for Peña and 2B Sean Rodriguez, and they're expected to arrive for the first full-squad workout. … The Rays will host an Ice Cream Social for fans at Charlotte Sports Park from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday. Admission and parking are free, with Rays players serving free ice cream after practice.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com

Evan Longoria calls 2010 Tampa Bay Rays their best team yet 02/23/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 23, 2010 7:17pm]

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