Albert Pujols comes to Tropicana Field this week for the second time in his illustrious career, and there's a good chance he will put on a show.
But there was a real possibility Pujols could have called the Trop home.
Tampa Bay Midwest scout Fernando Arango was a huge Pujols proponent before the 1999 draft and got as far as convincing his bosses to invite the then-thick-bodied junior college shortstop in for a private workout, the only team to do so.
But it didn't go particularly well. "Just an ugly workout," then-scouting director Dan Jennings recalled. Pujols was unimpressive at the plate and so awkward in the field they had him put on catcher's gear.
"That's the opportunity you look for, but that doesn't guarantee they're going to draft you or sign you," Pujols recalled last week to Bill Plunkett of the Orange County (Calif.) Register. "There's so many guys there. You just go where they tell you. I hit, took a little infield."
The Rays didn't deem Pujols worthy, pegging him as a potential second-day, round 30-plus, pick. The 29 other teams didn't deem him worthy, either. He lasted until the 13th round — 402nd overall — when St. Louis took a $60,000 flyer, which worked out okay.
Overall, the Rays' '99 draft was fruitful. They landed Josh Hamilton, Carl Crawford, Doug Waechter and Seth McClung. And more so under the present regime, the Rays have done well in their decision-making. But Pujols will forever be known as the one — and perhaps the biggest one — who got away from the Rays.
Here are a few others:
He didn't look like a two-time American League home run champ in 2004 when he was claimed on waivers from the Orioles (who got him in the Rule 5 draft from Pittsburgh) and then, after three weeks and a .167 average, was sold to the Royals for $50,000.
The '99 No. 1 overall pick jeopardized his career, and his life, with drug issues that led to multiple suspensions. The Rays helped get him back in the game in 2006 but left him exposed in the Rule 5 draft and lost him for $50,000.
He was taken in the expansion draft, then traded infamously by former GM Chuck LaMar to the Phillies for middling SS Kevin Stocker.
SS Tim Beckham is playing regularly at Triple A at 22 and may yet become the impact player he was projected as being as the No. 1 pick of the 2008 draft. But unless he does become that, his pick will look like a mistake because Posey, taken fifth by the Giants, could have been a long-term answer behind the plate.
And more …
RHP John Burkett was released at the end of spring training 2000, then went on to win 10 games for the playoff-bound Braves, 47 total the next four years. … 1B Mark Teixeira sent word he wouldn't sign if the Rays drafted him No. 3 in 2003, so they instead took RHP Dewon Brazelton. … SS Cesar Izturis was set to be acquired from Toronto in 2001 for C Mike DiFelice, but ownership killed the deal. … OF Andrew McCutchen was targeted in the 2005 draft, but with ownership in flux, the Rays went low end with RHP Wade Townsend. … OF Matt Diaz was lost on waivers in February 2005 and went on to play every day for the Braves and Pirates.
Dotted line …
Among players the Rays drafted but didn't sign:
RHP Heath Bell (1997), RHP Nick Blackburn and OF Luke Scott (2000), RHP Mike Pelfrey and OF Jacoby Ellsbury (2002), 1B Ike Davis (2005).
Forget ESPN'S Outside the Lines and HBO's Real Sports, Joe Maddon has really made the big time: The satire website the Onion did a "story" on him, creating a new position: "thwartstop." … Sometimes it is all in a name: Boston baseball writers sent Maddon an award with his first name spelled "Jon"; Baseball America sent one with his last name "Madden." … The radio and TV crews have stepped up their road work, adding postgame manager and player interviews. … RHP Lance Pendleton, signed last week for Triple A Durham, was college roommates at Rice with RHP Jeff Niemann.
Got a minute? Chris Gimenez
Something you're scared of? Snakes. And if dinosaurs were around, I'd be scared of them, too.
Go-to karaoke song? Cold by Crossfade. I did it on the bus the other day, voluntarily.
Favorite TV show? Lost.
What would be your rapper name? Probably Geezy Fresh.
Celebrity crush? Jessica Biel. That's a no-doubter.