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Rays bank on teen pitchers

Being the teenagers they are, Bobby Seay and Matt White could use a curfew. So when the Devil Rays ship them to Charleston next week for their first season of pro baseball, it might help to offer them advice about being on time:

Like, try to get back to Tampa Bay by 2000.

And call if you're going to be later than 2001.

Major league baseball is right around the corner for Tampa Bay, and the Rays' first wave of stars might be just down the road.

Tampa Bay had the good fortune _ and foresight _ to take advantage of a draft loophole to sign the best right-handed and left-handed prep pitchers in the nation last year.

So before the big-league team ever hits the field, the Rays' farm system is well-armed. (Although White will be on the shelf for the next month with a stress fracture in his lower back.)

"These were two of the top pitchers in last year's draft, or in any draft," Rays general manager Chuck LaMar said. "We made that investment with the idea that we'll be watching them pitch at Tropicana Field for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays."

The price was steep but not nearly as high as it might have been. It usually takes a couple of 100-loss seasons for a team to get in position to draft pitchers of this quality.

As it is, the Rays struck it rich by promising to make these guys rich. For Seay, , picked No. 12 by the White Sox, it cost $3-million. For White, the No. 7 pick by of the Giants, it took a record signing bonus of $10.2-million.

The result is that the Charleston RiverDogs this summer will have the most expensive pitching staff in Class A history.

"One of the reasons we felt comfortable with the financial commitment we gave them is that they are so advanced," LaMar said. "You find a lot of pitchers who have great talent, but they need lots of work on their mechanics or they don't have the presence and composure on the mound.

"These two guys bring all three qualities to the party."

It's remarkable how far a person can travel when the radar gun has them clocked at 90 mph.

This time last year, White and Seay were teenagers with spring break on their minds and dates at fast-food joints. Today they are teenagers with spring training on their minds and business meetings at posh restaurants.

"The money part is already said and done with. That's not something I'm worried about now," Seay said. "Now we're just here to play baseball."

This is not the first time Seay and White have played together. They met on a junior national team in high school and were roommates at a tournament in Cuba in 1995.

When White got an apartment in St. Petersburg after signing, Seay moved from his home in Sarasota to stay with him. During spring training, they roomed at the Hilton.

"It's not like they were best friends, but they've always gotten along really well," said Seay's father, Bob. "It'll be good for them to come through this together."

Seay and White maintain they are more of a tandem than rivals, and they say they rarely talk about baseball away from the field.

But the Rays anticipate the duo will feed off each other in a healthy way.

"Competition is what drives this game, just like any other business," LaMar said. "I would think they both will be fighting to be the top-rated pitcher in the organization."

For the time being, the fight will be waged out of the spotlight. Both are expected to spend a full year at Class A, and LaMar says the Rays will not rush their development.

The Rays say experience is all they lack. Both throw fastballs over 90 mph, and both are fairly polished.

"I haven't even thought about how long it might take to get (to the big leagues)," White said. "Right now all I care about is improving every time I go out on the mound. If I do that, I know everything else will fall in place."