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Pitching stars dazzle with fall league progress

Prized pitching prospects Matt White and Bobby Seay just finished Florida Instructional League play looking like a million, if not the $13.2-million the Rays invested in them.

"Both of them threw the ball extremely well, both made progress, both did everything we expected of them," minor-league pitching coordinator Jackie Brown said.

After a rocky start at Class A Charleston, Seay impressed Rays coaches with his progress until he was sidelined in June with a broken foot.

"Bobby picked up right where he left off," Brown said. "He was making progress and he picked that up and kept going forward."

White spent most of the fall working on things such as his pickoff move and fielding but impressed scouts with a nasty curveball and a fastball clocked as high as 98 mph.

"Since my 0-5 start I settled in and came on a little bit at Hudson Valley, and it continued in instructional league," White said. "Hopefully I'll continue on."

Seay and White hope to move up to the Class A advanced Florida State League next season and play for the St. Petersburg Devil Rays.

"It would be nice to advance," Seay said.

Other pitchers who had impressive fall performances were Todd Belitz ("He made probably more strides than anyone in the organization," Brown said), Dan Wheeler, Jason Jimenez and Travis Phelps.

"I don't know how we could be any more excited about our pitching," Brown said.

ON THE OTHER HAND: The instructional league wasn't much of a season for the Rays' two No. 1 draft picks. Paul Wilder (1996) and Jason Standridge (1997) spent the six weeks rehabilitating and resting injuries and didn't play.

Wilder, who has missed considerable time with assorted injuries in two mediocre seasons, is bothered by a stress fracture in his back, known as a Pars defect.

"It's frustrating," Wilder said. "The only way to fix it is surgery, and that's career-ending. I definitely don't need that. It'll hurt every day of my life. But I'm going to get it real strong and pull through."

Wilder said he thinks the injury occurred in a 1994 car accident and went undetected.

Standridge didn't pitch because of lingering soreness in his right elbow.

"It feels good but not good enough to throw," he said. "They didn't want to jeopardize anything, just to (have it) healthy for spring training. I wasn't worried, but I was disappointed."

BAD NEWS BOY: Catcher Matt Quatraro's season of horror continues. Quatraro, who has missed time with a sore hand, injured elbow and fractured cheekbone (from a freak accident), had major surgery on his right elbow last week and will be out at least six to eight months.

"It's been a long year," he said.

Quatraro was playing winter ball in Hawaii when the ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow "popped." He had what is known as Tommy John surgery: A tendon was removed from his left wrist and implanted in his right elbow. He hopes to be back on the field by May.

The Rays sent Trey Salinas to Maui to replace Quatraro.

Also, 3B Scott Romano had right elbow surgery.

EXPANDING VIEWS: The team wrapped up the latest stage of its expansion draft preparation meetings and will reconvene this week in Arizona to continue working toward the Nov. 18 event. "We're pleased with where we are at this point in preparing for the draft," GM Chuck LaMar said. "We've got a long way to go before Nov. 18 but we couldn't be more pleased."

MINOR MATTERS: The minor-league coaching staff will be shuffled a bit, farm director Tom Foley said. Assignments won't be formalized until the major-league manager hires his coaches, a group that could include some staff members. But a likely scenario is for Bill Evers to be promoted from Class A manager to Triple A, Milt Thompson to move from roving instructor to a team coach and Scott Fletcher to go from Charleston manager to roving infield instructor. The Rays are leaning toward retaining Princeton (W.

Va.) as their Appalachian League affiliate.

ON THE BALL: There has been considerable speculation and consternation over the construction schedule at Tropicana Field, but managing general partner Vince Naimoli says, "Everything will be ready. You can now see the whole thing taking place. We've come 10 miles from a month ago."

CENTER STAGE: The Devil Rays and American Stage have teamed to turn Wednesday's performance of Dracula into Bat Night. Rays players will sign autographs and hand out mini-bats starting at 6:30 p.m. Curtain is at 7:30 for what American Stage says is a "chilling and sensuous" adaptation of the horror classic. Tickets are $20. Call (813) 822-8814 for reservations.

HOO-RAYS: The Rays have a new merchandise catalog available. To get one, call (813) 825-3137. Craig Weissman, formerly with Seattle, has been hired to scout southern California, replacing Fred Mazuca. Rolando Arrojo leads the Arizona Fall League with a 4-0 record and is third with a 1.50 ERA. IF Manny Patel is hitting .339.