The Arizona Fall League ends this week, meaning Rocco Baldelli's whirlwind season is just about over.
The next time the former first-round pick puts on a uniform, presumably in February at the Naimoli Complex, Baldelli will be a candidate to replace the recently traded Randy Winn in centerfield.
"I think he's continuing to learn how to play this game," general manager Chuck LaMar said last week. "He is getting stronger and his athleticism and work ethic are unquestioned. Rocco Baldelli is going to be a fine major-league player."
The Rays would like to have a veteran centerfielder ready should Baldelli show a need in the spring for seasoning in the minors. But that may not be necessary if he performs as he has this season.
Baldelli was Baseball America's minor-league player of the year after hitting .331 with 28 doubles, 19 homers, 26 stolen bases and 71 RBIs in 117 games combined with Class A Bakersfield, Double-A Orlando and Triple-A Durham.
The 21-year-old has a chance to finish among the top 10 in batting in the fall league despite missing five days after being hit in the jaw with a pitch.
Baldelli was hitting .322 with 1 homer, 16 RBIs and 8 stolen bases through his first 29 games with the Grand Canyon Rafters.
"He's played extremely well," said director of player personnel Cam Bonifay, who watched Baldelli and several other Rays prospects while in Arizona for the general managers meetings last week. "It didn't look like he showed any signs of being tired."
MORE FALL NEWS: Infielder Jace Brewer, who finished the regular season at Orlando, is back in St. Petersburg after injuring his left shoulder while swinging during a fall league game. Brewer hit .267 in 17 games for Grand Canyon.
Pitcher Steve Kent, who spent last season with the Rays as a Rule 5 rookie, started six of the first seven games he pitched for the Rafters in an attempt to make up for the innings he didn't get with the Rays. The left-hander was 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA, 12 strikeouts and 19 walks in 21 innings.
Pitchers John Benedetti, Evan Rust and Mark Malaska along with infielder Jorge Cantu and catcher Pete LaForest also are playing for Grand Canyon.
HIGH PRAISE: Though discussions centered around personnel at the general manager's meetings last week in Tucson, Ariz., LaMar received several compliments for the hiring of Lou Piniella. "We've been congratulated many, many times about how we handled the situation and bringing Lou back to Tampa Bay," he said. "I have not heard one negative comment from anyone in baseball."
ASKING PRICE: Toronto is shopping shortstop Felipe Lopez, its first-round pick in the 1998 draft. Lopez, who hit .227 with eight homers and 34 RBIs in 85 games, might be a good fit with the Rays, but not if Toronto wants a top young pitcher such as Joe Kennedy or Dewon Brazelton.
RAYS BITS: A Boston Globe story last week included the Rays among seven teams interested in free-agent outfielder Cliff Floyd. LaMar said Thursday he had not spoken to Floyd's agent. Buddy Biancalana, who managed Charleston the past two seasons, will manage the Phillies' Class A club in Lakewood, N.J., next season. A replacement in Charleston has not been named. Kevin Sefcik, a Rays spring training invitee last season, has been signed by the Phillies as a minor-league free agent. The Rays signed free-agent catcher Charlie Greene and shortstop Justin Baughman to minor-league contracts.
THE LAST WORD: "My family is looking forward to coming down to Florida. My daughter is excited about the possibility of seeing Mickey Mouse. My (8-month-old) son has no idea. All he cares about is a bed to sleep in and a family to play with. We can't be any more excited for this opportunity."
_ former Brewers and Mariners pitcher Chris Bosio, hired as Rays pitching coach Monday.
_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.