ST. PETERSBURG -- Evan Longoria cut an athletic figure at Tropicana Field on Wednesday night, wearing a black suit and tie prior to receiving an award as the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits' player of the year.
The highly touted prospect is closer to being the Rays' Opening Day third baseman than the club has let on. When asked about Longoria leaving Spring Training as the starting third baseman next season, manager Joe Maddon replied: "I'd say 50-50 is legit."
Longoria believes he's ready.
"Having Triple-A experience this year and playing with guys who have played in the big leagues gives you that feeling you can play there," Longoria said.
Earlier this week, Maddon met with incumbent third baseman Akinori Iwamura and discussed with him the possibility of a shift to second base. To that end, the Rays want Iwamura to spend time learning the position, so it's likely that Iwamura will play a lot of second in March.
Meanwhile, Maddon said that the decision of whether Longoria will make the team out of Spring Training will likely be made prior to Spring Training. That doesn't mean it will be announced, rather that a meeting of the Rays' organizational minds -- and not Longoria's Spring Training performance -- will decide if the youngster truly is ready to make the jump to the Major Leagues at the start of the 2008 season.
"I'm not a guy who they want to move around the infield," Longoria said. "So it's more of a decision for Aki and a decision for them to move him, so I'm just going to come in and play third base. I don't think I have any worries, as far as moving around. I hope I get more opportunities this Spring Training than I did last Spring Training. ... With more at-bats, hopefully, I'll have a chance to prove something."
Minor League Players of the Year: The Rays honored their Minor League Players of the Year with a pregame ceremony prior to their game with the Yankees on Wednesday night at Tropicana Field. The Rays' Minor League Player of the Year was outfielder Ryan Royster from Class A Columbus of the South Atlantic League, and the team's Minor League Pitcher of the Year was right-hander Wade Davis, who pitched at Class A Vero Beach of the Florida State League and Montgomery of the Southern League.
Royster led the organization in the each of the triple-crown categories, hitting .329 with 30 home runs and 98 RBIs. His 30 home runs, .601 slugging percentage and 65 extra-base hits led the South Atlantic League, while his 98 RBIs were second in the league and his .329 average was third. His 30 homers tied for 11th in the Minor Leagues, while his 285 total bases ranked eighth and his .601 slugging percentage was tied for eighth.
Davis led the organization with a 2.50 ERA combined between Vero Beach and Montgomery. His 169 strikeouts were second in the organization and seventh overall in the Minor Leagues. He was a combined 10-3 in his 27 starts during the regular season.
Winners of Player of the Year and Pitcher of the Year for the Rays' Minor League clubs were as follows:
Triple-A Durham: Justin Ruggiano and Jeff Niemann
Walker Community Champion Award: Pat Cottrell, who played third base for Vero Beach and Montgomery this season, was named the winner of the first Erik Walker Community Champion Award, recognizing the Minor League player who exemplifies teamwork, sportsmanship and community involvement, attributes exhibited by Rays Minor League pitcher Erik Walker, who died tragically last October in a canoeing accident.
Walker was selected by the Rays in last June's First-Year Player Draft and had just completed his first professional season with Hudson Valley when his life was cut short on Oct. 26, 2006, just 11 days after his 23rd birthday.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.