On Friday the Tampa Bay Rays will face Evan Longoria for the first time since trading him to San Francisco. Now, as they come face to face with the greatest player in franchise history, everything has truly come full circle…
The date was June 6th, 2006 and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, as they were then called, were about to make a franchise altering decision. The third pick of the draft surely wasn’t taken lightly by anyone in the Devil Rays camp. In the years prior, the Devil Rays had begun the process of building one of the best farm systems in baseball by selecting Demon Young in 2003, Jeff Niemann, Jacob McGee, and Wade Davis in 2004, and Jeremy Hellickson in 2005 among others.
But, in 2006 the Devil Rays had the chance to alter the path of their franchise for years to come. They did just that by picking a late-blooming third baseman out of Long Beach State. His name, Evan Longoria and what followed is history.
The following year, David Price would be selected first overall cementing the Devil Rays farm system as the best in baseball.
What came next was an unmatched string of success. The names mentioned above would come together to form an unrivaled core in Tampa Bay Rays history. From 2008 to 2013, the Rays laid claim to a 2 division titles, 2 wild card berths and a World Series appearance.
Fast forward to April 12th, 2008. On this day, Evan Longoria would embark on a 10 year journey with the Tampa Bay Rays and it’s fans. He would be named the 2008 American League Rookie of the Year. He would make three consecutive All-Star appearances spanning from 2008-2010, win 3 Gold Gloves and receive MVP votes 6 times while in a Rays uniform.
To this day, Longoria is the all-time leader in Rays history in each of the following categories: WAR, games played, doubles, home runs, and runs batted in.
His arrival sparked something that had previously been only dreamt of rather than witnessed by Tampa Bay Rays fans, winning.
After 2013, things quickly soured for the Rays. David Price was sent to Detroit en route to a 77 win season. In 2015 they would win 80 games but then lose 94 in 2016. In 2017, they would win 80 games once again.
On December 20th, 2017 the Rays parted ways with the greatest player to ever don their uniform.
Prior to their great run of draft picks starting in the early 2000’s and culminating with the picks of Price and Longoria, the Devil Rays had one of the worst farm systems in baseball. By the end of that magical run, their farm system had returned to that same state, one of the worst in the game ranking in the bottom third as recently as 2014.
The decision to trade Evan Longoria was of course a difficult one, but it was a move that eventually needed to be made. The trade was one that sparked a great upheaval of a Rays roster that won 80 games the season before. Longoria, Dickerson, Souza Jr., and Odorizzi would all be dealt prior to Opening Day while Brad Miller and Alex Colome soon followed.
Nobody could have guessed that the departure of a franchise cornerstone would have had the effect that it did. Similar in the sense that his arrival ushered in a prolonged period of success, Longoria’s departure seemingly ushered in an expectedly prolonged period of success as well.
The Rays would go on to win 90 games in 2018 without Longoria or any of the other names mentioned above.
It wasn’t until 2018 that the Rays, who thrive off of the strength of their farm system, recovered and produced a top-10 farm system. As recently as 2014, their farm system was ranked 20th by Baseball America. Now, it is the second best in the game while many claim it to be the best and deepest in the sport.
Just as the Rays relied on their organizational talent to sustain their run of success from 2008 to 2013, they will now also rely on their minor league talent to prolong their winning ways in 2019 and beyond.
In the years that followed the arrival of Evan Longoria and David Price, the Rays farm system was ranked within the top-5 through 2011, coming in at #1 twice. The Rays are in a similar position with Wander Franco and others still making their way through the system.
Instead of Longoria and David Price arriving in 2008, 10 years later Willy Adames and Blake Snell arrived.
But, there is still more talent on the way just as there was when Longoria and Price made their debuts. Back then Matt Moore, Desmond Jennings, Jake McGee and Jeremy Hellickson combined for a stacked system. Now, in 2019 and in the years that follow, Wander Franco, Brendan McKay, Brent Honeywell Jr., Vidal Brujan, Jesus Sanchez and countless others will arrive in Tampa Bay.
So, as the Tampa Bay Rays are set to face off against Evan Longoria’s Giants, the Rays organization truly has come full circle as a result of a process started in the early 2000’s with the drafting of Evan Longoria.
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Over 12 years ago, Evan Longoria’s arrival changed the franchise forever. In 2017, his departure similarly altered the course of the franchise. Now as both parties meet, the Rays are embarking on another string of success, just this time it isn’t with Longo at the helm. Instead, he plays for a different team in a different league on a different coast.