ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) – No one had to sell Joe Maddon on the potential of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

A computer whiz who uses modern technology to analyze statistics and break down other aspects of baseball, Maddon showed up for an interview for the team’s vacant managerial position with a stack of information on the club’s promising nucleus of young talent.

“He had a thick binder,” executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman marveled. “He’s just extremely prepared.”

Maddon was introduced Tuesday as the fourth manager in Devil Rays history, ending a six-week search for Lou Piniella’s replacement. The longtime Los Angeles Angels bench coach signed a two-year contract that includes club options for the 2008 and 2009 seasons.

The new skipper takes over a team that’s finished last in seven of the franchise’s eight seasons and never won more than 70 games. The Devil Rays have the lowest payroll in the majors, but Maddon envisions a bright future.

“I like the way this organization is coming together,” Maddon said, alluding to offseason moves that include new principal owner Stuart Sternberg taking control of the team and promoting the 29-year-old Friedman to run baseball operations.

“The nucleus we have is great,” Maddon said, adding that the Devil Rays’ core of exciting young players reminds him of the type of personnel that helped transform the Angels, Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins into winners in recent years.

Maddon, 51, served as Angels bench coach for 10 seasons, the past six under manager Mike Scioscia. The team reached the playoffs three of the past four years and won the 2002 World Series. The Devil Rays were attracted to his enthusiasm and background in player development, as well as the experience Maddon gained in numerous jobs he held during 31 years in the Angels organization.

“From the beginning, we felt our ideal candidate would have infectious energy and optimism, strong communication skills, extensive player development background and willingness to embrace new ideas,” Friedman said.

“He is a teacher, a leader and a strong communicator. … He understands what it takes for a team to be successful.”

Colleagues have described Maddon’s philosophy as a mixture of new- and old-school – big on the use of computers to break down the game, yet also cognizant of the importance of more traditional human analysis.

The Devil Rays believe that makes him an ideal fit to lead a solid core of talent that includes outfielders Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli, infielder Jorge Cantu and pitchers Scott Kazmir and Seth McClung.

Tampa Bay’s lineup also could soon include outfielder Delmon Young and infielder B.J. Upton, two of the franchise’s top minor league prospects.

Maddon is cautiously optimistic about how long it will take to turn the team into a winner. The Devil Rays started slowly in 2005, but went 39-34 after the All-Star break to finish with 67 wins.

To make strides in the AL East, a division dominated by the big-spending New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, Maddon said Tampa Bay will help to improve its pitching and defense.

“Sometimes you regress before you really progress,” Maddon said, noting the Devil Rays were a “scary” opponent for the Angels and other playoff contenders to face late last season. “This group is not going to surprise anybody this year.”

Maddon, 33-26 in three stints as Angels interim manager in 1996, 98 and 99, said too much has been made of his use of computers to analyze the game. He said all he’s done is take advantage of technological advances.

“I like numbers. I like instincts. I like trusting your gut,” he said. “I think you think with your brain, your heart and your stomach.”

AP-ES-11-15-05 1618EST

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