BRADENTON, Fla. -- Eric Hinske believes the Rays have what it takes to make another run in 2009.

The 2008 season "was definitely a Cinderella story, for sure," the former Ray and current Pirate said. "[We] shocked the world, that whole thing, but with the talent they have on the team, there's no reason to think they can't do it again -- especially with the makeup of the club. They've got guys with their heads on right."

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Hinske signed a Minor League deal with the Pirates after hitting .247 with 60 RBIs in 381 at-bats with the Rays in 2008. He got off to a hot start for Tampa Bay last year, hitting five home runs in March and April, and he led the club in home runs as late as June 24.

Hinske said he is often asked if the Bucs have a chance to be like the 2008 Rays. He smiled when talking about his new club.

"[They have a] bunch of young dudes, good guys," Hinske said. "[It] reminds me a lot of Tampa [Bay] last year. It really does."

Hinske, a former American League Rookie of the Year Award winner, acknowledged that he has evolved into "veteran leader" at age 31.

"It's unreal I have that role now," Hinske said. "When you first break in, you don't think you'll ever have that tag."

Earlier in Spring Training, Evan Longoria spoke about what a great mentor Hinske was for him.

"He got me on a program," Longoria said. "He just was a guiding light for me. ... [Hinske] was just a perfect guy for me to mold myself after."

One piece of sage advice Hinske dispatched to Longoria dealt with money.

"He told me, 'Never pass up your first fortune,'" Longoria said. "So that was one of the biggest things for me. Because when he was with Toronto, he signed three [years] for $15 [million] right away. And so that was kind of a thing where I looked at it and said that was very true. Anything can happen in this game. And that was one of the important things for me to be set for life."

In April, Longoria signed a deal that can be worth $44 million for up to nine years.

Hinske said he'd like to think he'll be missed in the Rays' clubhouse.

"You hope you feel missed, for sure," Hinske said. "But they're a group of young talented guys, so I don't think it's going to affect their play at all on the field. We were always pretty good in the clubhouse."

Hinske said there never were any serious discussions about his returning to the Rays this season.

"The only thing I heard was that they were trying to get right-handed, so Cliff [Floyd] and I kind of knew we weren't coming back," Hinske said.

Hinske currently is mending from a left rib-cage contusion incurred during a collision with the right-field wall in Bradenton. The Pirates are looking at him as a fourth outfielder and a backup at first and third. He had spent his entire seven-year career in the AL.

"I'm on a different team now, I want to win over here," Hinske said. "But you can't wish [the Rays] any ill will. I definitely hope the best for them. I had a great time with them last year."