Benzo, Zorilla, Zobrist for All-Star Hybrid
You have heard all the hype and the high brow accolades being thrown his way recently on countless Fantasy shows. And the country is just getting to know the awesome offensive and defensive abilities of a player Tampa Bay Rays fans have been watching develop since 2006. He might not have seemed to have such ‘ambidextrous” promise when he was traded to the Rays from the Houston Astros on July 12, 2006 along with current Rays Triple-A pitcher Mitch Talbot for Aubrey Huff, but his numbers and playing time has risen just like his persona to an almost cult like status at Tropicana Field.
Such a player might not even be a glint in a manager’s eye come All-Star time.
He was originally brought in to be an insurance policy for Julio Lugo, who was a streaky shortstop for the Rays at that time, and because former First Rounder, B J Upton, who was going to be the Rays heir apparent to the shortstop position was considering other options within the Rays future concept. He ended up garnishing a utility role on the Rays from 2006-2008. But it was after he came back from a broken left thumb sustained in Spring Training in 2008 that Rays Manager Joe Maddon finally sensed he might have found a special athlete and key component to his lineup in the young “Super Utility” player.
A spot on the All-Star team honoring such a player would be akin to the NBA’s “Sixth Man” awards.
Before the 2009 season, Zobrist had always been listed among the infielders on the Rays 40-man roster, but beginning in April 2009, he was listed on the outfield section of the teams 40-man roster for the first time in his career. He had grown into that hybrid role so well he was now going to be roaming any of eight positions in the field for the team, and with his emergence with a bat, Maddon was toiling daily on where to put the budding star.
So, because of his new found glory on the field the Rays were in a pickle about where his new natural position might be for the team. Maddon basically decided to leave him as a hybrid player who will play any position needed, and Zobrist has responded beyond even Maddon’s expectations.
Shouldn’t a valuable member of a team as the 10th man be included on the All-Star ballot no matter what is position?
All he did that last portion of 2008 is give us all a sweet taste of what he would do in 2009. He only went to the plate 198 times in that season, but he posted 50-hits and 12 homer runs. More impressive was the fact he also hit two Grand Slams in that short period to send the switch-hitters stock skyward among utility players. His Slugging Percentage of .505 was remarkable for a player who did not play every day. But what he seemed to lack at that time in offensive number he made up for in defensive skills. He played four different positions for the Rays in 2008, participating in 190 total chances in the field and only committing 7 errors. What is more remarkable is that all 7 errors were at his old position, shortstop. At the other three positions for the Rays, he was flawless in 2008.
Shouldn’t both defense and offensively superior players be included on the All-Star team in a new ballot position?
So as 2009 came around, the Rays and Zobrist were retooling the young player into a hybrid player that could be inserted anywhere in the line-up at anytime to either produce offensively, or be a competent backstop to end defensive laxes late in a game. So far the defensive numbers have been consistent for the budding star as he has posted only two errors in 135 chances this season. That comes out to two in the infield to go along with his two outfield assists so far in 2009. His play in the outfield has been a breath of fresh air to the Rays fans, and his bat has been a godsend to the offense that has struggled at times this season getting key runs in close games.
His offensive numbers have proven he is a needed member of this offense and he is extremely gifted at both sides of the plate. He is currently tied for third on the team with go-ahead or tying runs with Carlos Pena in 2009 with 9 runs. You might not have seen his 2009 numbers on the MLB Leader board this season based on the fact he is still under the numbers of at bats needed to qualify for the big board, but his numbers are consistent with the leaders in a lot of categories in 2009. His current average of .296 might not grab your attention, but he is currently tied for second place with Nick Swisher of the Yankees for home runs by a switch-hitter, and he is not even a starter.
A Hybrid player is among the Big Boys in Hitting, can you say…Impressive!
He is currently tied for third among the big boys in RBI (33 ), just behind the Yankees Mark Teixeira (50) and Indians slugger Victor Martinez (41). He is in a three-way tie with 33 RBI with everyday players Swisher, New York Met Carlos Beltran and Dodger infielder Orlando Hudson. Every player mentioned on this list so far has a good chance to be on the 2009 All-Star roster, but Zobrist.
In his last 5 games he has homered three time, including his new Rays team record fourth Grand Slam of his career. He has joined Swisher as the only player to hit a Grand Slam from each side of the plate in the same season. In his last 24 games he is hitting .338, with 6 homers, 3 triples and 19 walks.
Defensive Gold Gloves never go to Utility players, maybe an All-Star nod?
His .662 Slugging Percentage would lead the would lead the American League and be third in the majors behind Cardinal Albert Pujols and Philly Raul Ibanez but he is 11 plate appearances short of qualifying his OPS of 1.070 would only be bettered by Red Sox Kevin Youkilis in the American League. As a pinch-hitter this season he leads the major leagues in RBI with 9 and is tied with the Phillies Matt Stairs with 3 home runs. To put a final exclamation point on his 2008-2009 season, he has 23 homers in 340 plate appearances or 14.78 At Bats per Home Run, which is an astronomical number.
Shouldn’t the utility player also get an All-Star spot?
So here is my problem fans. As the 2009 All-Star balloting is starting its stretch run we know that a utility player like Zobrist might not have a chance to make the final list. He has played in too many positions to qualify for the ballot in even one spot. For that reason we have a simple problem, MLB needs to make a decision if all his votes will be counted as a whole instead of as his Write-In position.
I know I have made out over 1,700 ballots that put him in the outfield position, but I also know of people who have given him the nod as an infielder. Since he is such a hybrid player, maybe he should have all his votes counted not withstanding what position they come in as on the ballots.
Steve Nesius / AP
This is a huge change of policy for the head honchos at MLB, and might spark a change to maybe add another position to the ballot. I mean why would you not want to reward the 10th man on your roster the way the NBA celebrates its “sixth man” awards. That one guy who can do it all, and doesn’t complain and produces at the plate should be the same honor as another player on the turf.
But so far there is not “grass roots” or even written acknowledgement that a change should occur. I proposing right now that the MLB take into consideration the fact that this 10th man is as vital to the league’s success as the other nine guys on the lineup card. It might be a defensive change, or a change based on the late inning hitting match-ups with pitchers, but this hybrid position is expanding every year. Shouldn’t they also get a change to celebrate at the All-Star break with the rest of the league?
Could we see a change on future All-Star ballots MLB? Just let us know……
I am hoping that Maddon uses Zobrist this year as an example of what that 10th man can do for an All-Star roster. We are playing in the National League park, and a bench player such as the hybrid could be a huge plus for either team’s roster. It might be a gamble right now of “too little, too late,” but I am making the campaign promise that I am going to try and get some sort of result out of this.
Every team has a guy of this caliber who sit on the bench waiting and hoping to change the outcome of a contest. Why not reward that kind of player?
The utility player/hybrid has changed the way we have played baseball. It was usually just a guy on the bench who could hit, but now it has transformed into a player who can take on multiple roles for his team. This position deserves a spot on the All-Star roster. Every team has one. The Red Sox have Jed Lowrie who would fit into this category perfectly with Zobrist. It might be too late for 2009, but with consideration and thought, it could make an appearance in 2010 if we, the fans really want it to be on the ballot.
Sure it will take away an additional spot on the roster right now reserved for a bench player, but why would you sit a usual starter and bring him off the bench when you could have a utility/hybrid player selected by the fans to come off the bench in any situation and be completely comfortable in the spot. Madness I tell you, progress is madness. Now where did I put my straitjacket?