I am starting to believe in this full circle train of thought. That all things go into circles and come back again new and improved and somehow modified in their simplicity. I guess we can say the same for Tampa Bay Rays newly annoited SS Ben Zorbrist, or should I call him Zorilla 2.0?
It was exactly 6 years and 33 days since the first time a young and lanky SS prospect was traded to the Rays from the Houston Astros for a gruff and grumbling Aubrey Huff. Along with Zobrist the Rays received P Mitch Talbot, who we all know wears Cleveland Indians garb now. Zorbrist came to the Rays as a infield specialist, but his true specialty was playing the deep hole between second and third base both with range and a cannon attached to his shoulders.
Some say that his ability back then worked B J Upton around the infield from Third to Second before he finally found his home in Centerfield. But 2006 was a memorable season for the defensively maturing Zorilla as he spent only 18 games at Triple-A Round Rock and when Zorbrist and Upton were recalled by the Rays on August 1st after the Rays felt secure enough with the tag team of Upton and Zobrist at SS that they sent starting SS Julio Lugo to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline.
All Zorilla did was start 50 of the final 56 games….all at the Short Stop position. How good was the new acquired defensive neophyte? Well not 31 days later did Zorbrist and Rays catcher Dione Navarro stamp their own brand on Major League Baseball history when they recorded the only 2-6-2 triple play…EVER.
Many might have forgotten Zorbrist was the Rays Opening Day SS in 2007 starting 13 of the Rays first 17 games, then something happened and he fell out of favor and started only 2 of the team’s next 17 games before the Rays sent him down to Triple-A Durham and subsequently claimed SS Josh Wilson off waivers from Washington. Most see that as the memorial moment that the Rays might have set their sights on Zobrist being a key figure in the Rays scheme, just not front and center in their future infield.
Still, I think this is a great idea that has been kicked around for quite a while by Rays Manager Joe Maddon, who wanted to see Sean Rodriguez take ownership of the spot, but little things have de-railed the S-Rod experience for the Rays along with Rodriguez’s enemic .209 average with only 6 HR and 30 RBIs. Zobrist has a great first move towards the hole, and even with a few years of rust to shake off before he again find his optimal rhythm, I hate to say it, he is a vast improvement at the plate as well as in the field.
There are going to be a few rough patches as he again gains the trust in his abilities on the opposite side the the second base bag, but if anyone can do it and provide the leadership and positive mindset needed to be a consistent and agile SS, it has to be the Rays # 18.
It is a lot to ask of a player who doesn’t even make the Rays all-time Top-5 SS list in any category, but this is also the same stellar fielder who garnered a .989 fielding average and is not listed on either the SS or 2B all-time errors Top-5 list (Upton is #5 @ 2B with 12). So far in 2012, Zobrist has 8 errors in 961 total innings all around the Rays infield, and outfield. As a whole, the trio of Rodriguez, Will Rhymes and Elliot Johnson have combined for 31 errors with Zobrist tied with Rhymes for 3rd most on the team.
This is not to say errors will cease and life in the middle of the Rays infield will be a bed of roses. There will be challenges, possibly multi-error contests, but the leadership and offensive confidence of Zobrist should emulate enough so that the rest of the infield can feed off of Zorilla and grow tighter and stingier over the last portion of the season. The Rays have not put Zobrist’s finger in the dike hoping to stave off the total flooding of potential errors, but the maturation of Zobrist and his “can-do” persona should do miracles in a position in the field that was looking more like a gaping hole.
Seriously, to me it is a long time coming, and a position change that will not only get Zorilla consistent starts in one spot in the Rays field alignment, but it can finally give him a chance to possibly not have to lug around the huge equipment bag with 9 different gloves inside it. Who knows, if Zorilla takes to this position like he did in 2006 and makes it his own again…..It would be hard not to vote him again as the Rays team MVP like in 2009. Zorilla 2.0…….I like the sound of that more and more.