Thought processes and conversations started under the tilted cap of Tropicana Field. Someday everyone will know the Rays play in St. Petersburg, Florida, not TAMPA, or the fictitious city of TAMPA BAY.
Some of the Tampa Bay Rays fans might have known that rookie catcher John Jaso plays guitar in the Rays team garage band, but how many of you knew if he was not playing baseball, he wanted to be a Mathematics teacher? I can honestly attest to not being the best at mathematical statistics and logistical probabilities, but I sure can predict with some clarity that Jaso will be a hard person to overlook when it comes down to voting for the 2010 Rookie of the Year in the American League.
Most people have two Detroit Tigers players high on their list as the potential one and two most likely candidates in rookies Austin Jackson and Brian Boesch, and they are excellent players to consider, but usually when two players on the same team go head-to-head against each other, there can be a secondary lapse of them cancelling themselves out in the process.
Other names to consider like M’s rookie Justin Smoak, and Indian infielder Jason Donald have also has solid years for their respective clubs, but if you truly consider how far Jaso has come since the beginning of Spring Training this season, he has out performed all of them. All this chatter about a possible ROY candidacy might not have even happened if Jaso had not impressed the Rays brass enough to get them all to collectively reconsider sending him back Durham (Triple-A) this season after Kelly Shoppach came back from his knee injury.
To even consider sending their long time starting catcher and former All Star Dioner Navarro down to the minors instead would have been out of the question if Jaso had not made his numbers at the plate and behind it pop out at you compared to Navarro or Shoppach. I would definitely say Jaso has already beaten some amazing odds to even still be wearing his Rays uniform every night.
Even if you think Jaso is not putting up the usual romantic offensive power numbers associated with most rookies who are considered for this ROY Award, Jaso has brought a great offensive level back to the Rays catching position, and his defensive skills get better with every pitch.. We already knew that Jaso possesses a big bat, but the Rays fans were a bit shocked, but pleasantly surprised to see an almost 180 degree shift in his catching defensive skills since his first Major League call-up in September 2008.
Jaso has basically had drastic changes made to his defensive stance, throwing motion changed by the Rays this Spring. Sure Jaso is still a little rough around the edges and learning behind the plate, but his mass improvement can be directly attributed with his extra time spent with Rays Bullpen Coach and former Catching Instructor Bobby Ramos and Rays Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi. They both worked to simplify Jaso’s approach and skills behind the plate, and they made an immediate positive change in Jaso’s career path.
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With Jaso’s skills behind the plate beginning to shining brighter with every start, his offensive numbers have been consistent and a huge upgrade for the Rays in their quest for a second American League East title. Even though Jaso has less than 500 plate appearances ( 268 as of Sept 3), the left-hand hitting Jaso has amassed a .280 batting average with 4 HR and 42 RBI while seeing limited action, mostly against right-handed pitcher this season.
But the power aspect of this young catcher is firmly in hand when you notice in his brief plate appearances in 2010, he also has 75 hits and 15 doubles and has been extremely patient at the plate in getting 47 walks this season. Amazing still is the fact Jaso has hit out of the lead-off spot in 28 Rays contests and the first Rays catcher to every attempt the feat. According to Baseball Reference, no other rookie has ever started as many games as a catcher and batting lead-off in one season. To put it more into prospective, the previous record was 13 games by Philadelphia A’s Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane in 1925. Jaso was also the first rookie catcher to bat lead-off since Tiger Bruce Kimm in 1976.
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I know it doesn’t take a math wizard right now to see that Jaso has firmly planted himself as a vital cog in the Rays machine this season. To further boost up Jaso’s offensive display as a rookie, his .388 On Base Percentage leads all A L rookies, and would currently tie him with Yankee outfielder Brett Gardner for the 8th overall spot in the American League. And wouldn’t you know it, Jaso is also hitting .328 (22-67) since July 28th.
But before we finish this, let’s see where else he would rank among the A L Rookies. These numbers fully explain and demonstrate the pure fact that Jaso has been a prime ingredient in the Rays surge towards the top of their division, and has shown consistent offensive firepower for the Rays. Jaso is currently 3rd in batting average ( .280 ), 3rd in hits ( 75 ), 5th in doubles ( 15 ) 2nd in RBI ( 42 ), 2nd in runs scored (47) and the icing on the cake, Jaso leads all rookies with 47 walks against 32 strikeouts. This figure puts Jaso alone at the top in the Major Leagues as no one else with as many plate appearances has a better walk-to strikeout ration.
When it is all said and done, Jaso will probably get a handful of votes for the 2010 American League Rookie of the Year. But like I stated above, with two Tigers expected to be the frontrunners in the race, Jaso could be the dark horse who could come charging to the front and snatch the award. Jaso has played this season like he has been here before.
He has not let the nerves or the stress of his position even taint him in any way as he charges forward with his team towards a playoff berth. But not winning the award probably will not phase the young catcher . Jaso has a special job to do, and a possible playoff berth in the balance right now. And anyhow, I would not bet on Jaso failing, so fair he has beaten the house consistently.
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