Results tagged ‘ Alex Torres ’

Torres First to Don IsoBlox Cap in a M L B Game

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It is a sound and a quickly approaching spinning blur that every pitcher know will happen at some point in their careers. Sure the ball might have been traveling to the plate at over 90 mph, but as bat meets ball the return boomerang of the white sphere can reach easily into the triple speed digits.IMG_0024At those moment the 60 feet 60 inches from plate to mound can be traveled before the blink of an eye. At that moment an extra inch of protection can be the difference between being a future part of the game or experiencing  a career defining moment.

Reaction times are critical and even the most inopportune blink or body movement can be the difference between being tattooed with a Rawlings stitch line, missed completely, or crumble to the turf in a heap. Tampa Bay Rays fans knew this feeling well back in 2013 as they witnessed firsthand Toronto Blue Jays starter J. A. Happ then Rays hurler Alex Cobb take pitches back through the box to their head regions.

Over the last several years there has been an increase in batted balls vent on human destruction coming back through the pitcher’s mound area with speeds in excess of 100 mph. Doesn’t matter if you threw a curve, change-up or even an high and inside fastball…..If it was your time, your next move was critical.IMG_0020M L B consulted a few manufacturers to devise and invent a protective cap that could or at least would eliminate some of that explosive interaction of ball meeting noggin, and selected IsoBlox’s version for distribution around 2014 M L B spring training camps.

I wrote a post how the new caps were AWOL on the head of members of the Rays starting or relief corps this spring, but someone with at least a former lineage to the Rays has been the first to wear the modified “Charlie Brown”  front crown and brimmed cap to a M L B mound.

Torres might be the first to sport the cap as a possible new piece of M L B pitching attire, but I doubt he will be the last. And some time has expired since Torres had his own head injury scare this past spring on a ball batted back through the middle. 

IMG_0022Torres did quickly or automatically order a protective cap after that incident, but  decided his health was first and foremost and ordered the cap last month and IsoBlox had it in his locker within a week’s time.   

I mean I knew former Ray, now San Diego Padres reliever Alex Torres was a smart guy, but possibly his action of wearing the cap to the hill in Saturday night’s match-up against the Los Angeles Dodgers might just be the motion needed for other pitchers, both starters and relievers to possibly don the new cap for themselves possibly later in the 2014 season.

Sure the cap seems a bit bulky and possibly cumbersome on first glance, but what that overshadows is the extra element of safety it might create especially for a leftie who leans down through his delivery and has his head exposed towards the plate before coming back into a more upright position.

HT_alex_torres_jt_140622_16x9_608I could see the rest of the M L B hurlers not even thinking of wearing this style cap if they had to thrust into their own pockets for this extra padded brim, but IsoBlox has made the cap FREE to the M L B and believe me, Torres seemed to be not only smart enough, but possibly has the bulk of the new caps sporting the Padres logo at his disposal.

Torres added post-game, “It doesn’t feel bad. The difference between the regular cap and this cap is not really that big.” 

And Torres after the game did share that he did have a few quips and possible giggles directed his way from teammates as to his odd-shaped mound attire, but Torres might end up having the last laugh as he will now be a lifetime baseball trivia answer for taking the first steps to don the front-heavy head gear.

IMG_0018But Torres was also eloquent enough following Saturday night’s game to the possible safe results of the cap as well as it’s perfect price point.

It could save our lives if someone hits a ball to your head. I get it for free, so I’m just gonna use it to see how it feels.

People always talk about players being pioneers, doing something incredible during a game that will be remembered for eons. Will baseball history remember, or celebrate the fact Torres embraced the protective cap and proudly wore it on his head when he strolled to the mound in the top of the 8th inning in front of 43,474 fans seated in Petco Park Saturday night?

Torres threw 25 pitches during his appearance against the Dodgers and not once did ball meet cap, or cap meet turf.  

imagesI applaud Torre’ effort for not only being the first to don the new protective cap, but for being the first to experience it under an actual M L B game time situation. Hopefully because of what Torres did a few other bulky “Charlie Brown” caps with other M L B team logos will make their own game day appearances.

I tip my non-bulky cap to Torres for leading the way with an IsoBlox cap upon his head.

 

 

“We Want Mike Morse”

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._ _ . ._ _ . _ _ . _ _ _ . . _ . _ . _ _ _ _ _ . _ . . . . .”

To most people the above crypt ed type is a by-gone era relic of communication mostly done between long distance communicators or ships at sea. But to me it seems like a fitting code to use when the Tampa Bay Rays might be seeking out another body, and one who could take on multiple player duties while being a member of the Rays roster.

74fb6661-3d2f-383f-abfa-12823de2534aMaybe it is more than fitting that I tried to throw out a makeshift code of “We Want Mike Morse” in the above telegraph possibly showing at least one member of the Rays Republic’s adamant desire that the Rays go out ad get this desired First Base/DH and most of all, right handed hitting option.

Possibly it is an omen today that temps in the Tampa Bay region are hitting the Spring and Summer averages showing maybe even a higher power wanting this deal to go to fruition. But the total reality today is that the Washington Nationals since they signed their desired 1B Adam LaRoche to the dotted line, Morse might be a few dashes or dots away from finding a new vista to call home, and since Morse code is associated with water…..possibly ending up on a team who’s own hometown is surrounded on 3- sides by water.

mmmmmmmSome might ponder the idea that since Morse is in his “walk” season before he hits free agency for the first time a trade for him might not be in the Rays best interest, but if you dig beyond the surface and truly see the stats for what they are…Morse could be just the right fit for Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s sometimes maddening system of plug-and-go lineup shifting roles and reversing logic to find wins, key hits and much needed runs.

Morse’s 3-season line of .296/.345/.516 might not just out on the page at you, but it is clearly a huge upgrade to the 2012 Carlos Pena debacle and combined with already in-house option James Loney, the “Maddoning” lineup possibilities and positioning is simply boggling with right and left handed options possibly being inter-changed at First and DH with the addition of Morse.

280px-Michael_Morse_2011If you really think about it, if the Rays did trade for Morse who is set to make $ 6.75 million this season, you get twice the bag (and less K’s) for the slightly over $ 250,000 the money the Rays paid Pena in 2012 to mostly tap his cap on Home Runs and be the returning smiling face. It might surprise you that Morse had over 5 years of MLB service time split with 2 seasons each with the Seattle Mariners and Nats, but making Morse and even bigger prize for the Rays is another small bit of flexibility that Maddon enjoys even more.

250px-Mike_MorseMorse can also play other spots in the infield besides 1st (SS, 3B) as well as possibly a corner outfield position. With Desmond Jennings making a slight shift left in 2013 to post up at B J Upton’s old haunt, Centerfield, Morse could play right into Maddon’s always mind-bending game of match-up and situational defense possibly finally securing Ben Zobrist for mostly infield and outfield duties from time to time.

Instantly some of the cautious Rays Republic followers will bring up the pure fact in 2012 Morse only hit out 18 Rawlings while in 2011 he hit a career high 31 orbs into the cheap seats.

But even as you would notice Morse had a dip in his offensive numbers in 2012, he was also playing throughout the season with more than 1 nagging injury and still put together a season that showed his commitment to the game, confidence in his abilities and provided a added power option for the Nats.

That in a nut shell is the type of guy the Rays need. He fits the Maddon profile of being able to post up at various positions, plus has been in the post season race, plus played in a highly competitive NL East division that yearly produces enough stress and pressure to crumble a tea kettle. The dashes and dots all point to Morse as being the kind of player who will transcend under Maddon. But you have to ask if the Rays have the personnel to pull off such a heist. Why yes they do!

natitude-michael-morseConsidering the Nats lost out on former Rays RP J P Howell, maybe Friedman could patchwork up a nice package with a centerpiece of Southpaws Cesar Ramos or Alex Torres as viable Bullpen options. Torres has limited relief appearances, but his 2012 chances showed he might have a better calling in the MLB as a relief option than as a starter. Ramos we already know has the goods to be a consistent reliever and would be a valuable piece of the Rays Bullpen puzzle to lose, but if it bring a hint of better offensive presence….I’d jump on it and ride it until it dies.

Combine either of these leftie options, or possibly send a piece like OF Brandon Guyer or maybe even someone in the minors who is a few years away from MLB ready and if you are Washington you get a need filled, a extra bit of outfield security and a player developing in the wings to fill a future need, possibly in the infield.

Now this is not to convey the Rays will even take a gander at Morse with more than the usual Friedman cell call to ponder, wonder and suggest ad lib, but with camps beginning to open in just over 35 days, things concerning Morse might just hit a fast and furious pace as five other MLB squads also seek their own “Morse code” answer for 2013. I am expecting to hear a lot of dots and dashes over the next few days with hopefully Friedman finding the right combo and most conducive package to net the Rays Morse’s talents for 2013.

Maybe I need to do it 1 more time for clarity: “ ._ _ . ._ _ . _ _ . _ _ _ . . _ . _ . _ _ _ _ _ . _ . . . . .”

There Are No “Losers” in This Rays Trade

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I kind of expected the starting pitching market to go ballistic after that certain right-hander who hates Tropicana Field became the newest millionaire in Tinseltown. What kind of got me scratching my head a bit was the Kansas City Royals were willing to trade uber prospect and 2012 Minor League Player of the Year Wil Meyer straight up for Rays SP James Shields, but the Rays shuddered and turn that deal down without hesitation.

Sean RodriguezStarting to see a weird pattern forming for the Rays that they seem to finalize their deals right before the “Witching Hour”. Sure it has only been two times recently, but patterns seem to start that way. In the end the deal actually benefits both teams, one immediately and the other with possibly one piece playing a role in 2013, and a few others possibly a bit down the road. Sure the Royals got two definite pieces that could be immediately popped into their 2013 rotation in Shields and Wade Davis, and depending on who is the invisible “Player to be Named Later” who will come from the Rays current 40-man roster, they could get an additional piece to their 2013 25-man Opening Day roster.

We all knew this was coming, Shields has been as hot a commodity as any pitcher with his 2 years with a Club Option before he hits the Free Agent market for the first time in his career. This cleared a huge chunk of change for the Rays, possibly to be used to find a top-tier DH or right-handed First Baseman. Without knowing the identity of the PTBNL at this moment, the Rays Executive VP of Baseball Ops Andrew Friedman got a nice holiday nest egg of around $13+ million dollars to possibly entice and persuade a power addition to the team’s roster before Spring Training. Shields even tossed out as nice little nugget that he would be willing to look into a contract extension possibly giving the Royals some additional years of “Big Game” on the hill for the Royals.

Toronto Blue Jays v Tampa Bay RaysI currently do not understand how some of the Royals fans come to the conclusion the KC squad got the raw end of this deal. Sure they will have to pony up that $13 million, but they got two key components who can anchor spots in their rotation for 2 seasons as their own youngsters get more experience and training at the minor league level without subjecting them to the rigors and fast learning curve of MLB life.

I personal feeling is the PTBNL is going to either come from the Rays over stacked catching or infield slot currently on their 40-man roster. If I had to make an educated guess as to who this might be, I’m picking SS Reid Brignac who will be out of minor league option after the Spring of 2013, and with the added depth on the Rays roster of recent trade pick-up SS Yunel Escobar, the addition of veteran INF Mike Fontenot, Sean Rodriguez and the potential tag-team 2B duo of Ryan Roberts and Ben Zobrist, Reid seems to be the current odd-man out even with a banging Spring.

Florida Marlins v Tampa Bay RaysThe citizen of Royals-ville forget this trade actually make a few clever openings in the Rays rotation that could be filled from the pool of players like veteran Jeff Niemann, Alex Cobb and possibly Chris Archer. It instantly rids the Rays of two starters and possibly an extra body in either the overcrowded catching corps or middle infield. This by itself is a clear “win-win” for the Rays front office to send two players with “team friendly” contracts to another team and clear a huge amount of payroll that can be allocated for current huge holes in the Rays offensive machine.

And do not forget the Rays got Baseball America’s 2012 Minor League Player of the Year OF Wil Meyers who turns 22 today (12/10). How soon we forget about former Rays who won this award like Carl Crawford (1999) or Rocco Baldelli (2000) who made quite a good impression at the MLB level for the Rays. Another tempting nugget to chew on is the fact Meyers is now the first player ever to win the Minor League Player of the Year award and was traded before he even made his MLB debut with his old squad.

Getting a player like Meyer who is still developing was a huge thing for the Rays as their yearly payroll stifles their creative juices to the point they have to make trades like this to get viable and young talent under their control for years to come. Now I hope Rays fans do not get too anxious and think Meyers will start the season with the Rays. Reality is the team will possibly use some of their farm system pieces with minor league options to fill in until the team can bring up Meyers without having to award him a year of MLB service time. Still, if injuries in the outfield hit the Rays early, Meyers could be in the Trop by late May, early June at the earliest.

505fe1cf35e24_preview-300Sure the addition of prospect hurlers RHP Jake Odorizzi (has the stuff to possibly make the team as a temporary RP), LHP Mike Montgomery and 3B Patrick Leonard gives the Rays some needed replacements and added personnel within the farm system who one day could be playing in St. Petersburg,Florida alongside Meyers. This trade not only has the potential to help the Rays possibly as soon as 2013 with Meyers, but it gives the franchise some credible arms to work in the upper echelon of the Rays farm system and get better before their own MLB debuts possibly in 2014-2015.

Sure the subtraction of Davis means the Rays will have to find a long-inning specialist, but that could easily be the pitcher who loses out on the Rays fifth rotation slot, but it could also be someone like LHP Alex Torres, RHP Dane Del La Rosa or possibly even Southpaw Jake McGee.

57073224_display_imageThe trade opens a widening world of possibilities to the formulation of the Rays 2013 25-man roster. The subtraction of Shields and Davis will be sorely missed, but it also give some of the Rays young arms a chance to rise to the occasion, just like Shields did when he shocked the Rays staff when he made his debut and got a no-decision against the Baltimore Orioles on May 31, 2006.

Because both these teams are on the bottom end of the fiscal reality of baseball, these kinds of trades are the lifeblood of the organizations.

563647_10151199388498429_32855498_nTaking high dollar veterans and turning them for prospects or players who could play at the MLB level is the way they can stay competitive and right up there with the AL high spenders. In the end, this trade had wins posted on both sides of the leader board.


The Rays got to shuffle off two experienced pitchers and another piece to be added to the Royals side of the equation soon (PTBNL) who should can help the Royals immediately, while the Rays got a few future pieces of their pitching puzzle and a player who could shine for them for the next 6-odd seasons in their outfield mix. No matter how you slice it, both sides should be commended on this deal that helped both clubs immediately both in personnel and the financial realm…..Sorry, but to me that is a classic “win-win” for both front offices.

 

2011 is Almost in the Books, but What a Season to Remember.

Usually around this time of the year Tampa Bay Rays blogs begin to countdown their top moments of the season. It was a historic season by many aspects. The team posted their third trip in four seasons to the October party, but also we saw so many of the Rays post their own moments of wonder and amazement it has to have all of us giddy with emotion knowing there are less than 100 days before the fun all begins again for 2012.

We saw the emergence of “the Legend”( Sam Fuld), the formulation of the “Magic of Kotch” (Casey Kotchman) movement, and also saw the further maturation of the Rays top tier players David Price and Evan Longoria. We saw Sean Rodriguez move across the diamond to the 6-hole and show why he has always been a prized reward of the Scott Kazmir trade. Desmond Jennings came up and proved once and for all he is not a “Crawford”-clone, but has his own power, style and base-stealing magic.

Matt Joyce proved he had the stuff to hit left-handers, and Ben Zobrist again show the “Zorilla” style traits we all fell in love with during the 2008-2009 campaigns. From starters to Bullpen the Rays hurlers showed promise, unexpected magical moments and the durability of the staff graybeard as James Shields merited Cy Young consideration.

2011 was suppose to be a rebuilding season, but the only rebuilding the Rays did was on their reputation and solidarity to fixate on that post-season goal and drive towards it with vigor and vitality. This season will not go down in Rays history as the most productive on paper, but the 91 wins posted by this squad were 1 better than their rivals the Boston Red Sox and produced another champagne moment within Tropicana Field.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon instilled a “Find Another Way” mantra on his troops early this Spring and several players in the Rays fold responded by showing their abilities are on par with this league even if their MLB service clocks show minimal numbers. Jennings might have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt in 2011 he should be the heir apparent to the Rays lead-off hitter the Rays for 2012. Joyce finally got the at bats to prove he can be the Rays everyday right-fielder and run producer.

All five members of the Rays 2011 posted over 10+ victories with Shields leading the field with a 16-12 record. Not only did Shields lead his young Rays comrades in “W’s”, he also topped the squad in innings pitched (249.1 innings), strikeouts (225) and ERA (2.82 ). Filling in gaps within the season the Rays saw the promise of brilliance of Matt Moore, Alex Cobb and the late season relief pitching of Alex Torres.

Pitching definitely defined so many of these great Rays moments, but the bats did not remain silent during the carnage. We saw new closer Kyle Farnsworth struggle but post a career high with 25 saves, but we also saw the season toll takes it effect on one of the most intimidating players in the game. But the Rays Bullpen which featured 3 lefties for most of the season closed down offenses with RP Joel Peralta providing his own brand of set-up brilliance as well as posting 6 saves. From inning 1 to 9 this Rays team’s pitching tried to set the tone and bring home a win on a nightly basis.

Who will forget that Home Run hit by Longo to seal the Rays post-season against the Yankees on the season’s last day in extra frames about the same time ex-Rays LF Carl Crawford missed a dying quail in Baltimore to propel the Rays into the October party.

With that singled out win on the last day of the 2011 campaign, the Rays ended up posting their only winning September ever with a 16-10 record. It also secured the squad’s third straight 90+ win season, How pale does that starting 1-8 record look now in retrospect as corks exploded within the Trop’s confines and players and fans celebrated together.

Rookies earned their Rays letters this season at an alarming rate as Moore, Brandon Gomes,Torres, Jake McGee and Jeremy Hellickson combined to bring home 8 of those 16 September victories among them, further showing the promise and prosperity that should bring about more moments of celebration and excitement in 2012 for this talented 5-some. Each of these 5 hurlers definitely earned their Rays letterman’s sweaters complete with a shaving cream pie.

But even with the emergence of the rookies, some of the Rays players saw their season as constant reminders of the ever-changing MLB environment. Pitchers J P Howell and Andy Sonnanstine began the 2012 Spring Training with high expectations and a want to show their abilities for this team. Sonny ended up in Triple-A Durham for most of the season, and Howell who came on later in the season never seemed to find the right groove or positive upward momentum. But that is the joy of the New Year, resolutions can be made, and the past is just that…past.

The 2011 season has long been put into the record books, but 2011 is slowing winding down towards it’s last tick of the clock and should be remembered as a season of true fortitude, ever-present resilience and a combined team-wide confidence stemming from the veterans to rookies that this team could win on any given night.

But still if I had to pick a moment of clarity for the Rays, a scene that showed the drive, commitment and determination of this squad it was on the 180th day of the season, in the 12th inning Longoria proved once and for all he is the man to follow on this squad even before his 31st Home Run made human contact in the right field stands. So as we begin to enter the 15th season for the Rays, Sonny has found a new home with the Cubs, Maddon has darkened his hair a few shades.

Changes are still in store for this team before they cross the Port Charlotte, Florida threshold this Spring. Some players have solidified their spots on the roster while others have the Rays scouting and Coaching staff wearing out the erasers on their pencils trying to mesh and mold this squad to take that next step. Can’t wait for that crystal ball to fall in NYC soon because that will symbolize that 2012 is squarely upon us, and the memories of 2011 are just that…fond and precious memories.

I Like Ike

Saw an interesting little blip pop up on my laptop screen today that the New York Mets are taking the aggressive road during the current Major League Baseball Winter Meetings in Dallas, Texas and are willing to throw all their cards on the table and see who from within the MLB crew will wheel and deal with them with their basic roster open for discussion.

The Mets have already secured a sizable investment in their reliever corps, and now are setting their sights towards a few other weaknesses going into the cold off-season. With the new ownership basically opening the doors for a MLB-sized garage sale, I wonder just how marked up the price would be for the Tampa Bay Rays to possible pick a particular name off that roster and secure a possible 2012 answer for one of their own glaring weak spots.

There is one name that just keeps flashing brightly at me from among the Mets roster. He is a player who interests me a lot, and who has shown some bright spots in his early MLB career and could possibly grow into the 1B slot for the Rays for several years instead of the team bartering and buying into short-term solutions at the position. An interesting sidebar to this is that current Mets First Baseball Ike (Issac) Davis was initially drafted by the Rays back in the 2005 MLB Amateur Draft in the 19th Round.

Davis ended up spurning the Rays and enrolled at Arizona State University. That might have been a very wise decision career-wise for Davis as his number grew and his offensive power-stroke emerged and he elevated his game enough to be picked with the 18th pick of the First Round during the 2008 MLB Draft by the Mets. Another intriguing sidebar is that Davis is the son of former MLB P Ron Davis who played in the league for 11 seasons. The pair became the 197th Father-Son combo to both play MLB caliber baseball.

Some might discount my desire for Friedman to possibly discuss Davis as “wishful thinking”, but I think the Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and his covert ops scouting deployment squad should take a few moments with baseball gang from Flushing , NY crew swirl a few players names ( possibly SP Jeff Niemann or C Jose Lobaton) to see just how much the Mets are truly dangling their players to the masses.

Then again, the Mets might be a bit “trade shy” of the Rays since the pain still lingers a bit with some of the front office staff about the Kazmir-Zambrano trade fiasco. But that should be water under the George Washington bridge by now, and if the Rays collect a few interesting names both from their MLB or farm system, the Mets could use them as clear fodder to go after another player of their choosing. Heck, why not possibly investigate who the Mets have on their radar and the Rays, Mets and a third-party come up with a solution that will give everyone a Cheshire cat grin.

Davis has the admiration of his teammates, especially former Mets, no Marlins SS Jose Reyes. Tell me this is not the kind of glowing testimonial that would not have you knocking on the Met’s hotel room door asking about Davis “ People talk about hit hitting, but he is one of the best defensive First Baseman you will ever see for a player his age”. That quote alone should perk up Friedman’s ears towards at least investigating Davis.

Davis did not have a great 2011 due to a lingering ankle injury he sustained back on May 10th when he rolled his ankle during a routine pop-up near the pitching mound. Davis gutted out the injury off-the-field doing rehab and working to try to bring the ankle back into playing strength before the end of the 2011 season. Still, the defensive-minded 1B posted some pretty impressive offensive numbers for his second MLB season.

In 139 at bats in 36 games, Davis had a .304 Batting Average, a OPS of .925 and hit 7 Home Runs and 25 Rb I’s. Some say the injury might have prevented the former 2004 High School All-American from posting a breakout season. Davis is ripe on the MLB vine right now, and the Rays should pluck him before someone else comes in and takes him away.

Davis has the defensive skills, the budding offensive power and is a humble and down-to-earth player that quickly became a Met’s fan favorite. All three of these facts fit perfectly into the Rays list of trading for potential players, and with Davis set to make possibly under $500,000 for the season, he fits the fiscal ramifications of being pursued by the club.

Problem with this is simply what is Davis worth on the Rays scale? Is he worth a small cache of minor leaguer’s and a MLB caliber player. Would the Mets possibly take Niemann or Wade Davis plus maybe another Rays pitching farm hands like Alex Torres or Nick Barnese with a kicker of one of the Rays budding catching prospect from Lo baton to Nevin Ashley.

I personally would call the Mets, possibly for at least a sit-down, possible discussion on the true availability of Davis, and if he is on the table, strike while the iron is hot this Hot Stove season. The Rays could bag a young maturing First Baseman who they can financially control for a period of time, plus plug a huge gap on the left side of their infield with a player who could have All-Star potential. Then again, who knows, maybe Friedman has already ventured into this garage sale, taken his notes and is awaiting a moment to make his move…..plus Davis’s trademark # 29 is available….better get Westy on the Batphone.

More Answers than Questions (Thank Goodness) This Rays Offseason


At the precise moment on Friday night as the St. Louis Cardinal’s barrage of champagne corks began their ascent towards the heavens, 29 other Major League Baseball franchises heard only the undeniable audible signal that announced the beginning of their own rebuilding and tweaking process. These MLB clubs did not watch in awe and admiration as Cardinal fans and players took their ceremonial baths in bubbly, that precise moment beckoned each and every club to begin to unveil and move towards their own dreams of celebrating in November, 2012.

As the city’s faithful began their dancing beneath that mighty arch, baseball vistas from Seattle to Miami began their own quests to become the club’s to do that same celebratory display in November, 2012. With the first cork came the realization that the 2011 MLB season is in the books, and 2012 is there for the taking.

This morning as the Sunburns off last night’s celebration haze, the Cardinal faithful are rushing to outlets throughout their city for their World Series title mementos while the rest of the MLB is sprinting to possibly gain a sizable lead in retaining, replacing or reconstructing their squads to have the same experience in 2012. The off season folder have been plucked from their secretive hiding places and already things are in the works both behind the scenes and in plain view. The off season for everyone in Major League Baseball has officially begun.

Here in Tampa Bay, the Rays should have an pretty abbreviated laundry list compared to their 2011 off season “wish list”. Still a few additional key components have to be found, possibly tweaked or invited to re-sign with the young club to give the Rays that same competitive fire and drive that send them from bystanders to Wild Card darlings. Key decisions have to be made about certain rotation members tenures with the team. Certain arbitration-eligible players may find themselves without a team, and a few unexpected free agents might get an Spring Training invite to become a part of the Rays 2012 nucleus.

Already there is both optimism and pessimistic waves and valleys growing within the Rays Republic. Should the Rays offer another contract to DH Johnny Damon with possibly a $7 guaranteed payday plus the same attendance bonuses? Or should the club enlist the outside help of another high priced bat-slinger to bring a bit of intimidation and power to the Rays universe?

Will a few slots open up in the Rays rotation, or will pitchers like Matt Moore and the “Alex” duo of Cobb and Torres be shipped back to the minor until mid-May to stammer their arbitration clocks? The Rays scouting system and front office is bound to have to endure more than a handful of stressful and thought provoking skull sessions to decide if the Tall Texan (Jeff Neimann) or WD-40 (Wade Davis) have better talent and potential than the pitching trifecta punching their way through the thin glass ceiling between Triple-A Durham and the St. Petersburg clubhouse.

Will the Rays catching corps rebound with authority both at the plate and behind it with John Jaso possibly showing the same power and ability that made him a Rays darling in 2010, or will a bevy of Rays farm hand backstops like Jose Lobaton, Robinson “Honeynut” Chirinos, Nevin Ashley or the powerful bat of Stephen Vogt make Jaso possibly a Rays “dead man walking?

The glass ceiling between Triple-A Durham and the clubhouse in St. Petersburg could be broken by several players of these players and more this coming Spring. Could veteran C Kelly Shoppach’s September and post season heroics gain him another shot behind the plate with the Rays, or will the Rays decline his 2012 club option? I have a feeling one of these catchers will not be with the Rays come the mid-February report date.

Then there will be an endless bevy of flowcharts and statistical evaluations and scouting critiques to decide if Reid Brignac is the heir apparent at shortstop, or if infield journeyman Sean Rodriguez will be given a chance to unseat Brignac who was the Rays 2011 Opening Day SS. Some have said S-Rod gives the team more power and a consistent bat in the line-up whereas Brignac might have the deeper range and potential coming into Spring Training 2012. With a hot Rays SS prospect like Hak-Ju Lee and INF Tim Beckham still pushing their way up the Rays farm ladder, the current shaky foundation of Brignac will open discussions towards possibly having Rodriguez get more time in the 6-slot with the future only a phone call away in Durham come late season.

Then there is the biggest hot spot of them all, who will man the First Base bag for the Rays in 2012? Most might think current 1B Casey Kotchman will get a nice bump in pay from his $ 750,000 2011 salary to re-sign with the Rays, but that is pure speculation until the contract is sign, sealed and delivered. Even with First Base power behemoths like Pujols, Fielder and possibly Votto dangling on the lines, the Rays will not have a salary deviations to land a high priced acquisition, and Kotchman could be a bargain both in his defense and in his renewed vigor at the plate.

Possibly we will see the end of the “Sonny” era with the Rays. Andy Sonnanstine spent most of 2011 in Triple-A, and being arbitration-eligible again in 2012, might have worn the Rays colors for the last time. RP J P Howell also will enter the fray again, possibly also with the Rays on the fence to his ability to rebound from his surgery and again be the needed force in the Rays Bullpen. The Rays for once seem set at “leftie specialist” as both Jake McGee and Cesar Ramos should end any discussions of the Rays needing another hurler in that category.

Kyle Farnsworth seems destined to again shore up the back end of the Rays Bullpen with a $ 3.3 million 2012 club option on the books. But could the late season elbow stiffness possibly have the Rays a bit anxious of a possible Deja Vu circa 2008 “Percival” scenario? More Bullpen concern might be to see if Joel Peralta might like to remain a Ray, possibly with a extended 2-year deal.

From top to bottom, all 40 of the Rays current roster members will undergo a evaluation soon. With free agents making visits to the Rays complex, and some packing their gloves for other vistas, this Rays off season has begun. Fortunately there are more answers than questions this season, but that will not hinder Rays VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and his staff as they find ample offense and suitable replacements for a few departing Rays. The 2011 season is officially in the record books, now comes the real fun for Friedman and his staff to bring the brilliance.

Re-casting Possible for the Rays “Young Guns”?

It always amazes me when people make posters like this. It is creative, very well thought out in the ways of design, but the content sometimes makes a lot to be desired. It is not that I do not consider the Tampa Bay Rays pitchers that this artist selected for his poster to not be “Young Guns”, I just think a couple of pitchers who also made an 2011 appearance missed the photo cut.

Gazing at the poster several images of 2011 came rushing back to me, which several being possible final curtain calls for a few Rays. Some showed their magic in 2011, while some may have shown a bit of a bad slide, possibly signing their own visas for exit from the Rays universe. Still it is wild that this one photo to the right was presented on the first day Rays pitchers’ and catchers reported in Port Charlotte, Florida, and one person presented on the poster was not even among those assembled.

Rays phenom Matt Moore did not even report until the Rays minor league player’s strolled into the Southwest Florida community, but won a spot on the poster. It would be futile to not consider this southpaw a future staple in the Rays rotation, possibly making his next appearance after May 2012. Still it shows the defining depth and promise of the Rays hurlers that a guy not even selected for a Major League Spring Invite makes such a prominent figure on the poster.

But there is something that is bothering me about this poster. Something that today might not seem relevant, but could make the whole idea of the poster moot possibly even before the 2012 Spring thaw. I consider the duo of “Alex’s”, Torres and Cobb to have a prominent place in the Rays plans coming into 2012, possibly making their Opening Day debuts this season for the Rays.

That immediately raises the question on who I truly think might be airbrushed off this poster, possibly wearing different colors as the mid-February date approaches. The first pitcher that might get a new MLB address for 2012 could be right-hander Jeff Niemann. It is nothing personal, Niemann has shown great signs of brilliance on the mound, it is just that his risk factors in regard to injury setbacks and his up and down productivity make him a suitable pitcher to find another home for 2012.

Some people might be amazed that the “Tall Texan” has made 83 career starts for the Rays, but most of us are transfixed on his last 2011 start, in Fenway Park where Niemann was matched up against Red Sox hurler Jon Lester and Neumann posted up his 11th victory of the season. Niemann posted a 8-2 record on the road this season in his 12 starts, pushing him into the top 5 road records in the major leagues, including winning 8 of his last 9 road decisions.

Usually that kind of pitcher would not even be on the cusp of trade chatter, but the Rays have a bevy of pitchers trying to break through the barrier between the Triple-A Durham Bulls and a place on the Rays 25-man roster. 2012 might be the season where the Rays get significantly younger, and Niemann may only be the first to mosey into the Florida sunset. Niemann has had a good enough career and 2011 season to possibly get the Rays an up-grade in a few needed areas for 2012. I would put him at the top of the Rays list of available players come the Hot Stove season, and a pitcher more than a few teams covet.

The second member of the Rays current “Young Guns” who might need to worry is also Niemann’s hunting and fishing buddy Wade Davis. Even though he might have signed a salary respectable contract before the 2011 season, that could be a great tasty morsel to a struggling team with limited payroll looking for a viable starter with MLB experience. I guess I put Davis on this list because I consider the two “Alex’s” to have more up-side for the Rays in the near future than Davis, this is not about his present record or his injury in 2011.

Still, Davis is another Rays pitcher who has some valuable MLB abilities and could come at a respectable trade cost to another team. Worst thing here is that Davis would be a marked man in 2012 no matter what in reality. With the firm possibility that Moore will spend at least a few months in Durham before possibly making another visit to the Rays roster, Davis looks like a man firmly on unstable ground with no lifeline within reaching distance.

Even after posting a 8 inning, 2-hit start against the Toronto Blue Jays on September 25th, Davis might not have done enough to have teams kicking his tires this offseason. Davis won his last 7 starts of the season at Tropicana Field plus Davis posted double digit win totals over his first 2 Rays seasons, but it might not be enough to let WD-40 squeak by with a 2012 spot in the rotation. Davis may be in the same row boat as Niemann right now with financial numbers and the possibility of younger starters beating on the Rays doors being the catalyst for a trade, not his abilities.

Most would think I would have selected James Shields as one of the “poster boys” to be in the most jeopardy for 2012. If you thought that, you would not be totally wrong. Shields will possibly be dealt by the Rays, but it seems more logical for him to be separated from this team by the end of July, not this off season. With Moore, Torres and Cobb all having limited game experience, having a starting trio of David Price, Shields and Jeremy Hellickson to start 2012 makes the Rays an instant contender.

Shields 2012 salary would be a huge reason for his departure, but he also showed this season he has the drive and ability to still be a top flight pitcher and a value commodity for the Rays to start 2012. By the end of July, with free agency possibly on the horizon, the Rays might be more likely to trade Shields while his value is high to a contender outside the American League.

The poster is another reminder of the deep and promising rotation the Rays should be able to push up against their Major League Baseball adversaries for the next 5-8 years. Every one of these pitchers have the abilities and the skills to dominate and take a win from the clutches of any team, at any time. It is a rare and unique thing for the Rays to have such depth, but it is also a tragedy that some of their pitchers may ultimately experience their career peaks not wearing a Rays uniform.

If You Don’t Believe Now, Better Check Your Pulse



Words would just ruin the moment. Here is a photo essay of complied photos from the great AP photographers Mike Carlson / Chris O’Meara and Getty Images Photog  J. Meric  on the field and deep within the bowels of Tropicana Field  tonight. 




 

Last, but not least, the Home Run trot that began the celebration!



Yankees Ruined My “Tales of Two Alex’s” Saga

You knew somehow it was going to happen. You knew the tale of the two Alex’s would Somehow somewhere rear its mysterious wonder sometime during this New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays series. I was praying the moment I saw the second Alex warming up in the Bullpen that the proverbial Joker would not ruin this storybook ending.

Most of us in the Rays Republic have grown accustom to the odd and sometimes mystic ways of Rays Manager Joe Maddon. We no longer question in advance the madness or insanity because of his overall check mark firmly entrench on the Winning side of the odds ledger. But during this Nationally televised contest his pair of mirror image Aces were beaten by a Jack of all trades (Nick Swisher). I could see Rick Sutcliffe doing his voodoo trance of death from my Rightfield seat.

It was the story of one Alex (Cobb) who fought through a flaw of tipping off his pitches during his M L B debut in a spot start against the Los Angels Angels at Tropicana Field to posting a 2-0 record on 5 starts this season for the home club. Cobb performed superbly in the contest putting his own spin on thew game, keeping the New York Yankees basically in check with his pitch selection leaving the ballgame in line for a “W” after posting a 4-2 cushion for his Bullpen.

t looks almost like a certain thing Cobb would post to an impressive 3-0 record. Some how the usually solid and aggressive Rays Bullpen issued 5 walks and saw their usual rock of Gibraltar, closer Kyle Farnsworth crumble. Farnsy has now surrendered 5 free passes in his last 5 appearances, which included his 3rd blown save on Monday night.

Then suddenly the second bookend Alex (Torres) who was making his M L B debut got a chance to leave a impression not only on Maddon, but on the assembled Rays crowd. Scouts had been more than vocal that Torres might not be ready for his shot, but the Rays took the gamble on their pair of Alexs’ on this night.

When Torres took the hill during the top of the 9th inning, he looked confident, polished, possibly having something to prove not only to himself and his team, but to his new pinstriped adversaries. Torres threw 44 pitches on the night, the first 7 to lead-off hitter Curtis Granderson, a hitter who is not an easy task even for a veteran. Torres did get Granderson to a 3-2 count before Granderson fouled off the next 2 offering. Then Granderson delivered with a single to Center.

Next up power hitter Mark Teixera. Another guy who with one swing could change the outcome of the game and send the Rays Republic home wondering “What if”. Torres seemed more poised, controlled as he got Teixera to strikeout swinging on 5 offerings. Suddenly maybe Alex #2 had some M L B moxy.

Torres never worried about Granderson, and he quickly stole second, moving himself 90 feet from scoring to put the pressure on the Rays. Mariano Rivera was now up and throwing over Torres right shoulder, he glanced down the foul line then threw a nice breaking pitch to Robinson Cano that he grounded to second for an easy second out. Suddenly it looked like Torres had a reliever’s mindset.

Maddon then sent in the signal to Intentionally walk Nick Swisher with Granderson 60 feet from home plate. Runners on the corners with 2 outs. Andrew Jones then saw only 5 pitches before he walked to first loading the bases with pinstripes, hyping the pressure and room for error into the red.

Martin came to the plate with the intention of ruining Torres debut. It was nothing personal, it was the way the game is played. He took the first offering from Torres and heard the deep bellow of Home Plate Umpire Ed Hickox as the ball nipped the corner. Then Martin saw 2 straight balls in the same area, but this time outside the zone, but always hoping not to hear another called strike from Hickox.

Torres gained some ground on Martin getting him to a 2-2 strike count before the momentum quickly turned in Martin’s favor. 2 of Torre’s next 3 pitches missed their mark. Bringing in Granderson from Third, posting a 5-4 lead for the Yankees.

Immediately a lot of heads went down in the assembled crowd. Somehow we all knew the result. We all collectively knew that the gamble by Maddon had been called, dealt with and the cards were in the Visitor’s favor.

Even Torres seemed to give in a little as the next hitter Brent Gardner got off to a quick 3-0 count before Torres reached down and fought back to a 3-2 count before Gardner hit a roller to Longoria for the final out of the inning.

Almost instantly the second guessing in the stands began as people questioned the Intentional walk to Swisher, but even as people bickered and threw their arms up in wonder, the Rays never seemed to get over that half of an inning, getting contact on all three at bats in their half of the inning, but going down 1-2-3 to end the night.

Suddenly Torres was being labeled in the stands as the “second coming of Jorge Sosa”. Or that he reminded some of former Rays RP/SP victor Zambrano who had a World of potential and velocity, but his control was all over the place. Both of these resemblances were unfair, but had a hint of merit.

That night Torres was informed he was going back to Triple-A Durham, but even with a perfect night his stay up with the Rays might have been short lived. You know the Rays sent Torres back to Durham with a “To Do” list of things to work on, things to get right, and progression might have us see him again in September.

Both of the Alex’s were total opposites on this night. Beside Cobb being a right-hander and Torres a leftie, that is were their similarities ended, even on Monday night. When the 9th inning began and Torres was popping the mitt with his warm-up pitches.

I wanted the storyline, the “Tale of the Two Alex’s” to have a glorious ending. A way to celebrate this rookie invasion that has been so successful for the Rays, but Swisher, a Jack of all trades had his own fairy tale ending in the works.

McGee Needs to be a Viable Rays Relief Option

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Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Jake McGee is one of the Rays young pitchers I worry about as the Rays Pitchers and Catchers report date (2/15) ticks closer. I’m not concerned about his past painful journey, or even his pitching arsenal. I am worried that McGee might get pushed into the same multi-functional category as New York Yankees starter/reliever Joba Chamberlain by possibly wear too many MLB caps instead of being focused in one finite direction.

On the surface the aspect of a MLB rookie to possessing such flexibility might not seem dangerous. It might be seen as ultimately valuable to the Major League squad to have a pitcher who can perform the multiple duties of both starter or a reliever in their bag of tricks. But that transformation comes with its own set of perils and dangers.

Some have speculated that Chamberlain has been flip flopped once too often in his short Yankee career swapping his role from starter to relief, and that his overall pitching has been effected by the juggling. There is a distinctive different make-up for a pitcher who performs every five days as opposed to a pitcher who has to ready at the beck and call of your Manager on a daily basis.

Not only are there many different mental aspects to take into consideration between the two options, but the modus operandi of each individual facet of pitching both in preparing and game day prep take on a completely different feel and clarity withg both spots in the roster. I would hate to see the Rays make the same Chamberlain type mistakes with McGee.

This is a southpaw who as recently as 2008 was considered by Baseball America to be the 5th best prospect in all of minor league baseball. Suddenly the mid-2008 Tommy John’s surgery to repair a left elbow unlar collateral tear instantly halted McGee’s meteoric rise through the Rays farm system.

When MLB.com issued their 2011 Top 50 Major League Baseball prospects list recently, McGee’s name was not anywhere to be seen on that list. That is why I am worried about McGee. Not that his confidence could ebb or that his talent has peaked, but with a fall from grace sometimes you get thought of in a different light by your organization. Possibly changing your whole future dynamic with the franchise.

You only have to look into the Rays Centerfield to see a perfect example of changing a player’s direction in their MLB career. B J Upton was considered to be the “Rays shortstop of the future”. Suddenly when a few clouds of doubt or concerns reared their ugly heads, Upton was on a carousel of positional stops from Third Base, to Second Base to finally landing in Centerfield. Ultimately the “Rays shortstop of the future” got to look in to see his supposed pre-destined position from a completely different angle.

I bring this up because there are whispers that McGee might not be brought into the Rays 2011 Spring Training as a relief candidate. He might again be stretched out as a starting candidate, possibly for Triple-A. Most would think this flexibility in McGee’s game is commendable, but I see it as a variation of the same familiar path that the Yankees took with Chamberlain early on in his development. I personally feel that New York ruined a talented ballplayer and made him mediocre by the year-to-year flipping of his job description.

Even during the 2010 Rays minor league season there are indications that the team might be flip flopping on McGee’s potential MLB abilities. When the Rays promoted McGee on September 14,2010  he had previously been appearing mostly as a reliever for the Triple-A Durham Bulls since his August 7,2010 promotion from Double-A Montgomery.

Here is where a huge Rays red flag begins to fly really high for me with possible Chamberlain type comparisons. McGee appeared in only 11 Bulls games, all in relief except for a solo start before his Major League promotion. McGee posted an overall Bulls  0.52 ERA in 17.1 innings with 27 strikeouts and a .148 opponents batting average. All stellar relief credentials that should show a talent for that relief side of the game.

The interesting side twist is that McGee started the 2010 season with Montgomery where he started 19 games, going 3-7 over 88 innings with 100 strikeouts. If you start a guy early on in the minor league season as a starter in the higher levels of your farm system, then why did he suddenly transform into a relief candidate upon promotion to Triple-A?

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Surely the Rays, who have a lack of quality left-handers in their relief corps would realistically have McGee come into Spring Training camp as a bona fide relief candidate. But there are more than a few whispers that McGee will be extended out again this Spring to become a starter, possibly for the Triple-A Bulls.

This flabbergasts me totally. Here is a player who demonstrated, even on a short term MLB relief test, that he can perform at a higher level and instead he might be considered to start games instead of hone his craft as a reliever in either the MLB or at Triple-A?

I really hope this is just one of those erroneous rumors that pop up about this time of the year just to test the waters, then proves to be totally false. McGee could be a great left-handed option for the Rays out of the Bullpen for a long, long time.

The idea of pushing McGee starting again with Rays left-handed farm system talent like leftie starter Alex Torres waiting in the wings is simply bananas. McGee could fill a huge need gap in the Rays system by learning the craft of relief while also gaining a boatload of confidence and possibly transform into a future closer option for the Rays.

The Rays have never been known to grow in-house relief talent at the back of the Bullpen, McGee could eventually be the key to breaking that farm system cycle.

Even if McGee didn’t make the Rays final 25-man roster out of Spring Training and went down for some intensive late inning work with Durham, it would benefit McGee and the Rays tremendously. Putting McGee into a rotation spot, even on the short term, could push McGee closer towards a possible Chamberlain burnout situation where McGee is being pulled in two distinctive different pitching directions.

I am not discounting McGee’s worth as a starter here, but his overall value as a reliever, even at the Triple-A level, fully trumps his consideration again for a starting nod. McGee is too good of a pitching talent to have to ultimately re-invent his pitching style on a monthly basis. His value right now to the Rays is as a key southpaw reliever, possibly even fulfilling the spot as the Rays designated left-handed specialist.

But McGee will need to work on his relief craft to push down his 2010 short term 3.87 ERA against left-handers. The talent is there, it just has to be tweaked and plucked and possibly pulled out from within McGee to flourish as a member of the Rays relief corps.  With the talent potential and possible chance for McGee to find some roster security, I truly feel the relief corps is his best possible position for the McGee and the Rays.

Because McGee has shown in his brief Durham stint that he has the kind of pitching to punish hitters in the late innings, it is all up to the Rays now With Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s constant juggling of pitchers and hitters to force favorable match-ups during the late innings of Rays contests, McGee is a valuable tool the Rays really need to succeed in 2011, but all that could be tarnished, or possibly dismissed if the Rays rumor is true that McGee will again be a starter. That would be a crying shame. 

 

 

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