Results tagged ‘ All Star game ’

Final Vote, Sminal Vote….McGee Deserved an All-Star Cap

JCG

I want to vote for one of the American League All-Star Final Vote candidates, but I’m not.

Some might say my reasoning is selfish as baseball is viewed as a team sport played by individuals and we should vote and select the finest talents in the land to represent our AL squad.

 But this season, I disagree with that train of thought.

400-thumb-450x337-2628681Call me a horse’s caboose if you want, but I’m boycotting this year’s selection because I can, as my vote matters (Or that is what every politician says). The main reason I’m not voting for any of the 5 qualified candidates is that I believe there should have been another Rays horse in the running for an A L All-Star slot.

I firmly would have voted as many times as possible on my many email addresses (work and personal) for Tampa Bay Rays RP Jake McGee to be added to the A L squad.

Most will bring me the argument that the A L already have enough talent on the left side of the rubber with the likes of A’s RP Sean Doolittle, Twins Glenn Perkins and 2008 All-Star game late inning reliever and game winner Scott Kazmir (who will represent the A’s) on their roster.

images (2)Add the additional lefty names of Boston’s Jon Lester and the Jays Mark Buehrle , plus the Rays lone selection David Price, and the A L team currently has 6 left-handed selections and the Final Vote could bring another.

I had a feeling Farrell was going to call the name of a southpaw from the Rays, but I did not think it would have been Price even though he has also put up some stellar stats considering his team’s hot and cold running offense at times this season. Maybe it was wishful thinking that Farrell might call on the soft-spoken McGee instead of Price, but I had hopes.

downloadBut it seems the All-Star game anymore is about the “hero factor”, or the guy who has that role model persona loud and proud and not the guy who has honed his craft and finally has all the pieces gathered to complete his M L B puzzle.

I truly thought this All-Star game would be McGee’s “coming out” party to show why the Rays have let him go from a great minor league starter to pulling the final strings at times in the Rays current closer-by-committee framework.

But as they say, let’s let the numbers (as of 7/9/14) speak for themselves.

*** McGee sports a 3-0 record with 6 saves this season, including a nail-biting, 4-out save last night.

*** Sports a 1.58 ERA in 42 appearances this season and surrendered a 14 straight scoreless appearance streak in last nights (7/8) Rays win over the Kansas City Royals.

***He allowed a run for only the 2nd time in his last 31 appearances, plus 39 of his 43 trips to the hill in 2014 have been scoreless appearances.

*** His fastball velocity, which averages 96.5 mph is the highest among leftie AL relievers.

*** His total appearances (42) ranks 2nd in the A L, and his stingy Opponents Slugging Percentage of .214 has him ranked 3rd in the AL.

*** He has pitched 49 consecutive homerless inning, the 3rd longest streak in the entire M L B. His last HR was on Sept 4, 2013 to LA Angel C Chris Iannetta.

***20 of his total 25 hits this season have been singles, and the other 5 have been doubles.

***McGee has stranded 24 of his 27 inherited base runners (88.9 %) this season and if his current formula runs true, should eclipse the Rays record of 88.6% set by former Rays Southpaw J P Howell in 2008.

So the numbers show McGee has the talents and the numbers to be considered a 2014 All-Star.

images (5)Some have said that since Price makes his last start before the break this Saturday that 3-days rest might not make him a viable pitching option for All-Star game.

Others have commented that Price could attend the All-Star game festivities in Minnesota and consult with Farrell possibly Sunday morning to recommend McGee as a viable option since Price would have a little more than 2-2 1/2 days rest before the contest. Some say Price passing the Rays All-Star game cap to McGee would be one of the most unselfish and deserving moves Price would ever do as a Ray. uniform

The move also could be viewed as a team-first move as not pitching in the All-Star game would put Price in line to pitch in the Rays first post All-Star game contest against the Twins on Friday, July 18th.

images (4)So you can snide me all you want that I’m not voting for another player not sporting a Rays uniform in the All-Star game final vote.

The players selected by M L B are deserving and merit consideration, but I got to stick with my gut on this and keep the home fires burning that McGee gets a call from Farrell before Tuesday’s All-Star game.

Sometimes you got to stick to your hometown convictions even if it doesn’t always jive with the majority.

Rays All-Star Mickey Mouse

 

 
       

Why wouldn’t Disney and Major League Baseball partner in duo-advertising for the 2010 MLB All-Star game held in Disneyland’s back yard in Anaheim, California. It only made sense that a former owner of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim would also be able to offer a unique experience for MLB fans all over the country.
 
It might end up as one of the better business decisions of MLB in the last few years as their 2010 statutes feature the most recognized cartoon mouse in the world. Mickey Mouse was unveiled on June 2, in 36 located throughout Southern California to celebrate the All-Star game.

These 36 specially decorated Mickey statues were commissioned in conjunction with Forever Collectibles are each designed with each of the MLB’s 30 teams unique team logo characteristics and are 7.5 feet in height and weigh 989 pounds. What was even greater is the fact that MLB and Disney Consumer Products also launched a Scavenger Hunt on June 11th for So Cal MLB fans to be the first to find a Mickey Mouse statue and get photographic proof, then submit their photos .

The first person to take a photo in front of all 36 statues and tweet ( via Twitter) a link to their photo gallery would win the Grand Prize of two tickets to the All-Star game on July 13th.

 
MLB.com

So I decided to do a little Renegade search mission of my own and found the Tampa Bay Rays statue sitting nice and pretty among the foyer gallery region of the Laguna Art Museum in Laguna Beach, California. Interesting that the Rays version has a distinctive multi blue hued design with the radiant Rays logo, plus a special feature hidden within the right front ear flap of Mickey Mouse.

Within that section of Mickey was a rendition of our mascot, Raymond done up in all his cartoon glory. What is amazing about our Rays Mickey Mouse is that it is not roped off and in a heavily secured area, but is right in the plain sight with no revolving security forces.
 
I mention this is that the Boston Red Sox Mickey Mouse sustained an arm injury to the statue, but it since been fixed and repositioned at the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana, California in the outside the main entry area. For those wondering, I was home in St. Petersburg and was no where near Santa Anna, or the Red Sox Mickey Mouse. This is my story, and I am sticking to it! 

Since I have mentioned the Red Sox statue, I might as well also give you the rest of the American League East locations for fans who might be heading to So Cal next week.


The New York Yankees Mickey is located at L.A. Live within the ESPN Zone restaurant lobby in Los Angeles.

The Toronto Blue Jays statue is located at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, California just within the main entrance.

And last, but not least, The Baltimore Orioles Mickey Mouse is located at the Newport Sports Museum in their main entrance.

If you need to know the location of any other All- Star Mickey Mouse,
just leave me a comment and I will post the statue’s location for you as soon as possible. See you all in the funny papers.

Soriano Got Snubbed, Plain and Simple

 
 
Getty Images
Today as we sit with our families or in a baseball stadium celebrating our Nation’s birth date, I am going to use my right to freedom of speech to it fullest. I am going to use a right afforded to me by my forefathers to insure my opinion and my personal stance on a subject will not fall to persecution or alienation by my peers. That the written virtue of my prose is guaranteed, and can also be challenged by any other person with a differing opinion. It is one of the greatest rights afforded to us, and one each of us use daily, maybe without knowing it.

I do not know why, but I had the resounding feeling before today’s announcement of the 2010 All-Star rosters that someone on the Tampa Bay Rays, who deserved a roster spot for the 2010 All-Star game would get the shaft. It really shocked me that New York Yankees Manager Joe Girardi, who has personally seen Rays closer Rafael Soriano up close and personal this season, would leave the Rays closer off his initial list of pitchers for the All-Star nod. Considering Girardi manages in the same division as the Rays, and saw Soriano in action against his Yankees (May 20th), you would have thought he would see the solidarity and the security Soriano has brought to the back end of the Rays Bullpen.

Maybe this is one of those tongue-in-cheek All-Star snubs that was made to make an obscure point. I might be in the minority here, but how can you argue with Soriano’s in-your-face statistics as being the reason for his obvious omission. Who can argue with a pitcher who has 20 saves, and is currently only two off the league lead not being on the A L All-Star roster. Could it be Soriano’s one lone blown save opportunity as the deciding factor in his name missing from this roster?

Soriano’s 95.2 percent save percentage is tops in the Major Leagues, and should have been a nicely highlighted stat to the level of consistency that Soriano has been nothing short of spectacular for the Rays since being acquired on Dec 11. Not since former Rays closer Roberto Hernandez last put on a Rays uniform has this team had a solid reliever who can close the door and secure the game with undying confidence for the Rays. Soriano has shown his consistent nature by posting his second 20-save campaign of his career.
A great illustration of the new Rays confidence that Soriano has brought the Rays can best be shown in the recent June 19th game against the Florida Marlins when Soriano came into the contest in the eighth inning, the first time he had entered the game before the ninth inning for the Rays. Soriano did end up this appearance with his first blown save, even though he did not let a single runner reach base. Soriano’s inherited runners on third and first base with a one run lead , and the tying run did scored on a fielder’s choice.

 
Chris O’Meara/AP
Also remarkable is the fact Soriano converted his first 16 straight save opportunities, of the season to tie a Rays club record held by Al Reyes. If you look further back, it was Soriano’s 21st save in a row. You would think that with a set of impressive statistics like this on paper it would be an easy choice to pick Soriano as a reliever for the American League All-Star roster. How could Girardi forget that Soriano is currently 2-0 with a impressive 1.52 ERA and has allowed only 2 earned runs in his last 21 appearances, and has not issued a walk in his last 15 time on the mound. During this period, Soriano has held hitters to a .168 batting average, which is the 8th best mark in the Major Leagues.

It has only been a short period of time since Soriano was picked as the Major League Baseball Delivery Man of the Month (May) after not allowing a run in his 12 appearances while converting all 9 of his save situations. During May 2010, Soriano only allowed just three hits and 3 walks while posting nine strikeouts while holding opposing hitters to a .086 average. All the above statistics and information should be good enough to at least getting a secondary glance to securing an All-Star nod. But for some reason, Soriano’s name was omitted from the first list of pitchers selected for the American League squad.

How soon Girardi has forgotten that Soriano pulled off a major coup of saving both halves of the Boston doubleheader on April 17th. Soriano came into the resumed contest that afternoon and got the initial save in the duo games. Soriano then came on again in the ninth inning of the regularly scheduled game and got his second save of the day. Soriano became the first Rays pitcher to ever record two saves in one day.

Maybe it was a miscalculation by Girardi. Maybe there is a viable excuse for Soriano’s omission like having to place one member (Joakim Soria, Matt Thorton) of each of the American League teams on the All-Star roster. The Rays Republic knows there has to be some great excuse, some insurmountable tale of the stats that pushed Girardi’s eyes away from Soriano glaring statistics. I do not see it for the life of me what averted his eyes from seriously considering Soriano.
I might be a bit prejudiced here, but I also can see the solidarity and the difference that Soriano has made to this Rays team.

From his Rays game introduction complete with a raging flurry of flames and hard bass beats, you get the feeling the Rays truly got a value when they acquired the $ 9.5 million dollar man. I honestly expected Girardi to include his own closer, Yankee Mariano Rivera, and his secondary selection of Detroit closer Jose Valverde is a solid pick. My only question is why there are only two closer type candidates when past rosters have been stacked with them?


 

Could there be a darker reason why Soriano is not on this year’s A L roster? Could Girardi be pushing his own pinstripe pride a little too far. The very visual and apparent deletion by Girardi of Soriano could be fixed in the coming days because of pitching injuries. The idea of not including Soriano came as a complete shock to me I can understand Girardi’s confidence in his own closer Rivera, but when a closer dominates his league ,shows the ability to get the job done day in and day out, he should be on the short list for an opportunity like the All-Star game.

Hopefully it was a close decision with at least a few minutes of deliberation and chatter, and one that had to be made even without regard to Soriano’s bold and brash dominating performances to date. Hopefully Girardi’s decision of leaving Soriano has more to do with the roster make-up, and less to do with him being a Ray.
 
 

 

The Special Edition MLB All-Star Game Bottle

 


 

I sometimes still get the odd merchandising mailings and a package containing some of the promotional items from Pepsico, even though I left their employment over three years ago. I have been told, I still have a friend within the company’s headquarters in Purchase, New York, and sometimes still get some interesting trinkets and tidbits from the “home office”. But I opened a box sitting by my mailbox last night and might have gotten one of the best gifts from my former employer.


There sitting amongst a bushel of Styrofoam peanuts was a treasure I would surely keep close to me. Nestled in that soft carpet of Mr. Peanut head -shaped packing material was a gift only a true baseball love could enjoy. For someone in that office up in New York remembered I was a active and enthusiastic baseball fan, and I got a great thrill after seeing the collectible item stuffed within that box.

Every year Pepsi Cola does some kind of remarkable collectible bottles to celebrate professional sporting events throughout this great Nation, and today…I got a small piece of history stuffed within that box.


I had gotten both 16 ounce aluminum Pepsi bottles of the collectible set that had been distributed within the California market to celebrate the upcoming All-Star Game to be held at Angels Stadium in Anaheim, California on July 13th. Glistening among those white peanuts was two different styled bottles to immortalize this great event. And each bottle have their own unique patterns and interesting points.

The first bottle I picked up and pulled out of the box was a full bottle that had six different past All-Stars listed on the round bottle.

There was Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia, Yankee starter C C Sabathia, Angels Centerfielder Torii Hunter, St. Louis Cardinals First Baseman Albert Pujols, Dodger Outfielder Andre Ethier and last, but not least Mariner’s fireballer Felix  “King” Hernandez.

All had action shots that were etched and printed on the bottles with their past All-Star appearances. It was kind of odd to me that Pepsi did not include Ken Griffey Jur. In this promotion since he has been a focal point of past MLB promotions along with Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriquez and shortstop Derek Jeter. But the pinstripes did get a nod with the big man Sabathia, so they did not get shut out.

The second bottle had a basic great California background with palm trees and the mountains on it, and is printed in the Pepsi trademark blue and had a distinctive centerpiece of the 2010 MLB All-Star Game logo. On the bottle within the sweet spot regions on the baseballs were street signs designating “Hollywood” “Interstate 5″ , ” OC”, and “Santa Monica” . These items again are only being sold in the Southern California Pepsi marketplace, and should be going fast off the shelves as collectors and Pepsi fans alike begin to notice this great item to celebrate the 2010 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

But it was great that someone who used to be my Pepsi upper level contacts remembered that I was an avid baseball fan again this year, and sent me this fantastic gift that is available in a limited edition only in one section of the country. But then this person was also on hand when I used to build and try and construct the unique and exclusive Pepsi displays during the past Rays Fan Fest for the annual Rays/Pepsi Fan Wall of Fame ceremonies.

 

Still it was great to get something special from Pepsi, and it will (hopefully) be in my collection for a long, long time. By the way, they are filled with bubbly Pepsi, and will remain full until……

 
 
 
 

C C to the Rescue

  


Jeff Roberson / AP

You know it is funny. Carl Crawford has been involved in three All star games during his career and for some reason people have forgotten all about his last two All Star appearances. For some reason they forgot about his solo HR shot in 2007 at AT&T Park during the All Star game in San Francisco, and they certainly  have misplaced their minds about his first appearance back in 2002 when he got to play in front of his home town fans in Houston, Texas at Minute Maid Park. Maybe it was the simple fact he went 0-2 in that  first game that left him unnoticed by the rest of the baseball world. Maybe they thought he was a one shot deal and would then go back into oblivion in Tampa Bay.

How many people outside of the Tampa Bay area know that Crawford has seven years of major league experience. The way some of the people acted online last night on Twitter, it was if he had just crawled from under some rock and finally got noticed by the rest of the country. It took an amazing play in the seventh inning to rob Colorado Rockies outfielder Brad Hawpe of a potential home run for everyone to open their eyes towards C C. You would have thought after the Rays run in the 2008 American League playoffs and during the World Series against the Phillies he would have made a recognizable name that would stand out to voters for the All Star game. But no, he was selected to this games as a reserve based on the player’s votes, not by the fans. And that is a horrible thought that we forgot Crawford on the Fan Vote.

And tell me that moment is not going to be a great attention grabber for people to look at his career. It is a bit of a shame that the players in your league (AL) have more respect and admiration for your abilities than the fans voting online or at the other 29 baseball parks. You almost wanted him for a moment to be cocky last night, but that is not his way. He just flashed that smile we have grown to love with the Rays and showed those dimples that have endeared him to us since 2002. He was truly humbled by the moment. He is truly one of those strong, silent types of guys, and it showed last night in the National telecast. But that also endears him to you. You have to admire and love the fact the guy first brought up his teammates on the AL squad before anything else. He is a total team player at heart.


Dillip Vishwanat / Getty Images

Crawford did show that part of his defensive game that people around the Rays have always known about, but has been brought into the light fully last night. He might have become a victim of his own  bursts of speed and easy glides to the ball in leftfield. He makes some plays look so routine that might handcuff other leftfielders in the league. And because he is unafraid to leave his feet to go either vertical or horizontal for the ball, people take that as a ho hum part of his game. But then again, I get to watch him 162 games a year and I am still thrilled with every catch he makes, even the easy ones. There is an art form to the way he plays leftfield for the Rays. He is very fluid in the the outfield, even towards the gaps.

And Crawford is the type of guy you want to win the Ted Williams All Star Game Most Valuable Player Award. He is so humble and thankful to just be playing the game of baseball that you cheer for him and want him to breed success.  And people outside of Tampa Bay  have not gotten to see him get better every season since 2002. Crawford has gotten improved every season in some form of his game. This might be the first season that the rest of the country has gotten to  really know his name, but here in Tampa Bay, we know if Crawford is on the base paths, it is “game on!”

And to think he began the 2009 All Star game on the bench and came on as a pinch-hitter in the fifth inning and stroked a single in his first at bat. But it was not until the seventh inning that Crawford might have cemented his name into All Star lore with the likes of then Minnesota Twins outfielder Torii Hunter’s grab of a Barry Bonds line drive in the 2002 All Star Game. For the next generation, Crawford will be on the defensive highlight reels for the rest of the country to savor and wish he was in their outfield (Sorry everyone he has a team option of $11 million for 2010).

But what does America really know about this guy? What is it that makes him so special to baseball? If you have to ask yourself either of those questions, you have not been watching a whole lot of ESPN “Baseball Tonight” or “Sportscenter” baseball highlights the last 5 years.  Even in the early stages of the 2009 season, a huge segment of the country outside of the American League  have not even woken up to the potential of Crawford until he stole those six bases again the Boston Red Sox at home back on May 3,2009. But did you know that right now Crawford (44) and team mate B J Upton (31) have become only the second set of AL teammates to reach 30 steals by the All Star break.



 

And that is only the tip of the type of the offensive iceberg in Crawford’s arsenal. Up to now there have been only five AL players All Time who have had more steals than Crawford’s 44 steals right now before the All Star game. And some of those names are the best basestealers in MLB history. Names like Rickey Henderson (Oak), Ron LeFlores(Det), Vince Coleman (KC) , Mickey Rivers ( NY) and Kenny Lofton (Cle). All of them considered the elite in the art of stealing bases, and Crawford is the new name to be added to that awesome list. 

Crawford’s 44 steals so far in 2009 is better than the team totals of eight squads in the MLB right now. Carl is enroute to winning his fifth American League stolen base title in seven seasons. He also stole his 40th base of the season on June 28th against the Toronto Blue Jays in only the Rays 78th game. In the last 15 years, only three other players have reached that mark in less than 78 games. And by hitting the 40 steals plateau for the sixth time in his career, he trails only current Los Angeles Dodger Juan Pierre, who has hit the mark eight times in his career. So you might see a slight pattern here. Crawford is trying to re-write a few of the record books in reference to his knack for stealing bases.

But stealing bases is not his only claim to fame people. He is also currently third in the AL in hits with 109, which is also the fourth best mark in all of baseball. His 109 hits before the break missed the Rays club record by one hit, and he set that record (110 hits) in 2004. And he was not even an All Star that season for the Rays. Crawford has 35 multi-hit games this season to give him the third best mark in the AL. He is in the top ten in AL hitting and is currently ninth in the AL with 58 runs scored prior to the All Star break.  This set of statistics also puts him in a special class as one of four AL players All Time to have 40 steals and 100 hits  before the All Star break joining again, Henderson, Lofton and LeFlore.

And if all of that is not impressive to you, take the fact he is tied with Toronto’s Adam Lind for the top spot in the MLB by getting a hit with two strikes on him 47 times this season. Crawford played in his 1,000th game earlier this season as a Ray and his totals of 341 stolen bases and 87 triples have not been topped since Ty Cobb played baseball. And if that is not impressive enough for you, since 1900, Crawford is only the seventh player to reach 1,000 hits and 300 steals before he turned 27.

This guy is magic on the field, with his glove or on the base paths. He is the type of guy you build a team around. But because he is not a flashy or even a mildly controversial player, he might fall through the cracks and not get the publicity. While Crawford might have missed out on the free publicity, he has been working his tail off every day for the Rays and finally got to taste the fruits of hard work and determination in 2008 when the Rays shocked the baseball world by making it all the way to the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies. And Crawford stayed in the background during that playoff run accumulating a .295 playoff average while the Rays soared towards the World Series.

The best praise of the continued improvement of Crawford might have come from his own Al All Star/Rays Manager Joe Maddon after the All Star Game last night. Maddon told Fox Sports last night, “I’ve been talking to everybody all year about this. Carl, he has become a better baseball player since I first met him in 2006. He’s a better defender, a better thrower, a better baserunner, a better base stealer, and it’s all because of his work,” he added. “It’s because of him. His work ethic is that good.” 

After a glowing endorsement like that I guess all I can say now is that last night’s heroics might have also begun a timid and long trail towards the Baseball Hall of Fame for Crawford. He doesn’t have the numbers yet, but they are going skyward every game and will only get better. The country saw a Tampa Bay Rays pull a certain Home Run ball from beyond the wall to give the American League home field advantage in the 2009 World Series. No matter who gets there from the AL, they have CC to thank for the home field advantage.

Maybe the rest of the country will now pay attention to the guy we thought deserved a Gold Glove for his work in leftfield. Crawford has put up amazing numbers offensively for the Rays in his seven year tenure with the team. But little do people know that he also has 78 home runs and 473 RBI to go along with his steal totals. He might be the least known of the guy who have the total package in the major leagues. But because he the product of a small market team, he did not get great exposure outside of his broadcast region until the Rays hit the playoffs in 2008.

But winning breeds that type of exposure, and with that extra viewing to the rest of the country got to see the hidden gem in Crawford. Little has been written or even mentioned about his career Fielding Percentage of .991. The guy has made only 21 errors on a total of 2295 total chances in his career. Funny, in the 2008 Rawlings Gold Glove award, two of the three winners play centerfield (Torii Hunter, Grady Sizemore) and the other rightfield (Ichiro Suzuki). No one in the AL got the nod in leftfield. Hopefully in 2009 Crawford can also make a few strides in also pulling in a Gold Glove of his own. The catch in the All Star game might get him some extra consideration in 2009.

I might be biased since I have gotten to watch Crawford mature and take control of his game. He has grown into the kind of player who can change a game just by being on base. Crawford has transformed his game into making a simple walk an almost automatic double and put pressure on A L pitching staffs. Even with teams beginning to anticipate his moves, he is still getting adequate jumps and good base stealing opportunities this season.

He is the type of player who can make a hard play seem easy, and most of all he is the first guy to be there to give props if you do something amazing. His clubhouse presence and leadership have blossomed, just like his exposure to the rest of the country this season thanks to last night’s amazing catch. Maybe now the rest of America will remember his name and vote him into the All Star game in 2010 on the Fan’s vote, where he should be for years to come….count on it!

Vote ‘Los!

And you thought the big elections were over in November. No, if you are one of the fanatical members of the baseball party, you know that this week is the last chance to let your voice be heard and to get another deserving candidate on the baselines for their introduction during the 2009 All Star game in St. Louis ,Missouri.  And with the success of Evan Longoria getting voted into the 2008 All Star game on the Final Vote, the Rays are putting all their eggs in a basket to again get another deserving member of the Rays into the 2009 classic.

Do you know if Carlos Pena doesn’t get voted into the All Star game it will be the first time in a long time that the American League Home Run Leader is not in attendance at the big event since 1993 when the Tigers Mickey Tettleton missed the classic. Furthermore, with Longoria not being so keen on the State Farm Home Run Derby this year, maybe Carlos can take his spot and drill the rightfield stands with a few balls.  If you have never watched Pena hit home runs during Batting Practice or even during a game, you have missed a great display of pure power and thrusting through the ball to get it over the outfield wall.

To see this guy lean back and get a hold of a pitch is a sight to behold. Truly, it is something magical to watch that ball sail out of the yard and into the hands of a fan in the rightfield stands. And you know how they love to see homers in St. Louis! But Pena is up against a few really credible stars of their own in this All Star Game Sprint Final Vote. There are a few people also on the ballot that have been mentioned as “sure things”, or their team representatives with the fan vote, but they might have lost a bit of favor in the players voting and are relegated to the Final Vote now.

Guys like Ian Kinsler of Texas, Chone Figgins of the Angels, Brandon Inge of the Tigers and Adam Lind of the Blue Jays along with Pena will be seeking your vote between today and Thursday at 4 pm. After that time, MLB will announce the winner. And  with that last vote goes the honor of lining up with the rest of the best of the American League for the All Star game. But why do I think Pena is the man for the mission. Why on earth do I think he can overcome the other four guys and be the man selected to the All Star game?

Well, simply he is the current AL Home Run leader with 23 dingers this season. What is also truly amazing is that ex-Ray Russell Branyan, who is now bashing them with Seattle is second with 21 home runs.  Pena is also currently ninth in RBI with 55, and he is seventh in the AL in runs with 58 right now.  Those two statistics by themselves show that Pena has been an offensive force for the Rays in 2009. His batting average might not be pretty (.231), but his OPS of .898 shows he has the ability and the consistent nature to get on base and make thing happen for the Rays. 

He is also only one walk behind current AL leader Marc Scutaro of Toronto (56) for the lead in that category too  He is also sitting in the third spot in Intentional Base on Balls this season with seven trips to first base.  His offensive numbers have been consistent the last few seasons in the power categories having been near the top in homers and walks the last two years in the AL.  In 2008, Pena blasted 31 homers and drove in 102 RBI to help the Rays to their first winning season and their drive to the 2008 World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies. In 2007, Pena hit 46 homers with 121 RBI to establish new Rays marks in both categories.

But even if you are still not convinced on his offensive number, the fact he is in the top tier of A L first basemen with his defense should be his trump card. Pena might be having a down year for him, but he is still one of the best defensive players on the right side of the infield. His dives and saving of extra base hits during the season are only the tip of the iceberg for this vacuum cleaner at first. His plays at first, along with his newly shined Golden Glove won during the 2008 season shows that he has the right stuff to man the position and be the best option. 

But besides that, Pena is the kind of guy you want to see in the All Star game. He is very humble and very proud of is teammates and what they have accomplished in the last 12 months.  He is the model of a team leader and clubhouse guy you want for your squad. And he shares that love of the game with the community all the time. Be it advertising for the Boy and Girls Club, or making special appearances for the team at local hospitals, you can always count on Pena to be one of the first to volunteer. 

Let also add the interesting note that if Pena is selected to the All Star team, the Rays will be only the fourth team since 1969 to put their entire starting infield on the field at some point in the All Star game. The last to do it was the 2002 New York Yankees. But that might be one of the bad things about having the year the Rays and Pena had in 2008. Too many great things happen while no one on the team had an outstanding or career year in 2008. The team concept and the bonding of that unit played a huge role in them winning the A L East crown, not blasting the ball every night and taking what the defense gave them in games. 

But some things might be working against Pena to even be considered for the spot. He is surly deserving of the honor, but with the success of the Rays and four member all ready on the AL roster, people might consider it overloading the squad with Rays if they select Pena. This is actually pretty petty if that is the reasoning for not selecting him to the All Star game. The game symbolizes the best players at their positions showing their stuff during and exhibition game at the mid point of the season. It is not like there is a multitude of bonus money being thrown around for any of the Rays players that make the rosters. 

But it is also a unique situation for Pena considering that he has won the 2007 Silver Slugger award for first base, which goes to the best hitting first baseman in the American League, plus got received the 2008 Golden Glove for the position. This shows that the MLB players, media and even the fans do recognize his efforts and abilities to get this team to the next level. It only seems fair and right to let him take that next step and become recognized as an All Star for the Rays. If you need a few more statistics to peak your interest in voting for Pena, he is also leading the AL in home runs per at-bat with a 12.48 mark this season.  From 2007-2009, he is ranked fifth with 100 home runs among all hitters in the major leagues. 

And let’s not forget he did finish tenth in the Most Valuable Player voting for the American League last season. Pena is everything you want in a player for your team. He has a great bat and the ability to help motivate and transforms your baseball team into a winner. He always has a positive attitude and a glowing smile on his face when he talks about this team. He recognizes and gives praise the fanbase, his teammates even before he talks about himself. He is truly the kind of player you want to see smile and wave to the crowd on the baselines of the All-star game………..Will you be helping Carlos in his journey?

The Tampa Bay Rays have also stepped up their community and in-stadium efforts to try and drawn in more votes for Pena during the Final Vote this week. Beginning with today;s game against the Toronto Blue Jays, the Rays will launch the “Vote ‘Los” campaign. This will include:

    Seven billboards promoting Carlos throughout the Tampa Bay area in key locations
     
    Laptop computers set up around the concourses at Tropicana Field for voting
     
    Gameday staff wearing “Vote ‘Los” T-shirts
    Fans are encouraged to bring their own laptop and wireless devices to vote during the game ( You know I will)
    A “Vote ‘Los” ad will run on YouTube and Facebook
     
    “Vote ‘Los” flyers will be distributed throughout the area
    Street Team will be making appearances throughout the Bay area promoting fans to get out and “Vote ‘Los”
    “Vote ‘Los” T-shirts will be given away to select fans throughout the series (Umm, Brian, Can I have one?)

    So come on people the time is now, and the clock is ticking. It is time for us to show our support and pride in one of our own again and start voting online or with your cellphone for Carlos Pena for the 33rd spot on the All-Star roster. We only have until 4 pm EST on Thursday to make out voices carry loud and clear. Unlike the All Star voting, which limited you to 25 total votes online per Email address, you can vote a million times if needed to get Pena selected to the All Star team.

    So remember to vote often and frequently over the next few days to get one of our own on the roster of the American League All Stars. So why are you still here reading this blog? Come on now, you know the drill by now, go to either www.MLB.com or www.Raysbaseball.com to submit your votes to show support for “El Presidente” also known as Carlos Pena for the All Star game.

Four Rays make the All Star roster

 

You know it had to be a tough decision. And you know it had to have more than a few multiple phone calls or even stats investigations before Rays Manager Joe Maddon handed in his 2009 All Star selection card to MLB. I wonder if you fax such a document, or if it is on a Word Excel/Powerpoint program, or maybe the technology savvy Maddon sent it via E-mail or text message. No matter how it got delivered, or how it got decided on the dozen of guys on the fence, we have out 2009 A L All Star squad now.

And it is a pretty competitive bunch here people. There is the usual Rays-killers listed on the offensive side of the team with Boston’s Dustin Pedroia and the Yankees Mark Teixeira leading the parade, but it is some of the name that have been whispered in the recent days that popped up on the list that might spark the biggest comments or arguments. Sure the Rays put four guys on the All-Star roster. Each one of them have a legitamate reason and statistics to merit their selection. You already know I have been harping about Ben Zobrist and Jason Bartlett for months, and I have beyond myself that they have both gotten to the final vote.

I did not think Evan Longoria, who was the leading A L Vote getter at the last postng of the votes needed my hekp to get into the All-Star game. Heck he was killing A-Rod at the polls and that in itself is a major coup. Carl Crawford I always thought had a great shot at the field not only becuase of the injury to Josh Hamilton, but becuase he has been posting consistent numbers to merit such a selection. Again congrats to all four of the current Rays All Stars, but you might be seeing a few more familiar faces in St. Louis by the time the game is started.

J P Howell was not selected to the All Star team ,but you got to think he is going to be high on the list if there is an injury to a reliever before the game starts. He has put up another set of outstanding numbers to even trump his 2008 stats so far this season. And he has silently taken the reins in the ninth innings for the Rays in June. But he is not the only Rays who might also find themselves in that locker room come game time. Carlos Pena also might get a second shot as he is one of the five guys to choose from in the All Star Game Sprint Final Vote this season.

Last season that is how Evan Longoria got his spot on the roster, and see how he has blossomed in the last year. Carlos Pena will be joined in that final vote by Texas Ranger Ian Kinsler, Angel Chone Figgins, Tiger Brandon Inge,and Blue Jay Adam Lind. That vote will go on until 4 pm on Tuesday when the last memebr of the A L sqaud will be announced by MLB. This group is kind of interesting since two of the memebrs of the final vote were on my ballot to make the squad as their teams representatives.

I do find it kind of odd that Kinsler, the hard hitting second baseman of the Rangers did not make the team as a reserve. I am mean he is the most consistent hitter on the Rangers team this year, and he is amazing to watch on the field with him growing more secure every day at his position. It is odd to not see him on the squad, but the selection by the fans of Josh Hamilton gave the Rangers their one needed player for the team representation. It will be quite a time to see if the Rangers faithful come out and vote for Kinsler to get hm a shot at the All Star game. I am putting him as having an outside chance at the spot. 

The other player I thought might get on the squad as a reserve was Tiger’s catcher/third baseman Brandon Inge. And I did not think he would get on because he is on my Fantasy team, more for the fact he also has been the consistent hitter for the Tigers this season. Sure Miguel Cabrera has hit the cover off the ball, but Inge even leads the Tigers in homers with 18, two more than Cabrera. You want to dig deeper into this, well Inge even has 52 RBI compared to the 46 by Cabrera. And to slam the door let’s look at their batting averages. In this statistic is come out as a pure power slam as Cabera’s only bright spot in this match-up. Cabera’s .324 batting average dwarfs Inge’s .269 average, but Inge has been the consistent scoring machine.

Pena’s addition on to this final vote can not be because of the over 3,000 votes I submitted at the Trop with his name as a write-in candidate for the State Farm Home Run Derby. I almost wish it was, but I can not see my little input having any nudging points for the MLB brass. So I have to conjure up the thoughts that the American League leading home run hitter should get a chance on that roster. Heck, I really was looking forward to seeing ‘Los crank his back to a 45 degree angle and see a few balls head to rightfield on a lazer beam. But then again, I know the guy is not only a itting machine.  He ia also leading the AL again with walks with 54, and sitting in a three-way tie for eighth in RBI right now.

His power and grace would be a nice addition to the A L Roster. And if you have ever gotten the pleasure to hear him talk, you would know he will do not only the Rays proud, but MLB with his intelligent and thought provoking conversation. I am happy and pleasantly surpsied that four memebrs of the Rays will be on the field during the 2009 All Star game. What is even better is all four of those players were on the field at some time for the Rays in 2008 when they visited Busch Stadium for the Inter League seriesagainst the Cardinals. That proves that the Rays do not go after guys just to get on the All Star roster, but look for competitors who will gel with the team and prove themselves on the field. 

So, you are probably thinking who I am voting for in the final vote. Well, if you have to ask you do not know me at all. I am going to vote for Pena. Not because he is a Ray, but because of wht he means to that team over the last three seasons getting a Silver Slugger and Golden Glove, but no All Star bid. It might be a slow escalation for Pena to finally reach this plateau in his career, but it is one he has been putting up the right numbers to be considered for the last three years. Tuesday will be either an exciting day for Pena, or another chance to get his name out there for the rest of the MLB to take notice of for 2010. There are three great hitting first baseman in the A L East, and the third guy’s name is  Carlos Pena.

Jason Bartlett deserves an All-Star spot

 


Gail Burton / AP

People have always looked to New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter as the ulitimate symbol of what it takes to be a American League All-Star selection. I mean the guy has the endorsement looks, the slick glove and a energized bat that always seems to hum at, or above the .300 clip every single season. For what seems like his entire career Jeter has had his name stenciled on the All-Star ballot, and been selected for the team based mostly on “what he can do for you in a pinch.”

And that is a great quality for your shortstop aka field general to have because  consistent clutch performances earn you the big bucks and the name recognition that even part-time fans notice. So can we honestly say that maybe the Yankees famed number 2 is going to have a bit of competition this season for that coveted  All-Star spot? 

I think this year he might still make the All-Star roster, but I am hoping he is not the starting shortstop in the game in St Louis. I have another name in mind, and I think the statistics not only back up my selection, but also convince you he is the man for the job this season, and maybe a few more  fufutre All-Star selections in the future.

When the Tampa Bay Rays traded for Jason Bartlett in late 2007 with the Minnesota Twins, they knew what he could do on the field with a glove against a sharply hit missile to the hole. They coveted this player as maybe the hidden gem of that trade, and wanted him to be the stop-gap in the middle of the left side of their Rays defense. He was going to be that energy cell, or extreme excitement they needed to shore up a ever improving defense that has never had such a highly skilled infielder in the 6-slot.

So when he finally got on the field in Spring Training 2008, people were still a bit curious about this guy who made his Major League debut in 2004 and only hit .083 in eight games that season. But soon his slick skills and the fluid movement he had with the ball won over the Rays fan base. He had a new  converted second baseman, Akinora Iwamura, who was coming over from third base, and Bartlett made sure to make time every day to spend some quality time with Iwamura to get a better feeling for each other and get an internal bond and thought process going that would eventually click for the Rays.

That is the mark of a truly  great up-and-coming professional shortstop. He made sure he had the bond with the one guy who could make or break this Rays defense for the team. And they did bond into a unit that could convert the pivot on a double play with great percision, and was always in position to take a Dioner Navarro throw on a steal attempt. He made Navarro’s catching efficiency number go sky high with great tags and positioning.

The guy has been poetry in motion to Rays fans. Sure we had gotten shortstops before, heck we even had one standing behind Bartlett in centerfield  in Former First Round pick B J Upton, who was drafted out of High School as the Rays  heir apparent to the Rays shortstop post. But the year progressed and Bartlett seemed to get stronger and stronger in the position.

His skill set has always been strong, but with a renewed confidence and a determination to help the Rays first hit the .500 mark, then get their first post season berth, Bartlett led the way by example. The fact that the Tampa Bay Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) gave Bartlett the 2008 Team MVP award shocked some people, but if you really look at the cold hard facts and  the defensive upgrades and accomplishments of this first year Ray, you could see the game flowed through the 6-hole.

After the Rays were defeated in the 2008 World Series by the Philadelphia Phillies, Bartlett went back home and began to make a transformation in his life. He got married, was blessed with his first kid ( a girl) and he also went through his first arbitration with the Rays getting a significant raise in pay ( $ 1.9 million) for the first time in his career. It seemed through all of this he had become more relaxed and focused when you saw or even spoke to him at the Rays Fan Fest in February 2009.
 

And that bodes well for the team. Coming into Spring Training he had more security with Iwamura, and felt that he belonged here in Tampa Bay. He used that positive vibe to hit at a .327 clip for the spring. Showing leadership and  more confidence he appeared in only 19 games, but left an impression upon fans of some upcoming power and offensive fireworks for 2009.


Steve Nesius / AP


He started the season pretty much under the radar  as Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena were leading the majors in their categories as he slowly slid higher and higher in the Batting Average ranks during the season. He had kept his focus to be above the .300 mark most of the month and then had an explosive first part of May that skyrocketed him to a lofty .373 mark. That mark was leading the Major Leagues in hitting at the time. Not bad for a guy who was a secondary piece of a trade.

But there is another part of his game that is starting to show significant improvement this season in Tampa Bay. He is beginning to hit the ball for power, which was a component absent from his hitting earlier in his career. Last season, Bartlett did not hit a home run until the last regular series of the year against his old team, the Minnesota Twins. In that series he only had one solo shot, but it did make an impression on Rays fans. Some of us wondered if he had the power we needed out of that spot, or if he was just hiding it right now. He hit another during the playoff run, but settled for only two moon shots during 2008.

 

But that was a curious stat to people who did check out his former statistics before the season started in 2008. Because in 2007, he had 5 homers and 43 RBI, both career highs at the time. We started to wonder if maybe he had peaked a year before he got here. But with the start of 2009, there was a feeling of renewed vigor in Bartlett. He quickly started his average skyward, and his home run power seemed to come out of no where. The guy currently has 7 home runs.

So why should Bartlett, who is showing offensive savvy get a All-Star nod? Well, offense has always been a key indicator for the voting people in who they might consider for the All-Star team. Hopefully Bartlett can move up from his second spot currently behind the American League vote leader right now, Derek Jeter.

So we know Bartlett has the offensive skills to merit the spot. Is his defense really that good for the Rays? Considering the team went from a middle of the pack defensive unit to one of the best in the game in 2008, what do you think? 

He has appeared in 50 games this season for the Rays and has help convert 23 double plays. Bartlett has  put the ball in play 210 times so far in 2009 and has made 4 errors.  His .981 Fielding Average is on par with his peers in the league right now.  In close comparison, Jeter has 248 total chances and 3 errors and 32 double plays for a .988 Fielding Average.


Reinhold Matay / AP

So is Bartlett now a guy to be considered in the top tier of shortstops in the American League?  I truly believe he is in the top 4 in the league without question. I also think he has not even begun to show his top potential yet in the field. Some of the plays he tries to make deep in the hole, or over near the second base bag are ones that most infielders watch go through to the outfield without an sign of remorse. Bartlett now seems to grimace each time a ball goes up the middle or is hit above him towards leftfield. He is showing that primary killer instinct right now that is key among the league’s best players.

The only killer to this right now is his ankle injury he suffered during the tenth inning against the Florida Marlins in game. In that inning Dan Ugglas was attempting to steal second base and Bartlett put his foot on the bag to make Uggla go towards the outside the bag, and Uggla came in and clipped him with his spikes on the ankle.

But with him out of the lineup, you saw a completely different feel to the Rays defense. It didn’t seem to flow with grace and ease, but is rushed and  afraid to make errors and seems a bit timid  compared to when Bartlett played in the field. The Rays missed its field general, the guy  who always pumped up the infielders and makes the defensive calls for the infield.

And even since he has come back off of the shelf after that ankle injury, he hit the ground running as currently has a 16-game hitting streak, second only to the Cub’s Derrick Lee’s 17-game streak earlier in the season. And if you want to talk average, his current .373 batting avaerage is the highest by a shortstop since Nomar Garciaparra’s .391 mark with Boston in 2000.

He missed a total of 19 games for the Rays during his left ankle sprain, and his presence was surely missed in the lineup and on the field for the Rays.  He has hit safely in all 6 games since he came back into the lineup, plus he hit safely in all three of his rehab games before coming back to the Rays.  He is hitting .386 during his current streak, and he currently leads all shortstops in RBI ( 31) and stolen bases ( 14). His hitting would lead the league, but he is currently 18 appearances short of qualifying again for that top spot.

But believe me, the effort and the want to play and help his team has not missed the eyesight of Rays Manager Joe Maddon. He knows that Bartlett wants to play and contribute to the team. His finishing out the game that Sunday was enough to attest to the toughness and spunk of his shortstop. But after a ankle sprain was diagnosed, the decision was easy for Maddon. Risk losing a key piece of your puzzle for a week or so, or maybe lose him along with Iwamura for the season. The decision was easy for Maddon.

“It’s really unfortunate because this young man is having an All-Star season right now,” Maddon said. “There’s no getting around that, and that’s not made up by his manager, that’s pretty much what’s going on. All facets of his game have been spectacular. And we need him back quickly. … He was voted our team MVP last season for a reason, and he’s playing even better this year than last year, on all fronts.”  So you have to wonder after all that, does Bartlett have a chance to impress upon the American League All-Star Manager that he has what it takes to make the squad in 2009?


Gail Burton /AP

I am hoping that the fans and the players see his involvement and his accomplishments both in the second half of 2008 and so far in 2009 and get him voted into the All-Star game. He has the ability to shine brightly for the Rays in that game, and he would represent the American League with great flair and confidence. 

Bartlett’s selection would help put the best talent in the AL against the finest the NL has to offer in a great contest. For this year’s game in St. Louis, I am predicting a shot for Bartlett on the AL All-Star team. Based on the early results he will not be the only Rays rep on the field that day. Evan Longoria is getting the top votes for the third base spot, and also pushing Jeter right now for the top vote getter in the early returns.
 

But most of all, Bartlett will not have to go far to show his skills to be selected to the All-Star team. That is because this season’s AL skipper gets to watch him 162 games a year and has seen just how far this young player had come in a short time with the Rays. Oh, did you forget, Maddon is the AL skipper this season, but if he picks Bartlett it will be on merit, not on fondness or an impartial vote.

Benzo, Zorilla, Zobrist for All-Star Hybrid

 


RRCollections

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.

        
         Steve Nesius / AP

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.


Steve Nesius / AP

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?

Jason Bartlett = All Star

 


Gail Burton / AP

People have always looked to New York Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter as the symbol of what it takes to be a American League All-Star selection at that position. I mean the guy has the looks, the slick glove and the bat that always seems to hum at or above the .300 clip every season. For what seems like his entire career Jeter has had his name stenciled on the All-Star ballot, and been selected for the team based mostly on “what he can do for you in a pinch.” 

And that is a great quality for your shortstop aka field general to have because  consistent clutch performances earn you the big bucks and the true fans notice  these moments. So can we honestly say that maybe the Yankees famed number 2 is going to have a bit of competition this season for that coveted  All-Star nod?  I think this year he might still make the All-Star roster, but I am hoping he is not the starting shortstop in the game. I have another name in mind, and I think the statistics not only back up my selection, but also convince you he is the man for the job this season, and maybe a few more in the near future.

When the Tampa Bay Rays traded for Jason Bartlett in late 2007 with the Minnesota Twins they knew what he could do on the field with a glove and a sharply hit missile to the hole. They coveted this player who could be the stop-gap in the middle of the left side of their defense. That he could be the energy cell needed to shore up a team that has never had such a highly skilled infielder in the 6-slot. So when he finally got on the field in Spring Training 2008, people were still a bit curious about this guy who made his Major League debut in 2004 and only hit .083 in eight games.

But soon they could see the slick skills and the fluid movement he had with the ball. He had a new second baseman, Akinora Iwamura, who was coming over from third base, and Bartlett made sure to make time every day to spend some quality time with Iwamura to get a better feeling for each other and get an internal bond and thought process going that would eventually click for the Rays.  That is the mark of a truly professional shortstop. He made sure he had the bond with the one guy who could make or break this Rays defense for the team.

The names Bartlett and Iwamura were heard and seen a lot in boxscores and by radio and television announcers while completing double plays for the Rays.
The guy has been poetry in motion to Rays fans. Sure we had gotten shortstops before, heck we even had one standing behind Bartlett in centerfield  in B J Upton, who was drafted out of High School as the Rays shortstop of the future. But the year progressed and Bartlett seemed to get stronger and stronger in the position.

His skill set has always been strong, but with a renewed confidence and a determination to help the Rays first hit the .500 mark, then get their first post season berth, Bartlett led the way by example. The fact that the Tampa Bay Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) gave Bartlett the 2008 Team MVP award shocked some people, but if you really look at the feats and accomplishments of this first year Ray, you would see the game flowed through the 6-hole.

After the Rays were defeated in the World series by the Philadelphia Phillies, Bartlett went back home and began to make a transformation in his life. He got married, was blessed with his first kid ( a girl) and he also went through his first arbitration with the Rays getting a significant raise in pay ( $ 1.9 million) for the first time in his career. It seemed through all of this he had become more relaxed and focused when you saw or even spoke to him at the Rays Fan Fest in February 2009.
 

And that bode well for the team. Coming into Spring Training he had more security with Iwamura, and felt that he belonged here in Tampa Bay. He used that positive vibe to hit at a .327 clip for the spring. Showing leadership and  more confidence he appeared in only 19 games, but left an impression upon fans of some upcoming power and offensive fireworks for 2009.


Steve Nesius / AP


He started the season pretty much under the radar  as Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena were leading the majors in their categories as he slowly slid higher and higher in the Batting Average ranks during April. He had kept his focus to be above the .300 mark most of the month and then had an explosive first part of may that skyrocketed him to his present .373 mark. That mark is currently leading the Major Leagues in hitting. Not bad for a guy who was a secondary piece of a trade.

But there is another part of his game that is starting to show significant improvement this season in Tampa Bay. Last season, Bartlett did not hit a home run until the last regular series of the year against his old team, the Minnesota Twins. In that series he only had one solo shot, but it did make an impression on Rays fans. Some of us wondered if he had the power we needed out of that spot, or if he was just hiding it right now. He hit another during the playoff run, but settled for only two moon shots during 2008.

 

But that was a curious stat to people who did check out his former statistics before the season started in 2008. Because in 2007, he had 5 homers and 43 RBI, both career highs at the time. We started to wonder if maybe he had peaked a year before he got here. But with the start of 2009, there was a feeling of renewed vigor in Bartlett. He quickly started his average skyward, and his home run power seemed to come out of no where. The guy currently has 7 home runs, most of them great shots and is on the way to having the best season of his career.

So why should Bartlett, who is showing offensive savvy get a All-Star nod? Well, offense has always been a key indicator for the voting people in who they might consider for the All-Star team. Hopefully Bartlett can move up from the fourth spot currently behind Toronto’s Marco Scutaro, who is having a banner year himself in 2009, and new comer Texas rookie Elvis Andrus. But Bartlett’s current vote tally of 233,482 is considerably behind the American League vote leader right now, Derek Jeter with 664,630.

So we know Bartlett has the offensive skills to merit the spot. Is his defense really that good for the Rays? Considering the team went from a middle of the pack defensive unit to one of the best in the game in 2oo8, what do you think?  He has appeared in 44 games this season for the Rays and has help convert 19 double plays. Bartlett has 180 times so far in 2009 and has made 4 errors.  His .978 Fielding Average is on par with his peers in the league right now.  In close comparison, Jeter has 179 total chances and 2 errors and 21 double plays for a .987 Fielding Average.


Reinhold Matay / AP

So is Bartlett now a guy to be considered in the top tier of shortstops in the American League?  I truly believe he is in the top 4 in the league. I also think he has not even begun to show his top potential yet in the field. Some of the plays he tries to make deep in the hole, or over near the second base bag are ones that most infielders watch go through to the outfield without an sign of remorse. Bartlett now seems to grimace each time a ball goes up the middle or is hit above him towards leftfield. He is shoeing that primary killer instinct right now that is key among the league’s best players.

The only killer to this right now is his injury he suffered last Sunday during the tenth inning against the Florida Marlins. In that inning Dan Ugglas was attempting to steal second base and Bartlett put his foot on the bag to make Uggla go towards the outside the bag, and Uggla came in and clipped him with his spikes on the ankle. After an MRI and the medical staff calling for him to sit a few days, Bartlett finally was open to sitting the letting it heal instead of trying to play on it and risk further damage.

But with him out of the lineup, you have seen a completely different feel to the Rays defense right now. It doesn’t seem to flow with grace and ease, but is rushed and seems a bit timid at times. It misses its field general, the guy to pump up the infielders and make the assignments for the infield. They miss that main cog in their machine. Bartlett recently told the St. Petersburg Times, “Part of me wants to be selfish and just get out there and keep playing,” Bartlett said. “But if I do that I could make it worse and be out two-to-three months as opposed to a week or so. “

But believe me, the effort and the want to play and help his team has not missed the eyesight of Rays Manager Joe Maddon. He knows that Bartlett wants to play and contribute to the team. His finishing out the game that Sunday was enough to attest to the toughness and spunk of his shortstop. But after a ankle sprain was diagnosed, the decision was easy for Maddon. Risk losing a key piece of your puzzle for a week or so, or maybe lose him along with Iwamura for the season. The decision was easy for Maddon.

“It’s really unfortunate because this young man is having an All-Star season right now,” Maddon told the St. Petersburg Times. “There’s no getting around that, and that’s not made up by his manager, that’s pretty much what’s going on. All facets of his game have been spectacular. And we need him back quickly. … He was voted our team MVP last season for a reason, and he’s playing even better this year than last year, on all fronts.”  So you have to wonder after all that, does Bartlett have a chance to impress upon the American League All-Star Manager that he has what it takes to make the squad in 2009?


Gail Burton /AP

I am hoping that the fans and the players see his involvement and his accomplishments both in the second half of 2008 and so far in 2009 and get him voted into the All-Star game. He has the ability to shine brightly for the Rays in that game, and he would represent the Rays with great flair and confidence. But if he is not in the upper tier of voting and is not selected by the fans votes, he still has a great shot of getting to his first All-Star game. I think the AL All-Star Manager will see that the game needs a guy like Bartlett in it.

That his selection would help put the best talent in the AL against the finest the NL has to offer in a great contest. For this year’s game in St. Louis, I am predicting a shot for Bartlett on the AL All-Star team. Based on the early results he will not be the only Rays rep on the field that day. Evan Longoria is getting the top votes for the third base spot, and also pushing Jeter right now for the top vote getter in the early returns.
 

But most of all, Bartlett will not have to go far to show his skills to be selected to the All-Star team. That is because this season’s AL skipper gets to watch him 162 games a year and has seen just how far this young player had come in a short time with the Rays. Oh, did you forget, Maddon is the AL skipper this season, but if he picks Bartlett it will be on merit, not on fondness or an impartial vote.

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