Results tagged ‘ Ben Zobrist ’

Beckham is at a Tipping Point in His Rays Career

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I think Tampa Bay Rays INF Tim Beckham is at a tipping point in his quest for a long-term fit with the team. After his 2012 MiLB Substance Abuse suspension (50 games) and with fellow Rays infield prospects knocking at both the MLB and Triple-A Durham doors, it might be the Spring where the Rays finally decide Beckham’s role in their franchise’s immediate future. Beckham has been extremely open to change this Spring in regards to his future positional spot on the Rays. Proving his worth to the club this Spring beyond and on the field might go a long way to him securing a longer visionary path for his escalation with the Rays.

0319rays1jpgI will be honest, before the Rays sent INF Elliot Johnson to the Royals as the final piece of the Rays and Royals trade puzzle, I truly thought Beckham was the potential PTBNL. This was not because I felt internally Beckham was not a fit for the Rays, but with numerous players below him at the Rays farm system franchises, it might have been an ample chance and time for the Rays to possibly cut him loose from their farm system so he could grow roots somewhere else and get ample time to play.

With his name still firmly attached to the Rays 40-man roster, this Spring might be that long awaited chance for Beckham to make that big push either at the plate or in the field that proves he has evolved and his talents and flexibility can play a unique role with the Rays.

With the Rays current Utility guru Ben Zobrist not in Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s direct eyesight while off playing with Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, Beckham has to firmly utilize his chances in the lineup to make a lasting impression on Rays Manager Joe Maddon and the Rays Front Office. This Spring Beckham has to push up stats and situations that show he is a valuable asset to this squad for the long term, or he might find himself elsewhere quickly.

beckhamBeckham doesn’t only have to embrace the Rays proven “Zorilla” utility model for his possible existence as a MLB player, he might have to mold himself into another segment of that proven utility style player. Beckham can also look to another former Rays transformation as a symbol it can be done and provide another chapter in his career. 

With Beckham being more open to a possible shuffling of position like Upton and Zobrist early on in their own MLB careers, Beckham not only makes himself more of a insertable pawn anywhere in the field as a piece of Maddon’s maddening game of Cerebral Baseball Chess, but opens the possibilities of a longer Spring look. With Beckham having 3 more minor league options, there is a long shot he would break camp and move up to St. Petersburg, Florida with the parent club, but if he evolves significantly, the door could be open to almost any scenario.

tiiimyBut if Beckham shows his willingness to expand his glove towards maybe even an outfield situation, he could easily be the prototypical player the Rays will need as Zorilla ages and flexibility will become a trademark of the Rays future roster.

Beckham is a smart guy who knows learning from the past can be as beneficial to his MLB survival as it can be his downfall. But if he shows the heart and hustle, willingness to try new things, Maddon might just try and find a way to keep someone with the talents of Beckham for the long haul. Tipping the scale into his favor has to be the number 1 priority of Beckham this Spring. Showing Maddon his expanded flexibility can provide diverse ways for the Rays to utilize Beckham and make him more of a Rays fixture than a expendable piece of their franchise.

Rays Having Split Squads on Opening Day is Puzzling

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Will Middlebrooks

Am I the only one who felt the Tampa Bay Rays Saturday contests which composed of two split squad contests was out of the MLB ordinary? I mean the team doesn’t set their Grapefruit League schedule, that comes out of the hallowed halls of Major League Baseball in New York City.

201302231609581890246-p2Doesn’t it seem beyond just plain odd that MLB would not only split the Rays squad on the opening series of games, but also might have scattered a bit of their diverse Rays Republic fan base with some of the Rays usual fans motoring possibly 40-odd miles to see the traveling portion of the Rays roster as they took on AL East rival, the Boston Red Sox in Fort Myers.

I hate to put it out there, but I feel a bit of the MLB grip here in reference to this odd and peculiar set of Spring opening contests.  I glanced over the rest of the MLB Spring opening slate both in Arizona and Florida and did not notice another team having a split squad set of contests this weekend.

That leads me to ponder the question if MLB in their scheduling genius had done this to make it possible for the Rays to not sell out their 2013 Spring Opener in Charlotte Sports Park. I know the Rays would have not only enjoyed but anticipated a better turnout on such a fantastic day, but with the split squads with main players in both locales, it might have split the Rays Spring fan base a bit with people from the Tampa Bay area hitting the home opener, and locales from South West Florida possibly hitting the Red Sox contest some 40 miles away.

201302231405507129560-p2Maybe I’m splitting hairs here, but this bizarre Spring opening slate also brought to the front a interesting possible Spring attendance transference situation with the Rays having only 4,436 souls in Port Charlotte witnessing a awesome 3- innings of shutout baseball before the wheels began to come off and the team losing their home opener 3-2 to the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates.

Meanwhile some 50 miles away, the Red Sox shoved a sell-out 9,680 fans into their ballpark, but even the capacity crowd could not help the Boston squad to victory as they came up on the short end losing 4-3 to the traveling Rays caravan. Sure the Red Sox faithful make their pilgrimage to Fort Myers each Spring in huge numbers, but doesn’t the difference of ballpark attendance figures of 5,422 souls make for more then me to wonder if this was on purpose instead of built around schedules and the Spring feasibility concerns.   

201302231608580970240-p2Adding to the mystic here is the fact the Rays sent possibly their starting outfield of Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce and Desmond Jennings to Fort Myers while the Port Charlotte crowd got to see a younger and possibly a roster battle with a Rays outfield consisting of Rays top prospect Wil Myers, minor leaguers Kevin Kiermaier,Tyler Motter and a pair battling for the Rays 4th outfield slot, Sam Fuld and Rich Thompson. It might seem by that teeter-todder of talent the Rays sent their veterans to face their seasonal rivals.

 

Sure I know split squads try and divide the talent up to an even keel, but it seemed the traveling Dave Martinez-led Rays contingency had the offensive advantage going into their away contest and ended up producing the first “W” of the Spring with mostly a Triple-A laden pitching selection.

cpsI know the Rays would have much rather had a full Rays contingency at Charlotte Sports Park for their Spring home opener, but I have a deep feeling MLB might have inserted a split squad arrangement to test the Rays Spring fan base commitment too. If MLB was hoping to see such an attendance disparity between Port Charlotte and Fort Myers, then they got their wishes. 

As I stated before, I’m not a huge conspiracy theory guy, not even deep down inside, but I do feel some of MLB’s fingers were at play when this schedule was formalized. Who knows if the Rays would have sold out their Spring opener if they did not have to send a second squad traveling on Saturday. I want to think the Rays Republic would have come out in droves and gotten the stadium at or near its 6,823 capacity with the berms and stands full of Rays fans.

But I guess we will never know thanks to this bizarre Grapefruit League opening slate of games. 

 

 

 

First Glimpse at Photos From Today’s 2013 Media Day

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This is the day a lot of us wait for wondering who will smile, who will not, and who just might have the most character in front of the photo lens. When the Tampa Bay Rays take their Team Photos, you never know what will transpire and make itself to the Web. So I hit up a familiar website that usually posts these photos in nano-seconds and took 21 of the photos uploaded and presented them here for you to get a first glance/peek at before the final set is divulge.

ArcherFlettfootAs always most of the main characters within the Rays roster got their time in front of the lens, but a few of the Rays team photos did not make it into this first batch and probably will make their way onto the blogosphere some time soon, but I’m hoping they might show a bit more character and possibly a splash of that classic Rays humor we all know and love.

Longo1Of course Evan Longoria is not in this first set as he was motoring towards the St. Petersburg area to attend to a bit of baby business, but we know when his photo does surface, he will definitely have a grin from ear-to-ear as Papa Longo heads into the 2013 MLB season. But the 2013 edition of the Team Photos does look a bit tame compared to some of their previous Team Photos since the Rays moved their Spring Training complex 79 miles to the South in the hamlet of Port Charlotte, Florida

MerlotSRodOut of this first batch of photos there are the usual pairings like Ben Zobrist, David Price and Rays Manager Joe Maddon that look more like a Glamor Shots shooting than a Team Photo. But the camera again this season seems to love some people while also doing a 180 shift on others to kind of dull their enthusiasm and excitement and make fun of others.Some times the worst thing to do in front of a camera lens is try and look too professional be too serious as the camera doesn’t have a brain and can then tend to make them look more demented or possibly deranged even before the first Grapefruit League contest.

CobbColomeThis season the “Grumpy” awards might go to Rays SP Alex Cobb who looks serious, but also has that serial bean ball artist look much like Kyle Farnsworth’s every year photo.Interesting enough, minor league prospect SP Alex Colome might actually get the old moniker I stuck on his Uncle, ex-Rays RP Jesus “Smiley” since his photo looks more like a mug shot than a happy occasion. But that is what sets Team Photos apart.

Not all of them will be masterpieces or utter clusters, but it is the time of the season when  you can definitely tell who is relaxed, who might need a long hug, or who should be tackled by Raymond and tickled to the point of a huge smile and giggle.

Luke2Still, I think Luke Scott might actually have a twin in the Rays Spring Clubhouse mounted right alongside his locker. Now if he dyed his mutton chops white they might actually look like the tusks of that wild boar currently residing with a Rays Spring starburst cap in the Clubhouse.

But it is still great to see most of the photos are relaxed, tranquil photos that definitely shows who is eager, who is relaxed and who the camera seems to love.

LOneyLeeRays newcomer James Loney seemed to have brought a bit of that old LA vibe with him into the photo day as he looks perfectly calm, cool and collected as the Rays head into their 2013 slate of Grapefruit contests in less than a few days.

HellHernandezAlso within the first 21 photos released were SP Jeremy Hellickson, INF Sean Rodriguez, SS Hak-Ju Lee, Desmond Jennings and someone who might just make a player for a rotation slot this Spring, Roberto Hernandez.  There will be more photos in the future, but this first crop of Rays Team Photos for 2013 definitely shows the vast polar realms of personalities on this Rays squad this Spring.  Not matter what transpires, I can definitely see this team this Spring not being a bore…or is that boar?

Players and Fans Definitely Rocked the Trop at Fan Fest

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I saw a member of the Tampa Bay Rays front office while doing my usual trading card route a few days before that Saturday’s Rays Fan Fest. He seemed really excited about the anticipated fan to player ratio at the multiple events held throughout the day, and believe me, the Rays not only delivered, but a few of their players such as INF Sean Rodriguez and P Chris Archer seemed to be everywhere.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 099All day long I heard stories of players going above and beyond. We all have heard of Archer inviting a young fan up to the Autograph tales and behind the Rays blue curtain to meet a few of his Rays friends in the “Blue Room”. It was stuff like this, plus the added touch of players reading to young fans,  being open to fan’s questions and requests all day long that made a deep and lasting impression as to their investment in this region and this special fan base.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 073I did not hear a single story of a player turning down a fan, or refusing any request during this special Rays day that is a huge celebration of the season that is now upon us. Heck I think we all might even have gotten a glimpse at a possible Rays future draft pick as Toby Hall’s son stroked a HR out of the curtained off ballfield a few times from the left side of the plate.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 023I mean I even saw Rays P Jeff Niemann at one point basically depositing basketball over by the hoop carnival games like he was dropping a wad of paper into a wastebasket. And during all of this were a gaggle of screaming and excited kids, adults and a combination of the two relishing in this increased presence of the player this year. Over the past few years as the team has grown increasingly competitive some of the fold reverted a bit back into old habits of selective signings and photos with fans. On this day if they were able, photos were snapped and memories were imprinted forever thanks to their increased visibility.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 039Combine this breathe of fresh air from the Rays themselves with the over 25,000 fans who walked into the Rays Rotunda on Saturday, this region still craves baseball and made sure other in and around the MLB World knew there was a fan base in this community. Even with the huge turnout of fans to Tropicana Field for Fan Fest, it was overshadowed by the fact the team only drew over that 25,000 visitor threshold 17 times during the 2012 season.

Hopefully the recent blast in the media of supposed apathy and nonchalant attitudes towards the game have been erased at least until the regular season when the proof will be in the proverbial pudding if the fans will again flock to the Trop.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 041But this day was about the 2 lucky fans enshrined into the Rays/Pepsi Wall of Fame, the hundreds of scavenger hunters snapping pictures around the Trop in hopes of grabbing an Even Longoria signed bat for their collections. Everywhere you looked there were kids, parents and even long time fans walking, talking and making mostly positive comments about the days events. Baseball Hall of Fame member Peter Gammons visited Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s “Thanks-Mas” event prior to his own panel discussion making a few of those fans not only full of Maddon-induced food goodness, but also got to hear a baseball analyst’s take on the Rays and baseball.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 045Sure there were moments that made you scratch your noggin for a second like Rays INF/OF Shelley Duncan and Rodriguez as a pairing for the “Family Feud event. There were a few scattered “boo-birds” when Duncan was announced, but most have let the Spring incident of 2008 be finally put to rest. Still, it would have been interesting if Elliot Johnson was still here…pairing him with Duncan would have caught everyone’s ear. Still this season’s Fan Fest was amazing in the items up for sale in the Rays Garage Sale to the amount of MLBPA Alumni players participating in the Home Run Derby (won by O’s OF Mike Deveraux), to the huge table of past stars both of the Rays and other MLB vistas.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 095All in all the event might have been a bit reduced in total time we all spent within the confines of the tilted cap, but it was a day spent watching kids frolic in the batting cages, running the bases and getting a high-5 from Archer as they hit Home Plate. Matt Joyce also made a few more Rays fans as he stayed after his signing time was over and came to the side of the autograph stage and signed for a bit longer for fans who did not get a chance to get to him before his time was over.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 019Rays new Stud-du-Jour Wil Myers even made extra time for Rays fans who did not know him before his recent trade to the Rays and with Myers taking that extra moment, he sparked a few comments from people hoping he makes it to the MLB level some time in 2013. So now that the Rays Republic got a chance to see and meet a few of our new players to the Rays fold, and a few of the hungry and eager ones wanting a taste of the MLB life, it is now our time to show support for this team not only this Spring, but all the way until Game 162.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 002The Rays invest a lot of time and money in an event like this, and with 16 of them now in the books I can definitely say without any remorse that the 2013 edition definitely has set a new standard for future Rays Fan Fest’s. I made a tongue-in-cheek Tweet the other day about the whole Rays front office forming a Congo line today and each of them pat each other on the back for pulling off this grand event in style. I think it was Pepsi who sealed the emotions of the day as the Rays staff and players definitely “Rocked the Trop” on Saturday and I do not think anyone did not leave with a bit of Rays swag, autographs or maybe even a former players jersey tucked under their arm. The Trop definitely rocked a bit on Saturday, but I think we were all having too much fun to notice, which is a good thing.

2B…Or Not 2B

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Sometimes things happen in the off-season that just boggles your mind. Players are picked up for their subtle and special nuances that can be used by a statistical savant like Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon to intricately change the delicate nature of a game in progress, possibly for his advantage based on match-up potential situations or maybe even a simple hunch.

YEscoI know there is a logical explanation and suitable conclusion to why the Rays are currently carrying 7 out of a possible 9 infield players on their 40-man roster, 1 signed player but not added to the 40-man roster yet, plus 2 additional players who are non-roster invites who can man the middle infield. Considering the Rays traded for their potential starting shortstop in Yunel Escobar, you have to logically conclude that 8 of the other 9 might have to fight tooth and nail to get selected for that revolving door slot known as Second Base.

I think with the large amount of veteran bodies vying for a job at 2B, you can easily see the current Triple-A duo of Tim Beckham and Hak-Ju Lee getting their fair share of starts and possibilities this Spring, but the reality is they are the Rays future for right now and with minor league control on both players, their rise to the MLB level might not come until possibly September barring an unforeseen Rays injury situation.

So that immediately shuffled the field down by a third and with the Rays facing 3 different player signing going “official” this week, maybe a few old Rays household names will be bidding the team farewell even before the positional players make their way to Port Charlotte, Florida. 3 other Rays middle infielders who might be on the invisible bubble might be the enigmas known as Elliot Johnson, Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac could all get an unexpected call or pulled in from the Rays Spring Clubhouse soon possibly severing their Rays tenure.

All 3 did not have the kind of 2012 campaigns the Rays envisioned when they popped their name on the 25-man roster last Spring, and any or all of the 3 could be subject to waivers or possibly traded before the Rays officially add DH Luke Scott, 2B Kelly Johnson or RP Kyle Farnsworth to the Rays 40-man roster. You would think Johnson and Rodriguez might have the leg up on Brignac because of their utility play everywhere around the Rays infield, but even then, their lackluster numbers from last year could get them penciled in as potential casualties when the Rays add their 3 signed, sealed but not roster delivered players.

BriggyThere are mumblings in the Rays Republic that “Briggy Baseball” might be the most expendable of the this enigmatic duo, possibly the first name to be announced and waived this week by the Rays. Brignac has had multiple chances to secure and hold onto his shortstop slot, but for some reason his bat did not follow him into either of the past 2 Rays seasons with any regularity. Johnson might get an initial pass because he is a switch-hitter just like tag-team 2B Ben Zobrist who will get to camp late this Spring as he is playing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.

Even with a slight edge over S-Rod, Johnson could find himself again straddling the bubble if he gets off to a weak Spring or doesn’t get into the game flow with consistency. You have to like Rodriguez’s chance since Spring seems to be the time he rises to the occasion and shines bright, but he could also see his star darkened if he gets off to a bad slump or has some defensive irregularities early on in camp. Another small sliver of hope for Rodriguez is the fact he still has 1 minor league option while Brignac and Johnson have exhausted their minor league options.

tumblr_m9jviul3w91ronciso1_500That takes care of 6 of the 7 players that currently are designated as “infielders” for the Rays. Zobrist is categorized as an “outfielder” on the Rays 40-man roster, but should see substantial playing time at Second Base along with the only other player listed, Ryan Roberts. “Tat Man” should have an advantage heading into Spring Training to secure a utility and tag-team situation with Zorilla at Second Base. Roberts did not have a huge year at the plate in 2012 either in Arizona or St. Petersburg, but should come into the Spring as a penciled in player in the mix for that part-time 2B gig. But there are other who might also have a say in it all before the roster is set into stone when the calendar changes to April.

Spring Training non-roster invites to the Major League camp have also been extended to MLB veteran Mike Fontenot and former Rays invitee Shawn O’Malley. Even with these 2 additional names to be put into the middle infield pot, Fontenot might have to stage a spectacular Spring to unseat any of the potential Rays utility players, but I also think O’Malley who made a great impression last Spring with the Rays might have a more viable chance to hang on late into the Spring Training schedule with Zobrist out and possibly be offered a Triple-A slot.

thCAAOB3NMThe Wild Card in this suspected scenario might just be newly signed, but not added to the roster Kelly Johnson who can basically play any of the fielding positions, including possibly being the guy who could give James Loney a rest. In Johnson’s favor to possibly get a long look and possible spot on the Rays 25-man roster is his ability to hit right-handed which could make him a valuable asset at First. And with KJ’s birthday coming in late February (22nd), he could possibly have an inside chance of securing a spot even before the Rays play the Red Sox in their first Grapefruit Series game.

2B or not 2B…….That is surely the question here as the Rays have a huge pool of player talent and potential to pick from the get their final selection before their first seasonal contest on April 2,2013 in Tropicana Field. This might be the strongest the middle infield as been in quite a few years in Tampa Bay, and with some of the names and potential, the players inked on the Rays final 25-man roster could provide that spark of offense the team needs along with some stellar defensive work.

 

The Good, Bad, Unknown and the Wounded Join the Rays

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I find myself yo-yo back and forth between the positive and the negative on the Tampa Bay Rays recent signings to bolster their roster coming into Spring Training. I mean the team picked up a 17-year pitching journeyman, a guy who falsified his identity, and a guy who I still consider a scumbag, but maybe he can become a viable power option and addition and slowly that title will be erased.

DuncanKickAP2I know I was one of those guys toying with Shelley Duncan way before his blatant attempt to shift ex-Rays 2B Akinori Iwamura cup towards the far right in a Spring game back in 2008, and since that time I have watched his name in multiple team’s stats pages never showing what I thought was his potential. I am also one of the guys who heckled him in RF when he was with the Yankees when his throws were less than stellar making sure to remark he threw like his girls’ name.

But this is a different Rays team than the one who came off the bench and basically surrounded Duncan that faithful Spring afternoon with all of us remembering the “bear hug” Jonny Gomes applied to Duncan among other things. Sure it will take some time for me to forget all of that past experiences with Duncan at the center, but it can happen faster if he gets a few solid hits, drives in a few runs and make an attempt to be a member of this team. I am all about forgiveness if the potential and the fortitude both up skywards, and right now for me, Duncan better set his sights on the Stratosphere.

nunezThen we got the former reliever/closer Leo Nunez, or should I say the present day RP now officially known as Juan Carlos Oviedo who was one of those caught in the age and identity net back when he was a Bullpen fixture for the then Florida Marlins. Some might have thought it was “just desserts” that Nunez/Oviedo sustained an elbow injury during his minor league tune-up in 2012 after serving his 8-week MLB suspension for his part in the identity cover-up.

Even though Oviedo might not have any real impact on the Rays 2013 Bullpen since he is still in the recovery phase from his Tommy John’s surgery, he could be a key piece of the Rays bullpen puzzle come 2014 when he would be 100% healthy, experienced as a closer, plus the Rays hold a 2014 club option on his services. Ovideo might actually be one of those pieces that Rays can fit into their back pocket knowing he could be a bargaining chip come Winter 2013 for any member of the Rays Bullpen who wants to play hard ball for an extension or hefty raise.

That brings me to the long-term MLB journeyman Jamey Wright who began his new relief profession back in 2008 and has averaged about 60 appearances a season since that first try at the Bullpen adventure. Last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers Wright held a 5-3 record with a respectable 3.72 ERA in 66 relief appearances with 6 holds.

JameyWrightJuggleOff the top of my noggin, it seems Wright might be a nice veteran cog to use in situational appearances, but should not see many high leverage situations or possibly be a 6th or 7th inning stepping stone to the shut-down duo of RHP Joel Peralta and closer Fernando Rodney. But Wright would fit in perfectly with the multi-sport Rays who have been known to run football pass drills, play soccer in pre-game time and just be an all-around athletic team. Since Wright is of an advanced age, maybe he can play right fullback or midfield..or not.

Then there was a fourth player brought in basically as question mark, but who showed potential in his prior minor league career that could pose a bit of a threat to someone on the Rays Bullpen bubble if he shows his stuff and makes a play for a 25-man slot. RP Juan Sandoval has been a frequent Triple-A guy in his past before his recent success in his tenures with Diablo Rojos de Mexico and Oaxaca in the in the Mexican League.

Back in 2008 it seemed Sandoval might be a closer option since he posted 20 saves while in Huntsville in the Southern League (AA), but from there his star seemed to fizzle out a bit after a total of 9 innings at Triple-A Nashville that saw him take a journey back into the fold of the High-A Clearwater Threshers in 2010 before making his exodus to the Mexican League with Quintanna Roo, Diablos Rojos de Mexico in 2011 and foster a combined 6-14 record with those two club.

YqgsXOA5But in 2012 while still in the Mexican North division he posted a respectable 7-3 record with the Diablos Rojo de Mexico and Oaxaca. It doesn’t take a genius to see Sandoval might be more of a Double or Triple-A player come April, but sometimes it just takes a chance again for a guy to rise to the occasion and with Brandon Gomes and Cesar Ramos the only Rays RP at this moment with a slight finger hold on a chance for a 25-man spot, a great Spring by Sandoval could make noise and possibly change the Rays focus to give the guy a chance to finally throw a pitch at the MLB level. Crazier things have happened…even in St. Petersburg. I mean the guy at least understands intimidating eyeear like Kyle Farnsworth.

So the Rays decided to go the Good, the Bad, the Unknown and the Wounded angle with their recent signings. With the exception of Ovideo who is still recovering from his Tommy John’s surgery, the other 3 players who garnered a MLB camp Spring invite with their deals could see some significant time since Peralta and Rodney could miss some early time playing for the Dominican Republic squad in the World Baseball Classic.

ShelleyWith Ben Zobrist also playing for Team USA in the WBC, Duncan could see his name either in a corner outfield slot or as a DH since at this moment the Rays have not signed a viable power option to fill one of their biggest offensive holes at this time. With time and with Duncan getting his bat on the ball this Spring, little bits of that 2008 episode will be erased and maybe if he brought his offense with him to the Rays this Spring I might even nod my head in approval of his name when it is announced. I mean the guy’s real first name is David, Shelley is his middle name.

Rays “Golden Arms” Were the Highlight of 2012

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As we begin our final countdown days towards the end of 2012, I want to take a moment to look back and remember both fondly and shudder at what was the Tampa Bay Rays 15th full season. This team showed us so much in their 180 day 2012 campaign both on the turf and off as this team bonded like never before where we all were witnessed to watch segments of their battle plan both explode and implode.

m3f5403-retouchIt was a season where human action figures named “Batman” (Wil Rhymes), “Godzilla” (Hidecki Matsui) and even “Wolverine” (Luke Scott) intertwined with “Zorilla” (Ben Zobrist), “HellBoy” (Jeremy Hellickson) and the “Archer” (Fernando Rodney). Even with such heroic character names, this team could not ultimately find a way into the October post season party, but their travel from game 1-162 was never boring, or devoid of heart and soul. We also got to see this team’s “nerdy”-side as team road trips again showed imagination and chemistry.

york-yankees-v-tampa-bay-20120702-193721-7552012 was also the season we saw a few players take their game to the next level with authority. B J Upton missed the coveted “30-30” spot by 2 HR, but in his failed attempt we finally saw glimmers of the potential we have always envisioned for him. Hellickson, fresh off his AL Rookie of the Year platform again garnered new hardware as he earned a special honor of garnering a co-ownership spot in the form of a glistening Gold Glove taking his pitching education to another dimension. We got to see the pitching promise that is Chris Archer, the resounding clarity that was Fernando Rodney brilliance, but also felt the pain and anguish of Rhymes as he collapsed into the arms of Rays First Base coach George Hendricks.

d2We all got to bear witness to one of those once-in-a-generation moments as Rays southpaw David Price and New York Mets knuckleballer R A Dickey both squared off in an early Inter League showdown on their journey towards their eventual Cy Young moments. Price in particular showed his stamina and determination throughout the 2012 campaign being one of the true linchpins of the Rays rotation providing the type of consistency and fortitude needed of your number 1 hurler.

In an ironic twist, the Rays home city of St. Petersburg, Florida somehow dropped the celebration ball with Price, possibly committing a ultimate publicity faux pas by getting “one-upped” by their “neighboring community” of Tampa presenting Price the key to the city with Astro, his trusty sidekick getting the opening cue on ESPN’s “Sportcenter” that evening. As is Price’s personality, he rolled with the moment possibly producing the best dog sound byte since Lassie’s first bark on television.

tumblr_m3fqj3gHF31qekndso3_12802012 was definitely a “Dog’s year” for the Rays as early on in the Spring they revealed their true love for the canine when players from the team teamed up with local no-kill animal shelter/clinic Pet Pals to produce a calendar that showcased the likes of RP Wade Davis’s German Shepherd pal Charlie, Evan Longoria’s “Spuds McKenzie” look-alike Bull Terrier Jango and Longo’s other canine condo bunk mate Boerboel Mastiff Tatum. We all even got to meet Maddon’s stoic English Bulldog furry friend Winston who like Astro has his own twitter account. Even behind the camera lens there was a Rays presence as James Shields wife Ryane did all of the shutterbug duties as the team embraced this community animal haven.

6985308645_09d3a46c7d_zalso saw bald again become beautiful as both Rays players, Coaches and even front office personnel let their curly and straight locks of hair fall to the wooden decks of the Charlotte Sports Park this Spring. From Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, Maddon to even Rays clubhouse staffers, all sat in the barber’s chairs to show community support and love for the “Cut for a Cause” campaign started by another fellow Tampa Bay sports icon, Tampa Bay Lightning star Vinny LeCavalier to bring about awareness to local pediatric cancer organizations and promote one of the Spring most heart-felt moments.

Even with all this animal love bounding through the Tampa Bay region, 2012 was also produced another stalemate check mark as the team and the surrounding communities wage verbal and visual battles trying to loosen the Rays lips and get some sort of loose translation sound byte of their own in the Rays quest to find their next home on either side of the bay.

carillon-new-rays-stadiumWith proposals surfacing that went as far East as the Florida Fairgrounds region, to a patch of dirt just off the Howard Franklin bridge in the Carrilon region, the entire community awaits with baited breath for some sign of the Rays want to stay or leave this community. Hopefully 2013 the silence will be broken and at least some parameters set into the community as to the Rays visions and dreams of a new state-of-the-art stadium hopefully somewhere in the Tampa Bay region.

Fernando Rodney, Joel Peralta2012 started off with a few displays of fireworks with walk-off victories and the revelation that would become the foundation of the Rays Archery Club as we all bared witness to re-emergence of the shut-down abilities of Rodney who pushed post game arrows higher and farther with even his teammates watching as his quivers and stats reached levels not seen in the MLB for some time. Just watching Rodney pull back the imaginary string and release into the sky a Rays record 48 times was reason enough to be a Rays fan. 2012 was also filled with “Gladiator” moments as the team embraced the Roman warrior culture with some of it making its way onto television screen across America.

Evan LongoriaUnfortunately 2012 also revealed a few flaws in the Rays machine, especially after Longoria went down with a hamstring injury and the Rays began a roller coaster ride that did not straighten out until Longo again adorned a Rays uniform and returned to the lineup. Even with the Rays pitching staff producing incredible numbers in strikeouts, saves and ERA during 2012, the elimination of the Rays most potent weapon for such a long stretch showed their Achilles heel to all, and their opposition attacked the Rays at the core of their weakness with vengeance.

201208221343494136596-p2Even though Upton, Zobrist and even new Ray Jeff Keppinger tried to fill the void, their own production was muted by the struggles and slumps of Carlos Pena, Scott and the merry-go-round that was the Rays Third Base and Shortstop position for most of the season. The Rays once strong point of defense sprung leaks, showed faults and ultimately produced moments that reminded all of us of those pre-2008 Rays squads. 

It is hard to find a true title to the Rays 15th campaign. For all the highs and lows, the moments of exhilaration as we witnessed walk-offs and lost opportunities, nothing really stood out except the 5 souls who made up the Rays rotation.

Seattle Mariners v Tampa Bay RaysTheir arms truly becoming “golden” during the season as the team set an AL leading marks of 1,385 K’s , a incredible combined team ERA of 3.19, and saw Shields and Price eclipse the 200+ inning mark again. 2012 also saw mirror image inning production from young Rays Moore (177.1 innings pitched) and Hellickson (177.0 innings pitched) as they gained another strong year on the mound.

In the end, 2012 began and ended on the mound for the Rays. No matter what offensive highlight moment or defensive mis-step behind them, the Rays hurlers both starting and in relief set the tone this season and brought this team within a few victories of again hitting October moments. Their consistency, going deep into contests combined with stellar relief marks by everyone down in the Rays Bullpen gave us hope and want that the playoffs and October glory was still within our reach.

thYou can say 2012 was a lot of things from “Fortune Favoring the Bold”, to arrows piercing the night sky, but in the end it truly was the Rays “Golden Arms” who kept us spirited and showed us determination, heart and even a little hustle can produce moments to remember. As a homage to 2012, I am definitely tilting my cap to the right on New Years Eve as an homage to what was so fantastic about 2012.

There Are No “Losers” in This Rays Trade

 wil-myers

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.

 

Will It Take Some Budding SS Fruit to Acquire Justin Upton

So it seems the Tampa Bay Rays might have to slice off a bit of their future if they want even a remote chance at outfielder Justin Upton. It seems the Arizona D-Backs are adamant about getting a quality shortstop for their outfielder, plus possibly another piece or two running up the Rays farm chain. This doesn’t mean dangling a quality pitcher might not get the OF with the power stroke the Rays yearn for, but possibly tearing out a small slice of the Rays future infield might be a huge deciding factor for Arizona helping out their MLB Expansion kin.

Fortunately for the D-Backs, the Rays have a few of these lying around, with even a duo having Major League Baseball service time under their belts, but the Arizona front office has done their research and the targeted one is the guy the Rays most likely would not give away for now. You would hope the D-Backs would want to help solve the Rays current SS situation by taking one of their experienced infielders currently residing at the Triple-A level like Reid Brignac or Sean Rodriguez, but AZ is being smart here knowing each might have decent defensive skills, but their bats have a few gaping holes.

You also wish the D-Backs would take a longer look at SS prospect Tim Beckham and love what they see, but Beckhams 2012 brush with the MiBL drug police that cost him 50-games might put him firmly sitting in the Rays system. Unfortunately if the Rays want to swing this deal it might take a piece like top prospect Hak-Ju Lee who is currently listed by Baseball America as the Rays 3rd best prospect with Beckham all the way down at number 8.

You have to wonder if Brignac had prospered at Triple-A or made it back into the Rays fold at some time in 2012, he might be the top name whispered into Executive VP Andrew Friedman’s ear right now.

But Briggy Baseball’s fall from grace not only at the MLB level, but struggling for parts of the Triple-A season might have put him into a dark corner for now. And S-Rod did himself no special favors by punching a locker after a Durham Bulls contests putting himself further into an abyss possibly not seeing a Rays uniform until this Spring, if then.

Lee even seems to taken an unexpected step backwards in 2012 with a few injuries and plate struggles, but he is still the guy with the MLB spotlight upon him, and I truly think we will see more reps with him at the MLB camp this Spring. Problem here is Lee has been penciled in as a guy with a true Rays future and seems a bit more untouchable that the rest of the SS group. Seems odd that a prospect infielder could garner that “hands-off” mentality, but then again name me one Rays SS not named Bartlett who have made you swoon and cheer his play in the field and at the plate.

The SS slot for the Rays has always been a patchwork spot with free agent names taking priority. This duo of Beckham and Lee are the first Rays homegrown versions of the 6-spot, and because of that fact, they might be harder to pluck from the Rays hands. You have to ask yourself if getting a key bat now for a player who could play in the Rays fold for possibly 3-5 years is a gamble or a calculated risk worth taking.

That is the true tragedy here. It will take the Rays giving up a key component of their future 6-slot for them to even be mildly considered for the Upton sweepstakes. If Brignac, Rodriguez or even Beckham had mustered a huge late season surge, possibly their names would be on the lips of the Arizona front office right now. But that did not materialize, so the D-Backs brass are looking into a longer term team controlled option, and a player who can grow with their franchise.

We all know Ben Zobrist came up as a shortstop prospect, even was the Rays Opening Day starter at that position at one time, but he is putty into the gaping hole right now. He played brilliantly when called upon in 2012, but he is a stop-gap until possibly Lee or Beckham shows the promise and gets the confidence of the Rays staff that they can be the true SS hierapparents.

Problem is, one of them might be the key piece to any future discussions between the Rays and Diamondbacks in regards to the “other” Upton. I guess the Rays will have to seriously ask themselves if they pluck a piece of future fruit from their farm system vine now for Upton, will it taste sweet or bitter come September 2013.

Zorilla 2.0

I am starting to believe in this full circle train of thought. That all things go into circles and come back again new and improved and somehow modified in their simplicity. I guess we can say the same for Tampa Bay Rays newly annoited SS Ben Zorbrist, or should I call him Zorilla 2.0?

It was exactly 6 years and 33 days since the first time a young and lanky SS prospect was traded to the Rays from the Houston Astros for a gruff and grumbling Aubrey Huff. Along with Zobrist the Rays received P Mitch Talbot, who we all know wears Cleveland Indians garb now. Zorbrist came to the Rays as a infield specialist, but his true specialty was playing the deep hole between second and third base both with range and a cannon attached to his shoulders.

Some say that his ability back then worked B J Upton around the infield from Third to Second before he finally found his home in Centerfield. But 2006 was a memorable season for the defensively maturing Zorilla as he spent only 18 games at Triple-A Round Rock and when Zorbrist and Upton were recalled by the Rays on August 1st after the Rays felt secure enough with the tag team of Upton and Zobrist at SS that they sent starting SS Julio Lugo to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline.

All Zorilla did was start 50 of the final 56 games….all at the Short Stop position. How good was the new acquired defensive neophyte? Well not 31 days later did Zorbrist and Rays catcher Dione Navarro stamp their own brand on Major League Baseball history when they recorded the only 2-6-2 triple play…EVER.


Many might have forgotten Zorbrist was the Rays Opening Day SS in 2007 starting 13 of the Rays first 17 games, then something happened and he fell out of favor and started only 2 of the team’s next 17 games before the Rays sent him down to Triple-A Durham and subsequently claimed SS Josh Wilson off waivers from Washington. Most see that as the memorial moment that the Rays might have set their sights on Zobrist being a key figure in the Rays scheme, just not front and center in their future infield.

Still, I think this is a great idea that has been kicked around for quite a while by Rays Manager Joe Maddon, who wanted to see Sean Rodriguez take ownership of the spot, but little things have de-railed the S-Rod experience for the Rays along with Rodriguez’s enemic .209 average with only 6 HR and 30 RBIs. Zobrist has a great first move towards the hole, and even with a few years of rust to shake off before he again find his optimal rhythm, I hate to say it, he is a vast improvement at the plate as well as in the field.

There are going to be a few rough patches as he again gains the trust in his abilities on the opposite side the the second base bag, but if anyone can do it and provide the leadership and positive mindset needed to be a consistent and agile SS, it has to be the Rays # 18.

It is a lot to ask of a player who doesn’t even make the Rays all-time Top-5 SS list in any category, but this is also the same stellar fielder who garnered a .989 fielding average and is not listed on either the SS or 2B all-time errors Top-5 list (Upton is #5 @ 2B with 12). So far in 2012, Zobrist has 8 errors in 961 total innings all around the Rays infield, and outfield. As a whole, the trio of Rodriguez, Will Rhymes and Elliot Johnson have combined for 31 errors with Zobrist tied with Rhymes for 3rd most on the team.

This is not to say errors will cease and life in the middle of the Rays infield will be a bed of roses. There will be challenges, possibly multi-error contests, but the leadership and offensive confidence of Zobrist should emulate enough so that the rest of the infield can feed off of Zorilla and grow tighter and stingier over the last portion of the season. The Rays have not put Zobrist’s finger in the dike hoping to stave off the total flooding of potential errors, but the maturation of Zobrist and his “can-do” persona should do miracles in a position in the field that was looking more like a gaping hole.

Seriously, to me it is a long time coming, and a position change that will not only get Zorilla consistent starts in one spot in the Rays field alignment, but it can finally give him a chance to possibly not have to lug around the huge equipment bag with 9 different gloves inside it. Who knows, if Zorilla takes to this position like he did in 2006 and makes it his own again…..It would be hard not to vote him again as the Rays team MVP like in 2009. Zorilla 2.0…….I like the sound of that more and more.  

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