Results tagged ‘ Carl Crawford ’

B J Upton: Either You Love Him or…….

He has been considered a polarizing member of the Tampa Bay Rays ever since his first time up in “the Show” at the young age of 17. Every single member of the Rays Republic have their opinions on this athlete with some being down right founded on a few moments of lapse, or mis-understanding on his drive, passion and commitment. No matter what you views are on Center fielder B J Upton, within the next several days he can either be destined for another locale, or become the highest paid Ray on the 2013 roster.

In the next few days Upton along with his agent have a chance to see just what kind of contract might lie outside the confines of the Trop. The Rays are wagering Upton takes his show on the road and decides to sign with another squad so the Rays can get a nice added Draft pick as compensation for losing one of their brightest stars. People seem to forget with all the negative banter swirling around Upton that he came just 2 Home Runs short of becoming the first Rays player to join the coveted “30-30” Club.

Upton might have his negative factors, but his positives have emerged at the right moments for the Rays, especially in 2012 after Evan Longoria was gone from the line-up and someone had to step up and take the reins of this team. Say what you will on his stride in the field that does have a look of loafing only because his stride is so natural and his body doesn’t show the torque and awkwardness former Rays speedster Carl Crawford displayed in the field making similar difficult fielding choices.

We also forget Upton took on a position that was foreign to him during his tenure and converted himself into one of the best defensive centerfielders in Major League baseball right now. He had his learning curve in the spot with mis-guided routes and playing too shallow at times, but that adventure has long since been eradicated with well-time leaps, runs and remarkable plays that play on highlight reels still to this day. How soon we forget Upton was drafted as a shortstop and took a journey around the infield before finally finding his spot just beyond the outfield star burst emblazoned on the Trop’s Astro Turf.

So within a few days Upton will either walk towards a long-term deal possibly with the Philadelphia Phillies, Washington Nationals or maybe even the Atlanta Braves. Seems more likely Upton would transverse his game into the National League than stay in the confines of the American League, but who knows what is rolling around in his mind at this moment. Change of venue would be cleansing for him and his game, but again he would have to adjust and refine his game to the rigors of the NL where strikeouts are more frowned upon and walks are considered almost doubles with his base-stealing abilities.

But a monkey wrench could be thrust into that plan just as easily if Upton decides he can accept a 1-year, $13.3 million dollar payday and stay with his old club. Of course the Rays would lose their ability to gain a compensation draft pick if Upton heads this direction, but they also know if he is under contract, they could still trade him either this Winter or possibly at the 2013 Trade Deadline and still get some sort of compensation for Upton. This might be a gamble Upton may be willing to take since he has deep ties to the Tampa Bay community with his outside charity groups and local South St. Petersburg, Florida youth groups that himself and Rays SP David Price put a lot of time into both during and after the regular MLB season.

Possibly the Tampa Bay community still has Upton’s heart along with his positive affirmation this team is just a step behind regaining another shot at possibly a World Series shot. With one of the best rotations and pitching staffs in baseball, Upton knows if their offense can find a rhythm and consistent groove, a spot in the October post season party is not only possible, but definitely achievable.

Maybe his recent strides as a key figure within the Rays Clubhouse could be the deciding factor for Upton that he is willing to wait a year and take a chance on the group that has bonded together so tight and knows something grand awaits them. With the Rays having their solid pitching aspect combined with the team unity displayed, I can easily see Upton taking the Rays qualifying offer and staying with the hopes of another champagne celebration or two before his final exodus from Tampa Bay.

Whatever Upton decides, I will salute that decision and will be happy for this Rays icon I have seem mature, evolve and become his own style of MLB player.

Sure I’m a fan who supports Upton with undying loyalty and pride having seen this transformation from 17-year old SS prodigy. If Upton should decide to stay, I will be there to shake his hand in February at Spring Training. If not, I will still keep tabs on Upton and his career since he was a Ray and was such a key part of this team, especially since 2008.

No matter if he stays or leaves, the fans of the Rays have to acknowledge Upton has done a lot for this team. Still even with that said, some will still remember him for the gaffes and strikeouts and forget about his well-timed Home Runs or terrific plays off the CF wall. But that is what happens to players who you care for deep down, they either steal your heart or break it.

Love him or hate him, Upton to me has been a key component of the Rays playoff and a player to remember. Some will read that line and scoff and bid him “good riddance”, while others will shed a tear. Upton has been polarizing as a Ray, that I will admit, but he is still a player I’m glad had such a long tenure with this team and maybe another 180 days as a Ray.

New Fire Churning in Upton’s Belly

I spoke with him at the 2012 Toby Hall & Friends Celebrity Golf Classic. He was excited, energetic and anxious to hit the field “officially”. I have to admit, over the last 4 Springs when I have talked to the Tampa Bay Rays CF  B J Upton, these phrases never came vividly into my mind.

Some will want to discount it immediately as Upton knowing he has to produce, make his name shine above the madness even before the Trade Deadline mark in late July. Other dark forces will destined it to Upton possibly entering his “walk” season knowing if he wants a big payday like former Rays LF Carl Crawford, now is the time to put the exclamation points after his name.

But with all that diverse and circumventing opinions and comments swirling around like the waters of the Rays Tank, I truly have a hunch that Upton finally feels a part of this team. Over the past 2 seasons his confidence inside the clubhouse has soared, and players now look to him for inspiration and pointers. Finally Upton seems to feel that veteran vibe, and it suits him, especially this Spring.

Say what you want on me pounding the drum hard for Upton, but his work ethic in the off-season, and his presence at Charlotte Sports Park even earlier than Pitchers and Catchers Report date shows his agenda firmly has the Rays best interest stamped prominently upon it. This is the Upton I have been waiting for to emerge and want to lead this young squad for a long time.

Of course it is only the first Spring contest, and all his pre-Spring rituals and workouts did play into his great start today against the Minnesota Twins on the Grapefruit League’s Opening Day.  You want to get really excited about Upton’s 2-for-2 day with a run scored, a double and a spirited triple to RCF. Possibly Upton has found that focus he has swatted away in the past, found terra firma in the Batter’s Box, finally feels confident and ready in his Rays skin. The next 33 days will fly by like the wind, and hopefully Upton can make the Rays Republic confident the 2012 edition of the B J Upton Show will be a “must see”  event.

As I talked to him on the 10th tee, Upton was excited that the Rays starting rotation would be all returning, and a few tweaks could make them even stronger for 2012. Was anxious to see if the MLB persona of Luke Scott was just an act, or if his psychological warfare and rampant dialogue was just the sort of things to rev the Rays machine somehow reminiscent of the energy and volatile emotions displayed in the past by ex-Rays wild child Jonny Gomes.

This is a guy who is harder on himself than any reporter or fan. Who knows his legacy has bruises, tarnished spots and some question his motives and intellect at times. But I truly feel by October we will have seen a different side of Upton at the plate, possibly making a lot of those darkened moments from the past washed off his reputation like the clay from his cleats. It is about time we get introduced to Upton, the team leader and not just the Rays resident scapegoat.

 

 

Blogger’s Note: It is that time of year again. Spring Training to also rid myself of the Winter fat and get my brain tuned in for baseball. I will attempt to stretch out my creative process, bring some new items to light and get into seasonal writing shape before the Rays officially open the season against the Evil Empire on April 6, 2012. Going to be rough, there are going to be tired moments, writer’s block and maybe even some moments where the whole process comes up resembling a no-hitter scorecard. But one thing is for sure, I am excited to again be writing about actual baseball and not hoping for it……Play Ball!!!!

E-10, Photographer Throw High and Wide on Rays Spring Photos

If the recent Tampa Bay Rays Team Spring photos is any indication, I am starting to think the Tampa Bay Rays 2012 season is going to be more back to the basic, nothing flashy or disrupting to the status quo of the “Rays Way”. Maybe I was anticipating a re-visit or renewal of the grandeur and glamor of the Rays 2010 Spring Team photos that took my breath away, and made you wanted to see more of them.

2010 Evan Longoria Photo

If the 2012 Team Spring photos are any indication, this season is going to be a bare bones, nose to the grindstone, no huge frills and spills kind of season…not that this is a bad thing, maybe I set my expectations too high this season. But then again, it is Spring and hope has to grow eternal and unbridled.

Sure the 41 photos recently uploaded to the Zimbio webpage by photographer Jonathan Ferrey had some unusual and classic poses within their compositions, but somehow a large glove-full of the Rays possible 2012 roster personnel missed their camera time with the Zimbio photog. At least we know Rays 3B Evan Longoria got a few extra shots. Maybe dating a Playmate does have some photo advantages, but a total of 13 individual photos? Longo is one of the cornerstones of this team’s offensive and defensive foundations, but so many other cogs of the machine are missing, lost their possible chance in this annual Rays ritual of Spring.

Jeff Salazar

Sure C Mark Thomas and OF Jeff Salazar who are both Rays Spring Training invitees got their respective mugs/poses on a photo, but missing were a huge slice of the Rays other core players like starter Wade Davis, Rays Bullpen members JP Howell, Brandon Gomes, Joel Peralta, Jake McGee, and newcomers Burke Badenhop and Josh Lueke.  Is it even imaginable that each and every one of these players somehow missed the vocal call for photos? Am I the only one who feels it is purely insane that 2011 American League Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson would have, could have somehow missed his 2012 photo chance, or was it a captive selection of players designated by the Zimbio photographer?

I have not even begun to scratch the surface of the possible MLB bolo report put out since the “Legend” Sam Fuld, infielders Jeff Keppinger, Ben Zobrist, and Eliot Johnson must have mis-placed their “memos” possibly on their photo chance. Even more disappointing is that Carlos Pena somehow missed the photo cut…Really?

Want another firm kick in the proverbial teeth, the only catcher featured in the photo shoot was Jose Molina, and that was only for 1 photo. Heck even Reid Brignac got more photos than Molina, and he is not guaranteed a starting slot. I know there is a growing army of female Rays followers who would love to see a recent photo of Robinson “Honey Nut” Chirinos or even Jose Lobaton, but they will have to drive to the Charlotte Sports Park and take their own this Spring.

Maybe I got used to the flash and glamor set forth by those 2010 photos that had every single member of the Rays squad, including the Coaching staff in some sort of pose or hitting posture with the added sun flare somewhere within the photo framing. Maybe I was expecting something grand, a statement by the Rays this season as they start their 15th season.

But there were some positives in this set of photos of the 2012 Rays. We got to actually see what top Rays prospect Hak-Ju Lee will look like in a Rays uniform. We already know Lee can dance, and his bat has some magic in it, but seeing him in the Rays whites definitely makes you eager and hoping for the Rays future shortstop to make some additional magic happen during his minor league season so we can see him in that uniform possibly in September.

Maybe I am nitpicking here a bit, but I have come to expect more, especially after that grand and fabulous 2009 Spring photo package. Heck, even Rays skipper Joe Maddon had a possible glamor shot in 2009 that to this day might be one of the best photos of the Rays newly extended Manager.

I possibly wanted something again to “pop” off the screen of my computer, wished for another set of dynamic photos taken that would get my blood pumping, the sweat beading around my cap and the Rays Republic making photo copies of the team photos for signatures in the future. Not sure if any of these Rays Spring photos will be seen on the sidelines before games in 2012. Certainly doubt it (shudder).

Why is There Such Fear and Loathing for the # 13?

I really do not understand the big brouhaha or problem with about the number “13”. How many people actually suffer from Triskaidekaphobia, and is it more mental obsession than an attack of physical anxiety? I guess it depends on who you ask with that line of questioning, because you might get a different viewpoint from every person.

When did this fear begin, and why is it that even today so many people still have such a fear of anything 13-related. If you dive into the research online, you will find the first common fear of this set of numerals was written by the early Christians who spoke of the thirteenth disciple setting the norm after his attendance at the Last Supper. We all know a version of the story of Judas, but could this be the true origin of this cursed number?

In actuality, the number is not all that forbidden and cursed in Christian literature. Most religions and belief systems still adhere to the thirteen attributes of God. The Torah and some Christian churches still use these same formal attributes weekly in sermons and teachings. But for all its evil intentions, the number is still just 3 plus 10 to some cultures, and doesn’t hold the bearing of evil, or even a darkened cloud of impending doom.

In Romanian, Greek and Spanish cultures, they still believe in a cultural fear of bad luck and terror on this calendar day. These cultures also consider Tuesday the 13th to also hold the same evil intentions and superstitions. But why is it that baseball doesn’t really take to this superstition.

Even though Major League Baseball players have been characterized as some of the most superstitious and ritual-based athletes on the planet, most do not hold a negative or evil judgment on the number. Several MLB players have garnered this numerical evil and done quite well for themselves. Several MLB players have taken it upon themselves to basically “laugh at the devil” and any evil intentions that might surround the number and wear the 13 jersey.

There have been more than a few examples of both positive and negative actions and reactions to players who have worn the number 13 on the field. The number “13” jersey has had it share of negative actions, but were these commotions caused by the number, or could the player possibly just mentally jinxed himself into experiencing a bad game?

For example, Brooklyn Dodger pitcher Ralph Bianca defiantly wore the “13” jersey and even posed with black cats before the 1951 playoffs. Bianca would become famous footnote in baseball lore for surrendering the pitch that San Francisco Giant great Bobby Thomson’s slammed to the heavens for the proverbial “shot heard round the world” playoff defining Home Run. This event has been viewed by many as one of the most famous Home Runs of all-time. Did the number on the back of Bianca’s jersey or its psychologial effect play into the final events unfolding? That depends on your own superstitions.

Pittsburgh Pirate legend and Baseball Hall of Fame member Roberto Clemente was remembered eternally for wearing the number 21, but did you know Clemente started his career with the Pirates in 1955 wearing the number 13?

Both a skillful hitter and a brilliant right fielder, Clemente garnered many awards during his career including the National League MVP in 1966, 12 consecutive Golden Glove awards, and World Series MVP in 1971. He was the first Hispanic American elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Even though the number can be considered evil, mean and nasty, is it all just hype, or does this number really have the power to take your best and make it change 180 degrees?

I would be curious to ask this of former MLB pitcher Jeff Fassero,who wore no. 13 in 1999 for Seattle and Texas while compiling a 5-14 mark with a 7.20 ERA, the worst MLB single-season ERA (for pitchers with 150 innings) since 1937. Fassero’s nasty events aside, even battery mates can find the number to have a bit of an unlucky hue.

Current TBS baseball commentator Buck Martinez was considered a great catcher during his MLB career, but was his decision to wear number 13 the beginning of his eventual downward spiral? Martinez donned the # 13 while playing behind the dish for the Toronto Blue Jays. Martinez did last 17 years in the big leagues but held a career batting average of just (gulp) .225.

During the 1985 season Martinez was bowled over by a player attempting to score and suffered a severely dislocated ankle. The injury eventually ended his playing career. Martinez again wore the number 13 when he was hired as the Manager of the Blue Jays from 2001-2002. Martinez never seemed to gain the support of ownership or his team, and his tenure was short-lived in Toronto.

Former MLB closer Billy Wagner wore the ill-fated number back in 1998 with the Houston Astros and missed considerable time during the 1998 season after a line drive struck him on the left side of his head. Wagner did make a successful return in 1999, but missed most of the 2000 season after elbow ligament surgery. When he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in 2005, he still dressed out in his usual 13 jersey.

With the Phillies, Wagner encountered a nagging shoulder strain that effectively got worse and the Phillies shut him down for the season. Wagner again had this cursed number on his back in 2008 when he went down in a heap on the mound with a torn medial collateral ligament and damaged flexor pronator ligament. The prognosis meant the season-ending Tommy John’s surgery. Did the jersey number play a part in the end result, or did Wagner’s hard-throwing style play into it? Depends on your beliefs in the numerical evil, or just an ironic set of coincidences.

Even though some found only pain and sub-par performances with the number 13, some MLB players like former Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Jeff D’Amico had some interesting mixed results while wearing the number. D’Amico posted some truly excellent stats during the 2000 season when his ERA hovered around 2.00 for much of the season and he contended for the NL ERA title.

Needing just a few additional innings to finally qualify for the NL ERA title during his last start, D’Amico surpassed the 162 inning minimum threshold, but during the contest gave up just enough earned runs to see the title slip out of his grasp. With his great showing, D’Amico was expected to be the ace of the 2001 Brewers staff, but injuries kept him from ever returning to form, effectively cutting short his MLB career.

Adrian Brown did not have an extended stay in the MLB, but he did have the great flexibility to play every outfield positions. Brown reached the Majors in 1997 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, spending seasons with them before moving to the Boston Red Sox (2003) Kansas City Royals (2004), and Texas Rangers (2006). Brown’s most productive season came in 2000 with Pittsburgh, when he posted career-highs in batting average (.315), home runs (4), RBI (28), runs (64), doubles (18), and stolen bases (13) in 104 games.

Edgardo Alfonzo was a former Major League Baseball infielder who worn the number 13 ever since his MLB debut, but switched to # 12 in March 2005 to give the # 13 to his former San Francisco Giants teammate Omar Vizquel. It is said Alfonzo gave up his long time number to honor not only the career longevity of Vizquel wearing the number, but because wearing the number 13 is a term of respect and honor.

Fellow countryman and former Cincinnati Reds SS Dave Concepción who also hailed from Venezuela wore the number his entire MLB career. Another son-of-Venezuela, current Miami Marlins Manager Ozzie Guillen has worn the number 13 his entire playing ( D-Rays 200 season) and managerial career and has had some mixed results, but still be bears the number on his back.

Omar Vizquel might end up being the most famous MLB player to wear the number. forget he was signed as a free agent by the Seattle Mariners back in 1984. Vizquel is considered one of baseball’s all-time best defensive shortstops, winning nine consecutive Gold Gloves (1993-2001) and two more in 2005 and 2006. He also tied Cal Ripken’s AL record (since surpassed) for most consecutive games at shortstop without an error (95 between September 26, 1999 and July 21, 2001). On May 25, 2008, Vizquel became the MLB all-time leader in games played at that position, passing the great Luis Aparicio.

Many current players including New York Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez find no fear or evil with the number on their back. In some instances it is considered a lucky charm to the players. Recent troubles in Rodriguez’s life might be turned around and blamed on the number, but the instances might have happened without the uniform firmly on his back. Former Tampa Bay Rays LF Carl Crawford wore # 8 when he first came up with the team, but quickly swapped for the # 13 since it was the same number he wore in high school.

I wore the number # 13 in high school and college. I am also one of those people who do not walk around ladders, I step on cracks and pet black cats. I think that if you have positive attitude and a mental foundation of knowing you make your own luck based on your own intentions and actions, then what number you wear is an innate decision.

I know there are people who subscribe to the thought process that the number 13 is steeped in negative connotations. But that is what is so great about being individuals. We make our choices in life based on our belief system and our personal habits. I got to go right now, there is a black cat in the middle of the road and I have to go chase it through the painter’s ladder on the cracked sidewalk…………Wish me luck!!!!

Post Script: Not sure why my Font changed from yesterday….Could there be an evil presence?…….Gotcha!

Will Price’s Venture into Arbitration Facilitate a Rays Countermeasure?

Southpaw starting pitcher David Price easily can be considered the most important cog to retain in the Tampa Bay Rays surging competitive machine. His potential is limited only by his own tinkering and shifting in his pitching grips. His confidence and abilities might have taken a direct hit in 2011, but his first season as a Rays “ace” definitely showed he has huge potential and “up-side” to grow into the role and Price is eager to embrace these challenges.

As his abilities have grown, so will his seasonal salary, with Price garnering a sustainable $1.25 million for 2011, Price definitely will see his bank account expand in the coming seasons. Some people among the Rays Republic were shocked when Price opted out of his original 6-year $8.5 million dollar payday recently with the Rays. After achieving Super Two status this past season, Price was in a position to not throw a curveball into the Rays 2012 plans, but possibly offer a bit of salary stability if the Rays would talk about an extended foundation in the Rays fold. Price was set to earn $ 1.5 million for 2012, plus garner the last deferred installment payment of his $ 5.6 million signing bonus from his original Rays contract signed on August 15, 2007.

Some have said publicly that Price executing his right to refuse his 2012 option of $ 2.433 million was a formality, possibly a venue for the Rays and Price to discuss another deal for the long haul. But his decision to exercise his right to refuse his option might put a few of the Rays “wishes” for offensive help on the back burner for a bit possibly putting handcuffs on the Rays front office from getting that needed offensive firepower to stay competitive.

Then again, the move by Price could be a calculated risk with Price knowing he could bring a sense of salary stability with an extended deal instead of the financial darkness that always overshadows the arbitration process. The Rays currently have club control over Price until 2015. But with Price’s decline of his 2012 set salary, his suspected 2012 salary jumps tremendously from the $ 2.4 million figure to between $ 7-8 million dollars just for 2012.

Price could go instantly this off-season from a true Rays payroll value to potentially being the top dog (sorry Astro) within the Rays salary hierarchy. This off-season both Price and arbitration eligible CF B J Upton could both possibly take between $14-16 million of the Rays payroll between themselves. That is why a long-term understanding between the Rays and Price should be on the table this Winter.

Price’s decision definitely puts the Rays front office behind the 8-ball this Winter to either sign Price to a team friendly extension, or face the reality that his escalating arbitration salaries after 2012 might make Price more of a liability financially as his abilities escalate upwards. You wonder if the Rays will stand by patiently watching as Price’s salary escalates yearly finally seeing the Rays faced with another Scott Kazmir or Carl Crawford situation as his worth exceeds the Rays fiscal abilities.

This move by Price could transition into a finely packaged extended stay with the Rays for the southpaw, or be the first indicator of his own exit visa being stamped with a potential 2015 date. possibly shipped out before that expiration date. Rays payrolls for the next few seasons might not venture even close to the previous high of $72+ million dollar threshold back in 2008.

SP Jame Shields has a bevy of club option salaries of $ 9 million ($1.5 million buy-out) for 2013 and $ 12 million for 2014 on the immediate horizon, and these high dollar figures will make him instantly expendable as early as July 2012. Current Rays offensive spark plug 3B Evan Longoria will see his 2011 salary double from $ 2 million to $4.5 million in 2012 with club options on the horizon that balloon to $7.5 million (2014) to $11.5 million in 2016. Even 2B/OF Ben Zobrist will see his coffers increase from $4.5 million in 2012 to a possible $ 7.5+ million club option in 2015. Suddenly this Rays cohesive core has an impending high salary expiration date.

This whole Price situation can go a multitude of directions. The two sides could sit down, iron out an extended stay with the club with team friendly terms. Or the Rays could venture into the unknown void of the arbitration process that will surely see Price’s value escalate skyward on a yearly basis until Price is a high dollar risk and an instant trade commodity.

This fiscal nightmare has been on the horizon for some time. With extended deals signed prior by Zobrist, Shields,Longoria and last season with SP Wade Davis. The Rays financial nightmare scenario might have been set into motion by Price’s option out of his low-ball 2012 salary. Other members of the Rays young core will soon reach salary arbitration for the first time and financial decisions will have to be made as to the breaking point nears for this Rays expanding young nucleus.

That is the fiscal reality of the Rays. They are a franchise that is currently treading water in a deepening financial MLB ocean as salaries push them under and they gasp for needed financial relief. There is the potential for salvation, or the realistic drowning financially of this franchise. Either way, the Rays player movements this Winter will definitely define their direction and their commitment towards their young core. Within the next few years with a few budding stars pushed out by their impending financial burdens, not their talents.

The final rendering of their movements with Price will either send out shock tremors, or sighs of relief. Price is the keystone to this movement. The first to walk through this fragile threshold, and he will definitely not be the last. Price is wandering into the impending darkness not knowing his final destination, but hopefully the Rays will illuminate the path with their trademark sunburst and make the whole journey pleasant for both sides. Price is betting his Rays future on it.

Hellboy Might Need a Handyman

I can imagine that Tampa Bay Rays rookie Jeremy Hellickson will have a special carpentry project to complete in the near future. I can definitely imagine a particular DIY (do-it-yourself) project to be penciled in bold letters on the Hellboy’s off-season “Honey-Do” list.

I can visualize him now peering over expansive pile of timber with the same intensity and commitment he showed 29 times during 2011 as he took the mound. Bet he is even wearing a Rays game day cap on his head, with a pencil fashioned behind his ear. Just like sheriff Brody needed a “Bigger boat”, Hellboy is definitely going to be in the market for a trophy case addition soon.

Recently Tampa Bay Rays rookie starter Jeremy Hellickson got the fantastic news back home in Des Moines, Iowa that he had been selected as the 2011 Baseball America M L B Rookie of the Year. Joining the ranks of Baseball America past R O Y winners such as Cardinals 1B Albert Pujols (2001), Diamondbacks SP Brandon Webb (2003), Tigers SP Justin Verlander (2006), Brewers OF Ryan Braun (2007), Tigers, Cubs C Geovany Soto (2008) and Giants C Buster Posey (2010).

Major League Baseball and the Baseball Writers Association of America (B B W A A) will not officially announce their respective National League or American League Rookie of the Year Award winners until November 14th but history is definitely tilted Hellboy’s way as 8 out of the last 11 M L B seasons, the Baseball America R O Y selection also heard his name announced as their respective league’s R O Y award winner in mid-November.

Hellboy also ended the National League’s 4-year grip on the award and Hellickson became not only the first pitcher to stake claim to the award, but also the first American League player to win the honor since Detroit Tigers rookie SP Justin Verlander back in 2006. This same Baseball America MLB Rookie of the Year honor eluded former Rays standouts Rocco Baldelli, Carl Crawford, Joe Kennedy, Rolando Arroyo, plus current stars 3B Evan Longoria and SP David Price. Interesting enough, former Rays 3B/DH Eric Hinske (2002) and SP Hideo Nomo (1995) won the same award, but not as Rays.

Amazing that Hellickson in his first full MLB season posted a .210 opponents batting average, which ranked 3rd in the MLB behind possible Cy Young candidates Verlander and Los Angeles Dodger hurler Clayton Kershaw. Didn’t hurt that the young Rays starter saved his best for later in the 2011 season as Hellboy bolstered a 2.64 ERA from the All-Star break to the end of the 2011 season, plus garnered a coveted American League Divisional Series pitching assignment.

Hellickson is definitely another reason to feel optimistic coming into the Spring of 2012 when he will not only have another year under his belt, but possibly possess even a few more tweaks to his pitching arsenal. With that in mind, maybe there should be a tweak to Hellickson’s DIY project plans, possibly re-configuring his carpentry plans to include an addition to his home. Got a feeling this is the first wave of many shiny pieces of MLB acknowledgment that Hellboy will receive in his career.

If you need help Jeremy, I am pretty good with a tape measure and a circular saw.

There’s a New Historic # 8 in Tampa Bay

Picking the number 8 Tampa Bay Rays jersey can lead to people throwing high expectations, even lofty comparisons upon your shoulder in a heart beat. For that was the same Rays uniform number that fellow speed demon Carl Crawford took for himself when he embarked on his own rookie campaign with the team.

So far in this 36 game spread, I am beginning to forget that other #8 as this one is doing some amazing things to make even the Rays biggest skeptics give a little sheepish grin. Seems like the stars and universe have come and cosmically aligned for Jennings as he was brought up on July 23rd by the Rays almost mirror-imaging Crawford’s own July 20, 2002 call-up.

Immediately Jennings got to do something Crawford could never do as a Ray, solidify the lead-off spot and make it productive. Since his arrival in Tampa Bay, Jennings has produced at such a terrifying rate that he ranks second on the Rays (after MLB leader/teammate Evan Longoria) in round trippers since the All-Star break with 8. Hmm, there is that mystic number again.

But Jennings haven’t let the stat-heads within the Rays Republic rest as he has a few impressive stats of his own since his July 23rd 2011 debut . Jennings currently leads the majors in stolen bases (14) has 42 hits (19 for extra bases) maintaining ans insane .354 batting average along with a skyrocketing .646 Slugging percentage. Suddenly that old # 8 is beginning to fade from my memory.

Need another reason to erase a bit of Crawford from your Rays rookie mindset, in 2002, Crawford appeared in 63 of the Rays final 67 games that season. He sported a .259 Batting Average with 2 Home Runs, 30 RBI’s and 9 stolen bases. Jennings has already eclisped all of the RBI total already from a fresh and invigorated Crawford’s rookie totals.

Wild part is, this kid is just getting started. Someone with a whole lot of time on their hands today (@RaysRepublic) even decided to try and figure out the seasonal numbers of both Crawford and Jennings if each played a 162 game season. Remarkably Jennings would trump even the 2011 edition of Crawford with an estimated 38 Home Runs and 67 Stolen Bases. Crawford would have posted 14 HR and 26 SB.

You do not want to anoint Jennings as the “ second coming” of anyone, much less Crawford. But since Jennings arrival in Tampa Bay his elevator has been sprinting towards the penthouse instead of the 8th floor. I kind of hoped this kind of drama would play out where the C C comparisons would be leveled by those skeptics and believers that players like Crawford come once in a lifetime.

Jennings has done his job so far in making a lot of us in the Rays Republic look past the afterglow of the “C C Era” and dream heavenly thoughts of the future “D J’s Adventure”. Both men left their game totally on the field every night trying to produce, excite and provide something new, thought provoking and jaw dropping.

So far Jennings has surpassed so much of C C’s legendary rookie escapades, and we still have over a month left of the Rays 2011 season. The Rays finally found that 2011 piece of the puzzle they have been searching for and have begun to their wagon to this budding young star on his meteoric rise.

I truly can’t wait for Monday night’s Toronto Blue Jays game to see what Desmond has in store for us….I bet it will make a little more of Crawford’s past fade into the darkness. There’s a new #8 in town, and his name is Desmond Jennings. 

Pitching and Defense Providing Perfect Harmony

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Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon has
always preached that his “pitchers set the tone of a game“. I’m
not sure, but I think the Rays skipper forgot to tell his young
outfield and his rookie Shortstop.


On a night when the Rays offense struck
early against usual Rays-killer Edwin Jackson, the Rays defensive
unit kept the pressure off southpaw hurler David Price with
incredible plays in both in infield and the outfield. Possibly this
young Rays fielding unit has finally found the right note to play in
harmony with their pitching staff.


Rays outfield Sam Fuld who wandered
over to his more familiar Centerfield spot again left his feet for an
incredible catch, and Ben Zobrist looked more like a sprinter going
towards a ball near the Rays Bullpen that was just a inch out of his
reach.

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Everyone of the Rays outfielder last
night made incredible running catches last night to help synchronize
Price’s artistic game on the mound. Rays SS Reid Brignac also got his
own note in with a deep ball hit towards the edge of the Rays new
AstroTurf surface, then turned and fired a strike that would have
made any pitcher envious for the 6-3 put out.


Little by little this Rays patchwork
Blue defense is gelling and beginning to showcase not only their
defensive skills, but show great support for their Rays pitching
staff by boosting their offense. I have to say, this might be one of
the best Rays athletic defenses we have seen in a while from corner
to corner…Sorry Carl Crawford.

Tell me this little quote will not infuriate the Red Sox
Nation. Rays Maddon on Sam Fuld’s LF defense compared to
Carl Crawford, who won a Gold Glove last year:

“There’s no drop-off. There’s no drop-off. To say
that right now, I would just be appeasing everybody. That’s
not true. Sam’s playing that level of defense right now. He
throws the ball better. And right now, all the different
things he’s doing defensively, I can’t tell you that Carl’s
better. I can not.”

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High praise for Fuld from a Rays
Manager that got to see Crawford nightly from 2007 to 2010 along with
a duo of trips to the post season. But this entire Rays outfield
right now is torqued to perform and to provide moments that even ESPN
would be proud. Interesting enough, Fuld currently has a comfortable
points lead (18) on the ESPN Web Gems standings over both Braves SS
Alex Gonzalez and Marlin OF Chris Coghlan.


Interesting enough, Rays 2B Sean
Rodriguez is in a 3-way tie for fourth place with 9 points, and Rays
1B Dan Johnson has 7 points. The Rays as a team currently have 36
points and are being chased hard by the Rockies (24) and the Royals
(19) in this early stage of the season. The Rays current .986
Fielding Percentage ranks second in the American League.


Before tonight’s broadcast, FSN Florida had an on-air interview with Price and his quote says it all: “ I hear that water covers 75% of the World, the other 25% is covered by Sam Fuld.”


Pitching may ” set the tone”, but
if you have your defensive unit also in unison playing extremely
stingy defense, it helps lighten the burden of the pitching staff.
When a pitcher is down 3-1 or 3-2 in a count and his defense is
playing with humongous gloves, they can skirt a ball in on the hands
or outside hoping for a ground ball and a sure fire out.

The overall confidence the pitching
staff can gain by the Rays defense playing superior right now will
play into guys trusting the players behind them and let the game
unfold instead of the pitchers’ trying to win it all on their own
shoulders.


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Acrobatic plays, leaping grabs and full
sprint catches might seem like a rare occurrences on a baseball
diamond, but here in Tampa Bay, it is just business as usual for Fuld
and crew. When I played football, my Coaches used to preach that
“defense wins championships “.


Right now the Rays are playing a tune
like “Take It On the Run” by REO Speedwagon in with both starting
and relief pitching strumming along, hitting banging hard to provide
tempo and the entire fielding unit playing in harmony. Maybe Maddon
is right because right now pitching is setting the tone…. and it is
simply beautiful to the ear.

Fuld is Making the Numbers Work for Him

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Since the Tampa Bay Rays assembled
their full squad back in mid-February, Rays outfielder Sam Fuld has
been on my “watch list”. Brought into the Rays fold via a trade
from the Chicago Cubs for Rays fire baller Matt Garza can be pressure
enough just to make the squad, but Fuld has seemed to be on some sort
of mission early on in this young 2011 season, or maybe it is just
part of his family linage.


Fuld comes from a family of high
achievers. His mother is a state Senator in the tiny state of New
Hampshire, his father a well respected member of academia as the Dean
of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of New Hampshire.
Fuld himself attended the brainiac Stanford University and interned
at Stats, Inc, which covers 85 International sports leagues
(including MLB) after his 2005 season with Peoria in the Midwest
League .

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Number have always seemed to follow
Fuld, who graduated with a degree in Economics and always seemed to
have calculations ans statistics with him, even at a young age. His
mother, Senator Amanda Merrill proudly said,


He didn’t carry
around the typical teddy bear or worn-down baby blanket when he was
young. He carried a book of numbers. He had a baseball stats book
with him all of the time, like a security blanket. He kept the
history of the game and numbers. That’s what he loved.”

Before Opening Day in 2011, Fuld has
spent only 140 days on a Major League Baseball roster, but this
Spring and in the early stages of the 2011 season, Sam Fuld is
showing everyone around the MLB why this spunky 5’10 ( yeah right)
spark plug has been watched with such anticipation. His determination
and strive to achieve well above his vertical stature has him right
now on a mantel with the Rays Republic.


Not even 8 games into the 2011 season
and Fuld has constantly shown defensive plays that astonish and
amaze. His “superman” leap towards a dying liner hit by Chicago
White Sox outfielder Juan Pierre with the bases loaded as a firm
example of the lengths Fuld will go to give his Rays a chance to
celebrate nightly.

Pierre, hit the ball into the perfect
spot for not only extra bases, but a possible inside-the-park Grand
Slam, but the breakneck speed of Fuld, and a perfectly timed leap
instead left most fans at home and the assembled masses in U S
Cellular Field bewildered. You know you have done something truly
amazing when the home team fans stand up and cheer your play.


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Statistically, Fuld should not of had
even a glove on that ball, but possibly being a fan of those same
numbers, Fuld knew the possibilities and still thrust himself
sideways on the Rightfield warning track region to bring in that
small white sphere.


Even after heading to the Rays dugout
after the conclusion of the bottom of the inning with Rays trainer
Paul Harker attending to his multiple scrapes and abrasions, the
magnitude of the moment probably had not hit Fuld yet. The play was
probably going to be the best defensive play not only for the Rays
but in the MLB so far in 2011, or until Fuld pulls off another daring
display of man versus gravity.

The wild part is so far in 2011, Fuld
has thrust himself also into the fold of the Rays Republic by making
defensive play after play early on this season, showing why Rays
Manager Joe Maddon and the staff selected him as the 25th
member of the Rays roster. I have a feeling Fuld never fretted about
the numbers game, he already knew his odds were good if he played “
his game”.

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Fuld’s incredible run at the numbers
continues as he has already stolen his fifth base, which leads the
American League and is tied with Diamondback Willie Bloomquist and LA
Dodger Matt Kemp for the MLB lead. With 5 steals in his first 8
games, Fuld has done something only 2 other Rays have ever done:
Former Rays OF Carl Crawford had an MLB leading 6 SB after 8 games in
2004, and SS Julio Lugo had an MLB high 5 SB after 8 games back in
2005. While Fuld has had 3 20 SB seasons in the minors, he had only 2
total steals in 98 games over 3 seasons for the Cubs.

Fuld has already hit three times in the
revered Rays lead-off spot, garnered 2 outfield assists, ans is
wearing the past uniform number of another swift Rays outfielder who
retired from his playing days this past Spring. Only negatives you
can find right now is early on his usual BB/K ratio has taken a hit
as Fuld currently has 3 BB and 3 K’s to his credit.


Over 5 of his past 6 professional
seasons, Fuld has usually totaled more walks than strikeouts. His
ratio of 66 Walks to 37 K’s last season at Triple-A Iowa was the
second best in all of Triple-A baseball. Fuld has only struck out
more than once in 7 of his 301 games.

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This might be the only part of his game
right now that begs for improvement, but considering Fuld is on his
first run through the American League, some adjustments might be in
order. Fuld has already provided some extreme bright spots for the
Rays so far in the 2011 season. Most might think his offensive game
needs tweaking, but his defensive format is perfect for the Rays.


Even during this White Sox series, Fuld
has seemed to be at precisely the right outfield position at the
right time to make a hard play seem simple, or even an amazing play
just jump off the page at you. Much like former Rays OF Rocco
Baldelli who did the same thing for so long in a Rays uniform wearing
the same number 5. Maybe Fuld does understand the numbers……Hmmm?

Tampa Bay’s Own Casey Kotchman Added to First Base Mix

 

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Zimbio 

Anyone who has attended a Rays game in the past knows that when Casey Kotchman came into town for a series, there was a line at the Visitor’s dugout. Former teammates, Kotchman Baseball School students, coaches and even friends have been known to surround the dugout rails for a moment with the former Seminole High School star before Rays games. Now the Rays dugout might be feeling that pressure as the Tampa Bay area product is coming home to play for his hometown Rays.

The addition of Kotchman today to a $ 750,000 minor league contract with incentives could become another fine tooled feather in the cap of Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman as he pieces together another contending ball club. It instantly fills a need for the Rays, plus provides another ounce of proven ability to a club most thought was going to roll over and die for a few seasons.

The signing of Kotchman shows the Rays value ability as well as staying within the limits of their thin pocketbook, and might be another off-the-radar pick-up by the frugal Friedman. Bringing in local star Kotchman could also have a clear double-edged sword effect on the Rays roster this Spring.

In one clear instance, this move will automatically raise the level of corner infield talent and ability at the First Base bag and provide a great measure of not only healthy, but needed competition between Kotchman and Dan Johnson this Spring. On paper, this signing might look a bit one-sided with Kotchman winning by a landslide the defensive side of the overall 1B equation, but as we already well know, the mind of Rays Manager Joe Maddon doesn’t always follow common baseball logic.

Kotchman has appeared at First Base 581 times in his MLB career with Los Angeles/Anaheim, Atlanta, Boston and Seattle. Johnson has only manned the First Base bag only 21 games total in his Rays career.

You automatically see Kotchman as a key defensive replacement for departed past Gold Glover Carlos Pena. Even though Kotchman, who sports a .998 lifetime fielding percentage including only one error in 116 games for the Seattle Mariners during the 2010 season, it isn’t as clear cut on the offensive side of the numbers.

With both Rays First Baseman taking their swings from the left-side of the Batter’s Box ( same as Pena), the ultimate winner of this Spring battle might come down to a few more intricate pieces of either players arsenal such as OPS, RISP. And possibly strikeouts. All First Baseman indications prior to the signing of Kotchman seemed to be focused on a Ben Zobrist and Johnson platoon, but the addition of the sure handed glove of Kotchman might actually provide a bit of outfield controversy this Spring.

The Rays Brian trust must have a plan in mind prior to this signing, and possibly a platoon action could be configured also with Kotchman and Johnson in mind. Looking at their offensive numbers, Kotchman has not produced as fluidly as he did from 2006-2007 when he was with the Angels.

Then again, Kotchman has been kind of pigeon-holed offensively over the past few years in platoon action while with the Mariners, Red Sox and Braves. If Kotchman can prove that his .219 average and 75 points fall off his slugging percentage was a fluke, he could see significant starts at First Base for the Rays. Kotchman actually on paper looks a bit like Pena in that when he gets into a solid rhythm at the plate, he can turn on the magic.

I still think it is Johnson’s spot to lose. The Rays have kept Johnson close to them for a few years for some reason that defies some of our own logic. Possibly the Rays have the gut feeling that with extended playing time and at bats, he can return to his pre-2007 offensive numbers he held while a member of the Oakland A’s. Back then, Johnson hit 42 Home Runs in 3 season and produced 162 walks.

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BleacherReport

I want to wax poetic here and think that Johnson’s 2008 Home Run against Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon was the greatest HR in Rays history, but some think it was the right guy at the right time only. Personally I would love to see Johnson get an extended 2011 try at first for the Rays, but considering his batting average against right-handed pitchers hovers below .200, but Kotchman only get a slim lead based on his own .239 average against righties.

An interesting tidbit is that Kotchman went 1 for 10 (.100) on turf in 2010 while Johnson only went 13 for 63 (.206). But if you look at a factor like On-Base Percentages, Johnson has a slight leg-up on Kotchman .343 to .280. It might just come down to something as simple as run production and game day match-ups to decide who out of this pair might get the nightly starting nod.

With runners in scoring position, Kotchman sits closer to .300 against both left-handers and right-handers while Johnson sits under .200 against right-handers. The numbers tend to bunch both of them close into a possible platoon situation with Maddon again possibly tinkering with his line-up nightly to get the slight edge. It might ultimately come down to plate discipline. Johnson’s posted a 25-to-27 walk to strikeout ratio while Kotchman leaned more towards the strikeout 35-to-57 in 2010.

By no means does the signing of Kotchman signal the end of the Johnson idea at First Base for the Rays. It just muddles the waters a bit and provides each player with a dynamic where they have to produce to get a shot at manning the bag full-time. But each player seems even in regards to right-handed pitching, so neither has a solid chance to cement their name on the line-up just based on which side the pitcher lines up on the mound.

2011 has been a year of surprises so far for the Rays. The addition today of Kotchman has to be viewed as a positive move by the franchise to give the Rays more depth and defensive ability going into Spring Training. Going into the February 20th report date for all players to the Rays Spring Training Camp, I am going to give a slight edge to Kotchman at First Base. I still think it is Johnson’s to lose, but I got to support and root for the hometown guy…Sorry D J.

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