Results tagged ‘ Carl Crawford ’

Rays Have No-Hitter Pitching Options

 

 
Chris O’Meara/AP

With the Colorado Rockies on Saturday night finally being able to erase their name off the four-some of current Major League Baseball teams without a No-Hitter thrown by a pitcher on their staff, the list has now been funneled down to only a trio, with the Tampa Bay Rays being the only American League team still searching for a No-No. And sharing this distinction with National League squads the New York Mets and the San Diego Padres, it is actually only a matter of time before another name is dropped off this list.
 
Honestly with the Mets farm system not having a highly-touted prospect in the pipeline, and the Padres having some talent in the lower levels, but nothing on the immediate horizon, it seems logical that the Rays might have the best chance to be the next team to throw a huge “X” through their name and eliminate the American League from this special list. But this is not to say that a pitcher from either the Mets or Padres could not have a once-in-a-lifetime pitching performance and one-up the Rays with no notice.

In my honest baseball opinion, the Rays seem to have more viable options either close to the MLB level, or presently throwing some impressive ball for the team. So I am going to toss out three categories here today, showing who I think is the odds-on Rays pitching favorites to produce a pitching gem, and a few who might fly a bit under the radar, but with good command and some great defense behind them could shock the world.
 
The one obvious visual choice has to be Rays current uber-competitive demon Matt Garza. Everyone around baseball knows the maximum competitive fires that brew deep within him every time he hit’s the mound, and that a pitching gem is just within his reach with every start. And the reasoning for this is quite simple…. He has flirted with this gem before…twice and still is just as hungry to taste it again and again until he finally is granted within the special club just for hurlers who possess a “No-No” on their MLB pitching resume`. And with him showing these glimpses over the last two seasons, he is the odds-on favorite in deed to finally take the Rays name off that “Non No-No” list.
 

 
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We first got to see that future dominating pitching ability during the 2008 MLB season when Matt Garza took the mound against the Florida Marlins in an Inter-League contest. In the contest, Garza completed his first career complete game, but more importantly, he threw a one-hitter with 10 strikeouts against the Marlins giving up one hit on the day via a solo Hanley Ramirez Home Run to lead off the seventh inning for Florida. On the day, Garza only faced 28 batters on the day tying the Rays club record for fewest batters faced in a nine inning complete game setting also held by James Shields. But this was only our first glimpse into his possible future chance to throw a no-hitter.

 
Garza also gave us a second glance early on in 2009 when on April 30th against the Boston Red Sox in Tropicana Field when Garza went 6 innings of perfect baseball before Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury infield single to lead-off the seventh inning ruined the longest bid for a perfect game in Rays history. And in that contest Garza retired 18-straight Red Sox hitters before Ellsbury’s single. But Garza tied for the third longest no-hit bid in club history while striking out 10 batters and walking one. He combined with Rays reliever Grant Balfour for a one-hit 13-0 victory for the Rays.
 
As you can see by the above situations, Garza is my favorite to be the first Rays pitcher to ever post a No-Hit or even Perfect Game performance for the team. This is not to discount the rest of the Rays starters in the least as I truly think there are a few others who might conjure up the chance to also venture into this hallowed pitching grounds if the right situation came their way. Rays left-hander David Price has the pitching pedigree that he could also be on the mound with a chance to produce his own pitching gem, but I think he might need a bit of defensive help behind him, but with the likes of Carl Crawford, B J Upton and Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena on the corner infield spots, Price could also produce a stellar pitching performance….but not within the next several MLB seasons.

 
Duane Burleson/AP

This takes me to the guy who I truly think might be the one Rays pitcher you might not think of throwing a no-hitter, but pitchers who have the same abilities as this Rays right-hander have produced gems of their own. Some times it has noting to do with killer speeds on your fastball, or even the ability to read and adjust during the game. Some times it is just something as simple as a game rhythm you get into early as a pitcher that can set the tone and get you amazing results. That is why the one pitcher who might beat Garza to the punch and produce a no-hitter before him, or be the second Rays to perform the task might be Jeff Niemann.

 
The Rays former First Round pick has had a pretty mild-mannered career so far with the Rays, but we have all see just what kind of dominating performances he can throw out there when his breaking ball and his fastball placement both sync up and his 12-6 curveball buckles players knees at the plate. The first time I got the realization that Niemann could possibly be a hidden gem to throw a no-hitter might have been during the 2009 season when he lead the Rays in ERA and wins, becoming the first rookie to lead a team in those two categories since New York Yankees pitcher Bob Grim in 1954.

What is simply amazing was the true fact Niemann has shown an increased dominance in several areas that could help him reel in a no-hitter bid. In 2009, Neimann allowed only 0.85 Home Runs per nine innings, which was the sixth best in the American League. But he also held lead-off batter to an astonishing .240 batting average in 2009, which was the lowest in the Major Leagues, and walked only six batters in 192 opportunities, which lead the American Leagues. And all of this was only during his Rookie campaign against aggressive American League East hitting teams.

 
Brian Blanco/AP

What really pushed the thought in my mind that Niemann might be a dark horse, but a distinct no-hitter possibility might be in the fact he did not lose a home start at Tropicana Field after May 2,2009. Niemann was an impressive 6-0 in 10 starts after that date and his 3.05 ERA tied him with Seattle hurler Felix Hernandez for 1oth best in the American League….as a rookie. But what ultimately put the exclamation point on the whole debate for me was the fact he was the only rookie to EVER bet Toronto’s Roy Halladay twice in one season, and was joined later in that exclusive club by teammate David Price later in the 2009 season.


As you can see, the Rays do have the pitching firepower to be excluded from that list within a short period of time. But as we have seen as recently as the Mark Buehrle no-hit game against the Rays last season on July 23rd. You can have the ultimate command of the strike zone and get the seams of the balls itching on the black corners of the plate for strikes, but the final test might just be a single defensive play by your teammates behind you.


 
Elaine Thompson/AP

All three of the Rays trio mentioned, Garza, Price and Niemann have the tolls and the skills to post this gem any time they step on the rubber for a game. But it might take a leaping catch by Upton, Crawford, or maybe a diving play down the line by Longoria or Pena to produce the Rays first shinning pitching gem amongst the dust of the baseball diamond.

Isn’t it great to know that the Rays can effectively produce those sparkling moments on the mound and might someday soon also be celebrating late into the night a performance worthy of not just a no-hitter, but eliminating their name from that lonely list.

 
 
 

Riding the Rays Rollercoast with no Seat Belts

 
 
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Man, we are only two whole games into the 2010 Tampa Bay Rays 13th Major League Baseball season and I am already extremely tired from the massive rollercoaster journey we have taken just in the last two days. And believe me, I do not mind the twists, drops and even the unsuspecting high steeping emotional climbs, but I am still a bit wary of that stomach shifting towards the Adam’s Apple intense drop that takes not only your breathe away, but does something to your overall mode of team confidence and inner soul that can not be repaired by just a few spotty wins.

 
And already there are those dark D-Rays souls who have warned the “pumped-up” people like me about the possible side effects of believing in the hype before there is a foundation to support it. And believe me here, there is no “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey in my I-Pod music mix. But then again I am reminded in the back of my mind that these same dark dwelling remnants of D-Rays people have not attended a single Rays Spring Training game since the Rays left St. Petersburg for Port Charlotte, Florida in March 2008, and they are still stuck in the muck and mire of their season-ending Rays emotions pertaining to the 2009 season.
 

Maybe I am getting myself in a serious state of heart break and toeing the edge of the jagged path on the high cliff to a possible let down of massive enthusiasm proportions, but then again, maybe I am going to do what I feel is the right thing for myself and this team and throw my caution to the wind and hope the monkey on the loose doesn’t throw a steaming pile of poo at me from the Rightfield foul pole during the game.
 

But if you have been amongst the tidal waves of emotions surrounding Tropicana Field the last two night and really felt that pulse of energy cascading throughout the stadium with even the 15,000+ on Wednesday night, then you know that something special is happening in front of us again. And maybe since St. Petersburg is the “Lightning Capital of the World”, it is about to strike hard for a second time in 2010. And maybe Rays fans like me are all riding that huge wave of off season pent-up emotions right now, but that is what fans do, they act and react and counter move to the ebb and flow of the rhythm of the game hoping that the last big wave of the night will produce that moment you remember for a long, long time and provide you with that rush of adrenaline we all seek as we drive home with smiles from ear-to-ear .
 

And that is what is happening right now. From Tuesday nights bottom of the ninth inning extravaganza when the longest tenured Ray, Carl Crawford provided the 90th Walk-off moment in Rays history, to the thunderous crack from the bat of Rays legend-in-the-making Evan Longoria, the last two nights have been sprinkled with classic Rays moments where a huge cloud of magical pixie dust has fallen from the rafters of Tropicana Field and coated all of us with amazement and wonder.
 

 
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If you would have told me the Rays would win a game in Walk-off fashion in either of these nights, I could have believed you. But if you would have told me Longoria would make his first two blasts of the year pale in epic proportions by going into the TBT Deck/Beach/ way-the-heck-up-there, I might have taken that bet and thought it was a sucker bet by you. But more amazing was the shot last night into Section 149, which had a plastic poster hanging at the top of that same section of Tropicana field asking Longoria to hit it here with a massive Bulls-Eye of red and white.

 

Two games into the 2010 season and we already have a few moments that will be talked about even after the All-Star break, and maybe in the 2010 off season. Seriously here, I could imagine Carl Crawford lacing a ball for a 2-run double to produce a Walk-off win way before a blast 473 feet that just missing the Second slot on the Rays All-Time Home Run Distance list by a tiny foot compared to the Centerfield blast of Jonny Gomes that bounced like a golf ball on the roof of the Batter’s Eye Restaurant. But the amazing fact might still be that Longoria has 4 RBI on his only 3 hits this season, and all three of them have been for extra bases.
 
 
But what might be more amazing about the last few nights is the show of support this crowd has shown this Rays team especially after a bad invisible swinging strike call by Home Plate Umpire Kerwin Danley, who never even asked Third Base Umpire Dana DeMuth for a ruling on the invisible phantom swing by Crawford that brought out the Trop. boo-bird for the rest of the game. I have always thought that when the true meaning of baseball and the intelligence level of our area fans ever matured, this Rays “Pit” environment would be a huge vocal point towards pushing the momentum into the Rays favor in extreme moments.
 

 
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I was extremely proud of the 15,000+ who were screaming and yelling for an appeal to the Third Base Umpire, and their fats reaction to booing and questioning the call immediately instead of looking around for an exclamation from someone wearing headphone listening to the game on the Rays Radio network in the stands. I actually had a nice photo of Crawford at that moment and he was hunched down in his stance and could not have even thrown out a half-hazard swing to fend off the ball if it was a true strike. But the pure fact this crowd has matured as a whole and gathered the mustard to question and show immediate recourse towards Danley reminds me a lot of the baseball savvy crowds you see in other MLB stadiums that have been around for over 100 years.

 

But I am also aware and poised to remember that these same Orioles have beaten us into the ground before when our guard has been down a bit, or the confidence level made a few Rays fan’s heads rise an inch or two and not remember that a streaky Baltimore Second Baseman Brian Roberts can change the entire game all by himself with his legs and bat. But maybe his bad start to the season is our reward right now. To be 2-0, and maybe blossom to 3-0 before the Evil Empire valet parks their Deathstar at the Vinoy for the upcoming weekend series, it might be a nice emotional and confident momentary foundation before we partake in the renewed rivalry for the first time in 2010.
 

And some people have already brought out that attendance trump card after just two Rays games, but they also forget that these mid-week games have always been the Achilles’ Heel of this Rays clubs attendance marks as far back as 1998. They are a work-in-progress, and with 15,000+ in the stands last night, that is a nice bump up from the last time the Orioles were in the Trop from September 29-October 1,2009 when an average of just over 10,492 fans packed the Trop for the season ending series of these same two teams.
 

 
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5,000 extra bodies in the seats might not seem like much to those viewing the empty blue seats in other locales. But those same 5,000+ extra Rays bodies have also been sporting more of the home team’s Columbia Blue or Rays Blue this season and that in its own small way might show the Tampa Bay community trickling in little by little to see if the Rays can renew that spirit and drive that possessed this region in 2008. And I guess I can revel in the fact that the “greatest game played on dirt” is living up to that moniker in the first two fun-filled energy-draining contests of 2010.

But you ain’t seen nothing yet as the New York Yankees will be unpacking their equipment in the Rays Visitor’s Clubhouse soon enough, then the first true test of 2010 is full on………Game on people….Game On!

 

 

Rays Bang Out an Opening Night Victory

 

Got to admit, that was the way to throw an Major League Baseball Opening Day gig last night. From Tampa Bay Rays players coming out and meeting us at the Rotunda Gate 1 location at 4 pm, to the explosions on and off the field, if this doesn’t get Rays fan excited…then this region is in for a heartache. But what better way to get a community pumped up for the first journey into the Trop. of the Evil empire than to have a Walk-off 2-run double produced by one of your marque players.

So with that in mind, and with me still emotional tired and drained from the whole episode, let’s take today as a “photo blog” day and I will throw a few photos up for the fans who were not at the Trop. to see what might have happened in their absence. I have to admit to everyone, when I moved in October 2009, I think I lost my 3.5X Telephoto lens, so you will have to squint and look at thing s a bit out of focus until my new lens arrives from Miami (hopefully by Friday).

 
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But it was all about the pomp and circumstance of Opening Day today with several new additions to the Tropicana Field scene, and even a few new looks to the ballpark that I will show you in the next few days. But different this season is the fact I will not have my laptop with me during games at this time, but that might change in the near future if a few good things happen, like a real job (lol).

 
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When I got to the stadium at 3 pm today, I was the first person standing in the Season Ticket holders line at Gate 1, and was quickly bombarded by Rays friends and ballpark buddies talking about the uypcoming season and just renewing friendships. I even got yelled at by a friend who sit in the Upper Deck for my April Fool’s Day joke, and another baseball buddy in the Rays front office commented on that post too later in the day. But today was all about seeing the 25 members of the Rays surge towards their goal of getting back to the playoffs in 2010.


 
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But there were also some new sight on the field during the Rays Batting Practice as Rays outfielder Gabe Kapler was showing off his new glove that featured a Columbia Blue dyed “U-pocket” on his fielding glove, and a bit of Columbia Blue trim along the inner seams of the glove. It reminded me of the color scheme that ex-Rays infielder Akinora Iwamura did with his glove over the past few seasons. I will try and get a better shot of the glove today as Kapler was in a bit of a hurry yesterday and I did not get an “up close” look at his new mitt.

Rays RP Grant Balfour was also sporting a Columbia Blue T-shirt under his BP sweatshirt that read “Defend The Trop” with a black AK-47 situated in the middle of the shirt. It was produced by the Cowbell Kid in 2009 and given to Balfour, who is an honorary member of the Cowbell Security Force now. Another example of the right attitude can produce amazing results.

 
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I liked the way that the Rays today incorporated the smoke and fire elements in their pre-game festivities, but it ended up producing a smoke and haze within the Trop that had to be a definite obstacle for both teams outfielders during the game. At one point, it seemed early in the game that Rays centerfielder B J Upton had to make an instant change in his path to the ball before collecting it over the shoulder that would have had Willy Mays shouting his name.

 
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Over the past two Rays seasons they have used the propane fire pots more in a vertical display before the Opening Day festivities, but this season that had some very interesting variations on the flames paths, and also a nice addition of the Rays blue and yellow to bring out a different feel, but also a collaberation of the Rays color scheme.

 
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And Rays injured reliever J P Howell even came out for a little bit today to sit with his Rays Bullpen mates before going into the Rays dugout and watching the rest of the game. I was talking with Howell before the game and he is feeling the shoulder getting stronger and the wrokout program developed by Rays Strength & Conditioning guru Kevin Barr and Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield is showing fast imporvement in Howell’s mobility, but he is still on track to be out until possibily May 15th.

 
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So glad to see that Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos is again down in the Bullpen area for the 2010 season. During most of the Rays Spring Training schedule, Ramos was either doing Third Base duty, or helping out on the Rays bench learning some more tricks of the trade. Ramos would not tell me if he is heading towards a possible Bench gig in 2011, but he is still taking out the Rays line-up cars every game, since he is riding a 12-game winning streak when he performs that pre-game duty.

 
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Also something new at the Trop. this year is Raymond, our faithful Rays seadog has produced a new coat over the Fall and Winter and came out tonight with a shiny new coat that produced multiple sparkles and shimmering highlights. Either that or the Seadog finally began using conditioner on his coat for a healthier look in 2010.

 
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Rays new $7.5 million closer Rafael Sorinano did have a rude awakening tonight against the Baltimore Orioles as he got into trouble early and got bailed-out on a brilliant play at the plate on a throw by Rays Third Baseman Evan Longoria. Soriano was releived as Longoria’s throw kept the Orioles from again tacking on a few runs and gave the Rays a chance to come back in the bottom of the ninth for the victory.

 
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I had my camera going nuts last night and thought I might have caught Rays pinch-hitter Kelly Shoppach’s blast that popped off the Baltimore outfielder mitt and moved towards the yellow line on the railing in Left-Centerfield. But as you can see, it did not come out perfectly, but it did put two men on base, and if it had gone above that nice little yellow line on the fly…The game would have ened 15 minutes earlier.

 
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Got to admit, I am getting slower in my old age becuase I did not pick up the ball in flight here on Carl Crawford’s 2-run Walk-off Double, but then again I was trying to keep moving to get around the errant Rays ballboy that did not want to stay in one place while I tried to gather in a picture that would sum up the game’s event….I will try again. Dang you Ballboy!

 
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But really this picture says it all. And what was so amazing is the discussion I had with Rays Radio Host Rich Herrera before the game about we need to again get those “magical small moment
s” back into the Rays game plan in 2010 to get off to a great start and force someone else to hustle and keep up witrh us in 2010. And the way the Rays employed their confidence and their strive to produce those runs last night shows that maybe a few sparks fromn that 2008 spirit might still be alive and well within the hearts and souls of the Rays players.

 
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I do not have a photo of the event, but again Rays catcher Dioner Navarro is getting pretty stealthy when it comes to the post-game shaving cream pies. Carl Crawford was doing a interview with Todd Kalas by the side of the Rays dugout when a swiftly moving Navarro came out of the tunnel and just missed planting the towel filled with shaving cream onto Crawford’s face. Navarro ended up pushing most of it onto Crawford’s uniform right shoulder, but you can not discount his effort.

 
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But in the end what was important was the “W” last night. And in an interesting twist of fact here, Crawford’s 2-run double was the Rays 13th hit of the night to highlight a victory in the start of their 13th season, and of course, Crawford wears number 13 for the Rays. Nothing unlucky aboiut that number last night, and i have a feeling Rays fans will be looking for that 1 and 3 combination ( Sean Rodriguez (1), Evan Longoria (3), plus the always swifty number 13 to bring another win tonight as the Rays send starter Matt Garza to the mound. God I love this game!

Adrenaline pumping,Fists raised High, Opening Day!

 New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays
Got to admit it now, but I was extremely jealous of the rest of the country, and mostly of my own American League divisional foes who got their first glance at their teams the past two days. It was a very uneasy feeling to see the Red Sox and Yankees square up on Sunday night, then take in the magic of seeing so many other teams celebrate the beginning of the 2010 season while my Tampa Bay Rays had their formal run-through for tonight’s Home opener against the Baltimore Orioles.


But quickly as the hours tick away I am getting more and more giddy with anticipation and the excitement threshold is about to borderline again on insanity as we edge closer and closer to seeing the Rays faith unfold for the first time tonight at 7:10 pm EST. But it is Opening Day, and with that comes all sorts of great magical moments that will quickly flash towards the past, present, and hopefully playoff-bound future still to come in 2010 for the Rays. And some of my fond memories of past Home Openers keep flooding my brain and bringing the excitement to untold levels as the adrenaline rushes through my body in anticipation.
 
Rushing back into my mind is a day, March 31,1998 when a sold-out Tropicana Field held so many Rays fans in anticipation of finally seeing professional baseball played here during the Major League Baseball season that some seemed to hyperventilate at the thought of this day coming true. I was situated up in “The Beach” region of Tropicana Field that night with the rest of the baseball loving workers of the local Pepsi Bottling Group and our local distribution plants as we all shouted, saluted with a few adult beverages and took in this magnificent sight from our high catbird’s seat for the night.
 
That was the last time I sat in an Upper level seat, but I cherish it because I got to celebrate with a Tampa Bay community on something I hoped and dreamed for all my young life. And to me it was a bit sad that I was 38 years old when Major League Baseball finally got a chance to be played in the Tampa Bay area, and for that, I will always envy my friend’s children who get to grow up idolizing Carl Crawford, Wade Boggs and Bubba Trammell. And it was sad that over 13 years ago, on that special night we suffered a loss to the Detroit Tigers, but it was the beginning of a long and enjoyable journey into the realms of baseball love for me.

And with the pomp and circumstance that surrounds tonight, you can be sure a tear or two might slip towards my eyelid, but never make the light of day as I again see my Rays in their home whites and blues take their place along the First Base foul chalk line as each and everyone of them is introduced to the crowd and get the ovation they al deserve from this community. But it is also another rebirth of friendships that spawn a baseball season, and the updating of information both digitally and emotionally to what has happened in the past off season. It will showcase some of the growth spurts by younger Rays fans, and maybe be an arena for introductions of new spouses, new hairstyle, or even just a renewal of our first love….baseball. 

And maybe it will feel like Opening Day 2009 to me again with a flurry of fire thrusting upwards towards the Teflon roof with a huge American flag being unfolded and slowly produce ripples like the Gulf as a singer belts out their rendition of our National Anthem. And you know the local political leaders will all get their chance to possibly hit the mitt during those famous ceremonial First Pitches prior to the game. But the game, and 2010 will not truly begin when the doors of the Trop. Open and Rays players and Coaches greet the fans, which has been their custom for what seems like forever on Opening Day.
 
It will not be the new eye candy we see as we all flow into the stadium which has taken on a new persona and a new purpose in 2010 to again bust through the door and play deep into October again. The true beginning to this 2010 season will not even take part in that time honored tribute to both teams lining up on the foul lines or seeing Rays Third Baseman Evan Longoria get his Golden Glove tonight, or even Rays rookie Reid Brignac getting the Al Lopez Award for the Best Rookie in Spring Training.
The real beginning of this Rays 2010 journey will commence the moment we hear those two special words we have waited for since early October….Those words most definitely shouted loud and clear by a young Rays fan who will be the next generation of Rays fans, tonight truly is just a ballgame until we hear…..”Play Ball!”

 

 

Rays Possible 2010 Batting Order

 

 
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With the regular season just a stones throw away now, I thought it might be time to explore the possible Tampa Bay Rays 25-man roster that should be standing on the chalk lines during the Rays Opening Day on April 6th 2010 against the Baltimore Orioles. And of course, the first thing that has come out of many people’s mouths is what the possible Rays line-up card might look at on that Opening Day. 

And sure there are still a few battles to be won or lost before the team finalizes their 25-man roster, but this is just one Rays fan’s educated guess, a “guestimation” if you will, in what might actually mirror the line-up cars presented to the Umpires prior to the beginning fo the Rays 2010 Major League Baseball season.

Accompanied with my personal thoughts on the Rays 2010 starting Batting order will be some great Rays player photos that were taken after the day’s workouts on February 28,2010 by photography image giant, Getty Images. I really like the sequences photographer’s use of the Florida late afternoon sunshine to  peek and poke between spot surrounding the poses and stances of the Rays player’s to put an exclamation point on the Rays ever evolving “rays of light” concept .
 
 
And the final images of the 2010 Rays squad really drives this Rays persona home.  Got to admit, it was a great feature to use the natural elements of the Florida sun, then combine them with the white Rays jersey clad team. But that is enough about the photos. Let’s get this party started off right today and begin with the one player I truly think derserves to be the Rays lead-off hitter in 2010.
 

 
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Jason Bartlett has been thrown under the bus a few times over the last few years as having the defensive chops, but not the offensive firepower that sometimes is needed from the Shortstop position. In 2009, Bartlett rose high above those comments and showed why he should be considered in conversation when you discuss the top tier of American League shortstops. And some have whispered that he might go into a short offensive funk during 2010, not unlike the downward spiral in statistics that Rays Catcher Dioner Navarro had in 2009. But the MLB.com Fantasy projections have Bartlett hitting in the Rays lead-off spot, where he seems extremely comfortable.
 

The MLB.com Fantasy projections have Bartlett going to the plate over 500 times this season, and sporting a .320 Batting Average with 14 HR, 66 RBI and 30 stolen bases. But the one figure that jumps out at me is not the Batting Average, but the fact he could plate 90+ runs in this high-powered Rays offense hitting in front of Carl Crawford, Ben Zobrist, Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena. If Bartlett does get on base, even via the walk (54), Bartlett could be a thorn in the side of opposing pitchers’ in 2010. And with Bartlett showing early power this season in Spring Training, these stats might just be a launching pad for him this season.
 
 

 
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What can you say about the Rays second hitter that has not already been said either in Baseball Fantasy passages or prose. Carl Crawford might just be one of the most exciting players to simply watch during a plate appearance based solely on his unpredictable nature of mixing the infield hit with his power stroke. And the added ammunition of possibly adding a drag bunt to his arsenal in 2010, You could see him get his highest seasonal Batting Average as a Ray in 2010.

 
Crawford is one of the Rays players that is feared if he is on the base paths, by both infielders and outfielders. And throw in the another “tweak” to his base-running stride that he picked up this off-season, Crawford might go “lights out” again early in 2010 with stolen bases. MLB Fantasy projections have Crawford posting a .305 Batting Average with 15 HR, 68 RBI and another 60+ stolen bases season. But like Bartlett, if Crawford is on first base with a ball down the line, you could see some great coast-to-coast running by Crawford to produce some extra critical Rays runs in 2010.
 

 
 
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Some people are calling Ben Zobrist a ” man without a position”, and also downplaying his 2009 slugging campaign to the pure fact American League pitchers’ were conned early by his extra power and base running abilities. But 2009 was the first full season Zobrist actually has been healthy in his short career with the Rays. A small list of nagging injuries kept him bouncing in and out of the line-up before 2009 when Zobrist finally got a chance to show his abilities after an May knee injury to ex-Rays Second Baseman Akinori Iwamura. And maybe all Zorilla ever needed was a chance to shine after showing rays of brilliance during pinch-hit and spot duty during games in 2007-2008.
 

And we know that Rays Manager Joe Maddon will do everything to get Zobrist’s bat into the Rays line-up, even considering batting Zobrist in the 3-slot to begin the 2010 season. This is Spring Training swap in line-up spots for Zobrist has shown great results, and might be the answer to provide RBI-opportunities with three straight Rays hitters who can get on base and mix power and speed effectively to get rival pitching staff into early inning troubles. MLB.com Fantasy Projections have Zobrist hitting .297 with 27 HR , 97 RBI and 17 stolen bases. But his key moves in 2010 might be his position flexibility to give the Rays options at Second Base and Rightfield throughout 2010 based on game day match-ups and possible late inning position shifts.
 

 
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What can you say about Evan Longoria. He has shown in his two season up with the Rays that he is not a fluke and can match-up power and plate discipline. And with the possibility of Maddon moving Longo into the “Clean-up” spot in 2010, the young stars legend might just grow a few more paragraphs before the end of 2010. Longoria won the 2009 Silver Slugger Award for Third Base in the American League, and barring an injury, should be able to reserve a spot on his fireplace mantel for another nice piece of hardware this Fall.
 

This might be the next step in the evolution of Longoria as Maddon will push more offensive pressure on the young player’s shoulders. But I have a feeling Longo will actually welcome the chance to produce and also be a key leadership component of this 2010 Rays squad. MLB.com Fantasy projections have Longoria posting a .281 Batting Average with 33 HR, 113 RBI and getting 72 walks during the season. If Longoria gets off to a solid and hot start, this might be the season he sees more walks, and could easily pass that 72 walk mark easily.
 

 

 
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Early this Spring I was worried about Rays First Baseman Carlos Pena. After he had two of his fingers broken by a fastball pitch by New York Yankees starter C C Sabathia, there were early Spring concerns that Pena, who went over 21 plate appearances before finally getting back into the groove with a Home Run to start his 2010 Spring hitting regiment. But lost in the confusion was the fact he was hitting the ball solid during that time, but the new heavily padded batting gloves might have been more of a mental change and adjustment for Pena than a physical one.
 

With his fingers healed and ready to go, Pena has recently begun to show more selective plate selection and getting his average moving towards the Mendoza Line this Spring. But you can not discount the sheer power and ability of Pena in this line-up, and he has been working hard this Spring on pulling the ball more towards the Third Base-Shortstop hole to fight off the game day shift that some American League teams employ against him. But the MLB.com Fantasy projections have Pena hitting .227 with 39 HR ,100 RBI and 87 walks. But a key for Pena might be to show an avid decrease in strikeouts since he will be hitting in the 5-spot and might see more different pitch selections in 2010.
 
 

 
Chris O’Meara/AP

I am actually thinking this sixth slot might be a possible second lead-off position for the Rays in 2010.
And who better than speedster B J Upton to be at the plate in this situation. In Spring Training 2010, Upton is showing he has fully recovered from his off season 2009 shoulder surgery, and his bat stroke has looked real clean at the plate. But some of that credit might also rub off on new Rays Hitting Coach Derek Shelton who spent more than a few moments with Upton in the off season working on his front foot placement and swing follow through. The results are early success this Spring for Upton.

 

Upton might finally have that breakout season Rays fans have been waiting for in 2010. Upton has the ability to be one of the best Centerfielders in baseball, and with some additional pop in his bat, he could possibly meet his brother Justin in Anaheim for the 2010 All Star game. MLB.com projections have Upton hitting .241 with 11 HR and 55 RBI to go along with 42 stolen bases. Upton’s presence on base will also give pitching staff fits in 2010, and I actually see him hitting more like a .265 Batting Average with 16 HR and 70 RBI and posting 50 stolen bases. As you can see, I am expecting Upton to have a nice ” coming out” party in 2010.

 
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This is the one huge question mark to me right now. I want to believe in Pat Burrell’s just having an “off year” in 2010. I really do, but Burrell has to show more than just neck pain and inconsistent plate appearances, because “The Bat” has to perform this season, or be instantly labeled a flop with the Rays. Hopefully in 2010 Burrell can again live up to his moniker and provide some needed hitting from the 7th position in the Rays line-up. This season definitely needs to be a good season for Burrell to help provide some protection for Longoria and Pena, or pitchers will not fret knowing an anemic Burrell is in the On-Deck Circle.

 

But I see a vigor in Burrell this Spring. But he has still heard more than a few “Boo-birds” chirping this Spring, but his bat is showing more speed through the hitting zone, which hopefully projects into more hits or scoring chances for the Rays. MLB.com Fantasy projections have Burrell hitting only  for a .221 Batting Average with 14 HR, 66 RBI with a p[ossible “healthy” 412 plate appearances. But the key to 2o1o might be that Burrell excedds these conservative expectations and shows us his old 30-HR, 100RBI form we saw in Philadelphia for all those years with the Phillies. The Rays do not have much wiggle room to go out and seek a big bat if Burrell should falter at all, or if his neck injury come back to bite him again in 2010.


The eight spot in the Batting Order definitely be an “insert here” platoon situation depending on where Zobrist is situated on the field. Both Gabe Kapler and Matt Joyce have the offensive abilities to play every day in Rightfield, but they will be in a platoon situation with Zobrist depending on where skipper Maddon positions Zobrist that night.

 
 

 
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And then again, this spot could go to Rays newcomer Sean Rodriguez who was a main piece of the Scott Kazmir trade last July and has been on fire at the plate this Spring and might actually see extended time at Second Base if he gets off to a hot start at the plate in 2010. So with that possibly in the cards, let’s check out all three players projections for 2010. Kapler will definitely get spot starts against left-handers and also time as a late inning defensive replacement in 2010. Kapler no longer seems to have the power potential he had earlier in his MLB career, but MLB.com Fantasy projections have him getting at least 205 plate appearances while hitting .239 with 8 HR and 32 RBIs. Not a big power threat anymore, but a solid hitter who can also still run effectively on the base paths.
 

Matt Joyce might not even make the Rays roster straight out of Spring Training due to some extra time working on his conditioning because of a early Spring elbow ailment. But Maddon has shown extreme confidence in Joyce’s abilities, and he might be realistically destined for an early rehab or DL visit to begin the season. But projections have Joyce seeing limited duty in 2010 possibly as a fifth outfielder and his ability to rebound might take his stats off the charts in regards to early 2010 season projections.
 
 
Sean Rodriguez might make it difficult for Maddon to not use him as an every day Second Baseman or spot utility guy. He has come on like gangbusters this Spring and might have a solid chance to break camp as the penciled-in everyday Second Baseman. And even if Rays fans do not know his name, Rodriguez has built a solid MLB experience base over spot duties over the past two MLB seasons, and could propel his MLB.com Fantasy projections past the presets that show him hitting only .200 with a total of 25 plate appearances. It seems that most projection sites do not portray him as a starter right now, but Rodriguez is making people redefine their position with every Spring game.
 
 
 
And lastly, we have the two guys who will battle with each other in the Rays Catching corps, which is solid in experience, but definitely lacking in power and hitting consistency. And even though it was not so long ago (2008) that catcher Dioner Navarro was an AL All Star for the American League, it seems like so long ago after he fell from grace in 2009 with sub-par hitting and questionable moves behind the plate. So it was little wonder that the Rays traded minor league pitcher Mitch Talbot to the Cleveland Indians this off season for veteran Catcher Kelly Shoppach.
 

 
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On paper it seems that Shoppach might have a slight advantage on game day preparations and ability to block balls in the dirt with more regularity than Navarro, but the starting job is not going to be easy as both have been told it might end with both being measured up for possible match-ups based on certain Rays rotation members in 2010. We might definitely see Shoppach being Matt Garza’s battery mate in 2010. But in MLB.com Fantasy projections, Shoppach get the early edge based on power showing a possible .214 Batting average with 12 HR , 40 RBI and you can bet a boatload of Hit By Pitches again in 2010.

 

But the same MLB.com Fantasy projections show Navarro having a slight edge in average( .218), but lacking the power element that Shoppach will bring to the Rays. And Navarro was given the early edge in plate appearances, where projections have him coming to the plate 376 times compared to Shoppach’s 271 appearances. But the main contribution factor might be who will get an early hot hand and show a firm foundation with the Rays pitching staff. Both players come with their own sidelines of good and bad abilities, but both can throw out runners and have a good knowledge of American League hitters.
 

 
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But do not be surprised if one of the Rays catchers is injured that the Rays do not quickly pull up minor league catcher Nevin Ashley from the system over minor league veteran John Jaso. Ashley has shown the abilities and stamina that Maddon likes to see in his catchers’ and could be in line to fight for a back-up catching slot in 2011.

 

The potential is there for this 2010 Rays team to produce and score runs again at another record pace, but the key will be the health of the Rays. Even one key member out of the top of the Rays line-up for an extended time might throw some of these MLB.com Fantasy projections right out the window.
 

But the stark reality is that this is the most talented and athletic Rays team to ever step onto Tropicana Field. And with that comes inherent dangers of severe injuries, and the possibilities of extended hitting slumps or offensive lapses. Most Rays Republic remember the awful start the Rays got off to during April 2009 (9-14), and the Rays were constantly playing “catch-up” while the rest of the American League East played out their season. But the unsuspecting hand injury to Pena in September took the Rays down a dark path and they quickly fell out of contention for the AL Wild Card. Each piece in this Rays line-up carries a extremely important piece to the entire Playoff puzzle in 2010. One piece missing could cost them dearly in 2010.
 

With New York and Boston not “reloading” as extensive this off season as they did in 2009, this division instead went ” defensive” and because of that, it might be closely contested into the final weeks of the season. For the Rays to uncork a bottle of bubbly again in 2010, the Rays will have to see a few of these projections shoot skyward and maybe even see Burrell or one of the Rays catchers’ catch fire early and spring the team onto some early success. Only a handful of days and nights before our MLB dreams become a new season of realities. Maddon key phrase for the year is “W.I.N.” which stands for “What’s Important Now”. For the 2010 Rays, it will be getting out of the gate fast and furious and taking no prisoners in their first month battling mostly divisional foes

 
 

Rays 2010 Commercial Lacks “Wow” Factor

 
 Tampa Bay Rays 2010 Commercial
 

I got to admit, I love the big sound of the drum line resonating in the foreground of the Tampa Bay Rays 2010 Television commercials. But there is something missing…. Something is missing we have seen for the last several years in Rays advertising. How yeah! A slogan. We have been bombarded in the past with “Heart and Soul”, “Feel the Heat” , “Catch Some Rays”, “We Are One Team” and Major League Baseball’s own “I Live For This” campaign.
 

But the rapid fire interaction of fans and players in the commercial does go great with the drum line music. See Carl Crawford taking a base away from the opposition, or seeing Even Longoria tee-off on a long ball into Section 146 of Tropicana Field can get me excited for the April 6th game, but what then…What happens after that?
 

Well, the Rays have a call out to all drum lines in the Tampa Bay area to repeat or bring your own style to the auditions to maybe have your own sound bytes on a future Rays commercial. And over the years we have heard several local groups before Rays games get out there and beat their drum skins and mix music with synchronized dancing to the beat. And that is a great thing that the Rays advertising guru’s want to reward the music makers of Tampa Bay.
 

But something is missing in these commercials. Something seriously is missing and needs to have a place within the next generation of the Rays produced ads. And it is really quite simple what is missing to me. It is the players themselves. I loved the old Raysvision commercials produced when John Franzone was here where we saw speedster Carl Crawford racing a wiener dog at Derby Lane. Or the ex-Heckler and my friend Keith as the caddie out at the Vinoy Golf Course getting robbed by Rocco Baldelli catching the fly golf ball.
 
Tampa Bay Rays 2009 Season Ticket Commercial

 

These commercials brought us into the player’s realm where we like to feel safe. For some odd reason, the commercials that have featured small segments with either the players in the action, or even Rays Manager Joe Maddon discussing the player, using their nicknames from 2009 brought you closer to the team. But this is the first segment of the Rays trying to get you to come out and experience the Rays carnival atmosphere that will be stage front in 2010.

 

Sure the many activities will still go on in Rightfield and Leftfield Street before the games, but there are many planned activities besides the Hess Express/Rays Saturday Night Concert Series to gain your attention. Every Friday night there will be a series of fireworks 10 minutes after the game indoors. Now this has been done before in Tropicana Field, but most fans remember it was pre-game, and the smoke decided to stay within Tropicana Field for most of the game that night.
 
2007 Colorado Rockies Commercial

I was hoping the Rays would go the route of the Colorado Rockies who have been producing for years player involved commercials and funny interactions that make each of those players featured more human and extremely approachable. The commercial above was even done about 5 years ago and you can see how the Rockies advertising uses a great dose of humor in their ads to get their fan’s attention.

And that has been one of the Rays key thing in the past. They are one of the most approachable teams in the Major Leagues, and the Rays should bank on that popularity and build a further fan base from it. Because the Rays are so easy to get to know and talk to, maybe a commercial where a 10-year old and Carlos Pena talk about life. Or Maybe a moment with a fan where Rays reliever J P Howell  teaches a lecture on the physics of the curveball. Humor is a big part of the Rays clubhouse, why not also bring it to the Tampa Bay community in their commercials?

 

But what do I know. I only minored in Advertising/Marketing in college, so my views might be 25 years old in concept, but then again, they might have good merit. But what I know is the team is striving to gain additional fans into the seat on nights that traditionally have shown a sea of blue seats to television cameras and the Nation on game highlights on ESPN and other media outlets. Maybe the key to getting those fans is to utilize their best natural resource, their players, in more future advertisements.
 
 
2009 Orlando Regional Tampa Bay Rays  Commercial
 

It is kind of funny, this commercial above was made last season to try and get fans from the Orlando area to attend Rays game, but not sure how that worked out for the Rays. It was a bit boring, but it looked more like a fan produced video, which showed more creativity than some I have seen in recent years.

Both print and visual commercials could be spiced up quickly with plays off of players like B J Upton scaling the wall like Spiderman, or even an old black and white commercial with Zorilla hitting homers into small scale cities. The possibilities are endless if you let your mind wander a bit and think outside the batter’s box on this concept.

Not to say tongue-in-cheek humor like that will fill the stands, but it will generate a buzz in the Tampa Bay community, which could easily translate into fans in the seats wanting to see what magic will happen that night….What about you?

If Pena or Aybar Struggle, Could Blalock Come to the Rays Rescue?

 

 
Bill Koustroun/AP

Coming into the 2010 Spring Training season, the Tampa Bay Rays were optimistic that First Baseman Carlos Pena was going to come into camp perfectly healthy and ready to lead by example for this young Rays team. And all eyes have been on Pena ever since he first told the Tampa Bay media members even before this 2010 Spring Training camp began that he feels healthy and that his two fingers broken when he was plucked by a C C Sabathia fastball in late 2009 were completely healed and the entire situation is totally forgotten.

 

Then early on in this 2010 Spring camp, the Rays announced that First Baseman/Utility guru Willy Aybar sustained a wrist problem during this while playing in the Dominican Winter League, and lingering injury has put Aybar a bit behind the rest of the Rays squad this Spring. To some around the Rays Republic, this immediately sent up a few red flags concerned about Aybar’s ability to be an effective back-up to Pena and Third Baseman Evan Longoria if his wrist injury turned out to be more a nightmare than a simple sprain.
 

And when the Rays made an surprising move and signed Free Agent Hank Blalock, who played a majority of his time at First Base for the Texas Rangers in 2009 to a pretty complex and “convoluted” ( per Andrew Friedman) contract that now smells more and more like a “sure-thing” insurance policy heading into the middle of the Rays Spring schedule. But while the Rays were enjoying winning 9-straight games, it seemed like the Rays front office and Coaching staff was not in the least bit worried about Aybar not getting his first swings in a game until this week, or concerned with Pena’s early Spring struggles as he has now gone 0-18 with only one run scored to begin the 2010 Grapefruit season.
 

And then last week the Rays signed former Cuban National Team member Leslie Anderson who can play all three outfield positions and also First Base to a 4-year contract and the team has been adamant that they want to get him in a uniform as soon as possible. Some might say the Blalock signing is a coincidence, but the signing also a Anderson might signal something might be wrong and the silent treatment is being employed throughout the Rays clubhouse. I guess only time will tell what is really going on with Pena and Aybar this Spring.
 

And with Blalock just seeing his first Spring 2010 action this past Saturday against the Florida Marlins and going 0-2 with a walk and a strikeout, it appear on the surface that Pena and Blalock both have that mysterious .000 average going for them right now, but the reality is that Pena is swinging hard in the batting cages before the games. And maybe he is concentrating too much on his swing and it is transformed into Pena shooting blanks right now in Rays game situations. And with Aybar and Blalock just beginning to get their hacks at the plate, and the next week might speak volumes as to who starts ,or gets the most at bats this Spring.
 

 
Steve Nesius/AP

And with two of the three Rays usual First Base candidates nursing off season trials and tribulations, it is only a matter of time before we find out if there is additional problems at bay, or if Blalock was actually brought here to maybe supplant Aybar as the Rays uber-utility guy since Blalock can effectively play both corner positions. And Blalock might not have put up some impressive offensive numbers ( .234, 25 HR 66 RBI) the last season with the Rangers, but his overall MLB pedigree ( 2 All Star nods) reads like a great sleeper addition to the ball club….on paper.

 

Since Blalock has a unique Rays contract that basically give him the final decision/option to decide if staying here with the Rays is a good thing, or bad, that might also speak volumes as to the Rays cautious level of uncertainty concerning both the health of Pena and Aybar heading into the last week of the Grapefruit season. The Blalock move puzzled me at first, but more and more I am seeing it is a great insurance policy with power by getting a guy who could start, or be an effective back-up DH if either Pena or Aybar go down with additional time on the disable list in 2010, or a viable option if Burrell sinks deeper in the quicksand with a slow start to the regular season.
 

And sure, Ben Zobrist can also play First and Third Base, but Zobrist has been used sparingly at First Base, even during Pen’a injury time in 2009, and might be a significant drop in the defense right now at First Base compared to Blalock who only had 6 errors in over 567 chances in 2009. And you can expect the question marks to get even bigger hanging over First Base with every game that Pena puts up a goose egg, or doesn’t hit the ball solidly at the plate. Sometimes the physical injuries can be healed, but the mental impression of the injury takes some additional plate appearances, or hitting attempts before the mind also thinks you are ready to hit again effectively.
 

And Pena is a total team player. If for some reason, Pena sees something harmful in his swing or plate demeanor towards the last week of Spring Training, you can bet Pena will be open and honest to anything the Rays might want to do to get him back on track again. And sometimes slumps happen to every team’s All Stars and Silver Slugger winners. All you have to do is look back at the horrific beginning to 2009 that happened to Boston DH David Ortiz following his wrist ailments to know that sometimes the body is willing, but the balls doesn’t seem to be going anywhere effective.
 

 
Mike Carlson/AP

And hopefully that is what is going on right now in the Pena’s situation. Maybe his timing is not where he wants it to be and his eye-hand coordination is off a tick or two. That can produce some major contact problems, but Pena also is not striking out in bunches this Spring, so it might just be simple adjustments and Pena maybe watching video of his swing mechanics the next couple of game before he comes back with a bang for the Rays.

 

But it is great that the Rays have made some consolation arrangements just in case something else might be derailing either Aybar or Pena for any amount of time this season. But the Spring clock is ticking louder on Blalock and with him having the final decision on his name being maybe placed upon the Rays roster, it might be time for both Aybar and Pena to show solid contact at the plate and relieve some of the Rays front office and staff from holding their breath this Spring and becoming Rays blue in the face.
 

I seriously would not like to see the Rays take the field in their 2010 Opening Game against division foe Baltimore without Pena on the field. But the reality of the situation might be that the Rays just have to collectively take a step back with both players, and maybe give Blalock a few more at bats while Aybar and Pena work in the cages with Rays Hitting Coach Derek Shelton and get some more confidence in themselves.
 

Pena is entering his last contract year with the Rays, and unlike the mysterious Crawford situation, I can see the Rays working with Pena to try and keep a guy who is a cornerstone of this franchise with his great power and his leadership on this Rays roster for a few more years. But right now there are big question marks rising every day over near that first base bag, and the Rays need to squash those questions and doubts in the bud as soon as possible.
 

If there is something wrong with either Aybar or Pena, even a small problem, then the Rays need to take a step backwards and work towards taking two steps forward later this Spring. With three guys with Major League Baseball experience at first base right now straddling the line and bag for the Rays something has to give. If Pena and Aybar are healthy and mentally clicking to begin the season, the parting of Blalock might not be a huge thing.

But if there is the hint of the lingering situation, Blalock might be the ultimate sleeper signing for the Rays this season. Clock is ticking, and soon Pena and Aybar must get on their horse and ride, or the former Ranger Blalock might be the guy wearing the big white hat for the Rays.

My 2010 MLBlogger’s Draft results

 

 

 
Rob Carr/AP

Well, the ESPN/MLBloggers Fantasy League has begun their 2010 season, but we will not have the advantage of a Spring Training or a few games to get out timing down. We conducted our 2010 Live Snake Draft on Saturday, and actually popped into the Draft room with a few surprises. One or more of our 20009 participants either decided to not partake of the Draft, or are not playing, so a few really good players and prospects got gobbled up by that team during the Draft.

 

And it will be amazing to see how the players on the team’s that are ” defunct” right now eliminate these great players without the entire leagues roster going nuts trying to get one of two of the players. There is one team that is not playing this season that got a few people I salivated over, but they are gone now, and until a great solution is presented, they are out of sight, out of mind, but getting San Francisco relief pitcher Sergio Romo was one of my sleepers along with Toronto Starter/reliever Brandon Morrow. So now everyone knows two of my sleepers.
 

But this one team still has fixed on their roster the 2008 AL MVP winner (Dustin Pedroia),Jacoby Ellsbury, to make the Boston bloggers’ participating in the League drool, but there are other thing evoke a bit of excitement too like Philly outfielder Shane Victorino, Angels pitcher Joel Pinero, White Sox outfielder Alex Rios, Orioles number 1 starter Jeremy Guthrie and Cardinal 19-game winner Adam Wainwright. How our League Commissioner( Chris Powers/ Confessions of a Red Fan) decides to dissolve this team, or find a owner willing to take over this squad will be interesting over the next several weeks.
 
 
But this season I decided to pick mostly a “all potential” team. These are the guys I have a feeling will rise up and produce in 2010. But I did steal a potential budding star off the Draft in the 12th Round (Jason Heyward) because I like the core value of the kid and think if he cracks that Braves line-up, he might be there for a long time. But then I picked up Braves teammate Troy Glaus because of his abbreviated 2009 because of surgery did not put up remarkable stats, but he always has a potential to hammer the ball and produce runs.
 

And on the offensive side I have Russell Branyan, who I have been a fan of since he was here with the Tampa Bay Rays long ago and last season while he was playing with the Mariners. But I am worried since it seems that his rehab has now hit a bit of a “plateau” according to Branyan, and I am not sure if that is a good thing or bad right now. But I also decided to pick guys like Pirate Ronny Cendeno and Cubbie Jeff Baker who are in the battles to win spot on their teams roster and will play accordingly if they produce.
 


RRCollections

It is in that same vein that I picked both Sean Rodriguez and Matt Joyce, who are in a fight for one of the last two roster spots for the Rays, but I think Rodriguez has the inside track to making this team right now. But my outfield is stocked with “keepers Rays outfielders B J Upton and Carl Crawford along with the Rangers Nelson Cruz and D-Back Chris Young. I also picked John Mayberry Junior from the Phillies because after seeing him play a few times this Spring, he might just be the early answer to Jayson Werth in 2011.
 

I consider my offense a bit young and inexperienced compared to my 2009 squad, but I am not trying to go for a second title without doing my leg-work and homework this season in trying to assemble a squad during the season. But you got to admit, I did nail it on my pitching staff. I have 8 pitchers right now with over 100 strikeouts during the 2009 season, including 5 with over 150 K’s. I decided to boost my pitching staff early this year so I can let my pitching staff dictate how my weekly series will go against my fellow MLBloggers’. If the staff does great, I could have a possibility to boost 4 or more categories early on in the weekly match-ups…hopefully.

And I think a starting five of Seattle’s Felix Hernandez (my AL Cy Young pick), Rays Matt Garza, Oakland starter Brett Anderson, Giants pitcher Jonathan Sanchez, and either White Sox Gavin Floyd or Twins starter Francisco Lariano will provide some much needed wins and strikeouts during the season. But then I also have one of my sleepers Toronto pitcher Mark Rzepczynski and a waiver wire out right now to also grab Angels starter Joe Saunders off the wire. But that is not to mean I am expecting my starters to get me all my stats.

 

I think I picked a few great relievers too to boost my possible totals. Maybe some might not think Giants closer Brian Wilson is in the top 5, but I see him as a solid closer with no real downside right now. Plus adding Rays new closer Rafael Soriano might seem like a bad choice, but he did save 27 games in 2009 with a 2.97 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP. Add those two closer and the possibility of Lariano maybe getting the closer’s gig in Minnesota, and the “saves” category is looking pretty sweet for me.

 

But then again, I also picked up solid reliever Michael Wertz from Oakland who provided 102 strikeouts in 75.2 innings in 2009 to go along with a sub 2.0 WHIP. And my staff leftie specialist is Red’s reliever Nick Masset who also boasts almost a strikeout an inning, plus a low 2.37 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. I decided in 2010 to put my emphasis on my pitching and see what happens. Of course there is still some work to be done on both sides of the ball, but it was fun on Saturday.
 

And even though I got upset more than a dozen times that someone sneaked my favorites off the board early, I think my three keepers were worth sitting out for the first 67 picks. But, if I would have known the guys like Albert Pujols and Hanley Ramirez from two other rosters might not have been selected as “keepers” on their roster’s, I might have kept only Hernandez and let Upton and Crawford back into the Draft list. But hindsight is a bummer. But this is what I have to work with right now, and maybe I will get more respect and admiration for the MLB’s Manager knowing my roster still needs tweaks and bumps.

 


Chris O’Meara/AP


But that is the most fun about playing Fantasy Baseball. It is going to be blast seeing if Josh Field grabs the Royals third base job, or seeing what faith the Braves have in Heyward to man their right field spot in 2010. But it is great that in Fantasy, you do not have to pay their salaries, or arrange flights or room for your squad, but you do have to endure possible injuries, or bumps and slumps from time to time. And that in itself makes playing in the ESPN/MLBloggers Fantasy League the most fun for me. Sure I might have won the 2009 Championship, but that is all gone now and it is time again to “Cowboy Up1″ and take it to the other 19 teams.

 
 
 
 

It Doesn’t Feel like 15 Years

 

 
RRCollections

It is still hard to believe just what has conspired over the last 15 years. It seems like just yesterday we were hearing the Major League Baseball “Acting” Commissioner Bud Selig announce to the Tampa Bay region’s fans that the Major League Baseball owners had rejected the relocation request of the St. Petersburg Baseball Group to move the San Francisco Giants to Tampa Bay. That same news was so heartbreaking to a region that blindly constructed a baseball venue and was relying on a hope that “If you build it, they will come.”
 
 
How many of us remember hearing that same quote being tossed out on our portable FM radio’s by the Q Morning Zoo and DJ Mason Dixon that the building of the Florida Suncoast Dome would show MLB that the Tampa Bay area means business. But we did get a second announcement from Selig not too long after that in the Spring of 1995, and this time, the news would be a bit more enlightening to Tampa Bay’s quest for a Major League level baseball team.
 
 
On March 9,1995 in the Breakers resort situated on the East Coast of Florida, right between most of our lunch time activities at 12:54 pm, Selig emotion-less face was again thrown up on our local television sets with another message to the Tampa Bay area. This time, by a 28-0 vote by the other current Major League owners, the St. Petersburg Baseball Group led by Vince Namoli was finally going to pop the cork on that celebration champagne bottle. Yes, finally we had Major League Baseball coming to the Tampa Bay area past their usual Spring Training dates.
 
 
And a small side note to all of this is that the Breakers is a resort that tends to bring good omens and news to this region of Florida. For in 1991, in this same resort, the Tampa Bay region also was awarded their National League Hockey franchise from this same Conference Room. And so began the franchise that would evolve within those 15 years from the Devil Rays, that were printed on the first T-shirts and Uniforms presented to the media at that announcement, to our present day Rays.
 

And these word spoken by then Rays Team Owner Vince Namoli to the Tampa Tribune might sum up the great celebration and also the knowledge that we still had a long journey ahead of us before that First Pitch in 1998. “It’s been a path of 10,000 steps, 10,000 phone calls, 10,000 frustrations. Now we’re at the end of the path, but we start a new path,” Naimoli said. “We start to focus on hiring a general manager, on the Dome, on the development of the franchise, on the minor-league system, on Opening Day 1998. We’re into the fun path.”

 
 
What a huge rollercoaster ride it has been over the last 15 years. From completely setting up a professional complex in the existing Spring Complex that the New York Mets, Baltimore Orioles and St. Louis Cardinals had used in the past in western St. Petersburg, to finalizing the lease agreement with the City of St. Petersburg so that the then D-Rays could pursue their initial changes needed within their new domed home. And the $ 150 million that Namoli and his group first paid to finally become the first owners of this franchise seems pale now considering all the great moments and events that have transpired since that announcement.
 

I still remember both announcements as if it was yesterday and still have that memory of finally hearing we had our dream of a professional baseball team in our sights and had a hard road ahead of us, but one that always has been a pleasure. From our first pick (Paul Wilder) in the 1996 First Year Players Draft, to the recent announcement of two-time All Star Hank Blalock being signed by the Rays, to paraphrase an old television commercial, this team has come a long way baby!
 

And today I hope all Tampa Bay fans take a moment after 12 pm to again try and remember and enjoy this moment. Sure we might have had a few rough years starting out before our Rays farm system began to churn out players like outfielder Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, or pitcher Joe Kennedy who showed us that building through our minor leagues was our path to the top. And less than 7 years after Crawford first played on the turf of Tropicana Field, we envisioned a rise to Playoff status, and an eventual ride to the World Series.
 

 

And as we near that special moment in time today, it is actually fun for me to go back in time and remember I was sitting in a local gym when the announcement hit the airwaves that sent the room into an instant celebration. Because around me also working out were minor league players from the Orioles system and also a few University of Florida football players getting ready for Spring drills. Instantly the mood went from working out to celebrating, and I know we were not alone in wanting to paint the town red that night.

 
 
15 years can be a long time. Heck, when I was 10 years old I always dreamed of being 15, which gave you more responsibilities like playing Senior League baseball, or driving the car with your parents with you. But year 15 for the Rays might be a benchmark season. Already there is a air that this season might assemble the best team overall to ever man a Rays jersey. This season the possibilities are there for the Rays to again claw there way past division rivals Boston and New York to fight for their October rights to play for that shiny gold trophy. The announcement on March 9,1995 was the Tampa Bay area’s eight chance at trying to secure a Major League team.
 

I think the best way to celebrate this blog today is to remember a story posted by the Rays team writer for MLB.com, Bill Chastain, who at the time of the announcement was an employee of the Tampa Tribune. In that story, his last paragraph was a quote by Namoli on the day’s events. And I can think of no better way to end this blog than remembering those same words spoken by a man who somehow saw into our team future and made such a prophetic statement 15 years ago.
 
“Some fans and media will shorten our last name to Rays,” Naimoli said. “And, so, I will leave you with that: Hip, hip hoo-Ray.”
 

Reminiscing Before the Rays Spring Opener


Chris Litherland/Sarasota Herald-Tribune

It is about two hours before we again get to hear that first “official” thump into the catcher’s mitt to signal the official beginning of another fantastic Major League Baseball season for the Tampa Bay Rays. And it is great that Mother Nature decided to participate today with a nibbling cold breeze circling through the stadium, and the warming heat from that big orange ball in the sky are both making this first day of real baseball tingle, just like an early childhood Christmas morning.

 
 

Hate to admit it to the baseball world, but I am a sentimental old fool when it comes to the game of baseball. Some say I am too emotionally and mentally attached to the game and that has produced some interesting flashbacks over the last few days. To me, it is just a reminder or a mental revisiting of some past Rays Spring Training Grapefruit moments that stand out in my mind. And there has been a bit of a revolving continual flashback video within my mind’s eye recently that hopefully will diminish with Guthrie’s first pitch. But they are great moments to me, and ones that always bring a smile to my face.

 
 
More than a few times the moments of 2003 involving Rocco Baldelli kept flashing in my mind. How during that season he set the bar high for Rays rookies to follow him and started that path by winning the 2003 Al Lopez Award given to the top Rays rookie during Spring Training. We saw his brilliance on the field that March and began our love affair with him and Carl Crawford to be a formidable force to be reckoned with for many years to come. Seeing Rocco yesterday at the Rays complex dressed again in a Rays overcoat brought back those emotions.
 
 

But even with a head nod from Rays reliever Dan Wheeler yesterday in the rain-reduced workouts at the Rays complex, another vision came of the young Wheeler being one of the only members of that first Rays Draft class to make it all the way to the top beginning with his fantastic Spring Training back in 2000 when he also won the Al Lopez award for the then D-Rays. It brought back times of seeing someone like Travis Phelps who was drafted so late in the 1998 MLB Draft you would think he would be a scout or in another line of work instead of coming into Rays games as a reliever and reminding people around Tampa Bay that confidence and talent can get you what you desire in life if you mix in a healthy dose of determination into the equation.

 

 
RRCollections


And not everything rushing through my mind has been a good time. There was a moment on March 19,2005 right after seeing possible future Baseball Hall of Fame member Roberto Alomar trotting off the Progress Energy Park infield for the last time with his head down that it donned on me he might have just made his last Major League Baseball play, and then within a few hours notice, Alomar announced to the baseball world he was retiring from the game due to vision and back problems. And the duo night’s announcements of both Alomar and outfielder Danny Batista leaving the game on the same date left some of us gasping and wondering if the team might be cursed.

 

 
RRCollections

But then memories like 2008, which was the Rays last season training in St. Petersburg, Florida come to my mind. Visions of Rays pitcher Scott Kazmir predicting while he was rehabbing an elbow injury that the playoff was the goal of the 2008 team. And maybe set into motion during that Spring Training quote nugget during a Spring Training interview out at Rays Namoli complex, this team formulated their foundation and cemented their confidence for the entire season. Instantly this team began to win those 1-run games that Spring.

 

And combined with emotional games against the Yankees in which Yankee farmhand Shelley Duncan was dishing out some baseball justice, this team came together on the clay and dirt of Progress Energy Park. And that cosmos of emotions built up right up until the March 23,2008 game against the Cincinnati Reds when the team played their last Spring Training game ever in the stadium where they had held every Spring Training game since 1998. For they were going to relocate 80 miles Southward the next Spring in the seaside hamlet of Port Charlotte, Florida taking over a refurbished former Spring home of the Texas Rangers. And that last sell-out game held a bevy of emotions that overflowed into the grandstands and grassy berms.

 


Even if the Spring Training game have been transported to our South, the Rays team taking the field today know what is ahead of them. With Rays Manager Joe Maddon discarding the mathematics and bringing on the abbreviated, we are entering a new Rays era. “What’s Important Now” is the new mantra. Maddon chatted a lot with Ken Ravizza, the Rays performance consultant and sport psychologist who actually came up with the Rays new possible T-shirt phrase, breaking the Rays Manager’s string of number-induced team slogans. Staying in the “present moment” is going to be key in the way the Rays play this Grapefruit season.

 


 
SPTimes.com

Breaking from the untold failures of the Rays past has been accomplished. This new Spring edition of the Rays will again try and control the controllable from today’s game throughout 2010, with an earmark to correcting past inferiors and mental stop signs. The team seems to be focused towards the immediate future, and what each and every one of them can bring to the table. I commend them for the early acknowledgment of what has to be trimmed and better defined for this team to again taste champagne in October.

 

But I am also a student of the past, and I personally know that sometimes you have to go back to review the past before you confidently step forward. So today as Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett steps into the batter box against Guthrie there is a heightened sense of renewal in the air here in Sarasota, Florida.

There is new orange paint surrounding Ed Smith Stadium, but there is also a crispness that only a great Spring Training baseball game can deliver, and a refreshing rebirth in “The Rays Way” this Spring that should lead to lofty heights and great results. And with that, it is time to watch some last minute preps toward seeing baseball for the first time in 2010. I am excited, reminiscent of the past, and also eager to see the future…Play Ball!

 
 
 
 

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