Results tagged ‘ Gabe Kapler ’
The Red Sox series did a few things for the Tampa Bay Rays. Not only did it create a scenario where the Red Sox would have to go 23-8 to even catch the Rays now, it also brought about some personal celebrations within the Rays clubhouse. Some of these moments show the longevity, commitment and great feats accomplished by a few of our favorite Rays. But it also silently rewarded a guy who has been viewed as a liability for the wrong reasons.
It was great to see James Shields win his third game in a row after getting demolished in Rogers Centre against the Blue Jays. Especially enlightening was the way Carl Crawford still seems so humble as his name is written next to some of the true icons of the game and still he has that “aw shucks” mannerism to him. But hidden behind all of this was the celebration of the big “10″. Former Rays DH Pat Burrell hit this lofty plateau on my birthday (ironically).
Most Rays Republic members have mixed emotions about Gabe Kapler being on this Rays squad. Some point to his ability to play the outfield with zest and gumption as a perfect model of the consummate professional baseball player. Others nag and argue about his diminishing skills at the plate and his usefulness to this Rays squad has passed him by. I am centered in both camps a bit knowing that 10 years of playing in this league can take a lot out of you, but Kapler is a player that remains “old school” in hustle and demeanor, and that never gets old. But even as the team brought in a chocolate cheesecake to commemorate the moment.
But a confectionary treat should also be brought in for Rays starter James Shields who got to the top of the Rays pitching mountain with his 56th career Rays victory in his 145th career start. It has been classic Shields over the last two weeks after his out of character homer fest in Toronto, and that bodes well for the Rays. Not only has Shields turns his game around, but he is also closing in on a dubious Rays seasonal record. Shields currently has 29 Home Runs allowed, which is tops in the American League, and that total is within 3 of the Rays club record of 32 Home Runs allowed by Tanyon Sturtze back in 2002.
Even with a 6-2 record now over his last 8 starts, Shields has also shown a bit of his advanced age (28) this year on the mound, but his 13-11 record is very misleading. He has thrown 10 strikeouts in 5 games this season, and also was on the other end of the Dallas Braden Perfect Game against the Rays. As the cocky veteran on the Rays staff this year, Shields has also established his legacy here in Tampa Bay by finally rising to the top. But another Rays has been on top for quite a while, and we might be seeing the twilight of his Rays adventure.
There is no denying that Carl Crawford is a humble and timid person off the field. The guy is soft-spoken and polite to the end. So when he hit his 100th Home Run last night to push himself past Fred McGriff and into the third spot in the Rays all time Home Run list, you knew he would not want a big thing made out if the event. And the same thing happened twice this year as Crawford jumped over the 400 stolen bases mark, or even hit his 100th triple. This same guy will probably be the first player to enter the Baseball Hall of Fame wearing a Rays cap ( hopefully an old 2002 model ) and you would think he was only selected as Employee of the Month at your local Publix.
But that is what you love about C C, that he is caught up in the numbers or the historical significance of it all right now. Crawford is definitely the type of guy who will reflect on it after his job is done maybe this off season on the accomplishments and events that have transpired over his Rays career with admiration, but the whole enchilada has not hit him yet. The iconic baseball names like Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Lou Brock, Frankie Frisch, Kenny Lofton, Paul Molitor and Tim Raines, who pushed beyond that 100 HR,100 triples and 400 stolen base mark like Crawford also had that humble gene close in their minds and heart.
People will remark soon about this team as winners. They will embrace them again as playoff contenders, but one of the greatest things to me about this Rays team is the way each player melts into the whole stew of doping it the “Rays Way”. You have a wily veteran (Kapler) who might be seeing the sunset of his professional career hit a high water mark of 10 years of MLB Service while watching the kids win nightly. You have a pitcher young in age, but older in his leadership ability and effort (Shields) while guiding this team again towards the path of remembrance.
And then you have the still swift feet of Crawford, who might soon find these same feet walking out of his Rays clubhouse for the last time after their playoff run. Each celebrating a different special moment this season, but all collectively staying true to the Rays mantra of “WIN- What’s Important Now”. Last night’s series victory over the Red Sox might be a special moment in the melting pot of the 2010 Rays, but within that cauldron of bubbling goodness is the feats of Kapler, Crawford and Shields each going in their own singular directions, but within the path of the Rays destiny.
It has not even been a year since the Chicago White Sox and pitcher Mark Buehrle stuck the first Perfect Game against them in Tampa Bay Rays history upon the team back on July 23,2009. And it was not the first venture into the No-No business for Buehrle, he also got a No-hit wonder back on April 18,2007 against the Texas Rangers. But if you listened real close to the hotel lobby chatter already starting to escalate about tonight’s first meeting since “The Perfecto”, and about “The Catch” by former White Sox Dewayne Wise, you have to instantly wonder why the Rays even show up with all this hype and pomp going on even before the beads of sweat have been wiped from White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen’s forehead last night.
I can only imagine what kind of quick and witty dialogue will unfold the second after the White Sox’s open the turnstiles to U S Cellular Field today for a classic rematch of finesse over accuracy pitching versus the Rays crafty base running abilities and omnipresent power hitting potential of this line-up. The real question might actually be that this game can not, in realistic terms, even come close to the last meeting by Buehrle and the Rays offense because of their changed outfield alignment, a weaker defensive core behind Buehrle, plus the additional personal knowledge of the Rays squad as to Buehrle’s pitch selection, and the possibility of their last meeting’s game video drilled into their cranium over the last several days.
This game might be more about redemption, the Rays redemption over an extremely evil moment in their team’s history that only a great (lucky) catch by Wise secured for their immortality. Seriously, the White Sox have designated and painted a small “The Catch” lettering upon the CF outfield fence to symbolize this one moment into their team history. If you remember the after the game comments of Wise that day, this whole episode could have gone either way if he had moved his glove in another position as he was coming down off that wall with the ball perched towards the end of his glove like the top of an icy white snow cone.
Jerry Lai/ US Press wire Wise exploded up and into the Centerfield wall and his momentum seemed to bounce his catching shoulder violently into the wall, but somehow he retains his grip on his glove and makes his way down towards the outfield warning track clay and the hands of the unseen Baseball Gods mysteriously kept that ball from leaving his glove looking more like a fresh chicken egg. And the chicken and the egg metaphor truly fits here because if Wise had missed that ball, it would have fallen between his legs like a white orb leaving his chicken mothers…Let’s just say he would have laid a big egg.
Phil Velasquez/Chicago Tribune
But it was a 5-0 game at that point, and the Rays might not have secured the win no matter what had happened, but the “Perfecto” and the “No-No” would have been el gone-o at that point. It would have been a moral victory, but you got believe Rays outfielder Gabe Kapler who also made an amazing diving catch for an out in Rightfield in the same game felt a bit in the dark shadows today.
But it is great to get this kind of National attention focused towards an April night game that doesn’t involve inner divisional foes, but two teams that kind of do not like each others style of play, but respect the winning traditions. But this White Sox team in 2009 had a Rays huge chip upon their shoulders because this same Tampa Bay team thrust them out quickly of the 2008 Playoffs like a redheaded stepchild, then went all the way to the World Series. You know deep down within them each member of that 2008 White Sox Playoff team thought they had the mustard to confront the Phillies, rain or no rain and bring back another shiny heirloom for the trophy case.
And Buehrle is an amazing pitcher, I will truly give that to him. And he does possess that one demonic element that has haunted the Rays for most of 2009 and even early on in 2010. He is one of those crafty lefties like last night’s White Sox victor John Danks who can pick and choose his pitching moments to entice you with outside pitches or throw one high and tight and make you ultimately sweat like a pig at the plate. But like I said before in this post, the Rays have had a period of time to let that game fester within them, to go back over again and again changes and adjustments they would have personally done to make the outcome different.
So I am forecasting a huge barrage of action tonight. Not only will one of the aces of the White Sox be countering the Rays rookie Wade Davis on the hill tonight, but the team confidence and the team unity this season is miles ahead of the mid-July Rays team of 2009. This year’s team has an air about them that there is unfinished business in front of them, but another of their early tests will come tonight against Buehrle. Just like M C Hammer said so eloquently a few years ago, “When you take the “Devil” out, the wins come in.”
Well, the Rays have a demon on the mound tonight who has enticed and sliced and diced them into chopped Italian Beef sandwiches. And with the Rays currently showing a .151 Batting Average against Buehrle in 2009 it might seem like an uphill climb the size of Mount Everest. But the cosmic potential of this 2010 Rays squad is massively greater than the 2009 squad that did not find success against this crafty leftie. Maybe tonight the Rays write a new chapter into this classic match-up against finesse and power.
Maybe this time the outcome will be based on people crossing the plate and not about hard breaking backdoor cutters or an extremely well-placed change-up. Maybe the Baseball Gods this time will shiner upon the Rays and give them their first “W” against Buehrle since 2008 when they scatter 25 hits against him and posted a yearly .316 Batting Average. Maybe it is time for the Rays to play a perfect example of their style of offensive game tonight. New season means the slates are clean , and we are eager to get into the Batter’s Box.
It was kind of funny how everyone around me, including Rays fans, wanted to see me shouting and spouting out sports metaphors all over the place on Saturday afternoon after the New York Yankees used a bona fide “team effort” to dominate during their 10-0 shutout of the Tampa Bay Rays. But the stark reality of MLB-style baseball is that these types of lop-sided, miscues, one-sided baseball contests happen several times a year to every one of the 30 Major League Baseball teams.
With only 5 Rays games in the 2010 books, you might not expect, or want it to happen today, but I knew this type of rude awakening was hovering on the distant horizon. Most baseball fans call these types of games “emotionless”, or that the “team didn’t seem to not have their heart into it tonight”. But the honest truth is that no matter how hard The Rays played today, no matter if the Rays go on to either win 100+ games a year or just sit at .500 with 81 wins, these types of nightmarish games come up and bite even the World Series Champions when they least expect them.
But do not think I have totally losing it here, but sometimes a game like this can be an early “wake-up” call to a emotional team like the Rays who seemed to dominate the Grapefruit League this Spring Training season, and might have forgotten for a moment some of their basic situational hitting skills that have made them great in the past several years.
Sure I wish this type of stagnant offensive contest did not happen against our division rival, the Yankees, and give their biggest rival even one day of an early season emotional advantage going into the rubber match on Sunday, but it happened. Now it is time to take stock, repair the damage and get ready for a brighter tomorrow. But I hate that these types of game can give a team like the Yankees even a slight idea of thinking the 2010 season might be more of a cake-walk than a rough and tumble set of series against these same feisty Rays.
But then again, if the Yankees do want to get over-confident and cocky, that is also fine with me because then it will make their eventual downfall in other Rays series games during the 2010 season a bit more…..tasty.
So you just have to rise from your blue Rays seat and salute the overall team effort by both Yankees starting pitcher C C Sabathia and his Yankee defense behind him today who got 18 of those key outs for Sabathia on ground or fly ball outs during this contest. And how amazing that earlier in this game it was scoreless and we were watching a budding pitchers’ duel between the Yankees 2009 19-game winner Sabathia and Rays Rookie Wade (WD-40) Davis.
Even with Sabathia pinpointing that small white baseball within the Umpire’s small strike zone all game long, it was really the Yankee defense that made sure the game remained scoreless until the Yankees exploded for four runs by the beginning of the fifth inning.
And from that point the Yankee defense showed its solid backbone and helped carry Sabathia to his first win of the season. But this not to suggest Sabathia was inconsistent on the mound, but he only got two strikeouts from that point in the rest of the game as he relied on the Yankees defense to bring this win home. A key moment in securing this shutout win might have been when Sabathia got Pat Burrell to strikeout to end the bottom of the fifth inning with Evan Longoria standing on Third Base. Sabathia’s effort starved the Rays of a certain run that inning, and paced the way for the rest of the game.
And sure I felt a relieved when the pinstriped fans in the stands began to bellyache, moan and groan in the bottom of the eighth inning when with two outs, Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach ruined their world dominance scenario with a sharply-hit single through the 5-6 hole for the first hit of the game. It was as if Shoppach had hit a Grand Slam the way the Trop’s Rays-colored crowd visualized this lone drone hit to new Yankee Marcus Thames in Leftfield as a emotional release of all our stress and pent-up emotions that day.
The hit seemed to bewilder all those wearing pinstriped jerseys as they actively were counting aloud each and every Rays out like a countdown of an actual Space Shuttle launching, and throwing around “Yankee legend” banter around about Sabathia’s performance.
I have to admit, the pain is still there from the last No-hit bid by Chicago White Sox hurler Mark Buerhle, and I did not want to feel that same pain again today, especially at the hand’s of the Yankees. I was one of the Rays fans in the stands willing to take a deep inhale and exhale every particle of the air molecules in my lungs to try and help propel a Rays batted ball to the wall, or even visualize the speeding ball going through the hole by mentally trying to hold up a infielder’s glove for that first whiff of a chance today.
But at that point it was an 8-0 Yankee lead and the end was within sight even after Shoppach was balked to second and then this Rays chance to rebound was squashed six pitches later when Rays pinch hitter Gabe Kapler fouled out to Leftfield to extinguish another Rays possibility to pull themselves off the canvas in this game. It was great to see Ben Zobrist just an inning later hit a long fly ball that just seemed to run out of fuel on its flight path to going into the Rightfield stands and ended up one bouncing off the outfield wall towards ex-Ray Randy Winn, who was manning Rightfield at that point.
These type of emotional train wreck games happen in a 162-game season. But with only 5 games in the 2010 MLB books, this type of game should not have happened against a divisional rival. It instantly put us a game behind them not only in the standings, but also in the hole towards winning the 2010 yearly series against the Yankees. In 2008 when the Rays had their most productive season, the team had a dominant year against their divisional rivals taking it to them every game and eventually pulling out the yearly series, which ended up being the difference between a American League East title and a lower spot in the standings.
A MLB team stubs its toes more than a few times during a season, but it how they rebound or answer the call the next contest that shows the stamina or the short-coming of a team. I expect a better game on Sunday, a more physical contest and one where the fight will come early to the Yankees and Rays pride will shine again. And even if a loss does happen, if the team leaves it all out on the field, and comes to play aggressive and emotional baseball, then they might conquer that Saturday set-back, which might have done more damage behind the scenes than between the foul lines. How a team rebounds from a game like this can be a clear indication of the unseen character of a squad.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
Over the past couple of Tampa Bay Rays seasons that Rays Season Ticket holders have seen some of their past ” advantages” going by the wayside. We used to get one of every promotional item, plus had an end-of-the-season Team Photo Day with the Rays players to get memorable photos to put on our face book pages or computer screensavers. We were a bit spoiled at times and got used to getting the “star” treatment from the Season Ticket Sales Department at every turn.
But in the last several years the goodies have gotten pushed into bag “A” or Bag “B”, with limited promotional items, plus the omission of most of the kid’s items tend to make a few of my nephews and distant cousins sad that they could not get special Rays toys for their Christmas stockings. But with the recent closure of a Centro Ybor institution, another Rays budding tradition is left by the wayside…never to happen again.
When the Gameworks family-friendly arcade closed their doors after spending 10 years upon the landscape of the small cultural center of Ybor City. So I want to take today’s blog posting to remember some of the events and times I remember at the Centro Ybor landmark that I will miss more for the faint echoes of young Rays fans and their familes taking a night out with Rays teammates and celebrating as a true Rays Republic.
I can still remember attending a long ago Rays Christmas party for local youth from the Boys and Girls Club at Gameworks where ex-Rays Toby Hall and Seth McClung spent most of the afternoon playing carnival type games and race simulation events with the kids laughing, smiling and giggling at the big players trying to keep up with them both on the screen and running around the arcade area. With presents and food and games galore, I do not think anyone, including the Rays players went home without an ear-to-ear smile on their faces.
But the scene that still stays deep within my mind is not the photo of me helping myself to the yellow chocolate sauce fountain, but of Rays outfielder Jonny Gomes holding court at the end of the bar just to the left as you entered the arcade. Gomes was in hid element that night, shaking hands and hugging friends, plus raising a toast or two to the Rays success. And hidden just a few feet behind Gomes was Maddon who was sitting there with several fans discussing all kinds of things besides baseball and seeming to really enjoy himself. But the best part was seeing Rays players like Scott Kazmir playing an NBA video game with a younger Rays fans and getting his booty kicked, but loving every minute of it.
And the 2009 event was a standing room only affair with almost double the crowd, and double the fun as most of the Rays players from that day came out including every member of the Rays rotation. From Matt Garza trying to be slick and getting beaten time after time on the Dance, Dance Revolution machine, to Grant Balfour’s fiancee’ kicking all comers’ brains-in on the Dance, Dance Revolution machine, including reliever Randy Choate. It was a great time where fans and players got to mingle and bring some of that special chemistry that Rays have with their fans.
And maybe it is true that all good things come to an end sometimes, and that you got to truly treasure your moments within the game of baseball for the future telling of great tales and adventures. And you can bet Gomes, Kazmir and Jackson have taken these memories of Gameworks with them as they left for other Major League Baseball venues, and hoped that their new teams would also embark on these same types of great inter-mingling player/fan activities.
It is a time I that is near and dear to my heart, because as an ex-football player, I always cherished these special times with the team’s fans to not only take photos and talk about other things outside of baseball, but to show the “human” side of ourselves to those same fans.
But this Rays team is certainly one of the most open and fan-friendly teams I have ever seen around baseball. They respect the way the fans support and try and use noise either by cowbells or their voices to show audible support for the team. And the many home-made or professionally-made signs by Rays fans show they have their players back.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Justin Ruggiano has always been a great player for the Rays each time they have decided to bring him up either short-term because of injuries, or during their Spring Training camps before finally sending him to their Triple-A affiliate as a right-handed insurance policy. Considering he was hitting .447 with 11 RBIs this Spring, I really hoped the Rays would consider him longer on the Spring roster with the question marks still over the heads of outfielders Matt Joyce, and another unimpressive Spring from fellow right-hander Gabe Kapler.
And a few of us long time Rays Republic members might remember some of Ruggiano’s past events while at the Major League level and wonder what, besides a logjam at outfielders, is keeping this guy down on the farm. Sure he let a ball fall in front of him during a game that cost the Rays a run, but he also did a full face-plant into the Leftfield padding catching a screaming line drive in 2008. And I have heard more than a few people say does he have the stats to be a Major League everyday player, but then I point people to Kapler’s same decline in stats and get the reply that “Kapler has paid his dues”.
And I hate that cliché’ when people throw that out at you. If you do not get a chance to build a foundation, how do you pay your “dues”? Sure Ruggiano got his first taste at this level in 2007 when he came up and appeared in 7 games in 2007 and went 3-14, but he did make enough of a impression that he lasted long into the 2008 Spring Training season with the Major League camp roster even with a dismal .176 Batting Average .
But I seriously thought the Rays organization might take a long and hard look at Ruggiano this year and find a way to keep him up here with the question marks I think are still lingering in Rightfield. Sure we have one portion of the platoon system firmly implanted in capable glove of Ben Zobrist, but still there is the inability of Kapler to give us that one firm reason to keep him besides a great mentoring process and clubhouse presence. And sure both of those qualities are monumental to helping build and maintaining team character, but with Kapler batting .136 this Spring…The Rays do have a viable option to Kapler in house right now.
But I also see the influx of the Rays farm system about to gobble up Ruggiano as more players get that chance to position themselves also for a shot with the big club. And here was a guy who was up with the Rays Spring team leaders in games played to this point who now will move his belongs over to the minor league clubhouse and begin his Triple-A 2010 experience. And how many Rays fans know he was the Durham Bulls Player of the Year in 2007 while hitting .309 with 20 HR 73 RBI and 26 stolen bases.
But then again, Ruggiano has always been a bit of a unknown except to some of us who watch Rays Spring and late season baseball. Who also remembers that he was the player-to-be-named-later from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the June 26,2006 trade that sent pitcher Mark Hendrickson and catcher Toby Hall and netted the Rays Dioner Navarro and pitcher Jae Seo along with Ruggiano. He is widely popular in Durham as he does play the “Rays Way” both on and off the field and is a fan favorite up at Durham Athletic Park.
But with his surge this Spring taking over the minor league player to watch role that former Rays minor league outfielder Jon Weber held onto for several Spring, I thought he might have finally broken through and showed the Rays they can take a chance on him. But instead, the Rays purged him from their Major League camp and he must rejoin his Durham Bulls Triple-A Champion teammates to begin the 2010 season.
And time is really clicking away for Ruggiano to show his stuff at the Major League level, and it has nothing to do with ability. But maybe his 2008 Rays campaign left doubt into his abilities to suffice at this level. A .197 Batting Average over 45 games of spot duty can bring up many dark clouds as to your abilities, and future projections.
With the Rays logjam at the minor league level with players developing who can play any of the outfield positions in Tropicana Field, this might be his last season to make an impact and show to the Rays or other teams he can succeed at this level, like Kapler for a long time. Right now players like Fernando Perez and even Desmond Jennings are getting the headlines and interviews instead of Ruggiano. Because of the hype concerning Jennings and the on and off again injury situations concerning Perez, the spotlight has always been a bit dim on Ruggiano.
But he is ready and able to perform, sweat and even bleed if necessary to help this Rays team in 2010. It is a shame we do not see a possibility of extracting Kapler and inserting Ruggiano into the right-handed portion of the Rightfield mix. He has the base stealing ability and the glove work to exceed Kapler, and could certainly hit better than Kapler’s 2009 .239 average with 8 HR,32 RBI and 5 steals. But then again, maybe his MLB past has haunted him, but then again how can he dispel those darkening clouds when Ruggiano is not given a chance to show his own Rays of light can also shine bright.