Results tagged ‘ James Loney ’

Rays Inspired World Cup Squad

 

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It is the World’s game. Only in our country does the sport heard ‘round the World take second, third or maybe not even a fifth fiddle. The globe embraces the sport of football, or as we Americans have dubbed it, Soccer.

With our own United States men soccer team showing their grit and glory by winning their first matchup against Ghana in this year’s World Cup last night, I thought it might be fun to pencil in my own Rays World Cup squad based on the current members of the Rays 25-Man roster.

Instantly most of you would wonder why a Baseball blogger would want to write and create a Soccer squad. From the age of 10 to 21 I played either as a Sweeper or on the left-side of the turf on local Men’s leagues (FSSL), on the All-South select U-17 travel teams and spent my 16th summer in Malmo, Sweden working out with that vistas reserves team.

Heck if you look over at the blog photo on right you will see a photo of me playing indoor soccer, so I have the knowledge and know what it takes to play the game.

Of course the Club Rays team’s Managers slot is already taken as you cannot discount the philosophical and game day rhetoric of Joe Maddon. Heck in a lot of ways he might even be a better communicator and guru to young minds than the current USA Manager Jurgen Kilinsman.

downloadI decided this Rays Club needs to play a 4-3-3 alignment which is 4 defenders, 3 midfielders and 3 forwards. We all know the Rays claim to fame in the last few years have been defense, so a line with a left, center, right fullbacks and a sweeper manning the gaps seems as a perfect lineup to help keep games close and with minimal scoring (hopefully).

So let’s start at the last line of defense, the goalkeeper position first. I am going to pick Ryan Hanigan as he has shown he has the ability to block balls in the dirt, move around with grace under pressure and will come out of goal and sacrifice his body for the team. Most people would think I might pick Jose Molina as a back-up, but I chose Alex Cobb as much for his leadership as for his attention to the little things and would be a great communicator back there.

That being said, my defense will also have a few wily Rays vets manning key spots, and even a few surprises to some people. My left fullback has to be someone committed to defense as well as have good sprinting speed to defend an opposing winger who is usually the fastest guy on the team with the ball.

For some reason Jake McGee fits that spot for me. He is a big body guy who should be able to keep his shoulder square to the ball and ride a winger off the ball if he wants to proceed towards the touchlines or the goal box. On the right side I’m going with a gut feeling that Yunel Escobar will be a mirror image of McGee and keep the crosses from getting to the goal mouth and has the closing speed to thwart long passes into the box.

images (4)Center fullback is a tough one. I want to get a big body in there, but more in height than in weight. For that reason I chose Grant Balfour who at 6’2” has a bit of a nasty streak, highly competitive and if he chats to the ball, that might scare a few opposing forwards from going up the middle of the pitch. As long as he keeps his back to the goal, I think the snarling Aussie should shut down any middle of the field dribbling and long range shots.

As for the sweeper position I wanted to give that slot to someone who can be both an offensive and defensive weapon. Someone who can be that 4th utility defender as well as crash up into the offensive zone for corner kicks, help take free kicks and set a few boomers toward the goal. Perfect weapon for this Rays Club squad would be Sean Rodriguez.

Now onto midfield, or the engine room of this team. We already know Evan Longoria will wear the Captain’s band and has the grit and stamina to man the center midfield slot and his ability to give out orders and command respect will have opposing defenders marking him tight, so I want my outside midfielders to have a burst of speed and great ball skills.

soccer_300x77My selection for left mid will be James Loney. I picked him as much for consistency as for his bursts of power which on free kicks or fouls way outside the box his kicks could free Longoria and the forwards to jockey for inside position on the opposing defense. My right midfielder would have to be Ben Zobrist. I do not know if Zorilla is ambidextrous on the soccer field, but if he was he would be a great fit to the usual attacking side of the field and could center passes or do flanking moves or U-runs down the line for crosses into box.

That leaves the forwards line. Here I’m going for the tall man in the box and shifty runners down the outsides or who can change directions and do crafty diagonals into the box for short chips, passes or provide ball in the air for headers.

So with me wanting to capitalize on speed, it is no secret the left wing has to be Kevin Kiermaier who seems to have a sixth sense to getting into position for the right play and who is one of those players who brings a new level of excitement to the team.

download (1)Right wing has to be another speedster as I pencil in Desmond Jennings for this slot and will call upon his quick first burst for great offensive moves and set plays. Add to the fact Jennings did play in that other brand of football, I think he will be a great target in the air for headers and taking a defender out of his position for scoring opportunities at the top of the goal box.

That only leaves the center spot. I had to go with someone here who has leadership, respect and plays on a different level at times. The obvious and clear choice for this spot was David Price.  One of the glaring reasons is his 6’6” frame can rise a good 3-4 inches above most defenders for headers and I think he has the foot skills and dexterity to pull off picture perfect passes and provide 110% throughout the contest.

Of course this Rays team will have great and skilled substitutes on the bench like Chris Archer, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore,  Joel Peralta, and I might add Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi to the mix as we all need a true “enforcer” on our soccer team.

images (2)I know there will be debate about my choices, but I think this squad could do some real damage on the pitch, provide some spectacular scoring chances and picture perfect goals as well as keep the score low and within reach of the Rays offensive unit.  Well it’s time for me to set the ball on the middle dot and get this Rays Club team going. Besides, you can always vent your thought at Rays Soccer Night Friday, June 20th.

What? I wasn’t going to sit on the sidelines and watch this team, I would make the perfect Referee plus I want to see this match at ground zero, not in the stands. And besides, St. Petersburg,Florida like the Rays is home to the 2-time North American Soccer League Champions, the Tampa Bay Rowdies who play on the Rays old Spring home. Florida Progress/Al Lang Field.

Now if I can just get the linesmen to keep Jonny Gomes from running onto the turf, we would be golden. 

 

Rays Photo Day Shows Both Sides of the Rays Personalities

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You never quite know what sensibilities are going to “play out” when the Tampa Bay Rays let photographers bring about their own illuminations on the team’s character, or is that characters. You only have to look back to the Feb. 25, 2010 Rays Photo Day shots where the photographer that day used the natural sunlight of Florida as sparkling and illumination points on the photos of that season squad.

2010Sure they were embarking on a new strand of light called the post season that spring and the Sun made more than a few spectacular effects in a variety of photos from that spring’s squad. Then in 2013 it seems the Rays photos were a bit more subdued than usual with some playful spots of individuality, but the photos overall seemed to illustrate a unison or harmony among the troops.

Of the 26 photos already released from the Rays 2014 Photo Day, there is again a underlying theme that clearly is visible and unique all to the Rays way of team chemistry. This spring photos show a calm, a essence of a more tranquil and centered squad of players who see that goal in the cross-hairs and calmly and professionally plan to be the team that “eats last” come November 2014.

eatslastYou see a more relaxed Papa Longoria with the Rays leadership crown solidly planted upon his head along with fellow Clubhouse General David Price presenting himself quite Zen-like in his photos awaiting the approaching Opening Day more with zeal than strife.

But then you have the other side of the Rays coin also displayed in the type of Gasparilla-infused notions and action of Rays reliever Josh Lueke both in his biting of a baseball, to juggling and possibly showing that some fun must come with all the stress of competing and delivering your goal.   

wjbjI enjoy seeing the fight and fire as well as the comedic notions that make up a M L B team. Not everyone can be serious all of the time and sometimes that moment of tongue-in-cheek humor or even dawning a gladiator’s mask can deliver more energy and fight into a group than any Knute Rockne oratory.

The Ying and Yang of this year’s released Photo Day shots also shows the ebb and flow that will ultimately exist within the Rays this year as leaders and jokers can come together tone their antics and abilities to the highest achievement levels and produce memories and events that we will speak about for years.

LLMEFrom the high points of  Longoria who with a consistent effort in 2014 should ultimately by-pass and become the sole Rays all-time leaders in such categories as HR, RBI, Extra Base Hits, doubles and Slugging Percentage before the end of 2014 to Myers who will again be called on provide the same kind of energy, production and raw unharnessed spirit that saw him take home an American League Rookie of the Year trophy, this team will rise and fall on both the chill moments and chaotic scrambles that make up a 162-game campaign.

pllbSure this is but only a 26 frame cross-section of the character and characters of that will become the heart and soul of the 2014 edition of the Rays, but if this is any indication of what we might have in store for us for a 162 game haul…..I’m ready to buckle in and take the rough with the fun for it’s almost time for the games to matter and I can’t wait for that last day in March………..But I don’t think Lueke will have to eat too many balls this year because this team looks and sounds hungry enough to push it to that last meal….and maybe have room for a champagne-infused dessert.

All photos taken by Zimbio.com photographers. They do so many other M L B teams photos each spring. Search their website for your team’s spring photos. I do have a Facebook link with the latest 26 and any additional Rays Photo Day shots I find past the submitting of this blog post.

Silent Avenger Becoming a Pleasant Offensive Surprise

James Loney

I now call him the “Silent Avenger”. On a Tampa Bay Rays team already filled with persona’s like “Tatman”, “Super Sam” and even “Wolverine”, Rays First Baseman James Loney has been one of those great players who comes out of nowhere and makes this team better immediately.

toronto-blue-jays-v-tampa-20130506-180616-029Playing a position that embodies power and defensive responsibility, Loney has become not that iconic 1B that smashes the ball into an oblong shape on its way to the cheap seats, but has become a hitting machine producing needed single and run producing opportunities that also have brought the Rays back to the .500 mark for the first time since April 7th. Sure Loney is not the only reason this team has rebounded from their April funk, but he is one of those shining examples of a player brought in with question marks and wonder as to what role he will ultimately play on this team’s rise towards a post season berth.

All Loney has done is be a stopgap defender at the corner who has committed only a solo error in 259 total chances this season. But lost in that vital fact is the number of errors his glove has erased due to his versatility and flexibility at the First Base bag. But that is only 1 dimension of the Loney story as he has again found his hitting stroke since coming to the Rays at one point this week reaching the summit of the American League Batting Average pile along side Detroit Tiger Miguel Cabrera.

James LoneyLoney currently heading into Sunday’s contest is 3rd among all MLB players in batting average (.371) behind Cabrera (.376) and Brewers OF Carlos Gomez (.374). He also shares another very vital distinction in the A L with Oakland A’s INF Jed Lowrie of 7 3-hit games this season which all transpired within 11 starts between April 17th and May 5th. Loney has not only shown the potential to produce for the Rays, he is doing it on a club once thought of as weak and full of holes offensively but has been one of those key linchpins to the Rays recent run explosions that has seen them creep from the bottom of the AL Team hitting stats.

Sure Loney (.959) might not have the Rays top OPS ranking which currently belongs to long-ball artist Evan Longoria (1.009), but he does have 39 hits in his 35 games as well as leading the Rays in doubles (11, tied for 7th in the AL). OBP (.426 which is 4th in the AL) and is second to Longo (.609) in Slugging Percentage (.533). Loney has been one of those pleasant surprises on a team that most thought would be hard pressed to produce runs much less victories this season after their horrific April start.

201304062129773759188-p2Want to know why the recent hitting surge of Loney is so impressive? Over his last 23 contests (17 starts) Loney leads the MLB with a .453 average with 2 HR,15 RBI and 9 doubles. But what is extremely impressive is his stat of only 4 strikeouts during this span that saw his average rise to over 200 points from its .167 spot on April 16th. Fangraphs also produced a fun fact that 33% of Loney’s hits this season have been line drives, the highest percentage in the MLB where the MLB average is 20.2 percent.

Amazingly enough Loney who is a left-handed hitter has produced a .529 average against Southpaws this season which should bode well for him as the Rays will be facing a lot of left-handed hurlers over the next week. Add on the nice stat of Loney sparking a .424 average with runners in scoring position and you get a player who is helping the team tremendously by slicing and dicing up hitting from both side of the pitching rubber. Loney is also boasting an impressive .337 average against right-handers so far this season.

And how rare was that Home Run by Loney last night against the San Diego Padres? The last time Loney deposited an offering in the his home stadium cheaps seats was September 17, 2011 in Dodger Stadium.

James Loney, Joe MaddonLoney has hit 8 HR on the road between those dates. Loney on May 9th also became only the 4th Rays player ever to be on the top tier of the AL in hitting with teammate Matt Joyce last doing it in 2011. Combine that with the pure fact Loney has produced back-to-back 3-hit performances on multiple occasions this season and you can see how he has transformed into a much needed silent avenger for the Rays.

Want one last reason to think Loney is having one of those dream seasons so many seem to have when they pull on a Rays jersey. Consider Loney has hit left-handed pitchers at a career .248 average heading into his Rays tenure. This season after Loney’s impressive outing against southpaw pitching during 3 starts against Toronto (May 6-9th) at the Trop produced a stellar 10-19 (.526) showcase. But the cherry on top of this is the fact during 2013 Loney has only struck out 11 times so far in 116 plate appearances which leads all MLB 1B qualifiers and had a streak of 39 at bats without a whiff this season.

Loney is definitely the silent avenger the Rays needed at First Base and has more than proven his worth.

Hellboy Adding Some Follicles to his Persona

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We have all known him during his journey as a clean cut, mid-western farm guy with no real scuff or hardness to him. But if you looked closely at Tampa Bay Rays hurler Jeremy Hellickson during his start on Monday in Boston, there are a few changes a brewin’.

201304071321480630708-p2I mean we have all seen a few of these guys come into Spring Training a bit rough with Winter pelts upon their face, but this is the first time I have ever seen even the first stages of a ‘stache and possible goatee on Hellboy. It is not like this would ruin or change his image overnight if he did sprout some facial features, but with guys like Ryan Roberts, James Loney and even David Price sporting some impressive facial accessories, maybe it is just part of the maturation process for Hellickson.

I do not want to make a big thing out of it since I’m one of those guys who is mostly clean-cut 24/7 except to let my hair grown long at times just to prove it still grows up there and is not sent out for a cleaning every 30-days. Still, this could be a nice addition to the Hellboy motif with some sprouting hairs both above and below and besides that trademark tongue appearance that is so-Helly.

WWJoshI know Hellickson is not bowing the peer pressure from those more follicle enhanced on the team, but it just shows another direction and avenue Hellickson could journey down before his career is all said and done. I mean the guy will never produce a hair-masterpiece like Josh Reddick, or even Duck Dynasty’s Jace or Willie, but having a little reminder front and center to people you are not 21 forever and that is a good thing.

I truly hope the goatee and “mustache come in with fullness and robust color and clarity for Hellboy as those high definition camera’s will play a bit of havoc with him until it is fully grown in and it develops it own style. Still, it is a quick reminder that Hellickson is maturing, finding his own way both on and off the mound and truly feels like “one of the guys”, especially now with the Rays all-follicle crew. I know Rays Bench Coach Dave Martinez must like the change since he sports a pretty mean beard and accessories himself.

Bad Luck Follows the Rays on the Road

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I want to be the first to stand up and applaud new Tampa Bay Rays James Loney and Shelly Duncan for their vocal barrage from the Visitor’s dugout railing tonight as they snipped with merit at the horrific job Home Plate Umpire Marty Foster made on the last pitched ball during the Rays 5-4 loss against the Texas Rangers.

c2s_rays040913_10589862_8colBelieve me if the Rangers had any deputy powers, they should have arrested Foster for impersonating a Umpire, but I digress. Seriously though, if the Rays were to lose that game even with their hottest hitter , Ben Zobrist at the plate, it should have been a ground ball, missed swing, not a called third strike to end a highly contested game that came so far out of left field Rangers closer Joe Nathan might have been the last person on the field to notice the game was over.

You can be sure there will either be a voice mail or a nice cordial phone call to Foster from someone within the MLB hiearchy, possibly his immediate supervisor asking him if he drank a frothy beverage as the teams changed positions for the top of the 9th inning instead of guzzling a nice, cool Gatorade. And the worst thing is you can not fathom or find a suitable excuse like the usual hot and hostile Texas heat or gnats that descended from purgatory (Texas) to make the sight lines into the Texas catcher’s glove impossible.

This was purely and truthfully just a blown call that possibly seconds after it’s conclusion Foster wishes he could take back or get a proverbial “mulligan”. And these things happen during a 162 game season, but it didn’t need to happen to this Rays team who struggled back to within a run of changing the outcome and who were still nursing a TKO in their Sunday home matinee.

tampa-bay-rays-v-texas-20130408-201736-861But maybe this is the way the Rays will have to find ways to win in 2013. Possibly the high hype of their return to glory 5 years after their first surprising rise has more than a few people casting spells or making voodoo Longo dolls or Hellboy personas.  But the Rays did have chances before this moment and could of taken the fate of their resurgence out of Foster’s hands before the top of the 9th inning.

On the same day their might Tall Texan, Jeff Nieman decided to partake the knife and sideline himself for the rest of the 2013 campaign, this team needed some sign of impending good fortune and change of fortune. The problem was as in in most Texas sagas, the man in the black cap shot the Rays in the foot and took their victory off into the sunset.

Maybe we can find a way to blame the call on long-time Rays nemesis and current Rangers catcher AJ Pierzenski, he was the guy who framed that last pitch for Foster…….Nah, Foster blew the call.

Tasty Tidbits About Some of Our New Rays

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I do not know how many of you are like me and anticipate the release or even first glimpse of the upcoming season’s Media Guide. I get a bit antsy about the time the Tampa Bay Rays Media Guide is available for purchase, and I carry it with me for always as a quick statistical reference guide and to feed some of the fan base’s appetite for tidbits of information about their favorite Rays.

And the 2013 edition of this grand publication is a few weeks away from general purchase, but I’d like to now give you a small tasting menu or sampling of some of the great items stashed within it’s covers this season. Most of the things I will divulge today will be tidbits of information about new players added to the Rays 40-man roster acquired via Free Agency or by trades this Winter. So without further ado…it’s time to learn something about the new guys.

536932_10200613596644364_1626184466_nYunel Escobar

*** Will become the 8th Cuban player to grace the Rays roster, and the first since C Michel Hernandez.

*** In 2012, Escobar compiled a .982 Fielding Percentage, the 4th best among MLB shortstops and committed a total of 12 errors.

*** He is a childhood friend of Tigers C Brayan Pena and the pair got the lucky chance of being teammates in Atlanta.

225304_10200613591004223_614110924_nRoberto Hernandez

***His parents are farmers and comes from a family of 3 brothers and 3 sisters. When he is not working out in the off-season, Hernandez can be found working the cattle on his family’s spread in Yamasa in the Dominican Republic.

*** Interesting enough, he pitched with former Rays closer Roberto Hernandez on the 2007 Cleveland Indians.

312446_10200613582084000_380179301_nKelly Johnson

*** At some point in 2013, Johnson and Escobar will take their spot in the Rays middle infield for the 3rd different team. They have been double-play duos with the Atlanta Braves, Toronto BlueJays and now barring injury, the Rays. Only former MLB stars Jeff Kent and Jose Vizcaino have beaten that 5-4 duo mark as they started at those positions for 4 different teams during their careers.

***Johnson was drafted by the Braves as a shortstop, but made his MLB debut as a outfielder. After recovering from Tommy John’s surgery, Johnson learned the ropes at Second Base and has played primarily at that spot ever since.

*** Johnson was the Central Texas High School Player of the Year back in 1999 as a Junior.

285284_10200613544643064_2080324597_nJames Loney

***Was the Los Angeles Dodgers nominee for the service-oriented Roberto Clemente in 2008 and 2010.

*** Is an avid bowler and hosted the Dodgers Dream Fund Bowling Extravaganza the past 3 seasons and he is not even the best bowler in his family. That honor goes to his younger brother Anthony who has rolled a Perfect Game (320). Loney also donated $7,500 to dedicate 2 bowling lanes to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles so kids battling cancer could spend a night bowling with the Dodgers and their families.

***Just like former Ray Carl Crawford, Loney came out of the Houston RBI baseball program and was a huge supporter of the Los Angeles area RBI program while with the Dodgers.

*** Loney is a former First Team Baseball America All American team member as a utility player and his Lawrence E. Elkins HS squad had a 30-1 record and was ranked #1 in the nation during his tenure there.

484976_10200613589284180_923822037_nMike Montgomery

*** As if being a piece of the puzzle in a trade for SP James was not interesting enough, Montgomery used to be in the stands at Hart HS baseball stadium where his father taught algebra and Women’s Golf and watched a young James Shields pitch. Second great occurrence between the pair happened a week after the Royals and Rays trade when Montgomery met Shields during a ceremony retiring his old # 33 at Hart high.

*** During his Senior year at Hart, the baseball rotation included Montgomery and Trevor Bauer. In another odd coincidence, Bauer got traded from Arizona to Cleveland days after Montgomery’s trade from the Royals to the Rays.

482527_10200613596284355_1745899257_nWil Myers

***Became just the third player ever to be awarded the Baseball America, USA Today and Topps Minor League Player of the Year award in the same season. The other two were Josh Beckett and Andruw Jones.

*** The Rays Triple-A affiliate, the Durham Bulls have a unique ticket opportunity called the “Wil He,Won’t He”. The package contains 3 distinctive Bulls games: Opening Day (April 8th), Fourth of July, and Fan Appreciation Day (Aug 24th) plus a voucher for an additional game of your choice if Myers not start the season with the Bulls.

*** Myers was selected as the #2 Best Pure Hitter prior to his MLB Draft by Baseball America and is considered only 1 of 10 players in the last 50 years to hit over 35 HR at Class-A or above before the age of 22.

548849_10200613544003048_1367108645_nJake Odorizzi

*** Odorizzi is an avid gamer which will fit in well with the Rays Clubhouse featuring uber gamers Evan Longoria, Alex Cobb and David Price. Maybe we will see a future tandem of Longo and Odorizzi doing raids on “Call of Duty” online during the season.

***Was the Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year, a Louisville Slugger Pre-Season All-American, a Rawlings Perfect Game All-American, and a member of the USA Today All-USA Team back in 2008 while sporting a 14-0 record, 0.10 ERA while leading Highland (Ill) HS to a state title.

Well, I hope this small bit of information gives you a bit of comfort and confidence we obtained a pretty select and special group of guys this Winter. The Rays 2013 Media Guide is chock full of more interesting information and stats on all the Rays players, minor leaguers and staff with career and personal notes. I hope everyone gets a chance to either browse through one this season or purchases one for their home archives. 

First Glimpse at Photos From Today’s 2013 Media Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We Want Mike Morse”

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._ _ . ._ _ . _ _ . _ _ _ . . _ . _ . _ _ _ _ _ . _ . . . . .”

To most people the above crypt ed type is a by-gone era relic of communication mostly done between long distance communicators or ships at sea. But to me it seems like a fitting code to use when the Tampa Bay Rays might be seeking out another body, and one who could take on multiple player duties while being a member of the Rays roster.

74fb6661-3d2f-383f-abfa-12823de2534aMaybe it is more than fitting that I tried to throw out a makeshift code of “We Want Mike Morse” in the above telegraph possibly showing at least one member of the Rays Republic’s adamant desire that the Rays go out ad get this desired First Base/DH and most of all, right handed hitting option.

Possibly it is an omen today that temps in the Tampa Bay region are hitting the Spring and Summer averages showing maybe even a higher power wanting this deal to go to fruition. But the total reality today is that the Washington Nationals since they signed their desired 1B Adam LaRoche to the dotted line, Morse might be a few dashes or dots away from finding a new vista to call home, and since Morse code is associated with water…..possibly ending up on a team who’s own hometown is surrounded on 3- sides by water.

mmmmmmmSome might ponder the idea that since Morse is in his “walk” season before he hits free agency for the first time a trade for him might not be in the Rays best interest, but if you dig beyond the surface and truly see the stats for what they are…Morse could be just the right fit for Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s sometimes maddening system of plug-and-go lineup shifting roles and reversing logic to find wins, key hits and much needed runs.

Morse’s 3-season line of .296/.345/.516 might not just out on the page at you, but it is clearly a huge upgrade to the 2012 Carlos Pena debacle and combined with already in-house option James Loney, the “Maddoning” lineup possibilities and positioning is simply boggling with right and left handed options possibly being inter-changed at First and DH with the addition of Morse.

280px-Michael_Morse_2011If you really think about it, if the Rays did trade for Morse who is set to make $ 6.75 million this season, you get twice the bag (and less K’s) for the slightly over $ 250,000 the money the Rays paid Pena in 2012 to mostly tap his cap on Home Runs and be the returning smiling face. It might surprise you that Morse had over 5 years of MLB service time split with 2 seasons each with the Seattle Mariners and Nats, but making Morse and even bigger prize for the Rays is another small bit of flexibility that Maddon enjoys even more.

250px-Mike_MorseMorse can also play other spots in the infield besides 1st (SS, 3B) as well as possibly a corner outfield position. With Desmond Jennings making a slight shift left in 2013 to post up at B J Upton’s old haunt, Centerfield, Morse could play right into Maddon’s always mind-bending game of match-up and situational defense possibly finally securing Ben Zobrist for mostly infield and outfield duties from time to time.

Instantly some of the cautious Rays Republic followers will bring up the pure fact in 2012 Morse only hit out 18 Rawlings while in 2011 he hit a career high 31 orbs into the cheap seats.

But even as you would notice Morse had a dip in his offensive numbers in 2012, he was also playing throughout the season with more than 1 nagging injury and still put together a season that showed his commitment to the game, confidence in his abilities and provided a added power option for the Nats.

That in a nut shell is the type of guy the Rays need. He fits the Maddon profile of being able to post up at various positions, plus has been in the post season race, plus played in a highly competitive NL East division that yearly produces enough stress and pressure to crumble a tea kettle. The dashes and dots all point to Morse as being the kind of player who will transcend under Maddon. But you have to ask if the Rays have the personnel to pull off such a heist. Why yes they do!

natitude-michael-morseConsidering the Nats lost out on former Rays RP J P Howell, maybe Friedman could patchwork up a nice package with a centerpiece of Southpaws Cesar Ramos or Alex Torres as viable Bullpen options. Torres has limited relief appearances, but his 2012 chances showed he might have a better calling in the MLB as a relief option than as a starter. Ramos we already know has the goods to be a consistent reliever and would be a valuable piece of the Rays Bullpen puzzle to lose, but if it bring a hint of better offensive presence….I’d jump on it and ride it until it dies.

Combine either of these leftie options, or possibly send a piece like OF Brandon Guyer or maybe even someone in the minors who is a few years away from MLB ready and if you are Washington you get a need filled, a extra bit of outfield security and a player developing in the wings to fill a future need, possibly in the infield.

Now this is not to convey the Rays will even take a gander at Morse with more than the usual Friedman cell call to ponder, wonder and suggest ad lib, but with camps beginning to open in just over 35 days, things concerning Morse might just hit a fast and furious pace as five other MLB squads also seek their own “Morse code” answer for 2013. I am expecting to hear a lot of dots and dashes over the next few days with hopefully Friedman finding the right combo and most conducive package to net the Rays Morse’s talents for 2013.

Maybe I need to do it 1 more time for clarity: “ ._ _ . ._ _ . _ _ . _ _ _ . . _ . _ . _ _ _ _ _ . _ . . . . .”

Loney Could be the Rays 2013 Hidden Gem

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I am hearing some pretty sweet music from friends who follow the Los Angeles Dodgers on the Tampa Bay Rays recent signing of veteran James Loney. Some have proclaimed Loney a shining MLB gem that gathered some unusual dust, rust and lost a bit of his luster in 2012, but easily could easily show up to Port Charlotte, Florida this February polished, glimmering and shining like a diamond in the rough for the Rays.

James_LoneyImmediately some will see the signing of Loney as a logistical offensive and defensive addition in the ever-changing Rays roster fabric. I mean the guy has maintained a career .282 average and is just 105 hits from the “1,000 hit” plateau, but this signing has as much to do with on-the-field Rays movements as it does up the tunnel and behind those double clubhouse white doors. Loney is a leader, and that should take some of the command burden off the shoulders of Evan Longoria, James Shields and David Price. I am one of those who firmly believes you can never have too many positive vibes flowing in a clubhouse

We all know without reservation that Loney brings with him a nifty glove (career .944 Fielding Percentage), an immediate improvement to the Rays anemic offense situation (108 hits in 2013 between Boston and LA), but his energetic aura will help most in filling the void left when certain members did not return to the Rays. With Carlos Pena and B J Upton gone, the team had a void in their team leadership, and Loney definitely fills that void to overflowing. I some might forget with all the changes over the last few years with Dodger personnel, Loney has appeared in 752 games since 2008 for the Dodgers which would in retrospect rank Loney in a solid 4th place All-Time for the Rays with Carl Crawford (1,235), BJ Upton (966)and Aubrey Huff (799).

 James-LoneyLoney does come into St. Petersburg with a lifetime batting average of .282, there is hesitation for me to strike up the bandwagon and greet him with open arms. Some will say Loney might finally be feeling his MLB age as he saw his batting average free fall from healthy .288 in 2011 with some power (12 HR) to an All-Time low in 2012 of .254 in 114 games with the Dodgers before his trade to the Boston Red Sox where Loney produced a .230 average with 2 HR and 8 RBI in the season’s final 30 games. Still, that average is way superior of Carlos Pena’s .197 batting average in 2012.

We have to remember the Rays did not sign the 2008-2010 version of Loney who averaged almost 90 RBI and 12 HR during that trifecta of seasons, this is an aging veteran who has the ability to make this team more cohesive and not be a negative addition to their roster. Loney never developed that huge power stroke most people forecasted in his early seasons, and in Tropicana Field he does find a friendly 322 foot mark down the Right field line that might spark a few extra HRs in 2013.

LLLLL Hidden deep below those compelling anemic 2012 stats is a few speckles of a glimmering gem that could help the Rays a lot in 2013. Loney hit for a .294/.351/.441 line against right-handed pitching while also grading out as one of MLB’s best defenders at first base over the last 3 seasons. Considering the Rays signed Loney to a 1-year $2 million dollar deal with a chance to amass another $1 million in incentive bonuses, the deal is not a financial killer to the Rays if Loney doesn’t become the needed weapon for the team.

James LoneySometimes MLB players have a “glitch” season during their MLB journey. Let’s hope 2012 was Loney’s only venture away from his usual productive bat and he again proves to have a vacuum cleaner glove down the Rays First Baseline. If Loney does find some of his past luster, the $3 million dollars the Rays invested into Loney could possibly once again produce a “Comeback Player of the Year”, and a few games more into the post season fun. Glimmer on Loney, Glimmer on!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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