Results tagged ‘ John Jaso ’

Was Wily Mr. O. Possum be the New Oakland Spirit Animal?

 

Native Americans believe that nine different spirit animals or totems are connected to us throughout our lives acting as guides to steer us towards events or occurrences that will define our lives. They believe these nine animals are with us for life and even as they all have their purpose, one is the lead animal that will show the way and provide moments of clarity and awareness.  downloadWe now know that the opossum has to be one of the Oakland Athletic’s nine focal spirit animals. And possibly with this white-faced creature showing itself to the assembled masses last night in the bottom of the 10th inning of a tied contest between the Tampa Bay Rays and the home town A’s, his presence had to be the deciding element to sway the energies last night and provide a victory. It’s the only logical reasoning  for the way the bottom of the 10th inning played out for the Tampa Rays last night. For the Opossum spirit animal is a deceiver, a strategist and an animal that uses deception to his advantage now both on and off the baseball diamond.  Whatever else could have caused such a rapid and defining chain of events that led to the A’s snapping the Rays road winning streak with this very peculiar stage of events? download (2)I mean the Rays had the fiery ex-Athletic, current Rays reliever Grant Balfour growling on the hill, but somehow the elements did not favor the Aussie one tonight as he saw not one, but 2 consecutive hitters get out of the 0-2 hole and find solace upon the base paths.   The first Oakland hitter Alberto Callaspo saw 4 pitches before lining out to left for the first out of the inning. The inning started to look a bit uneventful for the A’s. Then all bets seemed to be off as our opossum made his appearance strutting down the outfield wall in left field to his favorite cubbyhole just after Balfour’s first pitch to someone the O-town locals call “Super Sam” ( wonder where they got that name) Fuld. Possibly the opossum occurrence  inspired Fuld who was down 0-2 at the moment on 2 straight called strikes.  Fuld then found his pitch and deposited it into center field to become the A’s first base runner of the inning. Opossum 1, Rays 0. Then another former Rays, this time a chap named John Jaso swung mightily at 2 straight Balfour offerings as Balfour again had another A’s batter down 0-2 before Jaso, possibly through the vision of the opossum, gained  a bit of serenity and somehow secured himself a free pass to First base via a walk.  Opossum 2, Rays 0. imagesThe during the at bat by Oakland 3B Josh Donaldson we witnessed the usually steady defensive duo of Sean Rodriguez and Kevin Kiermaier somehow let a white sphere drop not in their gloves, but to the green turf  down the left field line missing a golden opportunity to garner a much needed out from this A’s  and keep them from victory. Wonder if S-Rod or the Outlaw saw a opossum out of the corner of their eye, or possibly seated in the stands? Donaldson’s at bat also produced a double whammy of not only reaching base by another walk by Balfour, but also via a deceived fourth ball that got Rays Manager Joe Maddon all ballistic and led to his eventual ejection from the contest by Home Plate Umpire Quinn Wolcott. Opossum 3, Rays 0. That set up a bases loaded situation with one out for the A’s next batter, Brandon Moss. Unfortunately Moss ended up striking out setting up the possible walk-off scenario for the next hitter, Derek Norris.   images (1)Balfour quickly got Norris behind in the count 0-2 before Norris followed Fuld’s lead and hit a game-winning single into center field breaking the Rays road winning streak and sending the Aussie muttering to himself about lost opportunities. Sure the victory went to the A’s that night, but somewhere, under the stands I can just see Mr O. Possum doing the “Dougie” knowing he might have helped by diverting just enough attention to deceive a win. 

Gimenez Has Sung and Played His Way to a Possible Roster Spot

More and more Tampa Bay Rays C Chris Gimenez is making himself more attractive to the Rays as both a player, and a personality. Everyone has seen his singing renditions by now on Youtube or MLB’s Cut4, but he is quickly making himself a little less expendable especially after his “passed ball” like save of a certain single down the First Base line in yesterday’s contest against the Detroit Tigers. Heck, he looked more like a hockey goalie trying to divert a puck around the pipes than someone doing anything and everything to make it hard for the Rays to send him anywhere but St. Petersburg, Florida this April.

 20130319_ajw_af6_110-9ce8e9370d14a9389fb1c08c7aa2d2eaGimenez is showing the same energy and determination that endeared me to him during the Rays 2012 season this Spring. It is still kind of ironic to me that we might not have every gotten a chance at having Gimenez even within the Rays system if not for the Rays 2012 Winter trade of the  staring catcher to the Seattle Mariners and their counter-move of designating Gimenez for assignment and the Rays plucking him for their own farm system. All Gimenez has done since his arrival in the Rays system was put the Rays at ease with his positive and energetic on and off the field entertainment.

And the Rays have a tough decision to make in the next 11-odd days as to if Gimenez has done enough to even nudge fellow backstop Jose Lobaton from the Rays back-up position, but no matter what happens, I do not envy Rays Manager Joe Maddon or VP of Baseball Ops Andrew Friedman one bit on this decision. Sure you can automatically pop out the reasoning that if the Rays try to even attempt to send Lobaton to the minors, he would have to go through the waiver system, and more than a few teams are seeking catching help or at least depth in their own farm systems.

thEven the pure fact Gimenez is flexible and can man an infield spot when not behind the dish should give him extra brownie points, but he also has no more minor league options and the pure fact he can give Maddon some thought into playing the field possibly in an unforeseen day-night doubleheader or a spot start should make him a bit more valuable in the long run. And you know if Gimenez himself hit the waiver wire he will be plucked up quickly and never have another at bat in the Rays system.

That being said, maybe another great indicator the Rays are taking a hard look at Gimenez as an option is the fact he has 34 plate appearances so far this Spring, double the current plate appearances of Lobaton (17). If you want to get really statistically honest, Gimenez’s line of a .382 Batting Average, .529 Slugging Percentage and a .935 OPS might be a solid indicator Gimenez might be ripe and ready for a 180 day MLB spot.

We all know that Gimenez has appeared in 18 games this Spring, and usually that can be a solid indicator if the team is taking a deep and concise evaluation of a player, but Lobaton has also appeared in 14 games, so this line of thought might be moot at best. Even if you look towards the Fielding stats of each player this Spring you will only see part of the picture as Lobaton has not been out in the field and Gimenez has had multiple chances on the clay to try and influence the Rays thought process he would be the right piece of the 2013 regular season puzzle both behind the plate or as a side dish in the field.

20130310_jla_an4_249-9566596bb7a8d386dfaee4e2aaec5dd7Even if you throw in the arbitrary stats of what each player has done behind the plate to stop base runners, each has had limited steal attempts against themselves, and Lobaton wins this battle with a .500 stolen base percentage to Gimenez’s .333 mark. Adding a second stat into this mix, with Rays proposed starter Jose Molina just now about to return to Port Charlotte, Florida after his Puerto Rican team experience in the WBC, a majority of the starts behind the plate over the next 11 days will probably be Molina’s as he get into his groove for the 2013 MLB campaign.

I have a feeling even over this 11 day last chance for either of them to get that back-up slot, the Rays will not tip their hand as to who will be designated, or traded before the Rays first Home series of the season. My tip of the cap goes to Gimenez for not only what he does on the field, but the excitement and energy he also generates off the field especially in his new found Twitter presence that has more than a few of us following or finding his quips amusing as well as insightful. But teams do not pick their final player based on personality or off the field quirks of brilliance, they base their reactions on statistics, whether a certain player can play beyond their potential and if they are a fit to the over scheme the team will employ for the regular season. Who knows, the Rays could also dangle either of them as trade bait for further depth knowing the loser of this battle will have to leave not only the Rays, but their system via a trade or possibly the waiver wire.

Believe me, I do not dislike Lobaton or think he has played himself out of a spot on the 25-man Rays Opening Day roster, but in my humble opinion he has had his time to try and show his growth potential during the 2012 regular season and did not produce enough for me to even remotely think he is a sure thing or consistent part of the Rays catching corps. Both players kind of canceled each other out during the Rays 2012 season in regards to Stolen Base Percentages as both were above the .800 percentage mark with in itself is considered a superior mark. Gimenez appeared in 42 contests and posting a superior average (.260) to Lobaton’s .222 in 69 games and displayed a sure fire upside of potential in power.

astro_zbog0rpi_y78eueroHey, David Price’s dog Astro must think Gimenez is the right fit, he already marked his territory on Gimenez’s bag, so you got to think he has the Astro sign of approval. No matter what I ( or Astro) think,  the Rays will have a hard decision on their hands in regards to these two talented backstops. Someone has to go whether it is by trade or lost with no return via the waiver wire. Might money is firmly on Gimenez contributing to the bitter end and getting the nod, even by the smallest of margins to find himself introduced to the Rays Republic on the First Baseline come Opening Day. Maybe I’m trying to sing Gimenez’s praises because we already know he can sing them himself if asked….this time possibly during the Rays 2013 season while standing in the Rays Clubhouse after a thrilling walk-off victory.  

Could There be a Last Minute Rays Holiday Gift?

23-02713-F

We all know that the holiday season’s spirit is centered around the fact of giving and sharing with our fellow-man. No matter your religious affiliation or the exact calendar date to commemorate your joyous celebrations, every team within the MLB wants to bring about a joyous cornucopia of unexpected presents to their faithful fans base, hopefully adding a few well placed good tidings and joy as we are now under 50 days until Pitchers and Catchers officially report to Spring Training.

47-22045-YWith all of the recent unwrapping of surprising player signings and a surplus of some tremendous talent that has some MLB rosters bursting at the seams like Santa’s red jacket, a team like the Tampa Bay Rays could very easily come a-caroling in the waning moments of the holiday with bushels of prospects and MLB ready personnel with hopes of possibly adding a few additional player ornaments to their own tree before the blessed holiday season comes to an end.

Whether it be by trade, free agency or even minor league deal with a Spring Invite, this is the perfect time for the Rays to get in the giving mood, and possibly get some glad tidings in return who could be instrumental pieces of the Rays own game plan as they head into the Spring of 2013. With that in mind, I’m going to pop on my Rays Santa elves cap and throw out a few names that I would pen onto my “Wish List” going into the final holiday moments.

pMLB2-14358184dtWe all know the Rays have been eagerly searching and awaiting the perfect additions to their team to the Designated Hitter position, and possibly a right-handed First Baseman who could platoon with newly signed James Looney to provide a bit more stability and flexibility to the Rays past offensive woes. With that in mind, here are a few names I have penned on my own list to Santa Sternberg hoping he will pass these on to his dedicated Master Elf, Andrew Friedman.

I was a bit perplexed the Rays have not entertained a trade towards their expansion brothers the Arizona Diamondbacks in regards to outfielder Jason Kubel. I had Kubel higher on my list of potential targets heading into this time of the season than Justin Upton, especially since Kubel could be brought into the Rays fold with mirror salaries of $ 7.5 million expected over the next 2 seasons.

Sure Kubel played mostly a corner (LF) outfield position in 2012, but he does have ample experience as a Designated Hitter in the American League after his tenure with the Minnesota Twins and his salary is within the Rays general range for DH candidates who can also play an outfield position during the InterLeague schedule. What might make the D-Backs an ample trading partner is the fact the Rays have a few pieces both in experienced MLB infielders and budding pitching prospects who could make this deal happen fast with the recent addition of OF Cody Ross to the Arizona ranks.

jljljljljThe only Grinch factor in Kubel is the fact he is a left-handed bat, but that should not hinder the Rays in trying to acquire a talented bat who knows how to play duo roles for his team.

That is just once possible present the Rays could possibly foster before the 25th day of December, and there are even a few I have penciled in from my second favorite squad, the Seattle Mariners who could also be great additions to the Rays fold. Some say the Rays were unwise to have traded John Jaso to the M’s when they had a few questions as to their catching corps. Jaso is only one of the Three Wise Men aka Emerald City edition I have picked as potential trade offerings the Rays could get for some well-placed sprigs of Frankincense Myrrh and possibly a few Gold shekels.

pMLB2-10673665dtAlong with Jaso I would include 1B/DH Justin Smoak and the aptly named C/DH Jesus Montero who all 3 have become a bit expendable with the recent Seattle addition of 1B/DH Kendrys Morales and return of prodigal favorite Raul Ibanez. This overflow of potential First Baseman and Designated Hitter candidates make any of the 3 possible shining stars for the Rays to pluck out of the night sky possibly for not a lot of the aforementioned spices and metal. Jaso might be a long shot to return, but the possibility of a switch hitting DH/1B like Smoak or even an additional catching option and DH like Montero should have the Rays quickly on the phone inquiring about these 2 Wise choices for their current lineup holes.

With the Rays recent signing of Roberto Hernandez to an incentive laced contract for either starting or relief duty, I feel he might either be a rotation fit or an ample candidate for the Rays now vacant long-relief spot with the trade of the team’s 2012 incumbent Wade Davis to the Royals. Even with the Rays young stable of budding relievers at the Triple-A level, it might be a prudent move to acquire or sign an experienced relief pitcher until the Rays youngsters show they are up to the task.

51XzsXn37XL__SL500_AA300_Right now with the duo of Kameron Loe, Jon Rauch and Jason Frasor all still out in the cold as free agents, possibly could come at a low-cost for the Rays as well as add some extra  veteran experience and ability to the Rays Bullpen as right-handed relief options. With the Rays overflowing with leftie options with Jake McGee, Cesar Ramos and possibly Alex Torres, the left side of the relief corps might have stability for at least the next few years (barring injury).

Loe would be the younger relief candidate at 31, with Rauch (34) and Frasor (35) and both having previous closer experience that sometimes is vital for a team to overcome even the slightest of late inning setbacks in the American League East. And wouldn’t it be wild if the Rays signed Rauch and added Jeff Niemann as their long reliever. The team could have the “Twins Towers of Terror” with each rising above the 6 foot 9 inches.

smg-giftbbtamwrBut that is what is great about the holiday season, some times you get completely surprised, and other times you can find just what you need under the tree to fulfill your dreams and needs. These are just a few of the viable options still out there or being put up on display as we begin the final push of the holiday season. My only real question now is are the Rays still seeking the right gifts, and are these teams brimming with overflowing roster in the holiday mood to give more than they receive?

Jaso Earned His Perfect Moment

I know I was one of many of the Rays Republic sitting with a dazed and confused look on my mug when Seattle Mariners hurler Felix Hernandez thrust his arms up into the air following his Perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays recently. Not only did I feel a know in the pit of my stomach because of the process put a stumbling block into the road for the Rays with losing this series, but for the third time in as many years, the Rays anointed a new monarch into the ranks of pitching brilliance.

Then I saw a figure run out from behind the plate and join the mound festivities and a bit of the gut retching subsided as I saw someone jump into the celebratory impromptu team meeting who desired this kind of moment and who is quietly establishing himself as a great game caller behind the dish. And it seems in perfect ironic harmony that ex-Rays catcher John Jaso finally gets to celebrate a historic pitching moment by being the battery mate of a new pitching immortal.

Everyone always throws the accolades and praise towards the pitcher in these displays of perfection and finesse, and for a flamethrower like Hernandez it not only took a delicate amount of luck and precision, it possibly took a little fine tuning and graceful glove work by Jaso to bring perfection into a reality.

Jaso over the last few years has gotten really good at framing pitches, bringing wandering breaking pitches and border line called strike into the red so the Home Plate Umpire can make an easier job of having to bellow out a called strike to the astonishment of many a batter.

I am not pushing back the emerald green curtain and trying to tarnish an ounce of Hernandez’s brilliance on this afternoon, but Jaso definitely played a key role and deserves a little sunlight himself. This was a catcher shocked and a bit dumbfounded and possibly still has some abandonment sentiments after the Rays sent him to the Pacific Northwest late last November sending him from a contender to a team trying to find the right pieces to their own contending puzzle.

The mild-mannered Jaso took his change of scenery as a chance to again establish himself, put himself on the map in another locale possibly again having throngs of female admirers loving his facial hair and protruding dimples as much for his hard work and determination on the field. All # 27 has done for the Mariners in his 73 game is post a .292 average with 14 doubles, 8 HR and 3 stolen bases. And watching Jaso behind the plate taking each and every one of King Felix’s 113 offering and being a part of only the 24th backstop to help help monitor and achieve perfection for his pitcher.

I felt the trading of Jaso this past Winter was a bit premature, one of the handful of total glitches that have transpired since the dropping of the “Devil” from the Rays in November 2007. Possibly his ailing batting average and the hint of more production and long-term solutions from the bevy of Rays farmhand catching prospects made this deal not only warranted, but needed at the time. I am one of those who scratched my head and wondered what the Rays had in kind trading a proven component for a relief pitcher who was still trying to pitch his way out from under his own trouble cloud.

Most of you already know I glance towards the scoreboard a lot trying to view the Seattle scores, it is my adopted second home and holds my favorite stadium. In the end, even as I pondered and thrust my own arms into the air in frustration, it was with hidden admiration and joy to see our old former # 28 bounce and jump for excitement as he approached the King and his field court, finally getting that well deserved sunlight alongside a hurler who had just put himself into an esteemed and lofty pitching Fraternity.

This is the kind of player moment a hard-nosed guy like Jaso sweats and bleeds for. It has to be a bittersweet moment as he stood on the hill celebrating with his fellow M’s, then turn and see his former squad with their heads down possibly wondering if this was the first nail in their post-season coffin.

Jaso was catching at Triple-A Durham when Chicago White Sox Mark Buehrle handcuffed the Rays for their first perfecto in 2009 as well as May 9, 2010 when Oakland Athletic SP Dallas Braden duplicated the feat.

A minute after the wave of negativity washed off me concerning the event I found myself laughing a bit. The guy we thought was expendable, was a patchwork piece of our former Rays battery possibly got his career defining moment and even if they could not cheer for him, you know a few Rays inside were happy Jaso got to finally feel this kind of adulation. Jaso had a perfect angle to see and watch this historic event play out, and it couldn’t of happen to a better player or person. 

I am Hoping For Good Lueke

You want to toss it into the barrel that in our own youth some of us have our own incidents or times that things went terribly wrong. That some situation in our own personal lives had gone so sideways you felt you might fall off the face of the Earth. For new Tampa Bay Rays RHP Josh Luekes, I am hoping wisdom definitely was garnered with his past ugliness.

Episodes like this either defines a person or changes them in such a way that similar behaviors never darken their door again. Then there are other who denote that behaviors like this induce a pattern, a way of thinking outside the game, and that they might be damaged good forever. I am hoping the gray area in Lueke’s past is now set in primal black and white with no shades of darkness.

When I heard the Tampa Bay Rays traded their former lead-off catcher, double-J, John Jaso, I hoped it was for a player of caliber. Heck, when Lueke was included in the Texas Rangers tally sheet in their 2009 mid-season acquisition of Cliff Lee, I thought maybe there was hidden pitching pedigree or dominance not seen on the scouting report, but back then in mid 2009 neither I, or the M’s knew the full extent of the horrendous incident.

To paraphrase TV serial killer Dexter Morgan, Lueke has his own dark passenger, a past incident that will haunt and proceed him where ever he ventures for the rest of his life. This past transgression of Lueke is not as simple as a minor traffic accident or can be tossed under the carpet. This horrific incident happened, and Lueke was brought to justice and judged.

Back in May 2008. Lueke was charged with rape and sodomy after an incident at his Bakersfield, California apartment. After his arrest and several weeks in jail, Lueke plead no contest to the charge of unlawful imprisonment with violence and was sentenced to 40 days in prison. Lueke was released with time served since he had already served more than that time period awaiting his fate on the more severe charges. The woman passed out in an apartment shared by Lueke and another Texas minor league prospect, and DNA was discovered on the woman after she awoke and found a few pieces of her clothing removed.

What bothers me most here is that the Rays as an organization are now in that vicarious spot of bringing in a player of questionable past exploits,  and who’s past could/could not have that focus attached to him for his entire Rays tenure effecting him both on and off the field. This incident is not like former Ray OF Elijah Dukes and his Baby’s Mama drama, this was a crime of violence against a woman who entered Lueke’s Bakersfield, California apartment back in May 2008 and left battered and emotionally scarred.

Lueke has possibly stayed the right course of actions, including the counseling route since the incident. Walked the right path since that episode, but this kind of action follows you even on the field. This kind of man-handling tends to make some of us nervous (myself included) and cautious even if Lueke could throw a devastating 98+ heater. It makes me overly protective of any young fan or female who might venture Lueke’s way before, during or after a game.

I want to be open-minded and think with the rationale of religious forgiveness, but being the father of 2 girls Lueke’s past actions have me skeptical right now. Sure there was talk of the woman in question in this incident possibly making the matter moot by partying and cavorting with Lueke and other players at a local watering hole that fateful night, but that thinking died in my mind the moment things turned ugly. Lest we forget, pleading no contest in a court of law is just another verbage of pleading guilty, only in this manner you do not have to admit guilt. Some say this  reduction in the charge was made to offset a possible civil matter which would have ballooned had Lueke been found guilty by a jury of his peers.

I am perplexed to say the least with this move. This is a 180 degree twist of the usual Rays logic of propriety and responsible behavior. It goes against all of the usual risk management nuances of this franchise by taking on a player who has a high degree of risk with high potential for backlash and criticism. The Rays in their past dealings have set  a high-caliber  example with regards to character and chemistry with players entering the sacred Rays fold. In that manner this trade has me feeling a bit odd, possibly wondering if Lueke’s upside outweighed the flexing controversy. Maybe it is my veiled belief that sometimes people do not change, they just find better hiding places for their transgressions.

I want to believe in Lueke as a ballplayer, but for some reason his dark blemish within his life inhibits that total hue of optimism for me right now. Lueke said during a recent conference call he hopes “that eventually ( the incident) just goes away and people quit judging on what their hearing and actually get to know him and they can make their own opinion”.

I want to believe he might recite the Serenity Prayer daily, open doors for every women in Tampa Bay and has embraced a total vow of renewed respect for the fairer sex. Hopefully Lueke has figured out the Rays are banking their reputation on him, and he doesn’t let them or us down ever again…..on or off the field.


More Answers than Questions (Thank Goodness) This Rays Offseason


At the precise moment on Friday night as the St. Louis Cardinal’s barrage of champagne corks began their ascent towards the heavens, 29 other Major League Baseball franchises heard only the undeniable audible signal that announced the beginning of their own rebuilding and tweaking process. These MLB clubs did not watch in awe and admiration as Cardinal fans and players took their ceremonial baths in bubbly, that precise moment beckoned each and every club to begin to unveil and move towards their own dreams of celebrating in November, 2012.

As the city’s faithful began their dancing beneath that mighty arch, baseball vistas from Seattle to Miami began their own quests to become the club’s to do that same celebratory display in November, 2012. With the first cork came the realization that the 2011 MLB season is in the books, and 2012 is there for the taking.

This morning as the Sunburns off last night’s celebration haze, the Cardinal faithful are rushing to outlets throughout their city for their World Series title mementos while the rest of the MLB is sprinting to possibly gain a sizable lead in retaining, replacing or reconstructing their squads to have the same experience in 2012. The off season folder have been plucked from their secretive hiding places and already things are in the works both behind the scenes and in plain view. The off season for everyone in Major League Baseball has officially begun.

Here in Tampa Bay, the Rays should have an pretty abbreviated laundry list compared to their 2011 off season “wish list”. Still a few additional key components have to be found, possibly tweaked or invited to re-sign with the young club to give the Rays that same competitive fire and drive that send them from bystanders to Wild Card darlings. Key decisions have to be made about certain rotation members tenures with the team. Certain arbitration-eligible players may find themselves without a team, and a few unexpected free agents might get an Spring Training invite to become a part of the Rays 2012 nucleus.

Already there is both optimism and pessimistic waves and valleys growing within the Rays Republic. Should the Rays offer another contract to DH Johnny Damon with possibly a $7 guaranteed payday plus the same attendance bonuses? Or should the club enlist the outside help of another high priced bat-slinger to bring a bit of intimidation and power to the Rays universe?

Will a few slots open up in the Rays rotation, or will pitchers like Matt Moore and the “Alex” duo of Cobb and Torres be shipped back to the minor until mid-May to stammer their arbitration clocks? The Rays scouting system and front office is bound to have to endure more than a handful of stressful and thought provoking skull sessions to decide if the Tall Texan (Jeff Neimann) or WD-40 (Wade Davis) have better talent and potential than the pitching trifecta punching their way through the thin glass ceiling between Triple-A Durham and the St. Petersburg clubhouse.

Will the Rays catching corps rebound with authority both at the plate and behind it with John Jaso possibly showing the same power and ability that made him a Rays darling in 2010, or will a bevy of Rays farm hand backstops like Jose Lobaton, Robinson “Honeynut” Chirinos, Nevin Ashley or the powerful bat of Stephen Vogt make Jaso possibly a Rays “dead man walking?

The glass ceiling between Triple-A Durham and the clubhouse in St. Petersburg could be broken by several players of these players and more this coming Spring. Could veteran C Kelly Shoppach’s September and post season heroics gain him another shot behind the plate with the Rays, or will the Rays decline his 2012 club option? I have a feeling one of these catchers will not be with the Rays come the mid-February report date.

Then there will be an endless bevy of flowcharts and statistical evaluations and scouting critiques to decide if Reid Brignac is the heir apparent at shortstop, or if infield journeyman Sean Rodriguez will be given a chance to unseat Brignac who was the Rays 2011 Opening Day SS. Some have said S-Rod gives the team more power and a consistent bat in the line-up whereas Brignac might have the deeper range and potential coming into Spring Training 2012. With a hot Rays SS prospect like Hak-Ju Lee and INF Tim Beckham still pushing their way up the Rays farm ladder, the current shaky foundation of Brignac will open discussions towards possibly having Rodriguez get more time in the 6-slot with the future only a phone call away in Durham come late season.

Then there is the biggest hot spot of them all, who will man the First Base bag for the Rays in 2012? Most might think current 1B Casey Kotchman will get a nice bump in pay from his $ 750,000 2011 salary to re-sign with the Rays, but that is pure speculation until the contract is sign, sealed and delivered. Even with First Base power behemoths like Pujols, Fielder and possibly Votto dangling on the lines, the Rays will not have a salary deviations to land a high priced acquisition, and Kotchman could be a bargain both in his defense and in his renewed vigor at the plate.

Possibly we will see the end of the “Sonny” era with the Rays. Andy Sonnanstine spent most of 2011 in Triple-A, and being arbitration-eligible again in 2012, might have worn the Rays colors for the last time. RP J P Howell also will enter the fray again, possibly also with the Rays on the fence to his ability to rebound from his surgery and again be the needed force in the Rays Bullpen. The Rays for once seem set at “leftie specialist” as both Jake McGee and Cesar Ramos should end any discussions of the Rays needing another hurler in that category.

Kyle Farnsworth seems destined to again shore up the back end of the Rays Bullpen with a $ 3.3 million 2012 club option on the books. But could the late season elbow stiffness possibly have the Rays a bit anxious of a possible Deja Vu circa 2008 “Percival” scenario? More Bullpen concern might be to see if Joel Peralta might like to remain a Ray, possibly with a extended 2-year deal.

From top to bottom, all 40 of the Rays current roster members will undergo a evaluation soon. With free agents making visits to the Rays complex, and some packing their gloves for other vistas, this Rays off season has begun. Fortunately there are more answers than questions this season, but that will not hinder Rays VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and his staff as they find ample offense and suitable replacements for a few departing Rays. The 2011 season is officially in the record books, now comes the real fun for Friedman and his staff to bring the brilliance.

If You Don’t Believe Now, Better Check Your Pulse



Words would just ruin the moment. Here is a photo essay of complied photos from the great AP photographers Mike Carlson / Chris O’Meara and Getty Images Photog  J. Meric  on the field and deep within the bowels of Tropicana Field  tonight. 




 

Last, but not least, the Home Run trot that began the celebration!



C-Town Suggestions for Upton’s Upcoming Mini-Vacation

DamUp.jpg


By now everyone around the Rays
Republic has learned of the $1,500 smackaroos fine and a 2 day
vacation that will be imposed on Tampa Bay Rays CF B J Upton. Sure
Upton could of started his suspension during this current Baltimore
series, but why take a few days off when you are smacking the ball at
a .281 average in the confines of Camden Yards.


Whispers are getting louder that with
capable OF Brandon Guyer now up with the Rays, Upton might actually
begin his ” days off” in a bargain “Take 2 off, get one Day off
free
” promotion courtesy of the MLB schedule.


With the Rays flying into Cleveland
after Sunday’s game for a 2-game series, it seems more appropriate
for Upton to take a few days off then since he has hit a dismal .180
against the Indians in Progressive Field.


So what will Upton do with his MLB
mandated “time off” while sequestered in C-town? I decided today
while watching the game on Fox to find him a few choice things for
him to do in his ” down time”. I am actually going to send this
list of activities to Upton tonight and see if he banks one or two of
the suggestions.


Thumbnail image for 1255011152-picture_184.png

Upton is someone who enjoys a fine meal
and a great restaurant, so I am thinking one of the things he has to
do is hit up Iron Chef Michael Symon’s B-Spot burger joints to send
his taste buds into the stratosphere. Symon’s new burger concept
bistro has been awarded 2 straight “Best Burger in America”
awards from the annual Sobe Wine and Food Fest.


I really want to suggest the B-Spot’s
Fat Doug burger which has been a crowd favorite since its inception.
The Fat Doug is a monstrosity with cole slaw, pastrami, Swiss cheese
and mustard for about $ 9. It is a burger Upton will never forget,
and should include some Porky Fries on the side. Seriously, who could
not want to have a plate of fries topped with pulled pork, Cheese
Whiz and pickled chilies. I am salivating just thinking of it.


Another possibility for Upton might be
to try and seek out one of the best Progressive Field food staples
and hit the Cleveland warehouses of Bertman’s and possibly get a
behind-the-scenes tour of the famous Stadium Mustard plant. I would
eagerly venture to see the condiment that has ” cut the mustard”
as a Cleveland necessity for generations. Heck, this is the same
mustard requested for 3 Space Shuttle missions. Call me B J , I have
an “in” at the plant.


Three days off in a town like Cleveland
can be torture to some people, but I am going to try and give Upton
more than a few other options besides condiments and delicious food
decisions. There are also some unique cultural, or artsy fartsy
events being held why the Rays are in town.


U23d.jpg

Upton could bring along clubhouse
rockers Evan Longoria and John Jaso and check out a screening of the
U2 3D live action digital film at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that
puts each viewer in the middle of a U2 concert’s craziness. Included
in this special film just for the Hall of Fame is a performance in
South Africa that has not been seen in other U2 video productions.


Maybe Upton is more inclined to want to
take in something different during his time off during the Cleveland
series. He could always hit the Cleveland Public Theatre and start
his own treasure hunting adventure at the Someplace Special Gem Mine
exhibit. What could be more fun than panning for gold, silver,
emeralds and sapphires. Upton could mine enough to offset the $1,500
fine imposed on him by Major League Baseball.


thumbnailCAQ5UC2V.jpg

Or maybe Upton could hit the “Get
Motivated
” Mega event taking place on Wednesday in Cleveland at
Music Hall Cleveland. This 1-day event touts that “this is your
chance to truly Get Motivated!” their website enthusiastically
states, “From the minute you walk in the doors until you leave you
are going to hear from the most successful leaders around.”


Might even be a great event for the
always positive Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Upton to attend since it
begins at 8 am. Could be a real bonding moment for Upton and his
cerebral sensei Baseball guru. I mean do you think Maddon would not
want to hear people like Bill Cosby, former US Secretary of State
Colin Powell, Terry Bradshaw or Goldie Hawn.


Crab_Nebula_visible_xray_opt576x576_hubblesite_org.jpg

Last, but not least, Upton could head
on over to the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center for an 11am
matinée of “Stellar Stars“. What could be more relaxing
than a quite moment when you can grab your passport and visit one of
the billion of tourist attractions within out solar system. Each
week a different star is selected as lasers move to music and you
could take home a photo of your visited destination.


Or maybe Upton will begin a 3-day
battle on line playing FIFA 2011, or possibly come out and do
play-by-play on Twitter while his teammates take on the Indians on
Tuesday and Wednesday night. Upton could be back in his usual
on-field position for the Rays and Indians day time ( 12:40 am)
finale before the team heads back to Tampa Bay. 


Hope Upton takes me
up on a few of these suggestions, and BJ, take pictures…I want
proof this time.



Rays Harvesting a Great Bumper Corp of Backstops

2011Report Day 249.JPG

 

Five years ago it seems like it was the sore spot of the Tampa Bay Rays farm system. For some reason catching did not seem to be the Rays thing. After Toby Hall, the Rays did not seem to have a viable prospect in their system who might make it to the Major League level.

 

Sure the Rays had farm system catchers who could hit, play some solid defense, and even throw on a frozen line to second base to get the speediest of base runners. But the obvious problem was there was no one with even two of those traits in the system.

But just like everything else within the Rays system since 2007, Rays VP of Baseball Operation Andrew Friedman and his Scouting crew quickly honed, molded and transformed some of the Rays farm system borderline catching prospects into bona fide Major League Baseball caliber backstops.

Suddenly the Rays seem to have a bumper crops of backstops all emerging at the same time with only a limited amount of space at Triple-A and possibly no room at the MLB level. So let’s take a look at the few of the names on everyone’s lips in the catching corps of the Rays this Spring:

Most people considered John Jaso a great offensive weapon, but his catching fundamentals and procedures had a lot to be desired. But after the Rays committed to working with Jaso before, during and after Spring Training in 2010, the young catcher responded with a stellar game behind the plate.

Suddenly Jaso was stopping the pitches in the dirt that used to get by him and pushed base runners into scoring position. Jaso began to gain confidence and began to rocket the ball to second base having one of his best seasons of his professional baseball career. Most people forget Jaso started out at Triple-A with the Durham Bulls before the Rays recalled Jaso after Kelly Shoppach went down with his first injury on April 13,2010.

Jaso seized the opportunity and became only the 14th rookie catcher all time to serve as the primary catcher for a Rays team that made the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. With help from Rays Bullpen Coach bobby Ramos, who also used to serve as the Rays catching instructor, Jaso worked long and hard to separate himself from the rest of the Rays catching corp.

Jaso also took the lead-off spot in the Rays line-up 45 times in 2010 becoming the first Rays catcher to earn that spot, plus posting more time at the lead-off spot than any other rookie catcher in MLB history. Jaso had 59 walks leading all AL rookies and combined with his 39 total strikeouts, Jaso posted the best BB to K ration of anyone with over 400 plate appearances.

Coming into 2011, Jaso has renewed the focus to improving on his 18 percent rate in throwing out base runners by working extensively before Spring camp in finding a more reliable and quicker release point, plus working on his leg core in the weight room to bring stability and agility to his throwing motion. In essence, Jaso is trying to take his game to the next level and become an all-around catcher.

gLy7kH6u.jpgSome considered Nevin Ashley, the Rays heir apparent to the Rays second catching spot once Kelly Shoppach’s 2011 contract is off the books. Ashley has been considered the Rays farm system’s best defensive catcher the last two seasons, and seemed to have stepped up their game during the 2010 MLB Spring camp and during the Grapefruit League season.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon, a former catcher himself liked what he saw from Ashley during the Spring, and Nevin took that new confidence displayed by the Rays and put it into his game during his rapid climb through the Rays minor league system. Ashley even got a chance to provide some important insurance for the Rays during the American League Divisional Series as a non-rostered third catcher after former Rays catcher Dioner Navarro had a mental meltdown and took his equipment and went home in October 2010.

Ashley caught 41 percent of his base runners while with the Montgomery Biscuits early in 2010, and sported an impressive .992 Fielding Percentage. By comparison, the MLB average in 2010 was only 23.1 percent. How impressive was Ashley in the Spring of 2010, he only hit .474 (9-for-19) during only

9 Spring games,and got his first HR off Red Sox hurler Josh Beckett.

The Rays had such high hopes for Ashley in 2011 that they invited him to their Rays Winter Development Program held less than two months ago in Tropicana Field that helped highlight the attributes of the some of the Rays most promising prospects. High praise for a backstop who caught Washington Nationals top prospect Stephen Strausburg’s professional debut in the 2009 Arizona Fall League.


96UaelsQ.jpgA third name has quickly risen on the lips and scouting reports for the Rays. A former infielder who only took over catching chores three seasons ago in the Chicago Cubs farm system, Robinson Chirinos is making such an impressive display this Spring that some whispers within the system think he might leapfrog Ashley as the heir apparent to a Rays back-up catching slot.

Spring is still young, and Chirino’s offensive display including a 2-run rocket shot Home Run today to help defeat the Boston Red Sox is only hgelping to build on “El Chef’s” cult status for 2011. In the same way so many within the Rays faithful fell in love with Jaso’s hustle and confidence in 2010, Chirino’s is quickly turning into the best piece of the return for sending Rays starter Matt Garza to the Cubs this Winter.

How can you argue with a appearing in double digit games (10) this Spring for the Rays sporting a .289 Batting Average with 5 extra base hits, 8 RBI and stellar .944 Slugging Percentage. And this is not a fluke either. Chirinos posted a .999 OPS, which ranked 8th among all minor leaguers in 2010, and topped every catcher in the entire minor leagues.

And just like Ashley, Chirinos was considered by “Baseball America” to be the best defensive catcher for the second season in a row in the Cubs system. Chrinos also threw out 31.8 percent of his base runners at Double-A and Triple-A in 2010. Hit .438 versus left-handed pitching and .271 versus right-handers in his two minor league stops in 2010. Was placed on the Cub’s 40-man roster on October 29, 2010.


ap-185362e763d9467e8818ea332f0865eb.jpgSuddenly the once barren wasteland that was the Rays catching corps is bearing fruit close to the Major League level. All three of these catchers have limited MLB, or no MLB experience, but this bodes well for the future of Rays catching for a long time. There are other Rays catchers in the Rays minor league system currently paying their dues and making noise themselves.

But the noise and banter about these three potentially lethal Rays backstops will help cool the Rays scouting department’s yearning for the next great Rays catcher. Jaso could possibly lead-off 120 times in 2011 breaking the single season record set by Jason Kendall in 2004 while with the Pirates.

Ashley could make it difficult for the Rays to keep him at Triple-A with a solid start, or an injury at the MLB level. And then there is the Wild Card, Chirinos, who could prove to be the best of the rest and make Shoppach expendable before the end of the month. Rays catching has come a long way since the yearly rental of guys like Josh Paul Charlie Johnson or even recent retiree Gregg Zaun. Finally maybe the Rays backstop will get some respect. If one of the Rays starters can break that 20-game win plateau, you can bet he will celebrate with the guy behind the plate first….and that is the way it should be.


2011 Rays Resolutions…Renegade Style

 


l_e331898797a7412dbaf5b01b30d2b567.jpg 
 
With some of the after effects of the 2011 New Years celebration still pumping in our hearts and minds, it is that cherished time of the early year for all of us to solidify our midnight resolves and begin embarking on the tedious task of now trying to keep our promises.

Some of us at the end of the countdown professed to transform ourselves with hearty and healthy vows to lose weight, cut back on certain foods, or maybe eliminate a unhealthy or dangerous habit like smoking or texting while driving.

Then there is that other group side of the resolve coin that wants to initiate goals to help humanity and possibly try and “pay it forward” by helping those less fortunate or being more “green” in our every day lives.

Or possibly you are one of those people who really got excited when the thought of ecology was mentioned in classes and looked beyond our own visionary limitations to evoke a personal challenge or make a mental proclamation to enhance some external segment of this World’s by cleaning up a creek or riverbed or possibly helping bond in our communities building safer playgrounds for our next generation.

So on this first day of 2011 I thought it might be fun to try and make a few resolutions in the baseball sense for certain members of the Tampa Bay Rays. With pitchers’ and catchers’ set to begin reporting to their Rays Spring home in Port Charlotte, Florida in just 43 days, it is time to again bring our focus towards the 2011 season.
Evan Longoria: My resolution to you is to become the strong presence in the Rays clubhouse that evokes and proclaims the true meaning of the “Rays Way”. To take that next huge step to providing a dose of your own leadership ability that will ultimately mix with your teammates to concoct the perfect Rays team chemistry for 2011.

Secondly,if you find the guy who stole your cap and give the Rays Republic his name….We will take care of him.

 
David Price: My resolutionfor Price is pretty simple. Retain that same focused and calm persona that you have projected both on and off the mound. To accept the honorable challenge of being a bigger piece of the Rays puzzle while retaining a high level of confidence that your team is behind you in victory, or in defeat.

In addition, if you need a ghostwriter for a possible book on Pho eating establishments throughout the MLB cities…you know where I sit, and I work cheap (possibly for a steaming bowl of Pho).

 
B J Upton: I know this onemight be hard. I want you to finally let yourself go and go with the flow. Do not hold yourself so accountable for not achieving perfection. It has sometimes hastened your downfall as you tinkered, wallowed and self manipulate yourself into slumps, funks and a bad decisions. Woooo Saaaa!

Secondly I wish for your community/charity efforts to be fruitful. You are one of only a handful of Rays players who’s community interests (BJ’s Bunch) has opened to the Rays Republic another side of you that is sometimes hidden by game day bravado.

 
James Shields: My resolution for “Shieldsy” is to simply take a step back. Maybe by stepping back you can redefine that skill set that got you here to fully reclaim your spot as the Rays “Ace”.

As a two-time Rays Roberto Clemente Award recipient, the continued success of the “Heart Gallery”. I hope more baseball fans around the country in 2011 learn about this photographic and audio exhibit that helps kids in foster care find great family environments.

 
John Jaso: My resolve for you is to keep that internal competitive fire at its optimal level. Your rookie season showed the Rays Republic that your bat and your defense took major strides skywards.

Secondly, to provide inspiration to kids in Tampa Bay that an athlete can be book savvy and math friendly and still compete at the highest level of the sport. Most people outside of Tampa Bay do not know about your love of numbers and analytical equations.

 
Reid Brignac: My resolution for “Brigs” is to take the baseball and just grip it and rip it this season. You have the confidence of Rays Manager Joe Maddon that you can be the vital keystone in the Rays defense. It is time for you to make the rest of the baseball world to take notice and become believers too.

Secondly, we have to find someone else, possibly Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos to teach you to dance. Doing the “Dougie” for the cameras during the Rays postseason celebration made most of us cringe and wish you did the “Carlton” instead.

 
Matt Garza: This resolution is that you find that internal “happy place” for the entire season. That the events that have put extreme pressure on you in the past will find a path to melt away. Your talent will only be stopped by your own actions and reactions.

Second resolution for you is to somehow eliminate your bad habit of licking your fingers after you grip the resin bag disappears. Resin doesn’t taste good, has no nutritional value, and has solidified that “spittin’ Cobra” moniker. Maybe Price can get you a pail of Double Bubble for 2011.

 
J P Howell: My resolve for you is that you come back as the “Dude”. With that high spirit and confidence on the hill that made you a fan favorite. Even though we might not see you until May, you can be a key member of the Rays Bullpen by bringing your calm nature and competitive fire into the fray on a nightly basis. We really did miss you in 2010.

Secondly, that your charity “Discovery Your Path” which includes the “Healing Hearts Foundation” that helps children and youth facing difficult situations to find the mentoring and life path guidance needed to achieve a meaningful life.

 
Wade Davis: My resolution is for WD-40 to simply just grow into his MLB skin and experience more success in 2011. Some critics were very vocal about Davis throughout the 2010 season. But in reality, Davis posted a better 2010 rookie campaign (12-10 4.07 ERA 113 K’s) than Price’s rookie 2009 campaign (10-7 4.42 ERA, 102 K’s).
 
The second part of the resolution is for Davis and his charity, “Pitch In For Baseball” which accepts game used baseball equipment and distributes them to underprivileged children to finds more success and Nation-wide acclaim.

Jake McGee: My resolution for McGee is that he takes the critical next big step in his Bullpen transformation. McGee will be in competition for a spot in the Rays Bullpen this Spring. He could make the Rays Opening Day roster with a solid Spring with an eye into taking a bigger role with the team by the end of the 2011. Every good outing is another notch on his belt to helping McGee possibly develop into the Rays future closer.

My second resolution for him is a double dose of the first one. He is one of the future linchpins for the Rays.

Desmond Jennings: My resolution for Jennings is for him to develop a thick skin for 2011. He will hear more than a few jeers about Carl Crawford. They key for Jennings might be to put an early exclamation point on his rookie season by showing the Rays outfield game will not take a step back this season. Playing his style of game without compromise will be the ultimate key for Jennings MLB survival in 2011.

Dan Johnson: My resolve for DJ is that he finally feels he belongs in Tampa Bay. Johnson hit one of the more memorable Home Runs in Rays history back in 2008, but has never gained the Rays fans all out support. Whether he is at the DH spot or manning the First Base bag, Johnson needs to announce his presence with authority. A big first month impression can do wonders in silencing the Pena critics.

 

Secondly, DJ, we have to get you a good MP3 file so we can pick you a better walk-up song than “The Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats. It is catchy, but it drives me simply insane trying to not stand up and do the dance mannerisms…Seriously!

Sean Rodriguez: My resolution for S-Rod is that he can finally feel secure at Second Base for the Rays. We all know he has mad skills all over the diamond, but I would love for him to find a root system at Second. His timely hits and great defensive presence is a testament to his work ethic and his talents.

My second resolution for Rodriguez is that someone teach him the “Stingray Shuffle” this Spring so that we do not have to worry about his Gulf of Mexico activities on Rays home off days.

There are so many other Rays players in the Rays roster that need to have great resolute seasons to put their name on the lips of the baseball public in 2011.

Hope you enjoyed my small journey into some of my hopes and wants for the Rays in 2011. There is a link attached to each players charity if you would like to explore and learn more about their efforts outside of the ballpark to help those in and around our baseball world.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 288 other followers