Results tagged ‘ Jose Lobaton ’

Rays Could be Waving Goodbye to the Ice Cream Man

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Going to be sad to see the end of the Ice Cream Man’s era with the Tampa Bay Rays. Going into the winter off-season you could have hedged your bets the team would unload possibly a player striding the pitching rubber, not one crouched down 60 feet 6 inches away. Maybe the writing was on the wall for catcher Jose Lobaton the moment the Rays traded for a respected and well-tooled catcher like Ryan Hanigan.

Not helping in Lobaton’s increasingly unstable situation was that the other “Jose” in the Rays catching corps, Jose Molina had signed a team-friendly contract with an eye on a bit of a reduced role in 2014. Suddenly it didn’t seem like why, but when Lobaton would get a call from the team announcing a trade, but there is no way any of us thought this adventure would venture into February.

lkjhgfdfgAnd trade chatter is being heard from vista’s like Cleveland, Washington, the south-side of Chicago, Flushing, Phoenix and even Denver that Lobation could/should possibly be looking for a temporary abode in Arizona for Spring Training, not Port Charlotte, Florida.  Hopefully a deal will get done fast and swiftly as pitchers and catchers are beginning their journeys to their Spring Training camps and if he isn’t a Ray come February 14th, Loby got some hurried planning to do.

Lobaton has to be an attractive option for a team wanting to bring in a young but experienced backstop. His .249 average during the 2013 season mixed with 7 HRs shows he is gaining the ability to not only be good behind the plate, but can deliver standing on either side of the dish. Switch-hitting catchers are a bit of a rarity in the MLB, and Lobaton has shown by his .736 OPS from the left side he should garner at least a few phone calls from every one of those cities mentioned above for their respective catching units.

He has a gold star attached to his name right now as a Super Two arbitration player who is excelling at a position where a team could acquire a player with his talents and experience knowing he will not hit the free agent market until 2017 or 2018 at the earliest.  We have already heard reports over the winter that the Nationals would love to find a capable young backstop to pair with W Ramos, and Lobaton definitely fit the criteria.

uytyuAlso in Lobatons favor is the pure fact he has been with the Rays during their stretch runs over the last few seasons and has post-season experience as well as his ability to come through in the clutch with power displays and ice cream runs. The Indians with their favorable park dimensions could utilize Lobaton’s left-sided goodness especially as the team wants to try and secure Carlos Santana at the First Base bag in 2014.

You can see the White Sox interest as they might not be totally all in favor of Tyler Flowers being their everyday catcher, and the Rockies and D-backs might be looking at Loby more as a young talented insurance option should injuries again plague their catching corps. And do not discount the fact teams already know Lobaton comes at a good value after he avoided arbitration earlier this off season with a $900,000.  2014 Salary.

Worst part of Molina re-signing and the team trading for Hanigan is the pure fact the path is blocked for any significant amount of time behind the plate for Lobaton in 2014. Another factor that will play into another team getting Lobaton is the fact he is out of minor league options and would have to go through the waiver wire to be shipped back to Triple-A Durham if he did not make the Rays 2014 Opening Day roster.

So we have hit on the positives for teams wanting Lobaton’s services for 2014. And with every player there also comes some uncertainty or liabilities.

jhgOne simple reason for a trade is in fact a by-product of the team’s trade for Hanigan and the keeping of Molina. Lobaton is not a defective pitch framer, but the Rays other 2 options at this time trump Lobaton’s ability and he might be considered average at best in getting borderline strike calls.

2 other glaring liabilities of obtaining Lobaton might be career stat-wise he is considered to be below average backstop in getting to balls in the dirt which would be a red flag to teams that rely on breaking pitches outside and low.

What a team might also offer for Lobaton might hinge on if they think they can correct his most illuminating flaw, a career 16 % Caught Stealing percentage mark. If a team can imagine fixing any of the 3 flaws in Loby’s bag of tricks they could come out as a winner in any trade offering.

In the end, the Rays know they might have to take a little less in return for Lobaton no matter his offensive upside because the team would have to make a difficult decision to retain him after March 31st.

jlkjjkjAlso with reporting dates quickly approaching, a team would want to get Lobaton in camp as soon as possible as he would need time to not only adjust to a new team and techniques, but get an early spring edge on the learning curve of catching and pitch calling for a new pitching staff before the season begins.

Hopefully the trade process is short and sweet and Lobaton is off to join his new team before their report date. You can only hope Lobaton begin to show some new prowess in scooping the ball this spring, digging down deep in the bowl to block pitches and deliver that sweet swing that always ends with ice cream.

 

Moore Finds His Groove and Posts a Beautiful Shutout Win

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If Tampa Bay Rays starter Matt Moore who is usually a slow starter to begin the season as he gains velocity and control gets even a tad bit better for his second start, he might throw the Rays second No-Hitter. Seriously though, the fact Moore seems to have found a nice balance against the Cleveland Indians on Friday night and allowed only 2 hit to go with his 8 K’s and took home the “W” in his first start of the young season.

cleveland-indians-v-tampa-bay-20130405-172823-107Maybe we can attest this change of routine to the fact Moore looked a little scruffy on the hill, not his usual clean-cut All-American cover boy self. Possibly Moore has taken a page from fellow southpaw David Price and just go with the flow and what the hitters give you and not stress the small stuff or missed borderline calls.

Or maybe it is really as simple as Moore took the mound during his Spring Training gigs like it was already the season and he used those 4 starts as his “early season” roller-coaster starts. No matter what the true reasoning is, it was great to see Moore showing great control, eliminating his walks and going6 innings while throwing an even 100 pitches. The pure fact Moore got to the 6th inning and helped the Bullpen is huge as it gave newly called-up reliever Brandon Gomes a chance to shine as well as give Jake McGee a solid outing to get that huge ERA starting it free-fall towards some sort of normalcy.

cleveland-indians-v-tampa-bay-20130405-192808-9463 times during his 6 inning stint Moore set the side down in order with only three hitters coming to the plate. And only during the top of the 3rd when Cleveland had 5 hitters come to the plate and advanced Mike Aviles to Third Base did a hitter reach third base. Moore even helped his own cause by pitching inside to Indians SS Asdrubal Cabrera who hit a weakly hit ball right to Evan Longoria who rocketed the ball to Jose Lobaton stationed at Home Plate to gun down Cabrera and keep the shutout intact for Moore.

cleveland-indians-v-tampa-bay-20130405-172837-183That is the kind of pitching that will elevate this team and keep them in ballgames. Playing to the oppositions weaknesses and strangling their run scoring opportunities by keeping the ball in the park, and on the ground. Of the 10 balls hit and put into play last night, 6 were on the ground and were converted with no problems at all. If Moore can keep playing to the Rays strength of a solid and well-oiled Rays infield defense, this is only the first of the wins for him in 2013.

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.  

Is Lobaton the Rays Catching Answer?

Still not sure Tampa Bay Rays catcher Jose Lobaton is the answer to the Rays catching deficiency. I thought heading into this season we could of seen the emergence of Lobaton finally taking the Rays reigns and leading this team, but time out rehabbing an early injury has stymied his maturation processes and left the Rays with a big void behind the plate.

Even now upon his return Lobaton has produced mixed results and possibly the Rays may be eying a few catching possibilities with the Trade Deadline just 5 weeks away. The possibility of Lobaton taking the majority of the starts behind the plate for the Rays is diminishing with each and every start he doesn’t impress or show production. The Rays have invested a lot of their faith in the Venezuelan former Water Polo player, but so far he has only slightly risen above the water crest and showed he can handle the full-time duty.

 Since his return from the disabled list, Lobaton over his 9 games has shown something the Rays have been lacking from their backstop position this season. Lobaton has seemed to have found his hitting groove sporting currently a .308 average and a nice.823 OPS. But even with his 8 hits, power is slowly coming to his game, almost to the point of being non-existent. And that is troubling to me since this spot in the Rays line-up needs to have that occasional “pop” and ability to keep pitchers honest with the top of the line-up just around the corner.

 
What is glaring to me in hindsight is the .091 average Lobaton sported during his rehab assignment as a possibly picture to what could evolve over the next 5 weeks. I shudder to think the Rays could handle or sustain any variance of Lobaton’s average getting anywhere near fellow catcher Jose Molina’s sub-par .183 batting average. If the Rays catching corp can not produce power numbers with any consistency over the next 5 weeks, changes will definitely be in the wind.

 I should just look at the bright side of it all that since Lobaton came off the DL, he has sported 4 hits and 2 RBI in comparison that he had produced previously only 4 hits and 2 RBI in his time in 2011. Possibly with Lobaton being 1 of only 2 Rays to even muster a hit off of Chicago White Sox pitcher Chris Sale when he dismantled the Rays offense, I can cut him a bit of slack for now.

 When Lobaton made the Rays Opening Day roster after a up and down Spring Training, I wanted to put eggs in his basket, hoping he had what this team has desired for a long time… a true leader and power behind the plate.

Possibly I’m expecting too much out of this young player in a short amount of time, but with the Rays season 1/3rd of the way completed, a positive force behind the plate could be instrumental in this team heading on a wins run that could prove to be the deciding factor come September.

 Lobaton’s throwing ability bothers me right now. Sure he as an adequate arm, but a .166 (1 of 6) Catcher’s Efficiency is not making me any more confident or supportive of his possible long-term reign behind the Rays plate. But maybe I just need to give the guy a chance, let him mature and expand into his role and revisit this again in 5 weeks. By then we will all know if the Rays have faith in his expanding leadership and bat, or if another body will man the dish with Lobaton possibly looking on from the dugout. I’m hoping personally the guy finds his way and shows why both the Rays and the fans have been awaiting his return.


Did the Red Sox Signal Corps Find Success?

They’re just really hot right now,” Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon told the Tampa Bay Times after Thursday afternoon’s 3rd loss in a row to the Boston Red Sox. “It’s almost like they knew what’s coming almost. They’re on every pitch. They’re on the fastball. They’re on the breaking ball. They’re on the change-up. They’re on everything right now. They’re really locked in.

Doesn’t take a baseball genius to decipher a little bit of hidden meaning in Maddon’s comments. But maybe Maddon is on to something. Sure stealing signs has been around since the invention of the game and unless you use a video tape system or other technology that can give you in-game information, Major League Baseball will turn it’s eye away from the situation. If you have every notice during Rays game, one of the Rays starters, and usually Rays Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi will both keep an accurate account of the game stats, type of pitches and their results for future analysis.

This can be used in the future for predictions, but is not plausible for in-game use. Some thought the Rays pitching staff might be showing “tells” or tipping off their pitches during the Boston series. Seems a bit far-fetched when you consider the Rays sent hurlers David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and rookie Matt Moore to the hill in the first 3 contests, and they did not seem to exhibit any visual “tells” in the delivery, arm slot release or facial movements. There are 3 valid reasons the Red Sox might have gotten the upper hand on the Rays this series.

First off, Red Sox Manager Bobby Valentine is an astute student of the game who also caught for many years and knows the art of trying to both conceals and transmit false signals to prevent the stealing of signs. A smart Manager would have someone down near the back-end of the dugout watching in at the catcher, possibly seeing similarities, constant familiar movements or even a flash of a painted nail to signal the true intended pitch.

Just as quickly that player could tip his cap, stand up, clap his hands or do any number of audio or visual patterns to signify a certain pitch being thrown to the plate. This is not an illegal activity, but does seem to hide within the large gray area of the unwritten rules of baseball.

A great second indicator that the Boston brood might be fishing for signals is the fact the Red Sox brought in former Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach to be their primary backstop this season. Do not forget, it was this same Red Sox organization that gave @ShopHouse10 his first decent chance and taste of MLB life as a Red Sox prospect. Got to think the Red Sox have grilled and formulated a game plan in advance with information on pitching patterns and possible signal combinations so to get a bit of an edge against this young and talented staff.

This is also not illegal, and is a rather commonplace occurrence after a player leaves one team and joins another. But a catcher knows all the nuances and particulars of a team’s signal calling process. Even if the Rays changed their system this Spring, there is still leftover signals, patterns and small tell-tale signs that could trigger an all out discovery or disclosure of a team’s battery signals.

Still, Boston could have done their business the hard way and just watched game film from this Spring as these 2 squads played each other 3 times with the Red Sox coming away with wins in all 3 contests. Valentine could have had his off-the field staff tear down game tapes looking for patterns, “tells” or even a system that developed out of the constant movements of the Rays catchers this Spring and possibly into late 2011. He could have done it by dissecting the Rays Spring patterns, taking a slice of Shoppach’s past knowledge and sprinkled in a bit of his long history both as a spectator and catcher in the MLB.

Or maybe it is just as simple as Valentine figured out the Rays common “indicator” signal that all 3 of the Rays catchers from Jose Molina, Jose Lobaton to Chris Gimenez might have used when a player was on base. The “indicator” is usually one or two patterned finger or body movements made to try to throw off someone stealing signals, but if discovered, or if the pattern is somehow revealed throughout a contest, it can be a green light to the First and Third Base Coaches to alert hitters to what might be coming.

Even a calculated and synchronized system of random catcher movements and finger motions can be dissected within the scope of the game, possibly making the catcher the one giving up a “tell”. Even though it is illegal to videotape the concentrated area of the catcher for possible signal interception, the Centerfield camera always gives a perfect view into the heart of the plate, and signals can be deciphered quickly.

In the end it is a part of the game until you have hard concrete proof to the contrary. Considering Valentine and Shoppach could have brainstormed before the series began and when the indicators might have been discovered, the rest came fast and furious. But you want to think it was just an offense coming alive and no ulterior actions that hindered the Rays pitching staff this series.

But a clear indicator that possibly the system was compromised came to light today as starter James Shields held the Red Sox to a 4-hit shutout to break not only the Rays losing streak, but possibly the tale of the stealing signs. No matter if the Rays got duped by Boston this series and they did figure out the patterns and signals, it just goes to show you that not all information can be tied to a computer, a spreadsheet or even a video. Sometimes the human eye can figure out the game just as quickly and turn it into an advantage. I hope no signs were stolen, but who would fess up if it was true?

 

Hair Today….Gone Tommorrow… for a Great Cause

Some say Rays Manager Joe Maddon has made more than a few headlines for his follicle hair coloring statements over the past few seasons. From his steady head of gray to John Cash black to a more subtle but pronounced medium brown this Spring, Maddon has made his hair fashionable.

On Thursday Maddon’s “ hair moment” or in fact his “loss of hair moment” will proceed over an event that has seen it’s list of participants grow by the hour. Over 26 members of the Rays are set to see their locks fall to the ground and be swept away as a symbolic gesture of support for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation. Dubbed “Team Rays” on their website, Maddon will be not only leading by example, but following the road set forth by another Tampa Bay sports icon, Tampa Bay Lightning F Vinny Lacavalier.

This is the same organization that Rays starter Wade Davis showed such support for in 2011 as he let a young cancer patient shave his head as he sat in a chair over the Rays dugout after the conclusion of a Sunday game. That was only one participant, and the crowd was amazing. Think of the magnitude knowing over 25 members of the team and the Rays staff will also sit in the chair and have their locks fall to the grass in support of this effort.

Rays participants set to join Maddon in the barber’s chair before the Rays Thursday afternoon contest in Port Charlotte include Rays pitchers: Davis, James Shields, Bryan Augenstein, Cesar Ramos. Jake McGee, Alex Cobb, Brandon Gomes, Matt Torra, Albert Suarez, Matt Bush, Dane De La Rosa and Rays rookie sensation Matt Moore.

Not to be outdone by the pitchers’, the entire Rays catching corps will also have their time in the leather chair as Jose Molina, Jose Lobaton, Chris Gimenez, Mark Thomas,Stephen Vogt, Robinson Chirinos and follicle-challenged Craig Abernaz will see their hair fly away in the Charlotte Sports Park wind before that days contest. Also making an appearance in the chair will be some of the members of the Rays right-side of their infield: SS Reid Brignac, 3B Jesus Feliciano, INF Elliot Johnson, plus Rays outfield members Matt Joyce, Brandon Guyer and the “Legend” himself, Sam Fuld.

A few well-known figures in the Rays coaching staff will also need more sunscreen this Spring as Third Base Coach Tom Foley and Bench Coach Dave Martinez will also be supporting this great charity. The Rays front office will also have a few hit the chair as Rays Senior VP of Baseball Operations Brian Auld, Sr VP Mark Fernandez, VP of Branding and Fan Experience Darcy Raymond, Sr Director of Corporate Partnerships Aaron Cohn,Manager of Corporate Sales Jake Hornstein and two Directors of Corporate Partnerships, Richard Reeves and Josh Bullock.

I think the paragraph on the pcfcutforacure website under “Team Rays” speaks volumes on why the team is so focused and excited about the event:

This is about being there for the kids and their families. We want them to know they are not alone. It’s a small gesture, but it is our way of showing support for them while gaining empathy for what they are going through. We have a saying posted in our locker room that says ‘Fortune favors the bold.’ As we go forward with this campaign we are doing so under the flag ‘Fortune favors the bald.’ As an organization, we are proud to support organizations and institutions like the Pediatric Cancer Foundation (PCF) and the Moffitt Cancer Center.”

This is the kind of event that bonds a team. Unified with a common thought and goal, it can be a great starting point of the Rays taking another step not only in their development as a team, but as a great inspiration to other teams around the MLB to follow suit. I commend Maddon and his troops for their commitment, their outstanding community involvement and support, and most of all for donating what some see as a status symbol but they see as only hair and a visual stamp that they support this organization.

If you want to help support this cause with a donation of your own, text CUT to 50555 or go to pcfcutforacure.org. Just as every snip of the scissors is a chance to change a life, every text can also be life-changing for someone.

 

 

A Glimpse into the Rays 2012 Media Guide

This one publication I always await its arrival with great anticipation. This Spring I also had the great option of downloading a version so I could always have it at my fingertips for research, analysis or just gazing upon its 434 pages. I get excited the first time I open its cover. Not for the special freshly printed paper smell, but for the factoids, entertaining sidebars and information that makes it click, breathe and be a cherished item for any true Rays Republican.

Of course I am talking about the 2012 edition of the Tampa Bay Rays Media Guide. I remember just a few weeks ago standing in the Rays media front desk awaiting my Spring Training daily credentials and overhearing a Rays staffer chat about their “ all-nighter” to get this season’s guide off to the printer. You had to be there to see the excitement in his eyes along with a hint of sleep deprivation, but within his voice you could hear the pride and resolution that a great product would soon grace our hands.

So let’s go on a little fact-finding mission shall we to seek our some new and interesting factoids about the men who don the Rays white and blue, plus maybe even a few odd facts that none of you knew about some of our current Rays players. It’s now time to feast on the bytes and bits about our roster of Rays players.

Kyle Farnsworth, an avid hunter does a lot of stalking during the off-season on his 2,500-acre plot of land in Georgia. Farnsy plans to so something original this season during Rays games as he will don a special pair of camouflage-style Oakley glasses on the mound this season. Talk about escalating up the intimidation factor to 10 as he stares in for the signs late in games.

We all know already emphatically that 3B Evan Longoria can play the drums. He is known to hit the skins before games, is the Rays in-house drum master during the video game Rock Band performances and even got a lesson from Goo Goo Dolls drummer Mike Malinin before the group’s 2011 Saturday night post game appearance. No word yet if Joyce and Longo might sit in with Z Z Top, 3 Doors Down or Gretchen Wilson during their post game trio this June at the Trop.

In another great and fantastic twist to the ever-expanding world that is the “Legend of Sam Fuld”. When  Sam had a sore shoulder back in 2007, this prompted Super Sam to  investigate possibly throwing right-handed. Although his left shoulder did recover, he never had to rely heavily on his new-found ambidextrous talent. Still, Fuld borrowed a friend’s glove after the injury and practiced throwing right-handed against a wall of a Phoenix, Az elementary school after his morning workouts with the Chicago Cubs. Later that same season Fuld made his MLB debut….left-handed.

Did you know Rays reliever Joel Peralta began his professional baseball career as an outfielder back in 1997 in the Oakland A’s system. He converted to pitching 2 seasons later prior to the beginning of the 1999 season with the Los Angeles Angels. But his prior hitting skills came in handy on May 20, 2007 when Peralta, then with the Kansas City Royals hit a 2-run RBI double in his first ever MLB plate appearance off Colorado Rockies RP Ramon Ramirez in the 12th inning of an Inter-League contest.

As if Minnesota Twins C Joe Mauer needed another reason to hate facing Hellboy. This off-season Rays SP Jeremy Hellickson was chosen by the Twin Cities Chapter of the BBWAA as the winner of the Dick Siebert Award given to the Upper Midwest MLB Player of the Year. Hellickson’s win in 2011 broke a 3-year reign by Mauer.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon must think SS/INF Reid Brignac is a human rabbits foot. During his 8 professional baseball seasons, Briggy Baseball has seen 11 of his 13 teams advance to the post season, including his last 8 stops in the minors. Brignac only played for one losing team, in his short season pro debut back in 2004 with the Princeton franchise.

Rays RF Matt Joyce began taking guitar and piano lessons this past off-season. Joyce is now versed in Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” on the piano and “Wonderwall” by Oasis on his Yamaha acoustic guitar. I wonder if Joyce is a left-handed guitar player since he does everything else right-handed like eat, write play golf and throw, but hits left-handed.

Another player trying to secure a spot on the Rays roster as a catcher this season Jose Lobaton had to pick between 2 sports at a young age. Lobaton an avid and skilled swimmer had to make a hard decision at age 14 whether to pursue a chance to play with a traveling water polo squad, or play baseball. Although Lobaton chose baseball, he frequently hit the pool to keep in shape during the season ( and hopefully beats the Florida Summer sweltering heat).

Luke Scott, the Rays new DH/OF has traveled over the past 3 Winters to Valencia, Venezuela bringing supplies, medicine and baseball equipment to the local residents. Scott is giving back to his adopted community after spending several Winters in this region playing Winter ball and practicing his Spanish. No word yet on if this is the place Scott hatched the idea of taking down a wild boar with a spear…..to be continued.

This past January, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment used Tropicana Field to film live cheetahs for a segment of ShamuTV, an environmental educational series distributed all over the country. Upton, a fan of big cats, was filmed with a hight intensity camera showing the speed of an elite athlete compared to that of a cheetah. No word yet on if the cheetah was caught trying to steal second base…or Upton’s glove.

Seriously, I joked on a few of these small snippets because we have a truly amazing assembly of athletics and civic leaders that go above and beyond both on and off the turf for the Rays. There are plenty more great facts within the covers of the Rays 2012 Media Guide including photos and history of events surrounding this great franchise as it enters it 15th MLB season.

You can get your own copy of the Rays 2012 Media Guide at the Rays Fan Store inside Tropicana Field during the upcoming 2012 season. It is well worth the investment and holds so many additional treasures and history.It is worth every penny of your investment.

One last fact before I conclude. Of the 934 players to appear on a MLB roster in 2011, Rays INF/OF Ben Zobrist was dead last in the alphabet. Even more amazing is the fact former Rays 1997 Expansion Draft selection Bobby Abreu ( 1st Round, 3rd D-Rays selection) heads this list of players. Amazing how from A-to-Z, this Rays club finds a way to set themselves apart in the MLB.

Spring Ball not Bouncing the Right Direction….Yet.

Looks like we’re (the Rays) trying to get ou6 0-6 start out of the way early this season” #smartness”

Sam Fuld (@SamFuld5)

Is anyone within the Rays Republic ready to walk the gangplank, find themselves stressing out to the point of exhaustion so far this Spring? My advice to you then is to simply chill. Find yourself a shady spot, bask in the evening glow of the sunset and relax, it is Spring baseball. The Tampa Bay Rays will be fine, they are just tweaking and honing their skills with April 6th as the red letter day for their 2012 re-introduction to the rest of the MLB.

Sure the Rays have posted their first ever 0-6 start to the Spring schedule, but what do you expect when you have a fire drill of changes, bring in certain pitchers for obvious situation and sometimes the opposition’s momentum doesn’t stop like Rays skipper Joe Maddon’s classy old, but new ’55 Chevy (bad brakes). So what if the end of all 4 games this Spring have left you with a bitter taste, it is the Grapefruit League for gosh sakes.

But during these 4 losses to start the Spring the Rays have found as many diamonds as they have clumps of fool’s gold. Some of the competitions we have been eager to watch unfold have taken a few wild turns already, with some results showing light on some to favor, and a few dark spots that might extinguish a few chances in the near future.

I can easily dismiss the apparent late error today (Tuesday) by Rays SS Sean Rodriguez as he tries and entrench his name upon the line-up card as the team’s starting short stop. S-Rod might have made a bad play today, but his .750 average with a run scored in 2 contests shows Rodriguez came into the Spring wanting a starting gig to call his own.

S-Rod finds himself in a belly of the beast, a nice dogfight early with rising Rays SS prospect Tim Beckham who has suited up and played in all 4 contests, mostly after the 4th inning, but has shown the skill and athletic grace needed to one day man the Rays 6-spot. Reid Brignac, who was expected to be a throne in Rodriguez’s side as so far not cranked it up the needed notch to retain or keep his 2011 Opening Day SS spot. “Briggy Baseball” has gone 0-3 at the plate.

The second spot thought to have more than a few Rays eyes glued to it, the back-up catching position has seen the Rays two young guns Robinson Chirinos (.500) and Jose Lobaton (.333) basically trying to 1-up each other as the 2 back stops have produced great numbers. 2011 Durham Bulls catcher Steven Vogt has proven in the last 4 games he is not ready for the Comedy Corners of America just yet posting up a .375 average with 2 doubles to go along with his .650 Slugging Percentage. Suddenly the Rays back-up catching role might have a dark horse, with the initials “S V”.

So even as the Rays have clunked to their first ever 0-4 record in their 15 Spring seasons, with the way the line-up card has needed the large spacing of your First Grade writing tablet combined with an over-sized eraser and giant pencil production from the regular 2011 Rays line-up has shown this team is better than their record.

In the first 4 innings of these 4 games the Rays have given up 6 runs while scoring 2 themselves. That is also a bit deceiving as the Rays sandwiched their 2 worst performances giving up 2 runs in the first 4 innings during their Opener to the Minnesota Twins, then 3 today as the Twins visited Port Charlotte. In between that, the Rays gave up only 1 run in the first 4 frames of their 2 middle contests.

Surprising enough, the guy the Rays have penciled in as an apparent relief pitcher possibility for 2012, P Wade Davis only went to the mound on Monday in Sarasota and blanked divisional foes the Baltimore Orioles with an outstanding 1-hit, 1 K effort over 2 innings. That puts more pressure on SP Jeff Niemann and possibly rookie Matt Moore to produce or possibly not be wearing a Rays uniform on April 6th ( home opener).

 So do not fret the 0-4 record. It is a passage of Spring to test and put some of the younger guys through the paces and situations that will make them better MLB future players. Some of the Rays losses might have been avoided if the “A” team had gone the distance, but in the Spring, it sometimes looks more like a Church League softball game with constant line-up and position changes and number that reach up to almost 80.

One last note, keep your eye on Rays Spring invitee OF Jeff Salazar who has 1 of the Rays 2 Hrs, plus is sporting a 1.375 OPS and .875 Slugging Percentage this Spring in 4 games. They Rays are said to want to carry at least 5 outfielders this season, and if Salazar keeps up his pace, he could be the 2012 edition of Sam Fuld and find himself not only a roster spot, but considerable playing time, even in the early innings. Let’s just hope the bus trip up to Tampa on Weds with SP James Shields taking the hill for the first time this Spring…Maybe it is just the time for some Big Games James to break this streak.

Anxiously Awaiting the Rays Report Date

I do not know about you, but the next 14 days will surely seem like trying to get that last drop of molasses out of that stupid bottle. For as the climax and celebration of Super Bowl is finally beginning to get out of our ears and thoughts, now the baseball world begins to get their Spring priorities right and think of the American Pastime. With the last bit of cool crispness in the air, it will be time to pound a few dozen balls into newly oiled mitts and try out a few new pitch variations, and hopeful improvements.

14 days until the Tampa Bay Rays again try to mess up the status quo among the American League East. 14 days until we see what Rays starter Jeff Niemann has up his sleeve to make this team fall in love with him again and possibly jettison another piece of the Rays rotation puzzle to a destination unknown. Or will the magic that Rays rookie Matt Moore displayed in late September and October translate into a slot on the MLB roster, or a few months vacation in Durham until Niemann’s first anticipated soreness issue. This could only start a countdown for Rays SP Wade Davis too as teams are watching his every move as the Rays are surely going to have to make at least 1 painful starting pitching decision before the Rays Opening Day on April 6th.

14 days until we find out if new Rays RP Fernando Rodney will take a moment with Rays starter James Shields and try to get a fresh prospective and grip on his Change-Up. Shields would seem to be the perfect candidate for Rodney to chum up to considering his variable speed pitch is considered one of the best in the majors.

14 days until we see if the off-season was the time needed for Rays leftie J P Howell to again become “the Dude” providing long curves and a renewed vigor and vitality to his fastball, possibly topping 89 MPH by the season’s start. I truly hope and want Howell to have a revitalized Spring, or he might be re-named “ The Dud”. Along with Howell, there is considerable chatter on if the Rays will again hold onto 3 southpaws which could mean a trip to the minors or elsewhere for fellow left-handers Cesar Ramos ( no options) and Jake McGee (1 option).

14 days until we see who out of the Rays young backstop stable of Jose Lobaton or Robinson Chirinos want the Rays back-up gig and produce defensive gems and offensive dreams from a position with loads of talent, but lacking in MLB catching experience. That will also be the moment we see just how much in the gas tank for “the other Molina” Jose. Will he excel at the Rays weak spot in the batting order, or become another Rays casualty destined to watch the young bucks get the starts while he mends.

14 days until we see the sophomore effort of Hellboy take place. Will he again find his demonic rhythm that had everyone in baseball envying the upstart Rays? Can Hellboy improve on his walk to strikeout ratio, and more importantly improve on his ground ball ratio to let his great defense behind him help him gain victories and accolades. Will the young right-hander finally become comfortable in his 3-slot knowing he can be a series exclamation point behind the two top aces, Shields and David Price.

14 days until we see if Price can gain some consistency by not trying to change grips during a game and totally trusting the grips that got him to points in games without diverting from the game plan by toying with his art. 2012 will also be the season where Price can either gain a foothold on immortality by posting numbers worth of his new salary and being that stop gap starter that should be the Opening Day starter and player who can get that needed win.

14 days until we can see if the “B-brothers”, RP Brandon Gomes and ex-Fish Burke Bradenhop can secure roster spots with an impressive Spring. Also on our minds firmly in 14 days will be the talent escalation of the 2 “Alexs”, Cobb and Torres. Each throwing from a different side, but each wanting a roster slot and a chance to show their worth to the Rays this Spring. Coming into the Spring it seems Gomes has a clear shot, but as we all know, things can change before the calendar changes to April. All 4 players mentioned in this paragraph have minor league options, and the Rays could play a game of “mix-and-match” early on during the season with any of the 4 spending time both in St. Petersburg and Durham.

Also firm in the Rays Republic’s mind is the elbow health of Kyle Farnsworth who put up career numbers in 2012, but had a few episodes with soreness that some thought was a pre-cursor to possible Tommy Johns. 14 days the Rays will see if his off-season rehabilitation and strengthening program brought results or more of the same.

I truly think the Rays have aligned themselves with 3 closers now, who could all be used in certain situations and firmly close the door on the opposition. Farnsworth and Rodney might have the early nods, but I truly think Joel Peralta is going to be the thunder under the dome this season. I saw a spark of it late in 2012 when Farnsworth sat due to his soreness, Peralta showed beyond a shadow of a doubt he could inherit or be destined as the Rays closer. I thought he might ascend to that spot in 2011, but in-synch with Farnsy, the two became a consistent 1-2 late inning punch for the Rays.

14 days when I will be personally sad not to see former Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos giving off a loud belly laugh as he heads to the practice fields. It will seem odd, but new Bullpen Savant Stan Boroski not only has the credentials, but the familiarity with this Rays staff moving from his Assistant Pitching Coach role to an on-the-field mentor to the Rays staff.

14 days until we see if young catching prospects Nevin Ashley and Stephen Vogt can turn a few Rays heads, possibly moving their own name up the Rays depth chart with impressive Springs, maybe even outing one of the present favorites for a back-up role. Ashley and Vogt have the offensive chops to be with the Rays, but with the catching corps becoming clouded in 2011 with extra pieces and rehabbing players, they might have slipped out of the Rays minds as future weapons.

14 days until at 10 am the gates open and we embrace “officially the Rays 15th season in the Bigs. 15 years where coming into this point in the season there were tons of questions with few answers. This season there are tons of answers with clarifying questions dotting the landscape…for now. Port Charlotte comes alive when the team get back into town. The sky seems bluer, the air has a nice crispness to it and the grass awaits their footprints. 14 days until we can again firmly boast, and await our 2012 Rays. Look, already 15 minutes closer as you finish reading this post.

I Like Ike

Saw an interesting little blip pop up on my laptop screen today that the New York Mets are taking the aggressive road during the current Major League Baseball Winter Meetings in Dallas, Texas and are willing to throw all their cards on the table and see who from within the MLB crew will wheel and deal with them with their basic roster open for discussion.

The Mets have already secured a sizable investment in their reliever corps, and now are setting their sights towards a few other weaknesses going into the cold off-season. With the new ownership basically opening the doors for a MLB-sized garage sale, I wonder just how marked up the price would be for the Tampa Bay Rays to possible pick a particular name off that roster and secure a possible 2012 answer for one of their own glaring weak spots.

There is one name that just keeps flashing brightly at me from among the Mets roster. He is a player who interests me a lot, and who has shown some bright spots in his early MLB career and could possibly grow into the 1B slot for the Rays for several years instead of the team bartering and buying into short-term solutions at the position. An interesting sidebar to this is that current Mets First Baseball Ike (Issac) Davis was initially drafted by the Rays back in the 2005 MLB Amateur Draft in the 19th Round.

Davis ended up spurning the Rays and enrolled at Arizona State University. That might have been a very wise decision career-wise for Davis as his number grew and his offensive power-stroke emerged and he elevated his game enough to be picked with the 18th pick of the First Round during the 2008 MLB Draft by the Mets. Another intriguing sidebar is that Davis is the son of former MLB P Ron Davis who played in the league for 11 seasons. The pair became the 197th Father-Son combo to both play MLB caliber baseball.

Some might discount my desire for Friedman to possibly discuss Davis as “wishful thinking”, but I think the Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and his covert ops scouting deployment squad should take a few moments with baseball gang from Flushing , NY crew swirl a few players names ( possibly SP Jeff Niemann or C Jose Lobaton) to see just how much the Mets are truly dangling their players to the masses.

Then again, the Mets might be a bit “trade shy” of the Rays since the pain still lingers a bit with some of the front office staff about the Kazmir-Zambrano trade fiasco. But that should be water under the George Washington bridge by now, and if the Rays collect a few interesting names both from their MLB or farm system, the Mets could use them as clear fodder to go after another player of their choosing. Heck, why not possibly investigate who the Mets have on their radar and the Rays, Mets and a third-party come up with a solution that will give everyone a Cheshire cat grin.

Davis has the admiration of his teammates, especially former Mets, no Marlins SS Jose Reyes. Tell me this is not the kind of glowing testimonial that would not have you knocking on the Met’s hotel room door asking about Davis “ People talk about hit hitting, but he is one of the best defensive First Baseman you will ever see for a player his age”. That quote alone should perk up Friedman’s ears towards at least investigating Davis.

Davis did not have a great 2011 due to a lingering ankle injury he sustained back on May 10th when he rolled his ankle during a routine pop-up near the pitching mound. Davis gutted out the injury off-the-field doing rehab and working to try to bring the ankle back into playing strength before the end of the 2011 season. Still, the defensive-minded 1B posted some pretty impressive offensive numbers for his second MLB season.

In 139 at bats in 36 games, Davis had a .304 Batting Average, a OPS of .925 and hit 7 Home Runs and 25 Rb I’s. Some say the injury might have prevented the former 2004 High School All-American from posting a breakout season. Davis is ripe on the MLB vine right now, and the Rays should pluck him before someone else comes in and takes him away.

Davis has the defensive skills, the budding offensive power and is a humble and down-to-earth player that quickly became a Met’s fan favorite. All three of these facts fit perfectly into the Rays list of trading for potential players, and with Davis set to make possibly under $500,000 for the season, he fits the fiscal ramifications of being pursued by the club.

Problem with this is simply what is Davis worth on the Rays scale? Is he worth a small cache of minor leaguer’s and a MLB caliber player. Would the Mets possibly take Niemann or Wade Davis plus maybe another Rays pitching farm hands like Alex Torres or Nick Barnese with a kicker of one of the Rays budding catching prospect from Lo baton to Nevin Ashley.

I personally would call the Mets, possibly for at least a sit-down, possible discussion on the true availability of Davis, and if he is on the table, strike while the iron is hot this Hot Stove season. The Rays could bag a young maturing First Baseman who they can financially control for a period of time, plus plug a huge gap on the left side of their infield with a player who could have All-Star potential. Then again, who knows, maybe Friedman has already ventured into this garage sale, taken his notes and is awaiting a moment to make his move…..plus Davis’s trademark # 29 is available….better get Westy on the Batphone.

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