Results tagged ‘ Josh Paul ’

Rays Harvesting a Great Bumper Corp of Backstops

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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.


Willy Aybar versus the Rays………..Arbitration 2009

 

 
 

 

It is only a matter of time before Dioner Navarro is again celebrating. But this time it will be for a arbitration hearing settlement against his team, the Tampa Bay Rays. But he might not be alone that night celebrating as utility player Willy Aybar is also scheduled to go to arbitration with the Rays in 2009. Since Andrew Friedman took over the  player contract reigns  3 seasons ago, he has only been to two hearing for the team. What is surprising is the fact that both of those hearing were for former Rays catcher Josh Paul, and the Rays won both hearings. So for the next 2 days, lets dig into the background and the career numbers for the Rays still arbitration eligible players. Both Navarro and Aybar are seeking substantial raises in 2009, and will go before an arbitrator for the first time to secure their 2009 contracts with the Rays.
 

 

But this year will be different for the Rays. Navarro, who is also a catcher posted personal bests in several offensive and defensive categories, and when compared to recent catchers in the MLB, is considered a bargain even at 2 plus million dollars a year.  Navarro also went to his first All-Star game in 2008, and that just might be a nice piece of hardware to push him over that $ 2 million dollar plateau with ease.. The Rays started the off season with 6 members eligible for arbitration, but 2 were eliminated by trades, and 2 signed a contract with the team before the team’s  12 p.m. deadline on January  20, 2009.



 


 

 

Former Rays starter Edwin Jackson was traded to the Detroit Tigers for Matt Joyce and finally agreed to a $ 2.2 million dollar contract wit the Tigers, with a chance to earn an additional $200,000 dollars through innings pitched incentives. The Rays were not as kind to emotional and energetic cheerleader Jonny Gomes as the team cut ties with the fan favorite and he eventually decided on a minor league deal with the Cincinnati Reds for $ 600,000, with production incentives of $ 200,000 possible in the deal. Gomes also will have a chance during spring training to secure a left field spot in the Red’s outfield.
 

 

Rays 2008 Team MVP Jason Bartlett signed a contract with the Rays at 10:50 a.m. on January 20th, to just get under the wire of the Rays set deadline to discuss contracts with arbitration eligible players. Bartlett signed for $ 1,981,250 dollars on a 1-year deal, but the Rays control him until 2011. Rays platoon right fielder Gabe Gross avoided arbitration by signing a 1.255 million dollar contract on January 14, 2008 for a1 year deal. Gross will compete with Joyce and Rays new comer Gabe Kapler for playing time in 2009.



 

 

So that leaves the Rays with 2 very important members of their 2008 American League Pennant winning squad still on the outside without a contract. Both Navarro and Aybar can take a huge amount of credit for the surge of the Rays in 2008 based on their newly set career bests. Aybar can also put on a tag of  “always ready” on his resume by coming in and taking charge several times in 2008 due to injuries of star players Bartlett, and Evan Longoria. So let’s begin with the Rays utility man, who played above and beyond his expectations in 2008.
 

 

Willy Aybar came to the Rays in a trade with the Atlanta Braves prior to the 2008 season. He had been a handful for the braves in both injuries and personal situations that almost got him a bad label in the league. Aybar had been obtained in a trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2006 and went straight into the Braves minor league system. When  the Rays considered Aybar for a trade prior to the beginning of the 2008 spring training season, they had a lot of information and problems to sift through before finally completing the deal.



 

 

After consulting with their scouts and members of their new Dominican Republic complex staff, Tampa Bay  began to really talk with the Atlanta Braves about a trade involving 24-year-old infielder. Aybar’s off-the-field issues, most notably a stint in a substance-abuse rehabilitation program that wiped out most of his 2007 season, could be an impediment.
 

 

The Braves  had suspended Aybar indefinitely in April 2007 after he left the team without permission. He was supposed to report for treatment on a sore wrist that had him on the disabled list to open the season but instead drove from Atlanta to Boston to see his older brother for help dealing with drinking and drug issues. Aybar finally completed his rehab program in August 2007, but a broken hamate bone in his right hand kept him from making it back to the majors.

 

He underwent season-ending surgery and didn’t take the field again until October, when he began the winter-ball season playing for Licey in the Dominican Republic. He has had a strong season in his home country,hitting .339 and posting a .415 on-base percentage in 15 games during Licey’s run to first place in the league’s January semifinal series. So the Rays decided that Triple-A pitcher Jeff Ridgeway would be good enough bait to obtain the troubled infielder.  But the Rays could not have anticipated the trouble in the off season prior to reporting for the Rays.

 

 
 


 

 

Aybar was arrested in February 2008 for suspicion of Domestic Abuse in the Dominican Republic and was initially held without bond. Even though Aybar’s lawyers have told a local magistrate that Aybar’s wife is dropping all of the charges, the infielder was still incarcerated in the Dominican for several days. After finally getting the situation solved Aybar went about getting ready to report to the Rays Spring Training complex in St. Petersburg, Florida for the 2008 season.  
 

 

Then on February 20th it is learned that Aybar, Joel Guzman and Juan Salas are still being detained in the Dominican Republic on visa issues.  The Rays consulted MLB about providing help to get their three players out of the country in time for Spring Training.  Aybar and Guzman were both finally granted their visas and reported to camp in late February. But that was not the end of the frustration for the young infielder. During Spring Training he suffered a pulled or strained hamstring and it put him under suspicion that he might not be ready for the regular season. 
 

 

When camp finally broke in April, Aybar had been given a spot on the 25-man roster and a starting gig at third base as the Rays sent their budding superstar, Evan Longoria down for more seasoning in the minors. With a regular spot in the lineup it looked like it would be Aybar’s year to shine in the major leagues. But 10 games into the season, Aybar was put on the disabled list because of the same hamstring injury and lost his starting shot at third base for the Rays as they finally brought up Longoria to stay for the season.

 

 


 

 

 

During 2008, Aybar started 79 games for the Rays. 40 of those were at third base during the early season and Longoria’s stint on the disabled list after the Seattle series.  On September 17, 2008, against Boston’s Tim Wakefield, Aybar and Fernando Perez set a record by both switch hitters hitting a home run off Wakefield from the right side of the plate. That was the first time since 1969 that two switch hitters hit a homer against the same pitcher in a division play.
 

 

But it was during his stint at third base after Longoria injured his wrist in Seattle that he showed his versatility and power to the Rays. Starting all 30 games while Longoria was out, Aybar hit .308, with 5 homers and 18 RBI’s. During that span he hit 14 extra base hits and also walked 11 times for the team. But it was as a third baseman that Aybar made his number for 2008. Playing those 40 games at third, he hit .297 , with 6 homers and 20 RBI’s for the year. Elsewhere in the field or at Designated Hitter, he only batted .206, with 4 homers and 12 RBI’s. He had made a statement that third base was home for him.



 


 

 

But Aybar also played shortstop on occasion during one of Jason Bartlett’s disabled list ventures and performed a great job in the middle for the Rays. But he did go through a streaky pattern at the plate in 2008, hitting .309 on June 9th, before going 22-188, or a .186 average from June 10th to August 6th. He dropped his average all the way to .222 before taking over for Longoria after his injury.  In his first game at third after the Longoria injury, he hit a career best 2 homers in a game against the Mariners’ and had a career high 4 RBI’s on the day.  His 10 homers in 2008 are 5 more than he has ever gotten in his career.

 
 


 

 

But on the dark side, he did miss a total of 45 games due to his hamstring injury, but later in the season did  go without incident or injury for the rest of the year. So his 2008 average of .288 against left-handers was one of the best averages on the Rays against southpaws during the season. Buy Aybar did save his best for last in 2008 as he went 3 -4 against the Red Sox at home on September 17, 2008 to help the Rays defeat the Red Sox.

 

The unfortunate side of Aybar in 2008, is that 8 of his 10 homers were solo shots and did not help get extra runs for the Rays during the season.  But Aybar was the middle hitter in the June 9th game against the Los Angeles Angels at Anahiem where Longoria, Aybar and Navarro all homer in sequence for the Rays. Aybar did have 13 game-tying or go-ahead runs in the year, and also had 3 infield hits for the Rays. He also put down 3 bunt singles for the team, and was picked 6 times for “Web Gems” by the Rays PR staff during the year for his defensive plays. 

 

On defense, Aybar had a total of 118 total chances on defense in 2008, with 29 putouts and 84 chances. He however committed 5 errors on the season to put his fielding percentage at .958. that is pretty average for a guy trying to fight to get playing time every day.   I do not have a total breakdown of if must of these errors came from other positions besides third base in 2008. That total would put him in the middle of the pack with respect to utility men in the league, most of which make over $ 1 million a year.

 


 

 

 

So is this enough for Aybar to get rewarded with an arbitration figure higher that the Rays suggested contract of $ 900,000 dollars for 2009. Aybar did counter with an offer of $ 1,050,000 for the season, a difference of only $ 150,000 dollars.  The proof might actually be in Aybars’ post season numbers as he went  9 for 23 during the playoffs, posting a .417 average, with  2 home runs and 6 RBI’s in 10 games.  the fact that he hit for 16 total bases and only struck out 4 times in the playoffs might be enough to get him that extra $ 150,000 dollars in arbitration money.
 

 

Aybar has been one of the American Leagues hidden gems in 2008. He can hit, play defense and is a great clutch player for the Rays. I was actually surprised not to hear his name mentioned throughout the off season as trade bait for a big time hitter or reliever. Who knows if Aybar will even make it past the trade deadline in 2009 with the team. His stock has been going up all throughout 2008, and 2009 might be the year he can finally break through that utility player mold and become a starter with someone else during the stretch run.

 

 
 

 

 

Time will tell, but I am thankful that we have Aybar as a reliable and constructive member of the Rays bench.  With a new contract in hand, and a chance to retain his psot on the Rays 25-man roster for 2009, Aybar might just be the happiest guy to report to the new training complex in Port Charlotte. But then again, maybe Navarro will spring for dinner that first night.
 
 

Odd Facts and Figures in Rays History

 

I am feeling a bit bored today and decided to write a short blog and list some interesting facts I have acquired over the test of time.

 

First, my trivia question for the blog:

What coach, associated with the Rays minor league system gave up Home Run  number 150 to Barry Bonds? 

 

Answer will be at the end of the blog.

 

I was cruising through a statistics site the other day and was looking for odd facts and figures and decided to see what former Rays helped Barry Bonds get the All[Time Home Run crown. Here is the list of victimized  ex-Rays pitchers I found:

Jason Jennings, Albie Lopez, Hideo Nomo,Cory Lidle,Casey Fossum,Joe Borowski,Steve Trachel,Dan Miceli,Brian Meadows,Dwight Gooden,Mark Guthrie,John Burkett,Brian Rekar,Rheal Cormier,Xavier Hernandez.

Unfortunately, some on this list got hit more than once by the Barry-nator during his romp through the history books. A few even got smacked hard.

 

Hideo Nomo served up 3 to Barry. Dwight Gooden got smacked for 3 during the 80’s, Cory Lidle gave up a multiple homer game to him in 2004,and former Rays and Marlin John Burkett got him another multiple homer game.

But the guy who seemed to be habitually hammered by Barry, was Denny Neagle of the Rockies and Reds. He gave up a total of 6 homers to Bonds, including a Multiple homer game on 7/30/1999.

I found it interesting the other day that the Rays now will not ask for the $60 million dollars from the Florida Legislature to help build the new open air stadium. They were originally slated to ask for the money as start up capital to secure the contractors for the project. It seems that the Pinellas County politicians were polled and were in agreement that the Rays were asking for too much in this close fiscal climate. The politicians said that other needs were more of a  priority than the team.

 

I agree that Child welfare and county services are needed more right now in this budget tightened situation. Just remember, the Marlins tried to get this same tax break last year and were almost laughed out of the capitol building.

I like Mike De Felice as the veteran backstop to Dioner Navarro. Mike was a extremely emotional player when he was last with the Rays, and had a few flareups, in a good way, with the Tigers a few years ago. The emotional firecracker that beats in his chest might be the right medicine to get some emotional strength and power out of both Shawn Riggans and Dioner. Mike has the veteran presence and the spirit to get even the bench fired up during the games. I remember sitting in my seat down by the Bullpen and seeing Mike come down in the late innings and make the entire bench come alive and seem a bit more controlled by his mere presence. This might not seem like the player needed to push either catcher, but it might be more for game control and organization than to put a hole under either guy this Spring. Josh Paul was a student of Joe Maddon’s system with the Angels, and I think he passed a lot of great information and knowledge to both catchers in the last two years.

 

Josh always commented about writing a book on catching. I think it would be a hit from the controversy surrounding him and the White Sox series in the past, and for his great preparation and historic knowledge of the position. I am not a ghost writer, but I would enjoy talking to this practical joker and serious ballplayer about anything concerning catching or the game.  I hope you write it Josh. I know I will line up for a copy.

The Edwin Jackson rumors will not die concerning the Seattle Mariners and the Rays fire baller. I might have a impartial reason for wanting Edwin not to go anywhere. I enjoy talking to him on the sidelines and receiving his 2006 Game worn jersey at the end of the year.

 

But for the purely baseball angle, I feel that the LA Dodgers organization gave up on him too early in his career. It seems that a pitcher needs to have about 200 plus innings in the minor leagues before you can get a grip on their type or need for your MLB squad. I think that Edwin in the second half of 2007 began to relax and take the game for what it is……… a bunch of hits and misses. He relied more an his ability than on his velocity and his game to him in the end. It was thought a year or two ago, that he might be the closer of the future for the Rays.

I think that would not serve him well. At worst, he would be a killer inning eater for long duty in the Bullpen. I would rather see him as a starter, but the squad will have its first year that the first two spots might be settled even before the pitchers and catcher report in Febuary. I hope he can hunker down and finally cement himself in the rotation for 2008.

 

 

Trivia answer:

The current Durham Bulls pitching coach Xavier Hernandez gave up number 150 to Barry in Houston on 5/2/1992 while Bonds was still a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

 

Post Script: 

 Also a member of the Barry
Bonds hit squad is current Rays announcer/ color analyst Joe Magrane who gave up a home to Bonds as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals on 8/11/90 at home.  It doesn’t seem like he has been out of the game that long. Joe still looks like he could throw 6 solid innings a start.

Last but not least, congrats to Goose Gossage for finally getting that great call from the Hall of Fame. He is only the fifth reliever in the Hall of Fame, with a lot of company to come in the upcoming years. Gossage received 85.5 percent of the vote to finally get that beautiful bronze plaque of himself and that signature mustache. Goose was a nine time All-star with 310 MLB saves for nine different team during his career.

 

Here is a truly impressive stat. Gossage got 52 of those saves when he got 7 outs or more. By comparison, today’s specialist relievers usually do not have to go that far in the earlier innings to get a save opportunity. that says a lot for the teams he played with, and the strength of his pitches.

Gossage will be inducted in that small hamlet in New York on  July 27,2008. He will be joined that day by five men selected by the Veterans’ committee: former Commissioner Bowie Kuhn,former Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley, managers Billy Southworth and Dick Williams, and ex-Pirate owner Barney Dreyfuss.

Congrats again to all the above men and lets all hit the hamlet of Cooperstown sometime in our lives and feel the thrill and chills of that great museum and ball field.

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