Results tagged ‘ Marc Topkins ’

Rays Pitchers & Catchers Report…2010 Edition

 


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**** Within the next few days I will post a extended Photo blog of the pictures I took today after the Rays Fan fest tomorrow afternoon.


I could not sleep a wink last night and thank goodness AMC had a pretty good movie lineup until 6 am this morning. This felt like the first time I ever suited up for a baseball game. I had the butterflies early today and mixed with the anticipated assembly again with Tampa Bay Rays baseball players who I consider “baseball buddies”. And the long hours leading up to this special moment of the Rays pitchers and catchers reporting for 2010 more than lived up to all the previous night’s hype and anxiety.

Sure you would think the hour and a half drive down to Port Charlotte from the shadow of Tropicana Field would seem to take forever as the sun began to rise in the East, but the reality was it seemed to furiously fly by with only the time staring to ebb slower as I began to wait first in line this morning to get into the Charlotte County Sports Park and “officially” begin my 2010 Rays experience. And it was great to not have the over indulgence of the Mosaic Corporation’s name attached to signage surrounding the complex today. And as I was standing there as the Rays media members began to assemble, some just passed by, while others acknowledged me standing their in my Pepsi sweatshirt as I battled the 56 degree weather.

And while I was standing there, a wild figure in pink sweatpants, barefoot and a huge poof of hair began to walk up to the security checkpoint carrying his baseball gear in a Army green dufflebag. He had come to make the team, and Edgar Gonzalez was not going to take “no” for an answer. Sure he might not have had great baseball experience only playing Marine Corp baseball, but decked there in his USF baseball jersey ( but did not play at all for USF), he was energetic and wanting an audition today for a possible slot on the Rays.

 
 

And two assembled security guards were business like and totally professional as they tried to point him towards Tropicana Field and the Rays Front Office to arrange an “official arrival” or even a slot to participate when the minor league camp came in next week. But Gonzalez was persistent and totally seemed to have his wits about him, until he began to unravel his story into a million pieces by saying he was trying to hold correspondence with U.S. President Obama and the world leaders on the curing properties of baseball. So as Gonzalez began to fade to black in the minds of the security force, he was advised to “put shoes on, or vacate the property as a safety precaution”.

 
 
 

Just then, you could see the color drain from Gonzalez’s face and he knew instantly that he had blown his scheme to try and infiltrate the Rays first 2010 workout. But I do commend the security force for doing it with grace, class and not singling him out and making the situation difficult. So as he turned away he said he would rehash it out up in “Tampa” with the Rays officials and be back another day to formally take the field. Well, Edgar Gonzalez, I wish you luck, and I hope you do get that shot, but since you have, by your own admission, never faced a 90+ mph fastball or seen a slider in your life, the audition might last the $ 2 it costs to run the Batting Cage machine at the Mini Golf complex down the street.
 

 

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But as 10 pm came, I strutted in first in the line and was handed a Dioner Navarro and Matt Garza bobble heads and a great present of a Rays Spring roster cardboard placard that listed each invited Rays ” guest” to the 2010 Spring Training complete with the final statistics including every stop during 2009. I scanned up and down it a few time to see the names and former 2009 teams illustrated and saw a few extremely interesting names. Names like Mike Ekstrom who was claimed off waivers by the Rays this off season from the San Diego Padres , or former Ranger pitcher Joaquin Benoit, who might push some pressure on the Rays Bullpen spots, or Joe Dillionaire” Dillon who might push for a bench spot on the team and be an adequate third catching option on the Major League roster because of his versatility.
 

 
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As the guy all assembled around Rays Manager Joe Maddon for his first inspirational speech for 2010, and the brief speeches and chats by Jeff “Ziggy” Zigler, who is the Rays Traveling Secretary, the team got into stretching and began long toss to get their arms stretched out for the first time in 2010 in front of a live audience. Rays starter Matt Garza and Rays Bullpen reliever Lance Cormier put on the show of the day easily topping 200+ feet in their long toss segment before the squad split into three groups and began to start drills on retrieving the ball in front of the mound and doing basic drills like covering first base on a bunt or even shot towards the hole at first base.
 
 

And on another part of the field, the Rays field players were beginning their daily workouts in the batting cages under the watchful eyes of spectators and autograph hounds. Gabe Kapler, Jason Bartlett and a bulkier-looking Rays prospect shortstop Tim Beckham all took their swipes in the cage today before taking time out to sign for some of the fans and expressed excitement in returning to Tropicana Field tomorrow for the 2010 Rays Fan Fest. I took this time to chat a bit with Rays Communication Manager Carmen Molina and St Petersburg Times Rays writer Marc Topkin about the season and to see if I could get a few tidbits.

 

 
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But I was lucky enough to be within a good earshot of the conversation by Rays owner Stuart Sternberg to the assembled media when he began to discuss the Rays payroll, keeping Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena, and the possible Rays stadium pot that is beginning to boil. He was his usual self showing total commitment to the St. Petersburg market place the team is currently in, but stressed the stadium will not be adequate up until the 2026 lease expiration date. Standing their in his own “Rays Sky Blue” sweatshirt he spoke for about 15 minutes answering volleys at him and providing in depth, complex answers that more than fulfilled the questions thrown at him on the fly. P. T. Barnum would have been proud.
 
 

And as the players began to split into their respective groups for their day ending run in the western-most field’s outfield, several players like J P Howell, Jeff Neiman and Rays prospect Jake McGee sprinted to the Rays clubhouse and shed their sweatshirts and came out again to do their running before taking time to chat and sign for fans before leaving for the day. I had a chance to talk to Howell, and his eyes lit up when I asked about his off season trip to Bora Bora for his honeymoon, or when I asked if we could do an interview sometimes during Spring Training about it.

 
 

And as I was asking that, Grant Balfour slapped me on the back asking if I was keeping my same seat. I quickly told him I was, and told him he better keep his same seat also ( on the Rays Bullpen bench) for 2010. He just smiled from ear-to-ear and told me he was going to do everything possible to stay put. Or when Randy Choate came up with his new facial chin hair and asked why I did not yell “Randy” when he saw me. And I began to tear up a bit. This is hard to explain, but over the past three years while I have been battling employment issues, these guys have been the solid foundation and the people I made sure to say something to before, or during every single Rays game.

 

 
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So today was special to me in a different way than most of the people assembled to welcome the Rays back from cold Winter snow-scapes, or even trips abroad with their new loved ones, this is my personal rite of Spring passage. Baseball is back, but better yet for me, Rays baseball is back. Even as I stood there talking with baseball buddy’s Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos or Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi, I could feel that inner fire kicking up again and was eager for the upcoming season.
 
 

Maddon did not bring out any mathematical equations this season, but offered confidence and a yearning to remember those steps made in 2008 to again get back to that ” special place”. For the Rays to revisit their 2008 roots, it will take sweat, blood and commitment by each and ever member of their 2010 roster. In the next month and a half guys will come and go from the Rays clubhouse either to the minor league camps, or even towards other opportunities in baseball, but Maddon stressed that they had to regain that passion, had to redefine and re-energize to again do things “The Rays Way”, and make those steps to again claim a top spot not only in the American League, but in their ever present difficult Eastern division. But for today, it was just great to see my buddies again.

 
 

Rays Possible Draft Prediction and Notes

 

                      
                       http://www.mlb.com

So here we are on the day of the 2009 MLB Draft, and the Tampa Bay Rays for only the third time in their history are picking in the lower levels of the draft board today. People forget that this is not the first time the Rays have actually picked near the bottom of the First Round of the Draft. Sure we have had our share of non-winning seasons, but prior to our first professional game in Tropicana Field as the Rays, we had a few lower level (pick 29-32) draft picks. 

The Rays did have some lower picks prior to our first ever game against the Detroit Tigers on March 31, 1998. How many people remember that we picked 29th in 1996 when the Rays selected their first amateur player in the draft, outfielder Paul Wilder. The Rays actually did get a bit snake bitten in that years draft. Marc Topkins of the St. Petersburg Times wrote about Wilder in 2005, “Wilder was a big man who was supposed to be capable of doing big things. But the attention that came with being the Rays first first-round pick in 1996 far exceeded the production. Wilder couldn’t stay healthy, never made it out of Class A and was released in 2002.” 

Be he was not the latest pick the Rays ever had in the Amateur Draft. That honor will go to former Alabama native  pitcher Jason Standridge who was selected with the 31st pick in 1997. Unlike Wilder, Standridge did make it to the major leagues with the Rays and made his major league debut on July 29, 2001 when Standridge came on in relief for 1/3rd of an inning during a 2-0 loss to the Texas Rangers in Arlington, Texas. He did end up pitching in 21 games for the Rays before leaving the team In 2009, Standridge was assigned to the Florida Marlins minor league camp on March 19th, but is not currently on the roster of their Triple-A affiliate, the New Orleans Zephrs.

But the late First Rounds selections that the Rays have gained from trades with other teams actually worked out great for the Rays. Russ Johnson, who the Rays obtained in a trade with Houston was the 30th pick of the 1994 draft.  Johnson ended up a valuable utility player for the Rays, basically a clone of Ben Zobrist from 2000-2002 for the team. Johnson last played in 2007 for the New York Yankees for 22 games.

Pitcher Nick Bierbrodt, who was acquired by the Rays from the Arizona Diamondbacks was the 30th selection of the 1996 draft. He ended up pitching for the Rays at the major league level only in 2001. Most people who follow the Rays know that he started to have some control problems and he was sent down to the Class-A Charleston Riverdogs for some mechanical work. While down with the Riverdogs, Bierbrodt and some friends went to a local drive-in for some late night food and he was shot in the chest and right arm by a man on a bicycle in the drive-through line. He did rehabilitate from the injuries suffered in the encounter, and last pitched for the Texas Rangers in 2004.


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And the last traded player in the later part of the first round to play for the Rays is current reliever J P Howell, who was selected by the Kansas City Royals in the 2004 draft. Howell has developed from a leftie starter to one of the most proficient members of the Rays Bullpen in 2008, and is continuing that tradition in 2009. He currently is the youngest member of the Rays Bullpen and 14 of his last 16 outing have been scoreless. He is currently riding a streak of 12 straight appearances with a strikeout in 2009. And his 2.17 ERA is second only to Lance Cormier on the Rays Bullpen staff.

But picking that low in the first round of the player’s draft can have its advantages. Some teams might be scared away from certain agents representing clients, and some players might be leaning towards maybe attending college for a few seasons before finally deciding to play professionally in the major leagues. For that reason, sometimes the lower section of the First Round can bring about bargains and also can make some of the better athletes fall towards the Rays pick at 30th today.

Some of the players that are being picked by the Rays in mock drafts vary, but the team has said it is going to focus on either a catcher, or the best athlete available at the pick.  So the team will be able to do a lot of checking and double checking before they make their section about two hours after the draft starts in Secaucus, New Jersey today.  After their pick at 30th, the Rays have to wait until the 78th pick of the draft to again select a player unless a trade can be worked out during the draft.  Rays Scouting Director RJ Harrison has a bevy of 16 possible names that might fall into the Rays lap at the 30th pick.

“We have a pretty good target group,” he said to the St. Petersburg Times. “You hope like heck (the other teams) leave us a couple of the names toward the top of our list.” Baseball America most recently projected them to take Bonita (Calif.) High shortstop Jiovanni Mier. Catchers Tommy Joseph (Horizon, Ariz., High) and Tony Sanchez (Boston College) and Midway (Texas) outfielder Todd Glaesmann have also been suggested. But several mock drafts conducted online have the Rays looking for other options at this spot.  MYMLBDraft.com has the Rays selecting Wil Meyers, a 6’3″ catcher/3B out of Wesleyan Christian Academy with their first pick.

But then you have other sites like MVN.com have the team selecting left-handed pitcher Andrew Oliver out of Oklahoma State University with that first selection. That pick looks more like the site is thinking of the best athlete available for the team at that point in the draft selection process.  But then again, the site MLBDraftSite.com has the Rays selecting another player entirely from any of the players listed above. They have the team taking A J Pollack, a Outfielder/2B out of the University of Notre Dame with the first pick. This site also goes so far as to pick the second selection (78th) as Robbie Shields, a shortstop out of Florida Southern College. This pick is a bit unusual as the Rays picked a shortstop, Tim Beckham with the top selection in 2008.

but let’s let one more website make a guess at the possible Rays selection at about 10:15 pm on Tuesday night. ProspectInsider.com might be the closest so far to the Rays wish list as they have the team taking Tommy Joseph out of Horizon Arizona HS with the first pick. This is also one of the players that the Rays have circled in their books that could still be available at their section spot.  the spot is purely speculation until maybe five minutes before you select because you can see the type of players who might have slipped a bit because of injury concerns or maybe functionality for the teams above the R
ays.

But I am going to try this speculation thing out for the first time in the MLB draft. I actually have three guys who are staying in my brain right now as possibly falling to 30th and right into the Rays laps. The first is Boston College catcher Tony Sanchez who is from South Florida, but his availability will depend on if the Boston Red Sox want to take the local  B C catcher, or maybe float down a bit and take someone in another round. But Sanchez has some great comparisons to his catching style that might entice either club. He plays a lot like Kelly Shoppach, who the Red Sox were grooming for years before he got away and is a success with the Cleveland Indians.


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But there is another catcher, even if he is a High Schooler who might be wetting the Rays whistle right now. He might not even fall this far, but it might be based on what the Red Sox do with the 28th pick if this catcher is even still on the board when the Rays name is called.  California prep catcher Matt Stassi has been labeled as a clone of the rockies current catcher Chris Ianetta.  He is a great hitting catcher who has a fluid swing and his demeanor behind the plate is impressive . He would be a great addition to any team that selects him. But I am not sure if he will fit the Rays bill at 30th. I still have questions on his stamina and his ability to control a pitching staff, but those skills can be learned also on the job.

I am going to go out on a limb and agree with the Baseball America pick of Wil Meyers for the Rays at the 30th pick of the First Round. The North Carolina High Schooler might have one of the truest swings in the draft at his current level. But along with his possible catching skills he could also be converted into an outfielder or maybe even a future corner infielder for the Rays. He is a solid runner who has some speed and should be sitting there pretty for the Rays to select him. The one thing that might separate him from the other two catchers is his versatility to maybe adjust to another position based on his speed and ability beyond just behind the plate. Because he is such a great athlete, he might just be the perfect fit for the young aggressive Rays.

The biggest advantage the Rays have this year is the fact they are noting going to have to pay the huge signing bonuses out that they have in the past to their First Rounders. Meyers will still get a good lion’s share of some bonus money, but it will not be like the money given to David Price in 2007, or Beckham in 2008. This should help the Rays financially be able to maybe entice some other great players down in the later rounds of this years draft. This picking of a player who might or might not be there with the 30th pick is like a Las Vegas Roulette table. But I am putting my money on the Carolina Blue and holding my breath that the team selects Wil Meyers tonight.

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