Results tagged ‘ Rays 2010 Spring Training ’
Bill Koustroun/AP Coming into the 2010 Spring Training season, the Tampa Bay Rays were optimistic that First Baseman Carlos Pena was going to come into camp perfectly healthy and ready to lead by example for this young Rays team. And all eyes have been on Pena ever since he first told the Tampa Bay media members even before this 2010 Spring Training camp began that he feels healthy and that his two fingers broken when he was plucked by a C C Sabathia fastball in late 2009 were completely healed and the entire situation is totally forgotten.
Then early on in this 2010 Spring camp, the Rays announced that First Baseman/Utility guru Willy Aybar sustained a wrist problem during this while playing in the Dominican Winter League, and lingering injury has put Aybar a bit behind the rest of the Rays squad this Spring. To some around the Rays Republic, this immediately sent up a few red flags concerned about Aybar’s ability to be an effective back-up to Pena and Third Baseman Evan Longoria if his wrist injury turned out to be more a nightmare than a simple sprain.
And when the Rays made an surprising move and signed Free Agent Hank Blalock, who played a majority of his time at First Base for the Texas Rangers in 2009 to a pretty complex and “convoluted” ( per Andrew Friedman) contract that now smells more and more like a “sure-thing” insurance policy heading into the middle of the Rays Spring schedule. But while the Rays were enjoying winning 9-straight games, it seemed like the Rays front office and Coaching staff was not in the least bit worried about Aybar not getting his first swings in a game until this week, or concerned with Pena’s early Spring struggles as he has now gone 0-18 with only one run scored to begin the 2010 Grapefruit season.
And then last week the Rays signed former Cuban National Team member Leslie Anderson who can play all three outfield positions and also First Base to a 4-year contract and the team has been adamant that they want to get him in a uniform as soon as possible. Some might say the Blalock signing is a coincidence, but the signing also a Anderson might signal something might be wrong and the silent treatment is being employed throughout the Rays clubhouse. I guess only time will tell what is really going on with Pena and Aybar this Spring.
And with Blalock just seeing his first Spring 2010 action this past Saturday against the Florida Marlins and going 0-2 with a walk and a strikeout, it appear on the surface that Pena and Blalock both have that mysterious .000 average going for them right now, but the reality is that Pena is swinging hard in the batting cages before the games. And maybe he is concentrating too much on his swing and it is transformed into Pena shooting blanks right now in Rays game situations. And with Aybar and Blalock just beginning to get their hacks at the plate, and the next week might speak volumes as to who starts ,or gets the most at bats this Spring.
And with two of the three Rays usual First Base candidates nursing off season trials and tribulations, it is only a matter of time before we find out if there is additional problems at bay, or if Blalock was actually brought here to maybe supplant Aybar as the Rays uber-utility guy since Blalock can effectively play both corner positions. And Blalock might not have put up some impressive offensive numbers ( .234, 25 HR 66 RBI) the last season with the Rangers, but his overall MLB pedigree ( 2 All Star nods) reads like a great sleeper addition to the ball club….on paper.
Since Blalock has a unique Rays contract that basically give him the final decision/option to decide if staying here with the Rays is a good thing, or bad, that might also speak volumes as to the Rays cautious level of uncertainty concerning both the health of Pena and Aybar heading into the last week of the Grapefruit season. The Blalock move puzzled me at first, but more and more I am seeing it is a great insurance policy with power by getting a guy who could start, or be an effective back-up DH if either Pena or Aybar go down with additional time on the disable list in 2010, or a viable option if Burrell sinks deeper in the quicksand with a slow start to the regular season.
And sure, Ben Zobrist can also play First and Third Base, but Zobrist has been used sparingly at First Base, even during Pen’a injury time in 2009, and might be a significant drop in the defense right now at First Base compared to Blalock who only had 6 errors in over 567 chances in 2009. And you can expect the question marks to get even bigger hanging over First Base with every game that Pena puts up a goose egg, or doesn’t hit the ball solidly at the plate. Sometimes the physical injuries can be healed, but the mental impression of the injury takes some additional plate appearances, or hitting attempts before the mind also thinks you are ready to hit again effectively.
And Pena is a total team player. If for some reason, Pena sees something harmful in his swing or plate demeanor towards the last week of Spring Training, you can bet Pena will be open and honest to anything the Rays might want to do to get him back on track again. And sometimes slumps happen to every team’s All Stars and Silver Slugger winners. All you have to do is look back at the horrific beginning to 2009 that happened to Boston DH David Ortiz following his wrist ailments to know that sometimes the body is willing, but the balls doesn’t seem to be going anywhere effective.
And hopefully that is what is going on right now in the Pena’s situation. Maybe his timing is not where he wants it to be and his eye-hand coordination is off a tick or two. That can produce some major contact problems, but Pena also is not striking out in bunches this Spring, so it might just be simple adjustments and Pena maybe watching video of his swing mechanics the next couple of game before he comes back with a bang for the Rays.
But it is great that the Rays have made some consolation arrangements just in case something else might be derailing either Aybar or Pena for any amount of time this season. But the Spring clock is ticking louder on Blalock and with him having the final decision on his name being maybe placed upon the Rays roster, it might be time for both Aybar and Pena to show solid contact at the plate and relieve some of the Rays front office and staff from holding their breath this Spring and becoming Rays blue in the face.
I seriously would not like to see the Rays take the field in their 2010 Opening Game against division foe Baltimore without Pena on the field. But the reality of the situation might be that the Rays just have to collectively take a step back with both players, and maybe give Blalock a few more at bats while Aybar and Pena work in the cages with Rays Hitting Coach Derek Shelton and get some more confidence in themselves.
Pena is entering his last contract year with the Rays, and unlike the mysterious Crawford situation, I can see the Rays working with Pena to try and keep a guy who is a cornerstone of this franchise with his great power and his leadership on this Rays roster for a few more years. But right now there are big question marks rising every day over near that first base bag, and the Rays need to squash those questions and doubts in the bud as soon as possible.
If there is something wrong with either Aybar or Pena, even a small problem, then the Rays need to take a step backwards and work towards taking two steps forward later this Spring. With three guys with Major League Baseball experience at first base right now straddling the line and bag for the Rays something has to give. If Pena and Aybar are healthy and mentally clicking to begin the season, the parting of Blalock might not be a huge thing.
But if there is the hint of the lingering situation, Blalock might be the ultimate sleeper signing for the Rays this season. Clock is ticking, and soon Pena and Aybar must get on their horse and ride, or the former Ranger Blalock might be the guy wearing the big white hat for the Rays.
Trying to follow the Tampa Bay Rays Front Office is becoming more difficult as their “silence is golden” trade chatter blackout grip has become even more tight-lipped and further tweaked beyond any type of white noise in the last few seasons. Now that the Rays can effectively have out-of-sight, out-of-mind multiple Rays staffers and attorneys cloaked in darkness back in the Rays offices in St. Petersburg do a lot of the legwork out of the vision of any eagle eyed journalists or bloggers, getting any morsel or tasty tidbit is getting particularly difficult for us to supply to the Rays baseball hungry fans.
And today’s announcement of the Rays signing the former Cuban National Team multi-positional player Leslie Anderson to a $ 3.75million /4 year contract, the signing had most of us online, and sniffing around the team’s Spring Training complex caught completely off guard by this Rays move. Most of the Rays Republic knew that the Rays had set their sights by offering a possible contract to fellow Cuban refugee Jose Julio Ruiz in February. And some people actually thought the Rays might have had an upper hand in possibly signing Ruiz seeing that Tampa Bay had the second highest Hispanic population in the Southeastern segment of the United States.
The Rays presented Ruiz’s agent with a $ 2 million offer back in February, but with the recent hurricane brewing within Ruiz’s camp with his firing of his agent, and the ensuing turmoil, maybe the Rays quickly switched their previous focal point on Ruiz, and took another route without being noticed, and ultimately signed the versatile 27-year old Anderson.
And the wild part is that Anderson, who is also a left-handed hitter like Ruiz, might end up being the most versatile of the two players having played both First Base and the Centerfield for Camaguey in the Cuban Baseball League before leaving Cuba in September and becoming available to all 30 Major League Baseball clubs this January.
This signing might just be a great future insurance policy for the Rays since Anderson has been projected to be able to play multiple positions. And with the possibilities of Anderson also playing any of the three outfield positions, it increased the Rays appetite to include Anderson to their system. Most fans might remember Anderson has played Rightfield for the Cuban National Team during the last two World Baseball Classics.
Before Anderson was moved to First Base while with Camaguey in 2009, he was the team’s starting Centerfielder and considered a great gap hitter with the potential for at least 15-20 Home Runs at the Major League level. And with Anderson’s potential to play all three outfield positions, plus First Base, Anderson brings to the plate another interesting set of future scenarios if the Rays can not entertain Carl Crawford or Carlos Pena to stay with the team when their contracts expire following the 2010 season.
Anderson might actually be a more advanced in his plate discipline than Ruiz, and boasts some really impressive numbers while with Camaguey, where he finished fifth in the Cuban Baseball League with a .381 Batting Average. But more impressive still might be his almost identical numbers against left-handers (.379) and right-handers (.383) to show that Anderson might just be the great addition to the Rays future roster by showing superior numbers from both sides of the plate and might end the Rays platooning outfield spots in the near future.
And you got to give Rays Director of Scouting R J Harrison and Rays Director of International Relations, Carlos Alfonso a huge double high-five on their department’s Black Ops work to go totally on the deep down low and stay completely off the baseball radar with possible baseball workouts with Anderson without causing any sort of attention being focused towards the Rays or Anderson taking place this Spring.
And you know it was not a small group of Rays staffers’ involved in trying to keep this quiet, but it still amazes me time after time how the Rays have been so silent until they finally announce their signings without a lot of rumor chatter. The usual rumors that have been played have come from the other player’s reps or agents and not from within the Rays office. That in itself is amazing to me.
But this is the path that baseball is beginning to take with instant communications by a bevy of options available at our fingertips. With the addition of instant video conferencing even by cellphone now, baseball workouts can be broadcast back to team officials on a constant stream of video while the players participate in hitting, or even fielding in an arranged simulated game. And maybe the Rays might be viewed as ruining the trade system by staying tightlipped before getting a player’s John Hancock on the dotted line, but in essence, if that is what it takes to get the job done, then I am all for this new Rays personnel mentality.
Anderson’s signing was not expected by most of us following the Rays this Spring. Most of us within the Rays Republic thought the team was slowly reeling in Ruiz towards finally signing with the Rays instead of hauling in another big fish like Anderson. Reality is that the Rays could still maybe also sign Ruiz in the near future as another future fixture to combat high payroll concerns. And both players effectively co-existing on the same Rays roster should bring a level of excitement to Rays fans. And maybe that is another unsung victory for the Rays scouting department and office staff in not only getting Anderson signed, sealed and delivered, but covering it all in a cloak of mystery, which is really impressive.
Who knows to what extent Anderson will benefit the Rays in 2010, but you know he will have a definite imprint on future Rays squads, and maybe a possible new competition battle in the Spring of 2011 as he makes his mark within the Rays farm system. Looking at both the positives and negatives of both players, the Rays might have picked the one total package multi-dimensional player who will not bring both a sense of drama and uncertainty instantly towards the Rays franchise’s system.
It is still too early to project any possible scenarios for Anderson, but I could see him being assigned to either Double-A Montgomery and worked out at first base, and then begin his rise through the Rays system with a possible MLB debut date in Tropicana Field maybe in September 2010. And if he does get to the Major League level in 2010, could Anderson be one of those late season additions that propels the Rays again towards the Playoffs. This might not happen, but I like to be optimistic when I talk about these 2010 Rays. Because I really feel another “Magical”-type season brewing under the surface and this Anderson signing could be a great ingredient to the total mixture.
RRCollections I arrived up at BrightHouse Field about 11-ish on Sunday to check out the Tampa Bay Rays first venture back North and into their familiar Pinellas County stomping grounds in 2010. Got to tell you, the second I got into the pristine ballpark, one thing was perfectly clear to me. Not only was this a beautiful sunny day, which somehow got cooler by the inning, but I was instantly smiling as I glanced towards the Rays bench and instantly saw a few of the Rays players signing for fans along the rail.
And if there is one thing I am extremely proud of concerning our Rays players, it is their constant attention and respect they show people in the stands every day. I have to admit, if the Rays players did not feel a bit of kinship to stop and talk or even be social with their brethrens in the stands, this MLBlogs.com blog might a be a lot more boring and statistic-related, and I would not have most of those great stories to tell all of you.
And this is something I am extremely proud of our players to have been consistently providing themselves for the fans for the last 13 seasons. And with this season marking the 15th anniversary of Major League Baseball awarding us our franchise, it is amazing we also were rewarded with such generous and low ego players in our short history.
We have a baseball team here in Tampa Bay that has religiously signed for their fans, and even spent more than a few moments making some kid’s day by giving them a ball, or even a wide smile when they ask for an autograph or picture with them. And sure there are people around Tampa Bay who sometimes abuse the system, but we are lucky the guys sign for us. As I sat by the Rays dugout tunnel and talked to a few people, the players came and went, but always had a moment for the fans.
Sure some of the Rays biggest stars might not have made the trip north this time, but you can be assured they will be in that same dugout when the teams meet again in Clearwater on Tuesday, March 23 at 1:05 pm. And there are a few of the Rays players that might not seem to heed your call for their autographs or photo opportunities at times, but this Rays team by far signs more balls, bats and collectibles for their fans than most of their counterparts in the Major Leagues.
As I stood there taking random photos most of the time during Batting Practice in Clearwater, I kept an eagle eye towards the opposing team’s leftfield tunnel entrance that leads to the Philadelphia Phillies clubhouse. What I was trying to gauges if the Phillies players were following the Rays player’s lead and signing for the fans before this Spring Training game.
And if you go down to the rails before Rays games there are always scores of Rays fans with the same types of stories. Telling you of Rays players showing a unusual sense of kindness or requests for multiple photo with friends and family never uttering a negative comment, but treating their fans to a special moment with a huge smile.
Maddon has on more than one occasion reminded his Rays players that the Rays true fan base is a great constant source of energy and motivation for this club daily, and that they should remember when a fan requests a moment with them during the baseball season.
And it is great to see a young Rays fan leaning over and asking for an autograph, and that Rays player comes over signs and maybe even chats for a moment with the kid and the crowd. Not only does it make his day, but sometimes it makes the player’s day too. It is so special to have a team like our Rays that is open to giving back to the Rays fans. And sometimes we might forget just how lucky we truly are as Rays fans to have baseball players willing to take some time out to do this for us before Rays games.
Most visiting teams fans are jealous of that close bond between fan and player, and wish that their guys would do the same for them. This firmly illustrates another great reason to be a Rays fan. But also there is the danger of getting too used to it and maybe asking too much, or pushing the envelope and alienating a player with the fans.
As with most teams, there are autograph hounds/collectors within the Rays Republic who tend to throw a dark shadow on the true fans by selling their autographed rewards and jeopardize a real fan just wanting a sincere autograph. It is this level of fan that has been the benchmark for the Rays imposing their Sunday autograph days to be limited to kids under 14.
These measures have pushed the autograph hounds to getting their signatures outside the stadium player’s entrance gates, or charity events, where it is the player’s option if they will reward the collectors.
Rays fans need to keep nurturing this special player-fan relationship, and try and keep it from drying up, or let anything negative influence the Rays players from wanting to sign or spend time with the fans.
I sometimes have found it necessary to impose my opinion on some young autograph seekers to teach them a better way to get their autographs without upsetting, or maybe ruining the great open ended relationship between the team and its fans. You know the kids I am talking about, who yell “Hey You” or do not even get to know the Rays roster and do not call them by name, but by the number on their jersey.
The Rays players being so open to the fans is a great reason to be a Rays fan. And even if there are a few negative influences surrounding the fan’s nucleus with the players, the relationship is not one-sided. If the fans remain respectful and treat the Rays players with genuine concern and interest, this great bond between the two should flourish for a long, long time.
I do consider us blessed with great players who show more attention to our fans than most within the MLB ranks. But then again, that might just be another great advantage to doing things “The Rays Way”.
Got to admit it here, I love it when the Tampa Bay Rays come north and play the Philadelphia Phillies during Spring Training. It is basically a Rays “homecoming” to their fans who do not have the time or resources to travel the 80 miles down to Port Charlotte, Florida for their Grapefruit League schedule. And making it a double pleasure is that the game is played at BrightHouse Field, which has to be one of the most beautiful baseball stadiums in Pinellas County.
So here we go as I pop on a few photos today on my journey northbound to the chilly tundra that is Clearwater, Florida. Seriously, when the game started on Sunday at 1 pm, it was 65 degrees, by the time the game was wrapped up with the Rays shutting down the Phillies 5-3 for their third victory of the Spring, it was down to 61 degrees. Not complaining, just found it kind of weird during such a sunny day with limited wind hitting you in the stands. But then again as I always say….If you do not like the weather in Florida, wait 15 minutes, it will change.
That might be another reason Dillon has been catching more this season to make his stock rise above just being a utility player mostly playing in the infield. And during Batting Practice today, I saw him moving all around the infield from taking balls at third base, to manning the first base bag for a bit. Dillon did get in the game yesterday coming in for Elliot Johnson and playing third base, but went 0-2 in the game. Got to tell you, I always get a bit jealous of those corporate slugs across from me sitting in the Hooters VIP Diamond Dugout section. Not only do they get waitresses in skimpy Hooter attire, but they have almost instant access to the bench along with some great chicken wings and blue cheese.
Got to befriend someone some day and see if I should be so jealous of this section….I think I would be no matter what. But I also find it kind of wild that in Bright House Field, the Phillies have two Hooters ball girls down the foul lines who sit in these nice canvas chairs with gloves in hand flirting with the fans and just looking pretty. Sure I have seen them get out of their chairs a few times, but I forget they are not there for their baseball skills but to look cute and smile for the fans. Always wondered why the Phillies did not bring down two of their regular season Philly Ballgirls who actually play softball for local leagues or college in the Philly area.
Always love how the Rays players treat their younger fans. You do not get the total jest of it in this photo, but Elliot Johnson was actually throwing the ball with the young baseball player in red for about three minutes before the kid had to go back into the infield and stand for the National Anthem. You know it is moments like these that makes a child a baseball fan for life. And what a story he will have when he goes back to school on Monday telling all of his friends he threw a baseball with a Major League Baseball player… on the field before a game….priceless moment.
Always love it when the United States Army’s Golden Knights parachute team does a pre-game event like this in BrightHouse Field. I have now seen it a few times and it is always a great spectacle and an extremely emotional sight seeing the billowing red smoke and the final recognition of our flag attached to his parachute. I find it really interesting to see this Sunday prior to the Oscars last night that saw the simply amazing film “The Hurt Locker” take the Best Film honors. I have to say I have seen the film and loved it for its realism and attention to military detail.
What was amazing in this game on Sunday is we saw everyone of the Rays players fighting for a roster spot play in front of some of their hometown fans who came out and helped set a attendance record for a Spring Training game held at Bright House Field. 10,474 fans filled every nook and cranny of the stadium on Sunday. It was definitely standing room only out in the grassy berm areas, and the concession stands did look like the usual rush during a Rays/Yankees or Rays/Red Sox series. Even saw one of the Trop’s beer guys Mark working in the stands yesterday and it made the game feel more like a home game.
Had a funny thing happen to me yesterday while I was sitting in the 7th row down in Section 104. Had an older gentleman tell us to either give him play-by-play of the game or shut up. My new found friends from Philly were a bit perplexed, but I reminded them that we do live in a retirement region here in Florida, and some people like to concentrate on the baseball game. I did not want to upstage the guy and tell him I would be more than willing to do audio for him of the game. The few fans around us were a bit upset, but for me, it was just business as usual in Florida. But I do understand the guy’s request.
We were talking about Philly places I knew and the Winter they just went through up there, and maybe this guy was not into our discussions. One of the Philly guys actually remarked that if we were in a movie theatre, it was not a problem to stop talking, but we were at a baseball game. I just laughed it all off and said it was fine, I could get some more photos and maybe get some much needed sun on my farmer-tanned bones. Funny it really got a few people around me upset, but I made sure they knew if it was Tropicana Field I might have kept talking, but since I was in someone else’s stadium, I respected the guy wearing his green Phillies cap.
One thing I did notice was that Rays First Base Coach George Hendricks seemed a bit unprepared for this game today. I tried to ask someone in the Rays clubhouse if George’s usual number 25 jersey might not have made the trip north, but they were really closed-lipped about it. It was kind of funny to see him wearing that “95″ jersey, which usually a sure sign of a Rays minor leaguer getting a chance with the big club. Notice Hendrick’s batting helmet shows his “usual” jersey number 25 on it
I also asked a few of the photographers about these wild looking silver camera I saw in at least three different spots around BrightHouse Field on Sunday. I was advised that they were permanent Major League Baseball Network cameras that got primary shots from the First Base, Third Base and Centerfield angles during Spring Training games. I had not even noticed them before and found it quite interesting they did not employ three different cameramen for these regions during telecasts earlier in the Spring.
But it was a great simply beautiful day out in the sun in Florida on Sunday. And the day was even made more special after Rays Radio man Rich Herrera yelled out “Renegade” from his silver car as he sped away from a side street onto Old Coachman Road on his way home from the ballgame. Plenty of excited Rays fans and Phillies fans enjoying one of the best weather days this Spring. Congrats to the Phillies again for setting a new single game attendance record, and hopefully we can make another run at that record on Tuesday, March 23rd when the Rays come back to this amazing ballpark and I will sit instead out in the berm region to give a different prospective to this great ballpark.