Results tagged ‘ Robinson Chirinos ’

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.

 

 

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.

More Answers than Questions (Thank Goodness) This Rays Offseason


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let Them Eat (Bundt) Cake

Not much of a dessert guy myself, but tonight, the Toronto Blue Jays got their just desserts. Funny how it was not a shaving cream pie, or even a Carvel sundae, but it was a special Tampa Bay bundt/bunt cake that did the trick.

Who would have thought the recipe for again awakening the Rays offense would be to start off in the bottom of the 2nd inning playing “ small ball”. That’s right, not aiming for the fences, but putting the bat on the ball and squirming it along the AstroTurf woke up not only the Rays bat, but reminded the Jays defense this team doesn’t quit.

Sure Ben Zobrist did his best “2008 Zorilla “ impression crushing a ball into the Rightfield bleachers for a short-lived 1-0 lead. Then after a Casey Kotchman fly out, B J Upton showed why the Rays gambled and kept him here instead of sending him away. A well crafted single to Leftfield, then well placed 9 iron shot by Matt Joyce into shallow Center put the Rays in a position to make some early noise.

With Joyce and Upton in scoring position, Sean Rodriguez dropped a beauty of a bunt just in front of Jays starter Carlos Villanueva who then proceeded to commit a costly error as Upton stamped on Home Plate. That was the first sliver of the bunt/bundt cake.

Then Rays rookie catcher Robinson Chirinos put down his own little bounding ball of short happiness for a infield single to First. Joyce came in to score, and all of a sudden it was 3-0 Rays on top. Second helping of bundt/bunt cake with a little extra dab of frosting.

All of a sudden last night’s lone Rays run scorer decided to get into the action himself as rookie speedster Desmond Jennings wanted to deliver his own bit of sugary goodness by placing a perfect bunt in front of Jays Third Baseman Edwin Encarnacion who was playing back hoping for a double play ball.

Suddenly bases were loaded with Rays, another slice of bundt/bunt cake delivered. Finally Johnny Damon ended the sugar rush by delivering a long and deep sacrifice fly to Centerfield that easily scored Rodriguez to make it 4-0 Tampa Bay. All of a sudden a little bit of pre-game prep work by the Rays in bunting drills snapped their offense out of its funk.

When the Rays came up in the bottom of the 3rd inning, it seemed the Jays were still infused and decimated by the Rays bunt barrage, and possibly a little sugar shock. Villanueva, a former Jays reliever, couldn’t seem to get out of his 2nd inning stride and quickly the Rays added some more morsels to their run/ sugar intake.

Of the 8 Rays hitters to go to the plate in the bottom of the 3rd inning, 4 produced extra base hits, and the Jays saw 4 more runs cross the plate. Suddenly after solo homer by Kotchman, a double by Joyce, Rodriguez getting pelted with a pitch, Chirinos decided it was time to put the cherry firmly upon the cake and delivered a 3-run shot to Leftfield that left more of a bitter taste in Villaneuva’s mouth than sweet.

Ex-Rays bat boy and Jays starter Jesse Litsch came in and stopped the flow of Rays runs getting Damon to strike out swinging.

Finally the Rays had figured out a way to get out of that 1-2 run lead routine with the Jays and tack on some needed runs with the small ball, then using the long ball to seal the win. This is the type of offensive show that we have seen so often in road games, but has been few and far between at Tropicana Field.

With a win tomorrow during the Parks and Recreation Day, plus the Rays Tweet Up, the team could head into their 3-game series against the Oakland Athletics, who the Rays hope they can extract some more sweet revenge on this weekend. This is the home offense we have been anxiously awaiting. Pining to see finally break through and produce at home.

What happens during the Thursday matinée will go a long way in providing comfort and stability that this team has finally broken out of the home rut and will again dominate. A win tomorrow will put then back at square one with a 26-26 mark at home.

Tonight the Rays delivered a beauty of a game hitting on all cylinders, providing not only a huge run support cushion for Rays starter James Shields, but a solid effort with this team finally figuring out their home crux. Tonight the Rays did deliver a sliver of just desserts to the Jays, but hopefully it is only an appetizer of what is to come in the next 4 contests.

Bon Appetit Rays Republic, for tonight, let the Jays eat some humble pie.

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.


Spring Baseball Has Finally Sprung!

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Some days when you drive down to Port Charlotte,Florida to watch the Tampa Bay Rays during Spring Training, the ride seems like it take forever and a day. Somehow the miles seem to drag on, and by the time you hit the Torch Blade exit, you are already on the verge of being spent. But not today. Not on the day that the Rays officially start their 2011 season. Opening day in Port “C” is always a time to renew friendships, bask in the light that is the new season, and most of all, begin to work on the base for that great Summer tan.


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SpringOpener2011 016.JPGWith David Price set to hit the hill, followed by a Tall reliever that brings it from the clouds, mixed with the facial gold from the “Garfoose” master, Rays baseball has arrived in 2011. From the moment I hit the line near the gate today, the buzz was on the new blood and some of the old Rays. James Shields, also known this time of year as the privateer “Graybeard” is anxious to get his year started on Sunday, erasing the doubts and clouds from around his 2010 performance.


 

SpringOpener2011 011.JPGThen you have the young bloods like Chris Archer, Brandon Gomes and Cesar Cabal, each collectively fighting for their MLB life (Cabal), while Archer and Gomes most likely are just hoping to set a beautiful impression on Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Pitching Coach Jim Hickey as a secondary option if an injury takes down a starter or long reliever.


All three have a boatload of possible MLB potential, but we know one will definitely start in the minors (Archer). Cabal will be fighting for the right to stay with the Rays as a Rule 5 player that has to make the roster, or be offered back to the Red Sox. Gomes, who was part of the Garza deal wants to show his new employer that they made an intelligent investment in bringing him into the Rays fold. All three will get their chance to impress on this first day of action.


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SpringOpener2011 103.JPGThere is a buzz around the gates of the INF Elliot Johnson finally getting another chance to crack the Rays infield, even on a part-time basis. His game has been elevated, but will it be enough to stave off the advancements of veteran Felix Lopez who also wants that vital roster spot. This infield utility spot might have more than a few sets of eyes watching as it’s competition starts today. But most of the chatter circling the closed gates seems to be on who the Rays might choose as their Opening Day starter.


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SpringOpener2011 032.JPGDo you go with Shields, who has owned that spot for what seems like decades, or do you pass the mantle to Price this year? There are varying opinions on this, but my sentiment is to see if Shields rebuilds his arsenal, then make the educated decision. It can not be an emotional pick just because Shields is the veteran. It has to be for the overall good of the team, and for the player involved. If Maddon and Hickey feel adamant about the possibility of Price having the same success in the top spot as in the two slot, then it is a no-brainer….Or is it?


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SpringOpener2011 126.JPGThe potential of the number 2 guys in the American League East is impressive. Jon Lester in Boston, Brain Matusz in Baltimore, Phil Hughes in NYC and a possibility anyone from Scott Richmond to Brandon Morrow manning the 2-slot for the Blue Jays. The number 2 spot might be the essential spot to decide a series win or loss in 2011. The top slot might have lost a bit of it’s luster as the “terrible two’s” might be the 17-20 game winners this season.


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SpringOpener2011 048.JPGBut today is about Spring baseball. It is about the return of the game that left us wanting more in October. It is time to fill our collective bellies with the food of the game, get to know the new players, plus provide the first enthusiastic push of emotion heading into the March 31st Spring finale on the new AstroTurf in Tropicana Field.


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SpringOpener2011 198.JPGSure we want to see the new guys, but the old favorites and the guys who have teetered that thin line with the Rays might be another great storyline to watch in the coming weeks. Dirk Hayhurst, coming back from injury should make a play for one of the three potential unclaimed Bullpen spots.

 


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SpringOpener2011 207.JPGThe first day of live pitching for J P Howell might be one of the most anticipated events this Spring as the Rays reload their vacant Bullpen. The emergence of possibly someone like Matt Bush, who started his career as the first overall pick of the Padres, then had a few unexpected moments before making his rebirth as a reliever.


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Briggy.jpgThe stories are all there. Enough for writers from every corner of the Tampa Bay area to scope out, research and analyze until their eyes blur. But today it is all about the rebirth of the season. The first step towards not only competing, but putting the competition back on their heels. Some say the next three games against the Pittsburgh Pirates is a bit anticlimactic, but this young Bucco team is hungry to make the same Spring jump the Rays did in 2008 and 2010. They are hungry to see the “W’s” multiply.


SpringOpener2011 226.JPGSo I was sure to plop on the sunscreen and apply a bit of logic to a first contest that would have bugs and flats moments, but give us a sense of what to expect in 2011. This is a great young squad that should be a pain in every team’s plans in 2011. It is a team reloading itself for the potential of having another string of highly competitive years, with a full arsenal of budding MLB stars ready to knock on the door. This might be the beginning of a beautiful Rays era started on the mound today by one of baseball most likable young stars.



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Some would say that Price is auditioning for that Opening Day nod today, but I beg to differ. I honestly feel Price is showcasing the next wave of Rays talent that is bubbling just below the surface and want to make an impression on the fans to know their names. Guys like catcher Robinson Chirinos, outfielder Brandon Guyer and Sam Fuld. When the Rays finalize their 25-man roster in less than four weeks there might be a few surprises, and a few disappointments.


But it all begins today, with an expected sweltering humid Florida afternoon game, offset by the cooling notion that baseball is back. I do not know about you, but I have waited for this moment since October and I can’t waif for these rot iron gates to swing open….Let the Spring begin!

 

 

 

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