Results tagged ‘ Sean Rodriguez ’

Rays Inspired World Cup Squad

 

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It is the World’s game. Only in our country does the sport heard ‘round the World take second, third or maybe not even a fifth fiddle. The globe embraces the sport of football, or as we Americans have dubbed it, Soccer.

With our own United States men soccer team showing their grit and glory by winning their first matchup against Ghana in this year’s World Cup last night, I thought it might be fun to pencil in my own Rays World Cup squad based on the current members of the Rays 25-Man roster.

Instantly most of you would wonder why a Baseball blogger would want to write and create a Soccer squad. From the age of 10 to 21 I played either as a Sweeper or on the left-side of the turf on local Men’s leagues (FSSL), on the All-South select U-17 travel teams and spent my 16th summer in Malmo, Sweden working out with that vistas reserves team.

Heck if you look over at the blog photo on right you will see a photo of me playing indoor soccer, so I have the knowledge and know what it takes to play the game.

Of course the Club Rays team’s Managers slot is already taken as you cannot discount the philosophical and game day rhetoric of Joe Maddon. Heck in a lot of ways he might even be a better communicator and guru to young minds than the current USA Manager Jurgen Kilinsman.

downloadI decided this Rays Club needs to play a 4-3-3 alignment which is 4 defenders, 3 midfielders and 3 forwards. We all know the Rays claim to fame in the last few years have been defense, so a line with a left, center, right fullbacks and a sweeper manning the gaps seems as a perfect lineup to help keep games close and with minimal scoring (hopefully).

So let’s start at the last line of defense, the goalkeeper position first. I am going to pick Ryan Hanigan as he has shown he has the ability to block balls in the dirt, move around with grace under pressure and will come out of goal and sacrifice his body for the team. Most people would think I might pick Jose Molina as a back-up, but I chose Alex Cobb as much for his leadership as for his attention to the little things and would be a great communicator back there.

That being said, my defense will also have a few wily Rays vets manning key spots, and even a few surprises to some people. My left fullback has to be someone committed to defense as well as have good sprinting speed to defend an opposing winger who is usually the fastest guy on the team with the ball.

For some reason Jake McGee fits that spot for me. He is a big body guy who should be able to keep his shoulder square to the ball and ride a winger off the ball if he wants to proceed towards the touchlines or the goal box. On the right side I’m going with a gut feeling that Yunel Escobar will be a mirror image of McGee and keep the crosses from getting to the goal mouth and has the closing speed to thwart long passes into the box.

images (4)Center fullback is a tough one. I want to get a big body in there, but more in height than in weight. For that reason I chose Grant Balfour who at 6’2” has a bit of a nasty streak, highly competitive and if he chats to the ball, that might scare a few opposing forwards from going up the middle of the pitch. As long as he keeps his back to the goal, I think the snarling Aussie should shut down any middle of the field dribbling and long range shots.

As for the sweeper position I wanted to give that slot to someone who can be both an offensive and defensive weapon. Someone who can be that 4th utility defender as well as crash up into the offensive zone for corner kicks, help take free kicks and set a few boomers toward the goal. Perfect weapon for this Rays Club squad would be Sean Rodriguez.

Now onto midfield, or the engine room of this team. We already know Evan Longoria will wear the Captain’s band and has the grit and stamina to man the center midfield slot and his ability to give out orders and command respect will have opposing defenders marking him tight, so I want my outside midfielders to have a burst of speed and great ball skills.

soccer_300x77My selection for left mid will be James Loney. I picked him as much for consistency as for his bursts of power which on free kicks or fouls way outside the box his kicks could free Longoria and the forwards to jockey for inside position on the opposing defense. My right midfielder would have to be Ben Zobrist. I do not know if Zorilla is ambidextrous on the soccer field, but if he was he would be a great fit to the usual attacking side of the field and could center passes or do flanking moves or U-runs down the line for crosses into box.

That leaves the forwards line. Here I’m going for the tall man in the box and shifty runners down the outsides or who can change directions and do crafty diagonals into the box for short chips, passes or provide ball in the air for headers.

So with me wanting to capitalize on speed, it is no secret the left wing has to be Kevin Kiermaier who seems to have a sixth sense to getting into position for the right play and who is one of those players who brings a new level of excitement to the team.

download (1)Right wing has to be another speedster as I pencil in Desmond Jennings for this slot and will call upon his quick first burst for great offensive moves and set plays. Add to the fact Jennings did play in that other brand of football, I think he will be a great target in the air for headers and taking a defender out of his position for scoring opportunities at the top of the goal box.

That only leaves the center spot. I had to go with someone here who has leadership, respect and plays on a different level at times. The obvious and clear choice for this spot was David Price.  One of the glaring reasons is his 6’6” frame can rise a good 3-4 inches above most defenders for headers and I think he has the foot skills and dexterity to pull off picture perfect passes and provide 110% throughout the contest.

Of course this Rays team will have great and skilled substitutes on the bench like Chris Archer, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore,  Joel Peralta, and I might add Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi to the mix as we all need a true “enforcer” on our soccer team.

images (2)I know there will be debate about my choices, but I think this squad could do some real damage on the pitch, provide some spectacular scoring chances and picture perfect goals as well as keep the score low and within reach of the Rays offensive unit.  Well it’s time for me to set the ball on the middle dot and get this Rays Club team going. Besides, you can always vent your thought at Rays Soccer Night Friday, June 20th.

What? I wasn’t going to sit on the sidelines and watch this team, I would make the perfect Referee plus I want to see this match at ground zero, not in the stands. And besides, St. Petersburg,Florida like the Rays is home to the 2-time North American Soccer League Champions, the Tampa Bay Rowdies who play on the Rays old Spring home. Florida Progress/Al Lang Field.

Now if I can just get the linesmen to keep Jonny Gomes from running onto the turf, we would be golden. 

 

Ramos and his Versatility Deserves a Chance at Rays 5th Slot.

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Some would say throwing your ball cap into a ring with several other MLB caliber players is a “no-win” situation. That in doing so you might seem a bit of unsure of your part in the Tampa Bay Rays brain trusts ultimate plans for you, but I disagree with that train of thought.

I actually think the decision reached by southpaw reliever Cesar Ramos is not only bold but a calculated move and shows to the men who make these kind of decisions that he is willing to do whatever is necessary to put his name on a Rays 25-man spot come Opening Day, even if it means abandoning their pre-set agenda of him being the long guy out of the Rays Bullpen.

cr2It also shows to me Ramos wants to garner the same type of versatility and game situational thought process that makes a utility player like Sean Rodriguez an invaluable piece of the Rays game day puzzle. By Ramos going back and trying to stretch himself out again as a starter, it could give the Rays not only another leftie starter, it could ultimately solidify his slot as the Rays long innings eater out of the Pen as well as a spot starter without having to bring someone in from Triple-A Durham in an emergency scenario.

Making yourself an invaluable piece of the Rays machinery has led to a longer Rays tenure for Rodriguez, and it only seems natural for Ramos to also want to secure additional roles or situational ideas with his name imprinted upon Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s mind.  By wanting to take a chance on the Rays 5th rotation spot, even in the short term until Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson come back sometime in late May, Ramos is showing his versatility, willingness to take on challenges as well as show he wants the ball every 5th day this season.

Sure it might only be a gig for 7-8 starts then back into the Bullpen frame of mind, but it can project not only the confidence he has in his pitches, but if the Rays did elect to hand the ball to Ramos, it shows they too understand the commitment whether long term or short is one the leftie would accept again at a moment’s notice.

cr3And that kind of guy down in the Bullpen is needed. You never know when a guy might stiffen up, feel a tweak or just doesn’t have his stuff on a given day and with the Rays confident in Ramos, it makes the decision not only easier, but gives them confidence immediately Ramos will rise to the occasion and take the ball.

A great comparison to what Ramos is trying to achieve is the situation that fell to Andy Sonnanstine late in his Rays tenure.  Sonny was put into the Bullpen with the knowledge he not only has “starter’s stuff” in the way of preparation and stamina, but had the reliever’s mentality at the same time to get the job done in the least amount of pitches, with the least amount of damage until the Bullpen took over the late innings.

And not surprising today during his first Spring Training outing, Ramos survived 2.2 innings of work but did give up 4 hits and 2 runs while fellow 5th spot contenders Eric Bedard got the victory and Jake Odorizzi got his first ever M L B save. Still Ramos faced 12 batters and was added by a sniper-like throw by Evan Longoria to get shifty pinstripe Brett Gardner who was trying to stretch his single to left field into a double at Second Base.

Some might instantly say Ramos was lucky, but every M L B starter knows a little “luck” is more than welcomed during an outing.

cr4I kind of like the idea of Ramos fighting for the 5th rotation slot even if it might be on an interim and abbreviated basis. It puts another usable pitching cog into Maddon’s arsenal as well as doesn’t use up a minor league option on one of the Rays triple-A stars trying to bang their way into the majors. Now it’s up to Maddon and his brain trust to decide if Ramos, who is out of minor league options is their 5th guy until Hellickson hit the mound again, or remains in their long reliever role from this point on this Spring.

Hopefully Ramos will get a few more chances to not only change the minds of Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey and Maddon, but endear himself to all of us as not only Evan Longoria’s old roommate at Long Beach State, but as the versatile guy is truly is……..I hope Ramos get the shot because versatility especially in the pitching area is something special and should be rewarded. 

They are the Unofficial M L B Fraternity Better Known as Gamma (R) Alpha (A) Upsilon (Y) Zeta (Z)

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Recently when asked why he chose to sign with the Tampa Bay Rays instead of the Cleveland Indians, P Mark Lowe said it was the Rays “laid back environment” that made him take their minor league offer this winter. It is a environment that has been cultivated, nursed and pretty well resembles a Fraternity at time than a professional sports team, but in that is also the charm that has materialized into the Rays being the B.M.O.C.’s or Big Men on Campus right now among the Major League Baseball ranks.

tbr1I know that feeling well having been in 2 Fraternities (Delta Theta Chi and Sigma Chi) in my college hazy days. I mean think about it logically here for a second and you too can see the similarities between the two types of organizations and it will come to you that no matter how you slice it, the Rays are a brotherhood that goes beyond the boundaries of the chalk lines, clay and grass.

A lot of these guys bond together as teammates and their friendships go outside the comforts of the game to include golf tournaments, dinners, fishing or hunting expeditions and activities involving Xbox or PS 3 consoles. From the moment these guys first roll into the Rays Spring Training clubhouse to the moment they pack and get ready for time away from the game in the Fall, unity, respect and creating a firm bond on and off the field is paramount.

Another indication that the Rays could be a great fraternal order is they have an insanely creative Advisor/Manager in Joe Maddon (former Zeta Psi frat boy) .  Who else could of come up with penguins named Cliff, a python that is longer than the Rays Bullpen bench, or could get every single person, including his own game day staff and the PR Dept. to coordinate and participate in some wildly creative and highly photographed road trip ensembles.

nerddddsFrom the classic All-White event to their awesome Nerd renditions to dressing in PJ’s, this team laughs at itself and is proud of the sum of their parts from starters, reserves to staffers. All are embraced and celebrated during these road trip ideas, and we have the photos to prove it.  I mean seriously, anyone who has been to college has walked by those hallowed buildings and wondered what really goes on inside, well with the Rays all the hype and magic are open for the eyes to see or look away.

Another similarity is the Rays annual Rookie initiation (I will not call it hazing). There have been some pretty wild costumes ideas over the past from other teams within the M L B Clubhouse halls, but we here in Tampa Bay always search and want to see that year’s edition of rookies and new players parade out to the bus in their selected gear that sometimes you wish you could be unseen, but for some odd reason you can’t seem to look away.

But one of the greatest part of being within the fraternal system is service, and the Rays do that in spades. Every player within the Rays M L B Clubhouse has their special interests, pinpointed cause or a foundation to support the Tampa Bay community.

bgcSome thought that when B J Upton left for ATL only fellow Rays David Price would be left to carry on with the S. St. Petersburg Dugout Club group that instills the great characteristics of staying healthy, positive, and being involved in life while also striving to be role models would crumble. But it didn’t Price got other players like Matt Moore and Desmond Jennings to come on board and keep the spirit of the project alive and striving.

Evan Longoria will donate more than $1 million a season over the life of his contract to the Rays Baseball Foundation, and almost every player on the Rays has written into their contracts or offered voluntarily great contributions that will benefit the Rays charitable arm of the Rays that give out grants and sponsorship’s to those Tampa Bay organizations that need a “help up”, not a hand out. “Paying it forward”, showing civility and acts of service adorn every member of the squad and even to their spouses (Rays Wives organization).

You can ask almost any player who has worn the Rays uniform since Maddon took the torch and they have great and glowing comments on the Rays clubhouse character and the way they play the game of baseball and life.  

rutoroSome of that light can be attributed to Maddon, but other beams of that sunburst has to be shone on the Rays Front Office and their staff for bringing in great men who can contribute to the Rays ideals as well as expand on their foundations and establish new traditions, visual and physical tests to unite and inspire. Remember the gladiator masks, or even Chewy or the Gene Simmons masks of 2013.

Fraternities build a person up inside and out and those values might fade a bit, but they are with you for life after you experience them. I still see 2 of my former Frat brothers at Rays games. Larry is with security, and Clevin is with the St. Petersburg Police Dept. presence at Rays games. We are always glad to see each other and even today talk of some of the past monumental events that formed our Frat lives.

Say what you want about Fraternities. Some people have had bad events, maybe even wanting to forget that portion of their lives, but I relished it. I mean I think all of us can imagine Longoria adorned in a Grand Puba water buffalo helmet after dark on the Charlotte Sports Park boardwalk asking the assembled brood to “Recite after me….I, state your name, do hereby pledge allegiance to the Rays….”

Yep. If I had to give this band of baseball brothers a fraternity name it would have to be Gamma Alpha Upsilon Zeta, or RAYZ (no “S” in Greek Alphabet).  

I swear I hear that old Isley Brothers song “Shout” in the swirling wind here in Port Charlotte. 

 

 

# 20 and 14’s Roles Could Define 2014

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It’s not only odd but a bit perplexing that the numbers have added up in this order this year. # 20 and # 14 will be numbers to watch in 2014 and each could have a huge impact on just how far the Tampa Bay Rays go this season. Seems like I’m waxing a bit too poetic that these two players could be such key pieces to the Rays puzzle in 2014, but sometime reality can be both bizarre and prophetic.

jhgfdbvAt no other point in the Rays history have 2 numbers aligned in such a way that they could be considered linchpins on how the season could or should progress or ultimately regress. Rays outfielder Matt Joyce and David Price  both separately and conjoined have the talents and abilities to make magic happen upon Tropicana Field’s AstroTurf, but each also come into this spring with question marks attached to their names.

Now this is not to suggest either will go down with an injury, be traded or be the anointed saviors that could decide the 2014 season. This is to suggest that possibly the addition, subtraction meshing of these two players could decide more than just victories and defeats, but the Ray’s final pitching staff formation or outfield rotation decisions.

Questions will need to be addressed quicker rather than later. I still feel that Price is not on solid ground on if he is living in Port Charlotte, Florida in mid-February or will be calling another vista his home this spring. With Masahiro Tanaka (Yankees) and Matt Garza (Brewers) off the pitching “wish lists” around MLB, more than a few courtiers could come a-callin’ around the Rays hoping to make one last huge push for Price’s services in 2014.

That being said, could the Rays be secretly able to keep Price no matter the $14 salary weighing on their 2014 payroll, or just being coy knowing someone will offer up just the right bite and the team take it knowing they have pitching talents already in-house who could step up the ladder and perform at a higher level this season.

th70R7PW3ZIf Price were to be with the Rays come March 31st, will another clock begin a countdown to the Trade deadline, or will the team effectively ever put a “No Trade” sign on Price for the entire season no matter if they are a post season race or treading water come the end of July.  A “price-less” Rays rotation could consist of a 1-4 slots with Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer and possibly Alex Colome or Jack Odorizzi manning the 5-hole.

You also have to wonder if this whole situation of Price not being on solid ground with the team showing adamant solidarity for Price staying with the team even at this point is not eating at him mentally and emotionally that he is possibly just a phone call away from leaving this team and wearing different colors from today until possibly August 1st.  Confidence plays a huge part of the prep game for a pitcher coming into the spring as they gain that fortitude, that intensity and want to succeed as Spring Training and game evolve. Could not having a solid foundation under Price possibly wreck a bit of havoc during his Rays starts in 2014, or could he essentially be counting the days until his trade in the recesses of his mind.

th20TY036CPrice’s mindset and words from today on will echo loudly as to his progress or regression this season. From a pitching standpoint, Price holds a lot of instability coming into this season. Not on his talents or abilities, but if he will possess the aggressive nature and instinct we are accustom to, or have something pull his usual game mode from him. As much as Price holds some key questions for the team’s pitching prognosis, Joyce could be at a definite crossroads as to his role both in 2014 and in the future with the Rays this season.  

How the Rays decide to use Joyce this season will definitely define his future with the team, but also could signal if his own journey might end with the Rays. Joyce definitely knows his role on the Rays in 2014 will be different than any other time in his tenure here. With Desmond Jennings retuning and the resigning of David DeJesus combined with the third addition of AL ROY Wil Meyers beginning his 2nd tour with the team, suddenly Joyce might find himself as a 4th outfielder on a team with so many variety of player options.

uytrfbIf you also factor in the option of Ben Zobrist, Jayson Nix or even newly acquired utility man Logan Forsythe into the mix, Joyce could find himself after Spring Training possibly even lower in the mix and teetering on possibly not making the final 25-man roster. But that is thinking too far ahead right now.

Honestly Joyce could see more time at the DH spot and be a relief or late inning outfielder than as a consistent figure in the outfield this year.  Joyce has been given the time to address his southpaw woes at the plate and has shown some confidence, but as of his 2013 performances against lefties has subsequently been sheltered from left-handers at all costs.

hgfdWe do not know yet if Joyce had addressed this in the off season, but hopefully the Rays will put Joyce in enough leftie-on-leftie situation to either give the team more confidence his hitting abilities against non-righties or pigeon-hole him to spot duty or trade him off knowing they have some depth in the utility roles to suffice his elimination.

2014 was going to be so key for the Rays even before the questions arose concerning #20 and #14. Hopefully they can be banded together this season as offensive and defensive strong points for the team to help the Rays go to an awesome 5th post season spot in 7 seasons.  Only time will tell just how important those two numbers will be to the Rays success.

Longoria Admitting his Error Shows his Leadership Maturity

One of the greatest traits a leader can have is admitting they are not perfect and just as the rest of us can make decisions that can be called into debate or discussion. Last night Tampa Bay Rays Clubhouse leader and Third Baseman Evan Longoria proved he was a leader and took responsibility for his error in his aggressive base running judgment during the Rays attempt to rally towards a possible 9th inning overtaking of their divisional foes, the Baltimore Orioles, but Longo’s gaffe might have been to try and amp up the energy for the rally, but it just as quickly put the Rays on their heels.

baltimore-orioles-v-tampa-bay-20130404-162917-201Some say it is a cardinal rule of baseball to never just watch the ball, but also have a keen visual on any base runners in front of you to keep just such a situation of coming to fruition or costing your team a must needed chance to pull out a possible victory. Depending on which school of thought you adhere towards, either Longoria was wrong by watching the ball, or was being aggressive with a possible 9th inning rally in mind. Either way, it might be up to your own interpretation, or at the very least your viewpoint and visual judgment when viewing the above video which showed both the Rays and Oriole’s broadcast crews.

If you did not see the play, it occurred in the bottom of the 9th with the Rays trailing 6-2 to Baltimore and followed a lead-off plucking of pinch-hitter Sean Rodriguez and a Ben Zobrist single to right to put two runners on the base path with no outs in the inning. Longoria then hit a ball deep to left-center field that was played off the upper portion of the wall and then the unfortunate again raised it ugly head.

009Zobrist is a calculated and safe runner. Since the ball’s path was blocked by the advancing fielders, Zobrist had to play upon the hunch it might still be caught and he would have to jettison back to first to avoid possibly being involved in a double play situation. Longoria who has that aggressive nature to his base running that has be haphazard before with at least one instance involving Zobrist in the past felt the outfielders could not make the play and was looking for a double and possible triple on the play.

This is where the error of Longo’s search for that vital punch to the Oriole’s chances took a solid uppercut to the Rays proverbial jaw. Longoria in his haste to make this a possible 2-RBI moment over ran the lead runner (Zobrist) and in that situation was immediately called out by First Base Umpire James Hoye which then had Zobrist stop his progress at Third Base and Longoria producing the first out of the inning. This did not ultimately destroy the Rays chances of securing additional runs in the inning, but it did hamper the game strategy that Rays Manager Joe Maddon could employ if there was no outs and two runners in definite scoring position.

Some will banter that the Second Base Umpire and Crew Chief John Hirschbeck should have convened a small meet with Home Plate Umpire Jim Reynolds who had a better visual vantage point as to if Longoria had passed Zobrist or if the two had been in the same area without cause for the out decision.

011If you look at the video, Longoria is strutting at quarter speed when he rounds first base possibly remembering his past base running mistake where he also passed Zobrist to produce an out in that past contest. The true angle or vantage point of the video doesn’t make it concrete in either decision’s direction, but the visual angle from behind Home Plate could have been a secondary check mark to Longo’s gaffe, or been a reason to question the play all together and have the Umpires convene for a discussion.

MLB Rule 7.08 (H), clearly states that any base runner is to be called out when he “passes a preceding runner before such runner is out”. Hirschbeck’s clarification in his decision was that this movement was akin to a runner missing a base and stated the situation “was kind of the thing you see or you don’t”. Maddon himself situated on the top step of the Rays dugout had a different point of view to the situation and possibly might have been the one person off to the side of the play besides Reynolds who could of see if Longo did in fact pass Zobrist or lagged a bit behind him as a precaution to having just this type of event unfold again for the pair.

All in all, Longoria did admit he was not running full speed and was watching the flight of the ball intensely with regard to possible extra bases, but he also did admit he did not know where “Zo was, but as soon as I saw the ball hit the ground, I took a hard step. And it seemed when I took that one hard step, I saw Zo to my left”. ”

014Some might find fault in Zobrist in this instance because he is a more careful and less flamboyant base runner who didn’t want to be a factor in losing this game due to a base running gaffe. With his Zobrist’s visual sight lines blocked by the advancing outfielders to the ball off the wall, he erred on the side of caution and in that moment could of set the wheels in motion for this gaffe, but he doing so to prolong the inning and not to be overly aggressive on a play that still could have been made by his sight angle.

In the end, it was great that Longoria did not throw anyone under the bus about the incident but took the right path and accepted the responsibility as well as showed he has grown as a leader of this club plus is willing to admit an error in judgment. Some players might have immediately pointed their finger to the runner in front of them or gone off full nuclear towards the Umpires, but Longoria used tact and accepted his plight the way a leader should and that commands a bit of respect.

But please Longo, the next time this situation comes during a game, please error on the side of caution, especially if you have a conscientious runner like Zobrist in front of you. Making this same type of mistake 3 times in your career is not a charm.

First Glimpse at Photos From Today’s 2013 Media Day

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This is the day a lot of us wait for wondering who will smile, who will not, and who just might have the most character in front of the photo lens. When the Tampa Bay Rays take their Team Photos, you never know what will transpire and make itself to the Web. So I hit up a familiar website that usually posts these photos in nano-seconds and took 21 of the photos uploaded and presented them here for you to get a first glance/peek at before the final set is divulge.

ArcherFlettfootAs always most of the main characters within the Rays roster got their time in front of the lens, but a few of the Rays team photos did not make it into this first batch and probably will make their way onto the blogosphere some time soon, but I’m hoping they might show a bit more character and possibly a splash of that classic Rays humor we all know and love.

Longo1Of course Evan Longoria is not in this first set as he was motoring towards the St. Petersburg area to attend to a bit of baby business, but we know when his photo does surface, he will definitely have a grin from ear-to-ear as Papa Longo heads into the 2013 MLB season. But the 2013 edition of the Team Photos does look a bit tame compared to some of their previous Team Photos since the Rays moved their Spring Training complex 79 miles to the South in the hamlet of Port Charlotte, Florida

MerlotSRodOut of this first batch of photos there are the usual pairings like Ben Zobrist, David Price and Rays Manager Joe Maddon that look more like a Glamor Shots shooting than a Team Photo. But the camera again this season seems to love some people while also doing a 180 shift on others to kind of dull their enthusiasm and excitement and make fun of others.Some times the worst thing to do in front of a camera lens is try and look too professional be too serious as the camera doesn’t have a brain and can then tend to make them look more demented or possibly deranged even before the first Grapefruit League contest.

CobbColomeThis season the “Grumpy” awards might go to Rays SP Alex Cobb who looks serious, but also has that serial bean ball artist look much like Kyle Farnsworth’s every year photo.Interesting enough, minor league prospect SP Alex Colome might actually get the old moniker I stuck on his Uncle, ex-Rays RP Jesus “Smiley” since his photo looks more like a mug shot than a happy occasion. But that is what sets Team Photos apart.

Not all of them will be masterpieces or utter clusters, but it is the time of the season when  you can definitely tell who is relaxed, who might need a long hug, or who should be tackled by Raymond and tickled to the point of a huge smile and giggle.

Luke2Still, I think Luke Scott might actually have a twin in the Rays Spring Clubhouse mounted right alongside his locker. Now if he dyed his mutton chops white they might actually look like the tusks of that wild boar currently residing with a Rays Spring starburst cap in the Clubhouse.

But it is still great to see most of the photos are relaxed, tranquil photos that definitely shows who is eager, who is relaxed and who the camera seems to love.

LOneyLeeRays newcomer James Loney seemed to have brought a bit of that old LA vibe with him into the photo day as he looks perfectly calm, cool and collected as the Rays head into their 2013 slate of Grapefruit contests in less than a few days.

HellHernandezAlso within the first 21 photos released were SP Jeremy Hellickson, INF Sean Rodriguez, SS Hak-Ju Lee, Desmond Jennings and someone who might just make a player for a rotation slot this Spring, Roberto Hernandez.  There will be more photos in the future, but this first crop of Rays Team Photos for 2013 definitely shows the vast polar realms of personalities on this Rays squad this Spring.  Not matter what transpires, I can definitely see this team this Spring not being a bore…or is that boar?

Players and Fans Definitely Rocked the Trop at Fan Fest

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I saw a member of the Tampa Bay Rays front office while doing my usual trading card route a few days before that Saturday’s Rays Fan Fest. He seemed really excited about the anticipated fan to player ratio at the multiple events held throughout the day, and believe me, the Rays not only delivered, but a few of their players such as INF Sean Rodriguez and P Chris Archer seemed to be everywhere.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 099All day long I heard stories of players going above and beyond. We all have heard of Archer inviting a young fan up to the Autograph tales and behind the Rays blue curtain to meet a few of his Rays friends in the “Blue Room”. It was stuff like this, plus the added touch of players reading to young fans,  being open to fan’s questions and requests all day long that made a deep and lasting impression as to their investment in this region and this special fan base.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 073I did not hear a single story of a player turning down a fan, or refusing any request during this special Rays day that is a huge celebration of the season that is now upon us. Heck I think we all might even have gotten a glimpse at a possible Rays future draft pick as Toby Hall’s son stroked a HR out of the curtained off ballfield a few times from the left side of the plate.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 023I mean I even saw Rays P Jeff Niemann at one point basically depositing basketball over by the hoop carnival games like he was dropping a wad of paper into a wastebasket. And during all of this were a gaggle of screaming and excited kids, adults and a combination of the two relishing in this increased presence of the player this year. Over the past few years as the team has grown increasingly competitive some of the fold reverted a bit back into old habits of selective signings and photos with fans. On this day if they were able, photos were snapped and memories were imprinted forever thanks to their increased visibility.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 039Combine this breathe of fresh air from the Rays themselves with the over 25,000 fans who walked into the Rays Rotunda on Saturday, this region still craves baseball and made sure other in and around the MLB World knew there was a fan base in this community. Even with the huge turnout of fans to Tropicana Field for Fan Fest, it was overshadowed by the fact the team only drew over that 25,000 visitor threshold 17 times during the 2012 season.

Hopefully the recent blast in the media of supposed apathy and nonchalant attitudes towards the game have been erased at least until the regular season when the proof will be in the proverbial pudding if the fans will again flock to the Trop.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 041But this day was about the 2 lucky fans enshrined into the Rays/Pepsi Wall of Fame, the hundreds of scavenger hunters snapping pictures around the Trop in hopes of grabbing an Even Longoria signed bat for their collections. Everywhere you looked there were kids, parents and even long time fans walking, talking and making mostly positive comments about the days events. Baseball Hall of Fame member Peter Gammons visited Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s “Thanks-Mas” event prior to his own panel discussion making a few of those fans not only full of Maddon-induced food goodness, but also got to hear a baseball analyst’s take on the Rays and baseball.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 045Sure there were moments that made you scratch your noggin for a second like Rays INF/OF Shelley Duncan and Rodriguez as a pairing for the “Family Feud event. There were a few scattered “boo-birds” when Duncan was announced, but most have let the Spring incident of 2008 be finally put to rest. Still, it would have been interesting if Elliot Johnson was still here…pairing him with Duncan would have caught everyone’s ear. Still this season’s Fan Fest was amazing in the items up for sale in the Rays Garage Sale to the amount of MLBPA Alumni players participating in the Home Run Derby (won by O’s OF Mike Deveraux), to the huge table of past stars both of the Rays and other MLB vistas.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 095All in all the event might have been a bit reduced in total time we all spent within the confines of the tilted cap, but it was a day spent watching kids frolic in the batting cages, running the bases and getting a high-5 from Archer as they hit Home Plate. Matt Joyce also made a few more Rays fans as he stayed after his signing time was over and came to the side of the autograph stage and signed for a bit longer for fans who did not get a chance to get to him before his time was over.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 019Rays new Stud-du-Jour Wil Myers even made extra time for Rays fans who did not know him before his recent trade to the Rays and with Myers taking that extra moment, he sparked a few comments from people hoping he makes it to the MLB level some time in 2013. So now that the Rays Republic got a chance to see and meet a few of our new players to the Rays fold, and a few of the hungry and eager ones wanting a taste of the MLB life, it is now our time to show support for this team not only this Spring, but all the way until Game 162.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 002The Rays invest a lot of time and money in an event like this, and with 16 of them now in the books I can definitely say without any remorse that the 2013 edition definitely has set a new standard for future Rays Fan Fest’s. I made a tongue-in-cheek Tweet the other day about the whole Rays front office forming a Congo line today and each of them pat each other on the back for pulling off this grand event in style. I think it was Pepsi who sealed the emotions of the day as the Rays staff and players definitely “Rocked the Trop” on Saturday and I do not think anyone did not leave with a bit of Rays swag, autographs or maybe even a former players jersey tucked under their arm. The Trop definitely rocked a bit on Saturday, but I think we were all having too much fun to notice, which is a good thing.

2B…Or Not 2B

Sean+Rodriguez+Texas+Rangers+v+Tampa+Bay+Rays+VwZiev5f-d3l

Sometimes things happen in the off-season that just boggles your mind. Players are picked up for their subtle and special nuances that can be used by a statistical savant like Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon to intricately change the delicate nature of a game in progress, possibly for his advantage based on match-up potential situations or maybe even a simple hunch.

YEscoI know there is a logical explanation and suitable conclusion to why the Rays are currently carrying 7 out of a possible 9 infield players on their 40-man roster, 1 signed player but not added to the 40-man roster yet, plus 2 additional players who are non-roster invites who can man the middle infield. Considering the Rays traded for their potential starting shortstop in Yunel Escobar, you have to logically conclude that 8 of the other 9 might have to fight tooth and nail to get selected for that revolving door slot known as Second Base.

I think with the large amount of veteran bodies vying for a job at 2B, you can easily see the current Triple-A duo of Tim Beckham and Hak-Ju Lee getting their fair share of starts and possibilities this Spring, but the reality is they are the Rays future for right now and with minor league control on both players, their rise to the MLB level might not come until possibly September barring an unforeseen Rays injury situation.

So that immediately shuffled the field down by a third and with the Rays facing 3 different player signing going “official” this week, maybe a few old Rays household names will be bidding the team farewell even before the positional players make their way to Port Charlotte, Florida. 3 other Rays middle infielders who might be on the invisible bubble might be the enigmas known as Elliot Johnson, Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac could all get an unexpected call or pulled in from the Rays Spring Clubhouse soon possibly severing their Rays tenure.

All 3 did not have the kind of 2012 campaigns the Rays envisioned when they popped their name on the 25-man roster last Spring, and any or all of the 3 could be subject to waivers or possibly traded before the Rays officially add DH Luke Scott, 2B Kelly Johnson or RP Kyle Farnsworth to the Rays 40-man roster. You would think Johnson and Rodriguez might have the leg up on Brignac because of their utility play everywhere around the Rays infield, but even then, their lackluster numbers from last year could get them penciled in as potential casualties when the Rays add their 3 signed, sealed but not roster delivered players.

BriggyThere are mumblings in the Rays Republic that “Briggy Baseball” might be the most expendable of the this enigmatic duo, possibly the first name to be announced and waived this week by the Rays. Brignac has had multiple chances to secure and hold onto his shortstop slot, but for some reason his bat did not follow him into either of the past 2 Rays seasons with any regularity. Johnson might get an initial pass because he is a switch-hitter just like tag-team 2B Ben Zobrist who will get to camp late this Spring as he is playing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.

Even with a slight edge over S-Rod, Johnson could find himself again straddling the bubble if he gets off to a weak Spring or doesn’t get into the game flow with consistency. You have to like Rodriguez’s chance since Spring seems to be the time he rises to the occasion and shines bright, but he could also see his star darkened if he gets off to a bad slump or has some defensive irregularities early on in camp. Another small sliver of hope for Rodriguez is the fact he still has 1 minor league option while Brignac and Johnson have exhausted their minor league options.

tumblr_m9jviul3w91ronciso1_500That takes care of 6 of the 7 players that currently are designated as “infielders” for the Rays. Zobrist is categorized as an “outfielder” on the Rays 40-man roster, but should see substantial playing time at Second Base along with the only other player listed, Ryan Roberts. “Tat Man” should have an advantage heading into Spring Training to secure a utility and tag-team situation with Zorilla at Second Base. Roberts did not have a huge year at the plate in 2012 either in Arizona or St. Petersburg, but should come into the Spring as a penciled in player in the mix for that part-time 2B gig. But there are other who might also have a say in it all before the roster is set into stone when the calendar changes to April.

Spring Training non-roster invites to the Major League camp have also been extended to MLB veteran Mike Fontenot and former Rays invitee Shawn O’Malley. Even with these 2 additional names to be put into the middle infield pot, Fontenot might have to stage a spectacular Spring to unseat any of the potential Rays utility players, but I also think O’Malley who made a great impression last Spring with the Rays might have a more viable chance to hang on late into the Spring Training schedule with Zobrist out and possibly be offered a Triple-A slot.

thCAAOB3NMThe Wild Card in this suspected scenario might just be newly signed, but not added to the roster Kelly Johnson who can basically play any of the fielding positions, including possibly being the guy who could give James Loney a rest. In Johnson’s favor to possibly get a long look and possible spot on the Rays 25-man roster is his ability to hit right-handed which could make him a valuable asset at First. And with KJ’s birthday coming in late February (22nd), he could possibly have an inside chance of securing a spot even before the Rays play the Red Sox in their first Grapefruit Series game.

2B or not 2B…….That is surely the question here as the Rays have a huge pool of player talent and potential to pick from the get their final selection before their first seasonal contest on April 2,2013 in Tropicana Field. This might be the strongest the middle infield as been in quite a few years in Tampa Bay, and with some of the names and potential, the players inked on the Rays final 25-man roster could provide that spark of offense the team needs along with some stellar defensive work.

 

There Are No “Losers” in This Rays Trade

 wil-myers

I kind of expected the starting pitching market to go ballistic after that certain right-hander who hates Tropicana Field became the newest millionaire in Tinseltown. What kind of got me scratching my head a bit was the Kansas City Royals were willing to trade uber prospect and 2012 Minor League Player of the Year Wil Meyer straight up for Rays SP James Shields, but the Rays shuddered and turn that deal down without hesitation.

Sean RodriguezStarting to see a weird pattern forming for the Rays that they seem to finalize their deals right before the “Witching Hour”. Sure it has only been two times recently, but patterns seem to start that way. In the end the deal actually benefits both teams, one immediately and the other with possibly one piece playing a role in 2013, and a few others possibly a bit down the road. Sure the Royals got two definite pieces that could be immediately popped into their 2013 rotation in Shields and Wade Davis, and depending on who is the invisible “Player to be Named Later” who will come from the Rays current 40-man roster, they could get an additional piece to their 2013 25-man Opening Day roster.

We all knew this was coming, Shields has been as hot a commodity as any pitcher with his 2 years with a Club Option before he hits the Free Agent market for the first time in his career. This cleared a huge chunk of change for the Rays, possibly to be used to find a top-tier DH or right-handed First Baseman. Without knowing the identity of the PTBNL at this moment, the Rays Executive VP of Baseball Ops Andrew Friedman got a nice holiday nest egg of around $13+ million dollars to possibly entice and persuade a power addition to the team’s roster before Spring Training. Shields even tossed out as nice little nugget that he would be willing to look into a contract extension possibly giving the Royals some additional years of “Big Game” on the hill for the Royals.

Toronto Blue Jays v Tampa Bay RaysI currently do not understand how some of the Royals fans come to the conclusion the KC squad got the raw end of this deal. Sure they will have to pony up that $13 million, but they got two key components who can anchor spots in their rotation for 2 seasons as their own youngsters get more experience and training at the minor league level without subjecting them to the rigors and fast learning curve of MLB life.

I personal feeling is the PTBNL is going to either come from the Rays over stacked catching or infield slot currently on their 40-man roster. If I had to make an educated guess as to who this might be, I’m picking SS Reid Brignac who will be out of minor league option after the Spring of 2013, and with the added depth on the Rays roster of recent trade pick-up SS Yunel Escobar, the addition of veteran INF Mike Fontenot, Sean Rodriguez and the potential tag-team 2B duo of Ryan Roberts and Ben Zobrist, Reid seems to be the current odd-man out even with a banging Spring.

Florida Marlins v Tampa Bay RaysThe citizen of Royals-ville forget this trade actually make a few clever openings in the Rays rotation that could be filled from the pool of players like veteran Jeff Niemann, Alex Cobb and possibly Chris Archer. It instantly rids the Rays of two starters and possibly an extra body in either the overcrowded catching corps or middle infield. This by itself is a clear “win-win” for the Rays front office to send two players with “team friendly” contracts to another team and clear a huge amount of payroll that can be allocated for current huge holes in the Rays offensive machine.

And do not forget the Rays got Baseball America’s 2012 Minor League Player of the Year OF Wil Meyers who turns 22 today (12/10). How soon we forget about former Rays who won this award like Carl Crawford (1999) or Rocco Baldelli (2000) who made quite a good impression at the MLB level for the Rays. Another tempting nugget to chew on is the fact Meyers is now the first player ever to win the Minor League Player of the Year award and was traded before he even made his MLB debut with his old squad.

Getting a player like Meyer who is still developing was a huge thing for the Rays as their yearly payroll stifles their creative juices to the point they have to make trades like this to get viable and young talent under their control for years to come. Now I hope Rays fans do not get too anxious and think Meyers will start the season with the Rays. Reality is the team will possibly use some of their farm system pieces with minor league options to fill in until the team can bring up Meyers without having to award him a year of MLB service time. Still, if injuries in the outfield hit the Rays early, Meyers could be in the Trop by late May, early June at the earliest.

505fe1cf35e24_preview-300Sure the addition of prospect hurlers RHP Jake Odorizzi (has the stuff to possibly make the team as a temporary RP), LHP Mike Montgomery and 3B Patrick Leonard gives the Rays some needed replacements and added personnel within the farm system who one day could be playing in St. Petersburg,Florida alongside Meyers. This trade not only has the potential to help the Rays possibly as soon as 2013 with Meyers, but it gives the franchise some credible arms to work in the upper echelon of the Rays farm system and get better before their own MLB debuts possibly in 2014-2015.

Sure the subtraction of Davis means the Rays will have to find a long-inning specialist, but that could easily be the pitcher who loses out on the Rays fifth rotation slot, but it could also be someone like LHP Alex Torres, RHP Dane Del La Rosa or possibly even Southpaw Jake McGee.

57073224_display_imageThe trade opens a widening world of possibilities to the formulation of the Rays 2013 25-man roster. The subtraction of Shields and Davis will be sorely missed, but it also give some of the Rays young arms a chance to rise to the occasion, just like Shields did when he shocked the Rays staff when he made his debut and got a no-decision against the Baltimore Orioles on May 31, 2006.

Because both these teams are on the bottom end of the fiscal reality of baseball, these kinds of trades are the lifeblood of the organizations.

563647_10151199388498429_32855498_nTaking high dollar veterans and turning them for prospects or players who could play at the MLB level is the way they can stay competitive and right up there with the AL high spenders. In the end, this trade had wins posted on both sides of the leader board.


The Rays got to shuffle off two experienced pitchers and another piece to be added to the Royals side of the equation soon (PTBNL) who should can help the Royals immediately, while the Rays got a few future pieces of their pitching puzzle and a player who could shine for them for the next 6-odd seasons in their outfield mix. No matter how you slice it, both sides should be commended on this deal that helped both clubs immediately both in personnel and the financial realm…..Sorry, but to me that is a classic “win-win” for both front offices.

 

Rays Million Dollar Question Mark

Sean Rodriguez

He was a Tampa Bay Rays player I truly thought had figured out his role and was about to ascend into stardom. Posting positive seasonal marks over the last 2 years, I felt he had approached the point of becoming more than Sean Rodriguez, he would be anointed with the nickname S-Rod, for he seemed to have everything going for him heading into the Rays 2012 season.

052712-5-MLB-Tampa-Bay-Rays-OB-PI_20120527194352739_660_320But even with the joyous noise of the Rays and Rodriguez today avoiding the arbitration process by agreeing on a 2013 salary of $1 million, the million dollar question still stands as to if S-Rod will be with the team on April 2,2013 when the Rays have their official Opening Day at Tropicana Field against the Baltimore Orioles. Will Rodriguez again prove himself in the Spring, or will he somehow again find holes in his bat and watch his field play dissolve into missed opportunities that could send him again into the Triple-A penalty box, possibly bringing a unfortunate end to his Rays fairy tale existence.

CB Bucknor, Sean RodriguezI mean I for one did not, could not of seen the debacle that was Rodriguez’s 2012 season coming because ever since his arrival he has shaken off injuries, sting ray barbs and slumps before without any downward spiral to his career. Ever since his arrival into the Rays system as a player to be named later in the Scott Kazmir deal, Rodriguez had seen his talents and abilities rise like a Tampa Bay high tide. Adapting to every position the team penciled his name into from 3rd option catcher to outfielder and finally a significant cog in the Rays infield alignment.

The Rays 2012 season was suppose to be Rodriguez’s MLB coming out party with him entrenched as the Rays Opening Day shortstop with plenty of rainbows and pixey dust on the horizon finally for him. But as quickly as he could pick up a grounder and underhanded it for the start of a routine double play, Rodriguez saw his season take on more twists and turns than an episode of “American Horror Story”. Who in their right mind could have seen or predicted the beginning of the slippery slope that Rodriguez had to endure in 2012 with finally accumulated with him spending time at Triple-A Durham.

Sean RodriguezBut Rodriguez has always seemed to have a lucky star, a brightness to him that seemed to take his troubles and whisk them away with ease, but 2012 definitely brought about numerous questions, and a shortness on possible answers as to if he would again reign supreme at the major league level. Still through all this tossing and turning of fortunes throughout the 2012 Rays season, Rodriguez somehow remained “rubberized” and bounced back from his demotion and subsequent fight with a locker in Durham to again grace a Rays jersey in September when the Rays roster expanded.

Who would of guessed the same guy who appeared in 112 games (87 starts) for the Rays have to endure such hills and valley throughout the season. I mean this is the same guy who hit .248 over his first 42 games in 2012, then went into a unforeseen tailspin that saw him hit .185 in his 70 games after May 22nd. Was this the same guy who was a huge catalyst when Evan Longoria went down by pushing out a .300 average with 3 HR and 9 RBI over his first 22 games in May, including 11 starts at Longo’s Third Base slot.

Sean+Rodriguez+Texas+Rangers+v+Tampa+Bay+Rays+VwZiev5f-d3lMaybe the pressure and added momentum to be “the guy” during the injury absence of Longoria stifled Rodriguez a bit, but who would of guessed that from May 23rd to August 7th when Longoria returned, Rodriguez would be mired only hitting .164 with 35 K’s in 53 contests. When Longo returned to the Rays lineup, Rodriguez had a short period where he hit .300 from August 7-20th, but it was too little too late and he found himself optioned to Durham when the Rays activated DH Luke Scott from the 15-Day DL.

You would have thought Rodriguez would dig deep into himself and bring out a thirst and hunger to get back to the MLB level ASAP, but after playing in only 2 games for the Bulls, Rodriguez and a Durham locker had some issues. Rodriguez only went 3-6 with a HR and 2 doubles in his short stint with the Bulls, and when rosters expanded, he was immediately put on the 15-day DL and appeared in only 6 games over the rest of the Rays 2012 campaign. Rodriguez had somehow during his 2012 season struggles lost his luster against southpaw hitters as he watched his career .260 average against left-hander produce a 2012 total of only .228 with no homers.

uspw_6551916But Rodriguez’s 2012 struggles did not only happen at the plate, for the first time in his career, Rodriguez committed 2 errors in 2 consecutive games (Sept 17-18th) after his reinstatement from the disabled list becoming the first AL player with multiple errors in consecutive games since Detroit Tiger Carlos Guillen back in 2006. Even the thrill of his 10-game hitting streak from May 2-12th could not dilute the pure fact question marks were beginning to surround Rodriguez and his tenure with the Rays.

So I guess the true million dollar question is not if 2012 is going to be an isolated event or the beginning of a trend, but more if the usual up-beat and positive personality and mindset of Rodriguez will return this Spring making him again someone to watch closely in those pivotal Spring games as he again solidify s his Rays foothold on the Port Charlotte, Florida clay infield. If Spring 2012 is an indicator, Rodriguez will again try to lay claim to an infield spot, possibly making the Rays again think long and hard about their shortstop position.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Tampa Bay RaysRight now there are meandering questions surrounding Rodriguez and his upcoming plans in Spring 2013 of turning his 2012 negatives into immediate positives and shine again in any and every capacity for the team. With his salary now out of the way, it could also clear the way for the team to possibly use him as filler for a trade, or if the Rays front office still has high hopes and knows his 2012 was a unfortunate blip on his career radar, Rodriguez should again climb out of this hole and be better for the adventure.

Seriously, if Rodriguez again shows not only the fans, but his teammates and the team’s front office his head and heart are again aligned perfectly with “the Rays Way”, the all the proverbial mini-Raymonds will somehow again line up in a row on the chalk lines as Rodriguez again shows his renewed vigor, vitality, brilliance and resilience that could erase every one of those current swirling million question marks surrounding him and his Rays future.

 

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