Results tagged ‘ Tim Beckham ’

Beckham is at a Tipping Point in His Rays Career

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I think Tampa Bay Rays INF Tim Beckham is at a tipping point in his quest for a long-term fit with the team. After his 2012 MiLB Substance Abuse suspension (50 games) and with fellow Rays infield prospects knocking at both the MLB and Triple-A Durham doors, it might be the Spring where the Rays finally decide Beckham’s role in their franchise’s immediate future. Beckham has been extremely open to change this Spring in regards to his future positional spot on the Rays. Proving his worth to the club this Spring beyond and on the field might go a long way to him securing a longer visionary path for his escalation with the Rays.

0319rays1jpgI will be honest, before the Rays sent INF Elliot Johnson to the Royals as the final piece of the Rays and Royals trade puzzle, I truly thought Beckham was the potential PTBNL. This was not because I felt internally Beckham was not a fit for the Rays, but with numerous players below him at the Rays farm system franchises, it might have been an ample chance and time for the Rays to possibly cut him loose from their farm system so he could grow roots somewhere else and get ample time to play.

With his name still firmly attached to the Rays 40-man roster, this Spring might be that long awaited chance for Beckham to make that big push either at the plate or in the field that proves he has evolved and his talents and flexibility can play a unique role with the Rays.

With the Rays current Utility guru Ben Zobrist not in Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s direct eyesight while off playing with Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, Beckham has to firmly utilize his chances in the lineup to make a lasting impression on Rays Manager Joe Maddon and the Rays Front Office. This Spring Beckham has to push up stats and situations that show he is a valuable asset to this squad for the long term, or he might find himself elsewhere quickly.

beckhamBeckham doesn’t only have to embrace the Rays proven “Zorilla” utility model for his possible existence as a MLB player, he might have to mold himself into another segment of that proven utility style player. Beckham can also look to another former Rays transformation as a symbol it can be done and provide another chapter in his career. 

With Beckham being more open to a possible shuffling of position like Upton and Zobrist early on in their own MLB careers, Beckham not only makes himself more of a insertable pawn anywhere in the field as a piece of Maddon’s maddening game of Cerebral Baseball Chess, but opens the possibilities of a longer Spring look. With Beckham having 3 more minor league options, there is a long shot he would break camp and move up to St. Petersburg, Florida with the parent club, but if he evolves significantly, the door could be open to almost any scenario.

tiiimyBut if Beckham shows his willingness to expand his glove towards maybe even an outfield situation, he could easily be the prototypical player the Rays will need as Zorilla ages and flexibility will become a trademark of the Rays future roster.

Beckham is a smart guy who knows learning from the past can be as beneficial to his MLB survival as it can be his downfall. But if he shows the heart and hustle, willingness to try new things, Maddon might just try and find a way to keep someone with the talents of Beckham for the long haul. Tipping the scale into his favor has to be the number 1 priority of Beckham this Spring. Showing Maddon his expanded flexibility can provide diverse ways for the Rays to utilize Beckham and make him more of a Rays fixture than a expendable piece of their franchise.

2B…Or Not 2B

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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.

 

Will It Take Some Budding SS Fruit to Acquire Justin Upton

So it seems the Tampa Bay Rays might have to slice off a bit of their future if they want even a remote chance at outfielder Justin Upton. It seems the Arizona D-Backs are adamant about getting a quality shortstop for their outfielder, plus possibly another piece or two running up the Rays farm chain. This doesn’t mean dangling a quality pitcher might not get the OF with the power stroke the Rays yearn for, but possibly tearing out a small slice of the Rays future infield might be a huge deciding factor for Arizona helping out their MLB Expansion kin.

Fortunately for the D-Backs, the Rays have a few of these lying around, with even a duo having Major League Baseball service time under their belts, but the Arizona front office has done their research and the targeted one is the guy the Rays most likely would not give away for now. You would hope the D-Backs would want to help solve the Rays current SS situation by taking one of their experienced infielders currently residing at the Triple-A level like Reid Brignac or Sean Rodriguez, but AZ is being smart here knowing each might have decent defensive skills, but their bats have a few gaping holes.

You also wish the D-Backs would take a longer look at SS prospect Tim Beckham and love what they see, but Beckhams 2012 brush with the MiBL drug police that cost him 50-games might put him firmly sitting in the Rays system. Unfortunately if the Rays want to swing this deal it might take a piece like top prospect Hak-Ju Lee who is currently listed by Baseball America as the Rays 3rd best prospect with Beckham all the way down at number 8.

You have to wonder if Brignac had prospered at Triple-A or made it back into the Rays fold at some time in 2012, he might be the top name whispered into Executive VP Andrew Friedman’s ear right now.

But Briggy Baseball’s fall from grace not only at the MLB level, but struggling for parts of the Triple-A season might have put him into a dark corner for now. And S-Rod did himself no special favors by punching a locker after a Durham Bulls contests putting himself further into an abyss possibly not seeing a Rays uniform until this Spring, if then.

Lee even seems to taken an unexpected step backwards in 2012 with a few injuries and plate struggles, but he is still the guy with the MLB spotlight upon him, and I truly think we will see more reps with him at the MLB camp this Spring. Problem here is Lee has been penciled in as a guy with a true Rays future and seems a bit more untouchable that the rest of the SS group. Seems odd that a prospect infielder could garner that “hands-off” mentality, but then again name me one Rays SS not named Bartlett who have made you swoon and cheer his play in the field and at the plate.

The SS slot for the Rays has always been a patchwork spot with free agent names taking priority. This duo of Beckham and Lee are the first Rays homegrown versions of the 6-spot, and because of that fact, they might be harder to pluck from the Rays hands. You have to ask yourself if getting a key bat now for a player who could play in the Rays fold for possibly 3-5 years is a gamble or a calculated risk worth taking.

That is the true tragedy here. It will take the Rays giving up a key component of their future 6-slot for them to even be mildly considered for the Upton sweepstakes. If Brignac, Rodriguez or even Beckham had mustered a huge late season surge, possibly their names would be on the lips of the Arizona front office right now. But that did not materialize, so the D-Backs brass are looking into a longer term team controlled option, and a player who can grow with their franchise.

We all know Ben Zobrist came up as a shortstop prospect, even was the Rays Opening Day starter at that position at one time, but he is putty into the gaping hole right now. He played brilliantly when called upon in 2012, but he is a stop-gap until possibly Lee or Beckham shows the promise and gets the confidence of the Rays staff that they can be the true SS hierapparents.

Problem is, one of them might be the key piece to any future discussions between the Rays and Diamondbacks in regards to the “other” Upton. I guess the Rays will have to seriously ask themselves if they pluck a piece of future fruit from their farm system vine now for Upton, will it taste sweet or bitter come September 2013.

Beckham Career Could Go to Pot

When I saw him during February in Port Charlotte, Florida weeks ahead of the report date for the Tampa Bay Rays field players, I thought he finally had his ducks in a row and was going to strike hard and fast to hitch his wagon to a Rays roster spot. His body seemed more toned and muscular than before, and his concentration in the cages showed he had a serious intention to stay in the “Big Boys” camp as long as possible this Spring.

It truly felt like Rays prospect Tim Beckham had made a decision in the 2011 off season to finally thrust his name into the running for a infield slot with the team, and I truly had the vibe that only thing that would defeat Beckham in this process would be himself. So it was beyond disheartening today to learn Beckham has been slapped for the second time in his minor league career with a suspension for a “drug of abuse”.

50 games is a long time in the minor league system. It is more than enough time for a fellow competitor to pass you in stats, experience and possibly be a direct link to your season ending around September 1st instead of having a month up with the parent club. I guess Beckham’s “drug of abuse” which was pot has its own opinions as to whether it should be legal or regulated, but it is still a banned and illegal substance. We could debate for hours, possibly days considering this substance, but the final say is that minor league baseball considers it illegal and a harmful drug and the suspension has merit.

Even though Beckham is currently on the Triple-A Durham disabled list trying to rehab and conquer his wrist ailments, immediately the focus has to be re-directed towards this “drug of abuse”. The most important thing right now is the first move Beckham makes post revelation of his pot smoking reveal. Does he do counseling, treatment or can he go “cold turkey” and beat the ganja gangster? Whatever his plan of action, it must be swift, concise and show an honest effort and chance for change both in his lifestyle and his demeanor…Without the combination, his career could evaporate.

Truly this event could not have happened at a worst moment for Beckham. You had to think the Rays would of at least entertained the notion of bringing up Beckham with Rays slugger Evan Longoria out of the line-up for at least 4-8 weeks with his hamstring injury. Possibly Beckham would of gotten ample chances at either side of the second base bag to leave a lasting impression on Rays Manager Joe Maddon just as he had this Spring, but now all that prior work, all that hustle and sweat might just be for not.

This suspension doesn’t mean the team will turn its head away from Beckham. The Rays have established a long history of helping their player conquer abuse problems, and have held players within their system fighting internal demons, some with success, and some to utter failure. The path Beckham takes now will determine if he is going to be a vital cog in the Rays future, or possibly just another example of great talent before the Draft, and a fall from grace while establishing himself.

I hope Becks finds the light, turns the corner and proceeds to get himself straight and ready to again claim a shot at a Rays roster spot. Wild how not even 90 days ago Beckham had his entire Rays world in front of him for the taking. He was more confident, physically and mentally prepared like no other time in his career and put up some impressive displays both at the plate and in the field this Spring. I still think Beckham has the right stuff to be not only a Rays player, but one we cheer and embrace for a long, long time.

But first, Beckham has to step forward, profess and cast off his demons, then work to get healthy inside and out, get back to playing the game he loves and the rest will take care of itself. I hope Becks can make that transition, find that serenity and peace to expunge his demonic partner and again thrive both on the off the field. If he can do that, I promise to be one of the first to stand and applaud and hopefully shake his hand and welcome him back not only as a Ray, but as a true baseball survivor.

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.

Could Tim Beckham Face a Position Change This Spring?

They were supposed to be the heirs apparent to the Tampa Bay Rays revolving door situation at shortstop. Each saw their 1st Round selections in their season’s MLB Draft as the enthusiastic stamp of approval by the Rays that their style of baseball had a place under the Tropicana Field roof, and that their rise through the Rays farm system would finally accumulate with them manning the 6-hole for this team for years to come. One saw his future and position changed upon his arrival into the MLB, the toehr could be going down that same familiar path soon for the Rays.

Funny how the early farm system years and expectations of B J Upton and Tim Beckham mirrored each other with such eerie similarities and the promise of them becoming the Rays sure-fire solution on the right-side of the infield. Upton was the first to take the venture, and Beckham soon might find himself at that same crossroads Upton faced, possibly never getting a chance to show his potential at shortstop.

But it is actually good that Upton has taken the journey and could be a beneficial listening post for Beckham as he too might encounter a roadblock in his escalation towards the MLB level. Upton has become an outspoken clubhouse voice, and has grown into the role as mentor and responsible MLB member as he has become secure with his career position change. This talk could come as soon as the Spring of 2012 with Beckham seeing his stock as a Rays top prospect plummet to the # 13 slot this off season. Beckham, like Upton has the skills and tools to be a major leaguer, it just might not be at the position he envisioned on his MLB Draft day back in the Summer of 2008.

Upton finally made it to the MLB level, but not for his shortstop skills. He was being considered a plug-in alternative around the infield when he was first called-up, manning the Second Base position, then taking his shot at the Hot Corner as Evan Longoria was taking his bumps and lumps in the Rays minor league system. Something happened to Upton as he matured as a SS prspect through the Rays system, he suddenly became erratic with his throws, his footwork was being questioned, and his once abundant confidence as a future MLB SS began to fade. But Upton came to a crossroads, with a positional change firmly blocking his path to the shortstop spot.

I somehow feel the same fate just on the horizon for Beckham. It is not that Beckham like Upton could not man the position, but there is another hot prospect who might have taken the thunder from them, and thrust his name further up the potential depth chart. Beckham did start to show some of the fundamental breakdowns that Upton faced at Triple-A Durham before his MLB rise, but Beckham has also worked tirelessly to correct, manipulate and strive to again have his name whispered as a MLB level shortstop.

With Baseball America tapping Rays current Double-A SS prospect Hak-Ju Lee as the Rays infield prospect, you have to wonder if the Rays scouting department is turning their head towards Lee as the heir apparent and possibly having Beckham do the infield shuffle himself. 2012 could be a great indicator of if the Rays think Beckham is the right guy for the 6-slot, or someone to man the slot until Lee shows he is ready, willing and able to be that everyday middle-of-the infield commando.

I truly think it might be a blessing in disguise for Beckham to shift his role across the Second Base bag and take the ball from a different angle. It might even be career changing. I watched Beckham hit last Spring and he reminded me of a budding Rickey Weeks. You remember him, the guy the Rays passed up for SP Dewon Brazelton back in 2001. Beckham has that raw talent and bat speed that made some drool about Weeks, plus Beckham is still growing.

Beckham might be currently be the invisible man in regards to the SS position, but he will get his chance this Spring to make the Rays reconsider, possibly making himself a go-to utility guy who could learn on the job while working with long-time Rays Coach Tom Foley on his fundamentals or positioning. But the reality is that Beckham may only stand at that SS position a handful of time when he finally gets to the MLB level, and even then it might be until Lee is ready.

Still, a shift across the diamond, possibly being a heir apparent to the 2B spot could end up being the thing that takes Beckham to the next level. The current supply of MLB superstars that man the 4-spot are aging, and a shift to that position might actually help his reputation and future aspirations within the MLB. With some saying Ben Zobrist will slide over to the First Base bag in the next few years for good, the 2B slot could be wide open.

Upton came up to the MLB with hopes and dreams of manning the 6-spot for 10 seasons, but finally found a home deeper in the slot back by the Rays sunburst in Centerfield. It was a great move by the team and Upton to slide him into the outfield, and even without an All-Star selection to his credit, Upton is one of the fastest and best defender in that position.

Beckham might have to make his own decision possibly this Spring as to his future with the Rays, and a slide vertically could benefit not only him, but the Rays as he could be a critical pivot man for Lee in the double-play format. Beckham could win a chance at a utility role with an outstanding Spring, but the reality is he might be Durham bound again, possibly even switching to the other side of the bag for the Bulls in preparation for the switch-a-roo.

No matter if this pans out, or if my vision is just as blind as some behind the plate, Beckham’s future role with this team might depend on his flexibility and mental toughness possibly learning a new position and becoming a huge cog in the Rays future infield. Hmmm, I think I said the same about Upton not so long ago, and that position switch has turned out pretty well for the Rays.

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.

Placing the Pieces of Former Ray Garza’s Trade Puzzle

 

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Some around the Rays Republic have already thrown up their hands in disbelief and bewilderment at the current state of the Rays roster without thinking of the overall picture or possible scenarios that could hinge based on this one trade recently of Tampa Bay Rays starter Matt Garza, outfielder Fernando Perez and minor league prospect Zack Rosscup.

Individually they all might not seem related, but as a whole they turn into a gold mine of future potential and possible long term roster additions for the future of this Rays franchise.

No one has even minutely dug into the possible second vein of gold that is awaiting the Rays when the 2011 MLB First Year Players Draft is held and the Rays hold key positions in a relatively deep draft. The team could eventually through this Summer’s draft picks, plus the key addition of several top Cubs prospects could be in position to be sitting pretty both in personnel and fiscal contracts well into their next purge into playoff contention.

And do not forget just because of the mass exodus of some from the Rays fold, do not under estimate the power of a well turned draft and a few cunningly calculated trade pieces that could sparkle bright for many years with the right moves.

For some odd reason, every time the Rays have made such a trade move since Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations has been given the keys to drive the Rays team bus, I always seem to visualize Friedman putting together one of those intricate 500-1,000 piece photo-based puzzles.

That has become the basic nuance of Rays trades in recent years that the team has to find some sort of innate value over the long haul of the deal for it to get past just the chatter stage. Friedman has become a bit of a puppet master over his last few deals in wheeling and dealing until he gets just the right mesh of talent and potential that will satisfy his fiscal and physical demands. In this trade, the upside seems to favor the Cubs, but under the surface, the Rays might have struck a hidden vein of golden future potentials.

The Rays acquired the Cubs top pitching prospect (Christopher Archer),their top catching prospect who was thought to be in the mix for a possible Cubs back-up spot (Robinson Chirinos), two outfielders ( Sam Fuld and Brandon Guyer), plus a possible future Rays shortstop option ( Hak-Ju Lee). If you look at 3 years down the road, then the Rays definitely got the better end of the deal.

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But it is a two-way conversation, and based on potential now and of value to the Cubs chances of regaining a post season nod, then the Garza trade favors the present day Cubs, but might hurt them in their farm system in the long run. And this might trouble some within the Rays Republic who can not look beyond the puzzle’s photo and into the intricate jigsaw pieces and future combinations that could turn into another chance for the Rays to contend.

Intricate pieces of this trade puzzle come in the form of RHP Archer who could possibly be sent to Double-A Montgomery to start the year, then with a great start and a maturation process, could be another potential Rays rotation piece knocking at the door by 2012. Archer’s has a tremendous slider and has huge potential upside for the Rays farm system staffs as he rises through the Rays system. Having another well-tooled pitching weapon in the Rays system is never a bad thing.

The addition of the infielder turned catcher Chirinos to the Rays catching corps could make current Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach into trade bait this July with an impressive minor league season. He will join an a Rays farm system catching corps that is quickly becoming a firm asset of the Rays system.

If Chirinos hits his marked potential during this minor league season, the Rays could see an extremely young catching duo of John Jaso and Chirinos as early as August 2011. Possibly earlier if an injury besets Shoppach.

I still feel firmly that the addition of 20-year old infield prospect Lee to the mix just gives the Rays another option of SS prospect Tim Beckham doesn’t begin to develop as the next Rays SS prospect. Bringing Lee in might just jump start Beckham’s competitive juices and finally get him to retain his First Round Pick potential. If not, the young Lee, who was considered the Cub’s fourth best prospect could be the steal of the deal.

The last hidden piece of this trade puzzle might be Guyer who could start the year at Triple-A, but after being selected as the Cub minor league player of the Year in 2010 with a .344 average with 13 Home Runs, 58 RBIs, 30 stolen bases and a .588 OPS. Over his first 4 years of professional ball, Guyer has a .292 average with 92 steals. Instantly you think this might be the guy the Rays wanted in the deal as a future player to replace a certain current Centerfielder who’s game has not lived up to the hype recently.

A quick comparison shows that B J Upton had a .234 batting average with 18 HRs, 62 RBIs, 42 stolen bases and a .322 OPS. A quick gander shows that if Upton gets into a sudden hitting funk, or doesn’t live up to a $ 5 million dollar salary, we could also see a exit visa punched for Upton to possibly finish 2011 in another team’s colors.

The Sam Fuld/ Fernando Perez swap just looks like a solid wash with the Cubs getting a speedy option as a outfielder or pinchrunner and the Rays getting some potential outfield depth in Durham or on the Rays bench. This is a minor deal churning within the bigger idea, but both will compliment thier new teams this Spring.  

Suddenly if you look at each piece of this Cubs/Rays puzzle, it all adds up to a huge potential for change as early as the 2010 Trade Deadline.

I bet even as I am sitting here pecking at these keys Friedman is sitting possibly online right now watching video or processing data looking for the next great Rays trade. Or maybe Friedman is just sitting at home right now sitting at the dining table staring at a pile of 500-1,000 individual puzzle pieces spread out in front of him trying to assemble a 3-D feasible puzzle of how to visually get the Rays back into contention.

500-1,000 individually crafted pieces that could systematically transform into another postseason puzzle with just the right combination of pieces. Or did he just acquire those pieces?

 

 

 

My Ho-Hum Draft Attitude


Not sure why, but I do not get up for all the hoopla and pageantry of the First Year Player Draft or Rule 4 Draft like some people do around the Tampa Bay region. You will not see me profile or even throw a huge amount of fanfare or prognosis towards a player getting their first taste of professional baseball just yet….They have not cut their teeth yet on the rawhide and still might not sign or make the grade out of the gate. The First Year Draft is not a sure thing draft where stardom and money come falling from the sky like rain, but is it a great starting point towards achieving a lifetime dream.I do not even watch the pomp and circumstance of the whole Draft process even though  I did love the idea a few years ago when Major League Baseball held the draft at the Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, and the Tampa Bay Rays shipped a bunch of fans across the state to watch the events unfold firsthand. I regret not going on that special one-time only journey more for the life experience than for the names pop on the big draft board.

The main excuse or premise I have for not watching or giving a huge amount of time or effort into this initial draft is that the process will take more than four years before these picks can even attempt to blossom onto even for the Double-A or Triple-A rosters, much less gain a chance to stay long into the Spring Training season with the big squad.

The solid fact that a High School kid hit .450 this season or pitches in the upper-90′s  has my interest, but the level of competition they faced is more cause for me to get overly excited. This First Year Player Draft is just that, a leaping off point for these athletes to decide if their MLB dreams will start now, or they forgo the signing and attend college and take the gamble of seeing their stock rise or lower their future draft position. And maybe this is an underlying element to this draft that has me yawning instead of jumping for joy, not that the Rays selected an ambidextrous pitcher in the early rounds.

Unlike the NFL Draft where it is a minute possibility that a player will decide to not pursue a professional career (unlike Bo Jackson and Tampa Bay), the MLB is centered around more unpredictable elements. Sure most of the 30 Major League scouting departments know more useless information about a player before that player’s name is sent to the podium even far beyond if they are an easy sign, or bankable within the team set monetary guidelines. I do not see the Rays anytime soon paying “Matt White” ( $10.2 million) upfront bonus money to a 18-year old even if he does have a golden arm or can shoot a ball into a basket from 500 feet away. Those numbers are no longer fiscally realities to this franchise….yet.

The draft process can produce flaws and guys who slip into full radar view who never pan out, or achieve even sub-par performances in the minor league and never get a chance to step onto a Major League diamond. I have one firm example for you, and one that most long time Rays fans still shake their head over even today. Outfielder Paul Wilder was selected with the Rays first initial pick in the 1996 draft, and never achieved even a partial degree of what Rays scouts saw in him during workouts and game footage.

Wilder was firmly hampered by injury concerns throughout his Rays career, and never got above the high Class-A level before finally bowing out and disappearing into the darkness. Wilder is a firm example of why I do not get worked up, or excited about signing a player right out of high school or college. There are too many variables between that signature going on that contract, and the day they finally step out of the clubhouse wearing the teams colors for the first time.

So I just watch their progress through the short-season farm teams and wait until they officially get on my radar at Port Charlotte where we can get box scores and information readily available to see daily.
I really have not followed former Rays first pick Tim Beckham’s rise through the Rays system until this season since he is stationed now less than 80 miles from the doorway of Tropicana Field. It is not an idea of “out of sight, out of mind”, but a more realistic view of them not being a viable option until they begin their rise through the Rays farm system with authority.

All we have to do is look at the spirited and enthusiastic tale of Matt White who signed with the Rays after his agent, Scott Boras found a loophole in the draft system and the Rays offered up a huge chunk of change for his right arm. White had numerous shoulder and pitching injuries and never got to be even a shadow of the pitcher we all thought he would become before finally getting to the Major League level. He was selected in the same draft class with local Sarasota southpaw native Bobby Seay.

But while Seay was taking his turn running through the Rays system, White was sidelined by injury or personal situations that hampered him until he finally retired still at the minor league level. That right there in a nutshell is why I do not get excited or even predict, complain or even get ruffled by the Rays draft selections. Too many flip-flopping variables, too many “what if’s” in the scenario, and ultimately, nothing can be cast in cement or gold as to the future of any one of those selected.

But then every once in a while a guy come from out of nowhere like Rays 89th Round selection  relief pitcher Travis Phelps. He showed me that the even the forgotten can rise up and be counted when he made his Major League debut on April 29, 2001 for the Rays against the Boston Red Sox and worked two scoreless innings of relief work. Guys fight to get to this point in their careers to wear the colors of their parent team. We do not see the sweat and toils and struggles firsthand, but see the physical remains of that adventure when they finally make it to “The Show”.

There is a small percentage of players that the Rays draft in this current two day process who will ever make it to the top tier of the minor league ladder, much less put on a Major League uniform. So the first sound of their names by an announcer during a draft possibly 5 years earlier is not a huge thing to me. But when the Public Address announcer at Tropicana Field finally says their name, you can bet I am alert, attentive and ready to see another Rays player achieve his childhood dream.

The first time I hear their name echoing throughout Tropicana Field, they have made that final step in the process, and now the job of maintaining that spot takes on a whole different set of parameters. So if the Rays drafted an ambidextrous pitcher in an early round, that is fine with me, but until he gets at least to Port Charlotte, he is what Kevin Costner once called “meat” to me.

Another Skill Added to Sean Rodriguez’s MLB Resume`

 
 
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You always hear about a player’s character and their ability to do some interesting things when they are traded to you team, and before tonight I was buying most of the selling that the Los Angeles Angels and Tampa Bay Rays were saying about their “Zorilla-in-Training” Sean Rodriguez. During this year’s Spring Training he did everything but set out the buffet sterno’s and check in the daily Fed Ex packages. He proved to me that he was going to be on my closely watched list this entire season to see if he deserved such acclaim early in 2010.


But I have to tell you Rays Republic, right after Rays starting catcher Dioner Navarro got an early shower and unexpected snack time after serving up a few choice four-letter words while eagerly discussing the merits of a consistent strike zone with Home Plate Umpire Dan Bellino, seeing Rodriguez jog down to the Rays Bullpen, I knew the Rays had bagged a winner in the Scott Kazmir trade.

For as the Rays were adamantly searching for back-up catcher John Jaso, who was in the Rightfield bathroom region and was detained for a few minutes, Rodriguez almost looked like he was going to get some wild initiation time behind the plate during a Major League Baseball game. But it was kind of funny how Rodriguez initially came down to the Rays Bullpen with just a smile and no shin guards or even a chest protector, but within a short time and maybe a few favors in the future for Navarro, he came back out to the Bullpen area and began to stretch and go over some “crouch” exercises with Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos.

 
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And when Rays reliever Lance Cormier was getting warmed up to come into tonight’s game, it was Rodriguez who was situated behind the painted home plate dish on the Tropicana Field’s turf. With Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi by his left shoulder, Rodriguez did an excellent job getting Cormier ready for his outing tonight, and I was further intrigued by this guy who is doing everything and anything to get playing time this season for the Rays. I mean most people might not have known that he is the Rays third catcher option if something should happen to Navarro and Jaso in a contest, and I feel a bit more secure after watching that Bullpen warm up session.


Now that is not to mean I hope or wish to see him out there in anything but an emergency role, but it is a great feeling to see him eagerly get the equipment and take the responsibility head-on and force his way into the game situational scheme of things tonight as a precaution. I have heard from people in the Rays organization that it has been a good amount of time since Rodriguez had donned the catching gear, but I got to tell you, he looked more than capable as he threw the ball to Cormier and did not under or overthrow the ball once.

And some people might think this is a little thing, but sometimes those little things can build not only a player’s confidence in his abilities all over the field, but can transcend into his hitting as he begins to feel like a total member of this Rays team. We have seen Rodriguez this season playing Second Base, Centerfield as a late inning substitute in Chicago for B J Upton, and as a great pinch hitting option already in 2010. He is truly beginning to make people think that the Rays might have found another multifaceted asset that could play any of the eight field positions on the field for the Rays with ease and comfort.

 
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Rodriguez might never have to truly don the catcher’s gear and get behind the plate for real in 2010, but now I know I can trust the judgment of Rays Manager Joe Maddon if he was to position him behind the dish in a lop-sided game, or with a great lead. It might be the next step for Rodriguez’s maturation process to add another glove and equipment to his Major League Baseball resume`, and it would not surprise me in the least if he excelled at catching too.

I just want to say “Bravo” to Rodriguez and hope he knows that by showing that eagerness to learn and to thrust himself into the fire tonight he is gaining more and more of a place in my Rays subconscious as our next evolution of Ben Zobrist.

But the funny thing is that within the next three or four years we might be talking about someone like Rays prospects currently Tim Beckham or even Matt Hall as the “next Rodriguez”…. And that is a great compliment, with or without catching gear in your locker.

 

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