Results tagged ‘ Wil Myers ’

What If………..

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What if……..

Some say that is the first phrase uttered by those in denial or left wanting for an answer. Two words shouted to the heavens asking for some divine or intelligent intervention into how their beloved team could have fallen this far from their past grace and the lofty expectations transposed on this team even before they began play in April.

imagesNo one who follows, plays for or works with the Tampa Bay Rays could of possibly imagined this stark reality that would be evident about this team’s 2014 campaign 5 months later. No matter the Rays rise or fall during these terse 6 months, no one envisioned the team not playing for anything in the last 10-odd games of their season.

So maybe it is time to possibly throw out some opinions, rely on some facts and maybe come to terms with a season that sent us on a pure emotional rollercoaster ride to the greatest heavens and at time tumbling right back down to Earth with the stark realization that sweat, talent and confidence are not the sole catalysts to winning games.

Remember as you read this, it is only my personal guesswork and not a certification of the direction the team will take, should of taken or will entertain this winter….It is just my humble words thrown out for everyone to dissect into a million characters. Enjoy.

What if the Rays had signed free agent Nelson Cruz as their Designated Hitter? Would he have duplicated his 2014 season in Carolina Blue?

images (2)This was actually a question someone asked me on Sunday and it does have merit, but I think besides the steroid residue that would have followed Cruz here to Tampa Bay, the $8 million the Orioles paid Cruz might have been a bit steep for the Rays to handle financially. Plus the Rays Clubhouse culture might not have been a good fit for Cruz, but we also will never know if he could of adjusted and been a key component of this year’s squad.

Who knows, Cruz should be a free agent after the season, and with him showing he can still power the ball as well as be steroid free, the Rays would kick the tires, but even with Cruz’s current ‘14 resume of 39 HR and 106 RBI (as of 9/22) it might not be enough as a ‘15 salary seeking $ 9-10 million and someone wearing his favorite #23 jersey (Jake Odorizzi should quickly end the Rays interest.  

What if Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Cobb and Matt Moore had stayed injury free?

images (3)Wow! Without a shadow of a doubt this team would have been different. Would it have been enough change to possibly change the end of the season outcome…..Without a doubt, but I’m a card carrying optimist.

But that doesn’t mean I would be calling out another revival of rising to the Rays 2008 level, or anticipated the backward tumble of 2009. I hate to admit it, but a few good things did happen for the Rays rotation because of those setbacks.

We found out the true fire and nature of Chris Archer, Cobb when he got healthy took the reins and never let go possibly posting one of the 6 best ERA (with possibly 2 starts to go) in the American League….And we saw the maturation process that beset Jake Ordorizzi from rookie nerves and indecision to transforming into a true 5th starter for this team.

What if we had held onto David Price instead of trading him to Detroit?

downloadThis is a question that will take a few more seasons before we know the true essence of this trade. I am also one of those anxious to see how young prospect Willy Adames advances in the Rays farm system. Also a post Trade Deadline Price has produced a 3-4 record and a 4.09 ERA (possibly 2 more starts) since the trade, the Southpaw sent as a left-handed option for the Rays rotation has been pretty Price-like. Drew Smyly posted a 3-1 record with a 1.70 ERA while also putting up 44 K’s on 47.2 innings.

I think this trade worked in the Rays future favor as Smyly is a salary friendly option and Adames is already viewed by some as a future Rays SS and he is still at the Class-A level.

What if Wil Myers had not missed 81 games with his wrist injury?  

images (4)My ESPN Fantasy League stats predictions for Myers showed him posting numbers like: 81 runs, 25 HR, 91 RBI and a .267 average. At the beginning of 2014 he was owned by a majority of the teams in the leagues, but today only 35.3% of people have stuck with Myers.

His offensive output was missed extremely by the Rays, but his absence also got us a great introduction to some future Rays “Outlaw” ways. If you had to find any shining moment out of Myers pain it was the pure fact we got to see over 103+ games with Kevin Kiermaier on the squad. With them both playing together here in the latter days of the season, we might be witnessing transformation of the Rays outfield to a bit more speed and aggression in 2015.  

What if Grant Balfour had retained that same fire and not lost some of his edge?

download (1)When Balfour signed that 2-year contract everyone was on his bandwagon. After a few stellar years showing his stuff on the West Coast with the A’s, the Rays envisioned Balfour taking the back end of the Bullpen and stabilizing it while Jake McGee slowly moved his way to that spot.

Balfour’s falling from grace and possibly a bit of “dead arm” for a spell pushed McGee into the spotlight and for a guy doing the closer’s role for the first time, his game was more hit than miss. With Balfour taking a step back into a set-up role now I can see the Rays using him as bait to a team that might need a proven closer and potent rally killer. This is not to mean the Rays will accept small fish for Balfour, but he could easily be in another uniform if the right return can be found for him.

images (1)Okay, that is just a few of the “what If” trains of thought that were thrown my way during the last home stand.  After these final 6 away games the Rays will conclude their season, return to the Trop and pack for home.

At that moment the questions will immediately change from “What if” to “What can we expect” as we begin another off season with question galore and many 2015 answers to ponder.

What direction can we expect the Rays to go?….T B D.

 

 

Peering Into My Rays 2015 Looking Glass-Position Players

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Well, Dandy Don has sung and the large but svelte woman in that Viking cap has vocally acknowledged the Tampa Bay Rays have lost that final grasp on any chance at an October date with destiny. So the chase is now over, but a few games still remain.

Over the next 2 weeks I think we will see a few slices of what might and could happen this winter in regards to our hometown Rays.

th3JODA4XGWe already know we will not see any fashion of a  $80 million payroll in 2015, but the Rays have a lot of pieces to consider this winter, some expendable, and some they have to keep at all costs. Might be a interesting winter as the Rays have a chance to push out another cycle of truly young pitching talent, might dangle a few names on their hook, and possibly be seeking a consistent power bat that could awaken an offense that rises and falls more than the tides in Tampa Bay.

From behind the plate to down the First Base line in the Bullpen, the Rays have some important work to do to not only up their offensive firepower, but also to shore up a reliever corps that did not have that secure level of consistency we have grown accustom to here.

I truly suspect the Rays will not only dangle but seek out a possible trade partner to take on veteran backstop Jose Molina’s 2015 salary. With the solid emergence of Curt Casali behind the dish in 2014, it makes Molina not only an extra body behind the plate, but a large salary that could be used to possibly secure a power bat for the Rays lineup.

thAWBZUW96In Casali’s favor right now is that he is showing great command of the Rays pitching corps and currently hold the best catcher’s ERA of 2.0 in the majors. He has caught Alex Cobb 6 times this season and sports a 1.09 ERA with Cobbster on the hill, including framing pitches during Cobb’s recent no-hitter adventure.

I think Ryan Hanigan is on solid ground, but people in Cincinnati probably thought the same before the 2013 offseason. Helping his cause for 2015 is definitely his current .306 average in 11 starts since coming back off the DL on August 26th.

Now in regards to the Rays infield. It would seem that 3 of the 4 slots are already occupied by players who should be rubber stamped in as starters for 2015.  Sure anything can happen, but these 3 players also have contracts inked with the team, some long-term, some with quicker expiration dates.

James Loney seems secure at First Base especially since he signed that 3-year #21 million contract in 2014 and should man the Rays 1B bag possibly until someone on the way up in the Rays farm system pushes him off it.  But also making Loney an easy name to pencil in is his superb bat skills and being great at GTMI (Get The Man In). Heading into Sunday’s contest Loney has 66 RBIs, second only to Evan Longoria.

thEFVI841BDo not be surprised if the Rays possibly show Sean Rodriguez a bit more at First Base in 2015. There is no guarantee the Rays will keep S-Rod, but he has been one of the most consistent pieces of the Rays utility corps right alongside Ben Zobrist.

Speaking of Zorilla, could this offseason be the first one where the Rays ask Zobrist to possibly take a few more turns at First as a possible fill-in should the team not re-sign Rodriguez? We all know Rays Manager Joe Maddon is S-Rod’s biggest supporter, but his salary is climbing and with less dollars in the till, could Rodriguez be one of the Rays biggest question marks going into the winter.

Third Base is all Evan Longoria’s until health or just plain age ripe him off the hot corner. People forget Longo is itching close to that big 3-0 that sometimes robs a player of agility and quickness needed to prevent screamers down the line. I do not see 2015 as the season Father Time begins to creep up on Longoria, but if he does we could possible see Tim Beckham or Logan Forsythe as guys to pencil in with spot starts.

th2I88KN6BLongoria did have what many consider a sub-par season in 2014, but he still leads the team in most offensive categories and is still the Rays Clubhouse figurehead, and that will not change for some time. His tear in offense since the All-Star break might just be to him finally finding that mechanics groove we have been waiting for all this season.

Shortstop is also a spot that seems secure, but has also been a spot of ups and downs in 2014. Now I like the spirited play of Yunel Escobar, but I think a healthy Hak-Ju Lee could press Escobar with a outstanding spring. You know subconsciously the Rays Front Office would love this kind of competition considering one would command a MLB minimal salary (Lee), and the other $5 million.

You might wonder why the Rays did not bring up Lee or Beckham in September or after Durham finished their postseason run. Both have 2 minor league options left and if neither fights nor gains a 25-man roster slot in 2015, that gives the Rays some flexibility to hold onto them at least in Durham.

thNYXYJESCSecond Base might again be a “insert here” space in the Rays infield. With names like Nick Franklin, Forsythe, Lee and Beckham possibly fighting for a chance to line up at 2B, this might be one of the most contested spots during the spring of 2015.

Sure you could put Zobrist firmly in black ink in this spot, but I think Maddon still loves to tinker and place Zobrist and his many gloves wherever he sees a possible weakness. I truly think we will see Zobrist either swapping gloves a lot again in 2015, or he will be gone. I think a lot depends on the Rays evaluation of what they could obtain via a winter trade for Zorilla while he still has ample value to a team looking for a players who has a command of his offensive and defensive skills.

The Rays might end up coming out of 2015 spring training with their youngest outfield trio since their inception. I have an odd feeling this might be the other place where competition will be strong and possibly we see a name or possibly 2 change uniforms in direct response to possible 2015 salary as opposed to their overall value to the team.

thNOJJ6HYGOutfielders Matt Joyce and possibly Desmond Jennings might also see their names in print a bit more during the Rays off season. Not because they are not valued or important Rays pieces, but there is a younger crew of Rays outfielders led by Wil Myers and Kevin Keirmaier who can provide the same offense and defensive excellence at a more modest price.

The Rays also need to make a valued judgment on Brandon Guyer who doesn’t have any minor league options remaining. This whole Guyer situation might come down to a mirror image evaluation that the Rays had to make on Sam Fuld before the 2014 season. Believe me, if the Rays find value in keeping Guyer, he could definitely slot in as the team’s 4th or 5th outfield option without a problem.

I will no discuss the DH position since I think that will be a hired bat or possibly more Longoria and Zobrist in 2015 if the team can not find an adequate stick that can elevate the Rays offense.

In addition Maddon could use any variety of bench selections to insert or delete at his leisure. Designated Hitter might be a revolving door for the Rays if a valued bat is not found before the spring of 2015. 

thVSZNTP0FI have a feeling we will see a leaner and more stat-infused Rays team over the next 2 years. The Rays will again possibly show a “youth movement” as most positions will be secured by vets, but the younger corps of the team could mature into the offensive pieces the Rays lacked in 2014.

With a slimmed down payroll and some veterans nearing the cusp of free agency, the Rays might call upon their striving younger core to provide a cohesive and focused 2015 nucleus.

 

More Rays Decisions on the Horizon

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With just 20 days left in the 2014 season for the Tampa Bay Rays, you can expect an abundance of decision, changes and shifts in their usual format in regard to pitching, fielding assignments and possibly the last shuffle of players after the Durham Bulls complete their drive to try and retain the Governor’s Cup.

thYXLXH91BWe have saw one decision rear its ugly head on Tuesday as the Rays decided they would shut down starter Drew Smyly. The Rays only leftie currently in their rotation will be replaced by right-hander Nathan Karns who was to pitch on Thursday in Game 4 of the Governor’s Cup series, but will now toe the rubber for the Rays in Yankee Stadium for their last contest against the Yankee in 2014.

Even though the Rays have not been formally declared out of the post season, the shutting down of Smyly who has been a bright spot in the latter stages of the season signals the Rays looking ahead to 2015.

Now that doesn’t mean the Rays will re-invent themselves over the next 3 weeks, but the usual line-ups and match ups might go a little left and right and the Rays experiment and try out some new combos or fielding assignment to test their current corps of rostered players.

The first of these movements towards the future might be in feeling out the limitations or flexibility of Brandon Guyer. We all know Guyer has the heart and soul to play with this team, but if he shows a little more flexibility and resourceful use, possibly in Center Field, the Rays might extend their hands and provide Guyer with ample opportunity before the last contest in Cleveland.

thS5U101GFOver the next few weeks I suspect we might see a few tinkers with the lineup seeing if other players can adapt, convert and possibly excel at other spots in the 1-9 slot of the Rays lineup card. We could see a few new names attached to Third Base giving Evan Longoria a few more reps at DH.

Quite possibly we could also see if the Rays value certain player who have been established as 2015 options, or possible trade fodder this winter. One name I think you might want to watch close is the ways the Rays use Matt Joyce over the final games.

Joyce is still under team control in 2015, but I truly thought 2014 was his year to shine or submerge and quite possibly the Rays might be on that same wave length. It is kind of a pity Joyce seemed to have drawn the long straw when Wil Myers went down. I thought the team would try and expand on Joyce’s worthiness through more at bats against lefties, but instead the team went to the minor league system and have made Kevin Kiermaier a new Tampa Bay household name.

The emergence of Kiermaier might makes Joyce expendable this winter, and an affordable name for another team to scoop up at a bargain. And with the Rays possibly experimenting with different outfield setups, names like Ben Zobrist, David DeJesus and Desmond Jennings might find a few teams calling about their availability this winter too.

thC0O2Q3OAAnother decision much like Smyly is on the horizon for the Rays as starters Jake Odorizzi has thrown for 154.2 innings and Chris Archer has 173.2 innings. Taking two fixtures out of the rotation might not happen, but seeing as current Durham starters Alex Colome has only 86 innings on the book before his next Governor’s Cup start, he could be a viable option for the Rays after Durham finishes their playoff run.

But not in Colome’s favor might be the pure fact that would give the Rays 5 starters who all throw from the right side of the rubber. The Rays could go with the option of bringing up 2 different lefties after the Durham playoff run, or promote another right-hander, Merrill Kelly as he only has 114 innings on his arm this season.

If the Rays did want to go the duo lefty option, Mike Montgomery and Enny Romero both have about 126 innings on their stats this year and could possibly be an option for 1-2 starts each to finish off 2014 plus give the team a real time evaluation on if they might be MLB ready in 2015.

th7BV3QC8DInfield wise I could see the Rays possibly bring up Hak-Ju Lee or maybe even Tim Beckham and throw them in Longoria’s spot at Third and test them on being viable future options or possible add-ons to a winter trade.

Who knows, maybe Rays can bring up a Ray…Olmedo to see if he could be a piece of the depth puzzle again next season either in Triple-A or with the Rays.

Everything is just speculation until certain things fall or are decided by the Rays. With the season winding down and the team all but .01% eliminated from any contention the Rays now only fear the calendar.

As soon as the Bulls complete their post season series I truly suspect a few of these name to appear quickly on the transaction wire.

Now if only the Bulls would hurry up and win the Governor’s Cup so we can really see what the Rays are thinking……for 2015.

 

Ice Bucket Challenge…Do You Have It in You?

 

If for nothing else, the Summer of 2014 is going to be known for ice cold buckets sloshing all over the heads, upper bodies and shoes of people from all walks of life. What’s a little H2O when it can be done for a great cause, and to also call out for friends, family, co-workers and maybe that one person you always wanted to get a little revenge on…..now is your chance.

The challenge is actually quite easy in thought: you get a full bucket of icy cold water, dump it over your head, record the action, post the video out and about on any or all of your social media outlets and then loudly call out or challenge anyone and everyone to also take the plunge and make a donation to the ALS Association.

I mean tons of famous and also non-famous people have already gotten their cold shiver on with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. I mean athletes and celebrities like pro golfer Greg Norman, actress Elisha Cuthbert, Toronto Maple Leaf Dion Phaneuf, Household goddess Martha Stewart and even the Tampa Bay Rays mascot Raymond have completed and sent out their own challenges to other to also compete and complete the icy adventure.

I am simply flabbergasted that the watery “Tag..Your it!” endeavor has risen to such high standards with hundreds and thousands of people through their social media pages and messages calling for the friends, followers and even family to take a cold one for ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Amazingly enough, the event has raised over $150,000. Already this year and before the first leaf falls could surpass a quarter of a million dollars just by people all over the social map calling out others to douse themselves and to extend the challenge to their select intended targets to also partake and donate, then keep the cycle going…possibly all summer long.

And this awesome fund raising challenge actually has a bit of a baseball foundation. Seems that this whole icy situation began back in 2012 in the Boston, Mass area and quickly began to gain a more wet footing as friends, relatives and former teammates of former Boston College baseball player Pete Frates who was diagnosed with ALS.

Pete’s close knit group of friends, family and others decided used the cool idea as a visual physical challenge to raise awareness about ALS. Frates, 29, has been living with ALS since 2012 and has worked for The ALS Association’s Massachusetts Chapter. Frates is a former Divion1 college baseball player for Boston College and is a tireless champion for the foundation and its awareness.

Recently Pete’s own parents, John and Nancy along with 200 assembled dry souls doused themselves in Copley Square. His parents state that the ice bucket challenge has done more to increase the understanding about ALS than anything else they have imagined over the past 2 years.

How much has this event helped the ALS Association?

ALS Association National President Barbara Newhouse said donations to the national office have surged during the last 10-day period that ended this past Thursday to about $160,000. From $14,480 during the same period a year ago. And you have to believe that local and community chapter offices have not been able to give their donation yet, so a figure of $250,000. Seems within reach just for a few moments of uncomfortable chills for a tremendous cause.

I have been the subject of a ALS Ice Bucket  Challenge twice now (8/10/14 & 08/17/14) and have been honored to take that heavily laced bucket of ice chips and some water  and dumped it over my Rays capped noggin.  I completed my first challenge after being called out by a former Colts teammate on August 10th and completed my second tour of icy goodness on Sunday, August 17th after a challenge was issued to former Baylor football players. I also donated $100 each time with the second donation being presented in the name of my daughter Alex Hougham.

All I can tell you is thank goodness it is 90+ degree in St. Petersburg, Fl right now so the water not only cooled me down, but kept my feet and shorts cool for an hour or two afterwards as I did not bring spare clothes (Hint: remember spare clothes, at least flip flops). 

I mean I have heard of some wild challenges already like the one completed by Boston Bruins stars Brad Marchand and Torey Krug who willingly dropped frozen ice (not from Boston Garden) on themselves and then promptly issued their own set of challenges to their intended water-logged friends.

So friends, family and old arch-enemies be aware, for soon I might be calling you out to also partake in the chilling but totally satisfying adventure of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

Now if only my Nike’s would dry out…

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Rays Photo Day Shows Both Sides of the Rays Personalities

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You never quite know what sensibilities are going to “play out” when the Tampa Bay Rays let photographers bring about their own illuminations on the team’s character, or is that characters. You only have to look back to the Feb. 25, 2010 Rays Photo Day shots where the photographer that day used the natural sunlight of Florida as sparkling and illumination points on the photos of that season squad.

2010Sure they were embarking on a new strand of light called the post season that spring and the Sun made more than a few spectacular effects in a variety of photos from that spring’s squad. Then in 2013 it seems the Rays photos were a bit more subdued than usual with some playful spots of individuality, but the photos overall seemed to illustrate a unison or harmony among the troops.

Of the 26 photos already released from the Rays 2014 Photo Day, there is again a underlying theme that clearly is visible and unique all to the Rays way of team chemistry. This spring photos show a calm, a essence of a more tranquil and centered squad of players who see that goal in the cross-hairs and calmly and professionally plan to be the team that “eats last” come November 2014.

eatslastYou see a more relaxed Papa Longoria with the Rays leadership crown solidly planted upon his head along with fellow Clubhouse General David Price presenting himself quite Zen-like in his photos awaiting the approaching Opening Day more with zeal than strife.

But then you have the other side of the Rays coin also displayed in the type of Gasparilla-infused notions and action of Rays reliever Josh Lueke both in his biting of a baseball, to juggling and possibly showing that some fun must come with all the stress of competing and delivering your goal.   

wjbjI enjoy seeing the fight and fire as well as the comedic notions that make up a M L B team. Not everyone can be serious all of the time and sometimes that moment of tongue-in-cheek humor or even dawning a gladiator’s mask can deliver more energy and fight into a group than any Knute Rockne oratory.

The Ying and Yang of this year’s released Photo Day shots also shows the ebb and flow that will ultimately exist within the Rays this year as leaders and jokers can come together tone their antics and abilities to the highest achievement levels and produce memories and events that we will speak about for years.

LLMEFrom the high points of  Longoria who with a consistent effort in 2014 should ultimately by-pass and become the sole Rays all-time leaders in such categories as HR, RBI, Extra Base Hits, doubles and Slugging Percentage before the end of 2014 to Myers who will again be called on provide the same kind of energy, production and raw unharnessed spirit that saw him take home an American League Rookie of the Year trophy, this team will rise and fall on both the chill moments and chaotic scrambles that make up a 162-game campaign.

pllbSure this is but only a 26 frame cross-section of the character and characters of that will become the heart and soul of the 2014 edition of the Rays, but if this is any indication of what we might have in store for us for a 162 game haul…..I’m ready to buckle in and take the rough with the fun for it’s almost time for the games to matter and I can’t wait for that last day in March………..But I don’t think Lueke will have to eat too many balls this year because this team looks and sounds hungry enough to push it to that last meal….and maybe have room for a champagne-infused dessert.

All photos taken by Zimbio.com photographers. They do so many other M L B teams photos each spring. Search their website for your team’s spring photos. I do have a Facebook link with the latest 26 and any additional Rays Photo Day shots I find past the submitting of this blog post.

Rays Fan Fest Autograph on Your Slate? Be Ready to Donate

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Back in February 2011 if you wanted to get the autograph of a Tampa Bay Rays player you had to purchase a $40 wristband on that day to get unlimited player autographs. In 2013 that price increased to $50 for most current Rays players and Coaches autographs, and a select few more affluent members of the Rays Republic could purchase their own private autograph packages to have a more intimate private autograph session with some of the Rays star players.

ELDPWMThis year if you wanted to secure the signatures of the Rays “Big 3” which included Evan Longoria, David Price and 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers, it was going to cost you a bit more than the old 2013 option of an $50 “all-inclusive” wristband for all players available during Fan Fest signing moments.

So was really to anyone’s real surprise that the Rays announced recently that during the upcoming 2014 Rays Fan Fest to be held on Saturday, February 22, a new more streamlined and calculated autograph format would be in place. Some have been shocked by the news while others (like myself) have known this type of increase was just over the hill and is in line with other MLB players signing requests at their fan events.

I posted a blog post way back on February 14, 2011 comparing the Rays then request for fans to purchase $40 wristband donation fee for Fan Fest autographs. I started out in that essay stating:More and more I am being assured that we, as Tampa Bay Rays fans have been spoiled by this organization”. And I really feel that sentiment is still true today.

kjhgfAt this year’s Fan Fest, for a $125 donation 60 affluent members of the Rays Republic can pre-purchase a more intimate behind the blue curtain opportunity with one of the trio or play a total of possibly $375 for obtaining all 3 players signatures. Immediately I know a few hands will go up that the pricing in “unheard of” and a bit astronomical, but in reality, it is pretty much in line with what donation amounts are requested by other MLB club for their premier player’s autographs at a fan event.

In that 2011 blog I showed you that it cost $175 back then at a Cards fan event to secure a chance at getting then St Louis Cardinals 1B Albert Pujols. At that Cards event, Pujols commanded the most advance donation as the pricing swirled down from the $175 mark to $5 to secure former player Jack Clark’s signature.

pageAnd the Rays autograph donation fees do not start and end at the $125 price point. The team will also offer other Rays players who could/should be on the team’s 2014 roster at $25 each and also some additional players who will sign for kids 14 and younger only for no donation fee. Sure there was an instant shock and awe when I read the Rays autograph proposal, but the common denominator here for me is all money collected will go to the Rays in-house charity the Rays Baseball Foundation and the ALS Foundation to further support research and developments within the Tampa Bay region.

Knowing that the money will all go to help promote and increase the funding for the Rays projects outside of the Trop and secure more than just signatures for the community, the $125 or even $25 each donations do not seem like a huge request. But I know as I wander around Tropicana Field on that day I will see a few tear-filled eyes that they cannot get the autographs of their baseball heroes, or their parents do not have the needed funds to obtain multiple autographs of players within the $25 price range.

jhgfdI know more than a few kids will possibly miss out on their own golden opportunity to be within ear range of their Rays heroes this Fan Fest, but I want to remind you that the MLBPA table is always full of former players from the Rays and baseball’s past and receiving their signatures is still free as always.

Still internally I’m a bit perplexed because for some fans, Fan Fest is their only viable opportunity to get access to their favorite player for more than a brief eye glance and this change will take that bit of uniqueness of being totally fan friendly away. Some fans travel great distances hoping to get this great access to Ray’s players.

Sure there will be multiple opportunities for some fans to get a bevy of additional changes to take photos and talk with players throughout the day, but this year’s autograph policy change might just also change a few minds on attending future Fan Fests, or even deaden a bit their Rays loyalty a tad.

pageI know the team wants to promote the other activities going on all over the playing field from the kid’s games, to the Pepsi display and Fan Wall of Fame ceremonies plus the Clubhouse tours and interacting with various radio and broadcast people on a more intimate scale. I know the Rays Garage Sale, Reading with the Rays will have huge crowds.

But no matter the team’s great intentions, a few tears will ultimately fall.

 

# 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.

Tasty Tidbits About Some of Our New Rays

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I do not know how many of you are like me and anticipate the release or even first glimpse of the upcoming season’s Media Guide. I get a bit antsy about the time the Tampa Bay Rays Media Guide is available for purchase, and I carry it with me for always as a quick statistical reference guide and to feed some of the fan base’s appetite for tidbits of information about their favorite Rays.

And the 2013 edition of this grand publication is a few weeks away from general purchase, but I’d like to now give you a small tasting menu or sampling of some of the great items stashed within it’s covers this season. Most of the things I will divulge today will be tidbits of information about new players added to the Rays 40-man roster acquired via Free Agency or by trades this Winter. So without further ado…it’s time to learn something about the new guys.

536932_10200613596644364_1626184466_nYunel Escobar

*** Will become the 8th Cuban player to grace the Rays roster, and the first since C Michel Hernandez.

*** In 2012, Escobar compiled a .982 Fielding Percentage, the 4th best among MLB shortstops and committed a total of 12 errors.

*** He is a childhood friend of Tigers C Brayan Pena and the pair got the lucky chance of being teammates in Atlanta.

225304_10200613591004223_614110924_nRoberto Hernandez

***His parents are farmers and comes from a family of 3 brothers and 3 sisters. When he is not working out in the off-season, Hernandez can be found working the cattle on his family’s spread in Yamasa in the Dominican Republic.

*** Interesting enough, he pitched with former Rays closer Roberto Hernandez on the 2007 Cleveland Indians.

312446_10200613582084000_380179301_nKelly Johnson

*** At some point in 2013, Johnson and Escobar will take their spot in the Rays middle infield for the 3rd different team. They have been double-play duos with the Atlanta Braves, Toronto BlueJays and now barring injury, the Rays. Only former MLB stars Jeff Kent and Jose Vizcaino have beaten that 5-4 duo mark as they started at those positions for 4 different teams during their careers.

***Johnson was drafted by the Braves as a shortstop, but made his MLB debut as a outfielder. After recovering from Tommy John’s surgery, Johnson learned the ropes at Second Base and has played primarily at that spot ever since.

*** Johnson was the Central Texas High School Player of the Year back in 1999 as a Junior.

285284_10200613544643064_2080324597_nJames Loney

***Was the Los Angeles Dodgers nominee for the service-oriented Roberto Clemente in 2008 and 2010.

*** Is an avid bowler and hosted the Dodgers Dream Fund Bowling Extravaganza the past 3 seasons and he is not even the best bowler in his family. That honor goes to his younger brother Anthony who has rolled a Perfect Game (320). Loney also donated $7,500 to dedicate 2 bowling lanes to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles so kids battling cancer could spend a night bowling with the Dodgers and their families.

***Just like former Ray Carl Crawford, Loney came out of the Houston RBI baseball program and was a huge supporter of the Los Angeles area RBI program while with the Dodgers.

*** Loney is a former First Team Baseball America All American team member as a utility player and his Lawrence E. Elkins HS squad had a 30-1 record and was ranked #1 in the nation during his tenure there.

484976_10200613589284180_923822037_nMike Montgomery

*** As if being a piece of the puzzle in a trade for SP James was not interesting enough, Montgomery used to be in the stands at Hart HS baseball stadium where his father taught algebra and Women’s Golf and watched a young James Shields pitch. Second great occurrence between the pair happened a week after the Royals and Rays trade when Montgomery met Shields during a ceremony retiring his old # 33 at Hart high.

*** During his Senior year at Hart, the baseball rotation included Montgomery and Trevor Bauer. In another odd coincidence, Bauer got traded from Arizona to Cleveland days after Montgomery’s trade from the Royals to the Rays.

482527_10200613596284355_1745899257_nWil Myers

***Became just the third player ever to be awarded the Baseball America, USA Today and Topps Minor League Player of the Year award in the same season. The other two were Josh Beckett and Andruw Jones.

*** The Rays Triple-A affiliate, the Durham Bulls have a unique ticket opportunity called the “Wil He,Won’t He”. The package contains 3 distinctive Bulls games: Opening Day (April 8th), Fourth of July, and Fan Appreciation Day (Aug 24th) plus a voucher for an additional game of your choice if Myers not start the season with the Bulls.

*** Myers was selected as the #2 Best Pure Hitter prior to his MLB Draft by Baseball America and is considered only 1 of 10 players in the last 50 years to hit over 35 HR at Class-A or above before the age of 22.

548849_10200613544003048_1367108645_nJake Odorizzi

*** Odorizzi is an avid gamer which will fit in well with the Rays Clubhouse featuring uber gamers Evan Longoria, Alex Cobb and David Price. Maybe we will see a future tandem of Longo and Odorizzi doing raids on “Call of Duty” online during the season.

***Was the Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year, a Louisville Slugger Pre-Season All-American, a Rawlings Perfect Game All-American, and a member of the USA Today All-USA Team back in 2008 while sporting a 14-0 record, 0.10 ERA while leading Highland (Ill) HS to a state title.

Well, I hope this small bit of information gives you a bit of comfort and confidence we obtained a pretty select and special group of guys this Winter. The Rays 2013 Media Guide is chock full of more interesting information and stats on all the Rays players, minor leaguers and staff with career and personal notes. I hope everyone gets a chance to either browse through one this season or purchases one for their home archives. 

Players and Fans Definitely Rocked the Trop at Fan Fest

Rays Fan Fest 2013 120

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.

Rays Possible Draft Prediction and Notes

 

                      
                       http://www.mlb.com

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

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

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

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

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


http://media.scout.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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