Results tagged ‘ Wil Myers ’

Silverman Restoring Faith in the Rays, One Trade at a Time

 

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Matt Silverman, my cap is tilted to you.

Got to admit, I thought the Tampa Bay Rays might make a few moves to fill holes and bring competition into Spring Training, but I never imagined we would see the bodies fly this winter.

And that’s a good thing.

Sure I will miss the likes of outfield duo of Wil Myers, Matt Joyce and several of the Rays pieces that have left this team via trades this off season, but what you have brought back to the Rays with these trades will immediately make an impact on the Rays offensive and defensive alignments for many seasons to come.

images (2)That is what a true leader does. They go out and make a team better without a dollar spent or a moment of sleep lost. Right now the new President of Baseball Operations is healing the Rays Republic’s gaping mental and emotional wounds left by Andrew Friedman leaving for Chavez Ravine and bringing up morale and cohesion among the Tampa Bay fan base.

It took a lot of internal guts and fortitude to hire a first time Manager like Kevin Cash, but the guy has the energy, passion and baseball smarts to not only do the job, but have the rest of us want success for him right out of the gate.

An oversight most people are not connecting with is Cash will be an instrumental piece of the puzzle for the Rays young catchers as they come up and develop in the system or at the MLB level.

635542469625690263-Still1215-00001 (1)With Cash only a handful of seasons away from wearing the backstop gear, his insight and knowledge of the needed skill set of an MLB starting catcher cannot be taught or duplicated. It might not have been the most popular choice, but it will be one that works cohesively with the Rays style of play and should bring immediate results to this team.

For that, I want to say “Thank you”.

So many times when a team has the type of high level personnel changes the Rays have had since October, there is a shock and awe period where things stay the same and change is not aggressively embraced or executed. So far this off season, that has not been your game plan.

Instead you have shed several bulky salaries like Jeremy Hellickson and Joel Peralta and gotten enough in return to satisfy not only your bottom line, but let the system restock itself and possibly build a few more trade assets heading into the not so distant future.

SBJ200703121901-32Even more impressive has been you commitment that no one on the roster or system is safe from trade, and by not only making that statement, but showing it by trading Joyce and Myers, you have made a great statement to the rest of Major League Baseball that the Rays might not have the biggest payroll in baseball, but they will have the talent to stack up against their AL East foes.

As Boston, New York, Baltimore and Toronto re-stock and re-focus for 2015, the Rays have aggressively looked for stop-gaps and talented individuals to fill holes, provide added strength and stay competitive without rewarding a single player with a contract that could cripple the Rays chances of being the Beasts from the East again.

images (3)I have said for a while that the Rays are at a proverbial tipping point in regards to talent, payroll and their fan base. Moves and trades like the ones completed by Silverman and crew will go a long way into enticing the Tampa Bay community to embrace the Rays and show the rest of the baseball nation that Tampa Bay is a place where baseball can survive after the spring thaw.

Again, thank you Matt for taking positive steps so early in the off season to bring back so many and so much to the Rays fold.

Myself, as a long-time Rays fan am extremely grateful for the job you have done so far this offseason.

Where There’s A Wil….There’s a Way

 

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There are so many ways you can look at this 11-player trade that will be finalized between the Tampa Bay Rays, San Diego Padres and Washington Nationals.

images (1)Some will point out that this deal might center on 2 young outfielders, one getting a fresh start (Wil Myers) while the other (Steven Souza) finally can fight for a MLB Opening Day roster spot.

Myers who had a wrist injury setback in his second season never seemed to be at ease at the plate after he returned from injury and quite possibly the Rays are playing the risk management odds and trading Myers now while he is a viable trade commodity.

images (5)Souza (#5 Nats prospect) unfortunately would have seen little or no play as the Nats outfield trio of Span, Werth and Harper would get the lion’s share of starts and even a great spring might not secure him a 25-Man roster spot. In Tampa Bay he will not only get a chance to compete for a possibly 25-Man slot, but quite possibly have an opportunity to see ample playing time possibly platooning with David DeJesus in left field.

Oh, and Souza is a part of MLB history. His acrobatic catch with 2-outs in the 9th inning secured Jordan Zimmerman’s No-Hitter…….Impressive indeed.

images (4)Others will see the two catchers involved in this deal as critical parts of the whole thing. One (Ryan Hanigan) will  give his team some much needed financial room, saving his team close to $8 million over the next 3 seasons. While the other (Rene Rivera) will get a second chance for success and has a willing and able ex-MLB catcher (Kevin Cash) at the helm of his new team.

Hanigan is a master at framing pitches behind the plate. This in itself could pay huge dividends this spring as Hanigan could mentor Padres C and #1 prospect Austin Hedges about the art of framing.

downloadRene Rivera will immediately come to the Rays as their main backstop as the only other catcher on the Rays roster with any MLB experience will be Curt Casali who only caught 29 games in 2014. In Rivera’s early favor will be his arm as he caught 33 out of 58 base runners in 2014. Rivera also seems to have a bit more offensive firepower than Hanigan putting up a line of .252 average, 11HR and 44 RBI that easily overshadows Hanigan’s 2014 marks of .218 average, 5 HR, 34 RBI.

Sure only 4 MLB caliber players were included in this 11-player soiree, but do not discount any of the minor league pieces as each has the potential to make a mark in their new franchise’s farm systems.

The Padres will receive 2 pitchers from the Rays low level to complete their end of the trade.  LHP Jose Castillo and Gerardo Reyes are still young,18 & 20 yrs. old respectfully, and have more than a few seasons in front of them before they will begin their path towards the MLB.

download (1)Most Rays fans might remember Castillo’s as the young 16-year old Venezuelan left-hander who was signed by the team back in 2012 for $ 1.55 million.

He was considered the 6th best prospect on the International market that summer.  Castillo might be one of the dark horses of this trade as he has appeared in only 15 games the past 2 seasons all for the Rays Gulf Coast League (Rookies) squad.

download (3)Reyes spent his first professional season with the Rays Rookie short season team, the Hudson Valley Renegades and appeared in 20 games throwing 33 innings with a 2-1 record to go along with a 4.09 ERA and 39 strikeouts.

As you can see, both Reyes and Castillo will be in the Padres farm system for a few years before they even get a glimpse of the major leagues.

download (4)LHP Travis Ott was the second player sent by Washington to the Rays and has played a little over a season and a 1/3 for the Nats.

He started 13 games in the lower A levels in 2014 producing a 1-4 record over 44.1 innings while amassing a 3.93 ERA with 45 K’s. Ott will also have a get more than a few seasons under his belt before he reaches anywhere near the Rays AAA level.

The Rays will also receive from the Padres 2 players who might make a difference for the Rays in the next few seasons. One had a dark cloud over him during 2014 while the other advanced and could be a great addition to the Rays roister possibly in 2-3 seasons.

images (6)RHP Burch Smith (#16 prospect) is the player who had a dark cloud over him in 2014. He was shutdown with forearm tendinitis in April after only 2 starts at AAA El Paso. But before this setback he was streaming through the Padres system and even made his MLB debut during the 2013 season. He has a great fastball that can reach 97 mph with late cutting action that makes it extremely difficult for hitters to square-up on in the box. He has great secondary weapon in a clean change-up and curve, but the Rays might have him start in AAA to let him prove he is healthy and back on his game.

Jake Bauers might be  a guy who could rise through the Rays system and make a late 2015, possible 2016 appearance at the MLB level.  Sure the left-handed hitting 1B only rose to full-season Class A in 2014, but the Rays have a First Baseman weak system and if he has any success could find himself at Double-A easily in 2015.

download (5)Bauer played in 112 games for the Ft Wayne TinCaps of the Mid-West League last season with a .296 average with 5 HR and 64 RBI. plus 5 stolen bases. Recently Bauer drew comparisons to Blue Jays 1B Daric Barton, which could be a great thing for the Rays.

Scouts say he has a compact swing right now that as it expands will provide more power to go along with his great defensive skills at First Base. The key for Bauer now is to improve his hitting at each level and he could within 2-3 seasons fight for a Rays roster spot.

The last 2 pieces of this trade puzzle would have made their way to Tampa Bay if the Rays did not spin them on to the Nationals for Souza. Both RHP Joe Ross (#8 prospect) and SS Trea Turner (#5 prospect) might not make an MLB impression for 3-4 years with Ross being possibly the first of the pair to make his MLB Debut.

images (7)Ross, who is the younger brother of Padres hurler Tyson Ross advancing to the Double-A level in 2014 and posting an overall 10-6 mark in 22 starts with a 3.92 ERA and 106 K’s over 121.2 innings.

Turner is listed on the trade as the “Player To Be Named Later” only because he was drafted in 2014 with the 13th pick but has already played in 69 games at the Class A full season level.

images (8)He has blazing speed, a few years extra experience having played baseball at North Carolina State and could develop into a great top of the lineup hitter posted 23 stolen bases in 69 games in the minors this past season. He also put up a .323 average with 5HR, 2 Triples and 24 RBI splitting time between Eugene and Ft Wayne.

Still, the trade is in the books, physicals arranged and soon this trade will not only be put to bed, but be firmly in the Rays rearview mirror.

Let’s hope this one doesn’t end up stinging the Rays in the end….Only time will tell.

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. 

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