Results tagged ‘ Yunel Escobar ’

Peering Into My Rays 2015 Looking Glass-Position Players

2015

 

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.

 

Rays Inspired World Cup Squad

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

Roberts Tattoo’s a Few Rawlings

Ryan Roberts

I have had Tampa Bay Rays infielder Ryan Roberts on my Fantasy teams for the last several years. It is not for him maintaining a high batting average, but when he gets on a bit of a roll, he just plain tattoo’s the Rawlings right off the baseball. And when you have an alter ego like “TatMan”, adding a little extra ink or black mark produced by your bat smashing into the ball is not always a bad thing.

0430827683_10548011_8colAdding another little ink moment to Robert’s first Home Run was the fact it was against the Rays numero uno nemesis, the New York Yankees who put their ace CC Sabathia on the hill and Roberts was behind in the count 0-2 when he lifted his first shot up and over the left field seats.

Say what you will about Robert’s unique and always expanding body art, but when he truly gets on a bit of a hitting streak, he is someone who not only can help elevate his own game, but those around him seem to also feel that same vibe and energy. You have to believe Rays shortstop Yunel Escobar felt some of that residual energy at the dish last night as he combined with Roberts to post back-to-back Home Runs becoming the first Rays middle infielders to EVER produce this feat.

Ryan RobertsEven more impressive was Robert’s blast as he lead off the bottom of the 3rd inning and got into a nice hitters count with 3balls and 1 strike when Sabathia tried to sneak a pitch by Roberts that he instead decided to deposit again into the left field seats to the joy off everyone in Section 135-137. His Home Run in that at bat also secured only the 3rd time in Rays history they have seen such a power explosion from their middle infielders.

Roberts display last night with his bat also was the first time since he has given up two long bombs to a single hitter since May 23,2010 when he gave up a “deuce” to New York Mets OF Jason Bay during an Inter-League series at Citi Field. Not only did Roberts hit two long and far away shots, but he went 3-for-4 in the contest and helped pace the Rays to their 4th straight win at home to boost their home mark to 7-3 this season.

What is even more special is the pure fact Roberts is in the middle of one of those nice hitting streaks I spoke about at the beginning of the post as he is currently 7-15 with 2 HR, 4 RBI and 2 runs scored and there are still 2 more contests in the Trop. before the team hits the road for a 10-game slate. You can bet Rays Manager Joe Maddon will not hesitate to pencil in Roberts name on the lineup card as he is hitting a spectacular .455 (10-22) and has a 2-game hitting streak in which he has gone 5-9.

york-yankees-v-tampa-bay-20130422-172614-105Roberts is quickly establishing himself as one of those hidden gems to the Rays offense considering most people who do not keep stats might not know Roberts currently enjoys a robust .308 2013 batting average and has been set up in the 2-hole the last 2 contests and produced a .455 average (5-11). Surprising enough, his elevation to the number 2 slot in the Rays lineup is the highest he has been in the Rays batting order with his previous best being in the 5th slot.

Throw out the additional facts Roberts has produced 3 multi-hit games over his last 4 starts and we might see someone who can reduce a bit of Maddon’s stress and worry, especially against southpaws. Yesterday Roberts also produced his second 3-hit game of this season, the first “trifecta” coming when the Rays hosted the Minnesota Twins back on April 12th. Seems kind of funny that Roberts only had his first extra base hit of 2013 this past Sunday in the Rays win against the Oakland A’s.

Ryan RobertsRoberts is also quickly establishing himself as a get plug-in player around the horn as he has made game appearances for the Rays during contests at First Base (1), Third Base (1) and his usual home Second Base (8). That mobility and versatility could get Roberts a lot of chances to expand upon his prior top hitting marks and possibly be another one of those hidden gems that seem to come to the surface for the Rays and gleam brightly all season long.

I can only image the design and location Roberts might pick to put a everlasting symbol of this great night and feat somewhere upon his skin canvas. Who knows, if he keeps hitting like this he might have to dedicate an entire limb just to his Rays accomplishments as well as tattoo a few hundred more Rawlings along the way.

Rays Opener Produced a Mixed Bag of Moments

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Baseball defines itself by its unscripted single plays and moments that can easily decide victory or defeat. Where the crack of the bat meeting the ball can electrify a crowd, a defensive play that illustrates brilliance can boost your confidence for success, or a misplaced pitch left flat and lifeless can become a isolating factor in the contest.

201304021221444815482-p2These moments and more showed themselves vividly on Tuesday afternoon as the Tampa Bay Rays opened their 16th Major League baseball campaign against divisional rivals, the Baltimore Orioles. The Rays were riding a 2-game home opener winning streak and with a third win in a row could get Rays Manager Joe Maddon back to the .500 mark in his Rays tenure. Instead, the Rays showed us all the ways they have improved over the Winter, but also gave us a quick dose of reality that some things still need some fine tuning to succeed in 2013.

Rays ace David Price took the hill hoping to begin another trek towards a stellar season, but some crafty hitting and patience by the O’s hitters bore into the small holes of opportunity and had Price on the ropes early in this contest. Sure Oriole’s sluggers Adam Jones and Chris Davis had great starts to the 2013 season against Price, but C Matt Wieters seemed to be the biggest nemesis to Price on this day.

201304021528557035843-p2Not only did Wieters stake Baltimore to a 2-0 lead in the 1st inning, but his 13-pitch at bat in the top of the 3rd inning that ended up as a walk, which included 8 foul balls did load the bases for a potentially bad situation, but a Davis ground ball to Yunel Escobar began a nifty double play that ended the inning without any further incident. Wieters did have a secondary effect on Price that his long plate appearance did elevate Price’s pitch count and hastened his exit from the game after 6 innings.

Jake McGee then came on in the 7th inning and made a few pitch location mistakes. Jones made the first impression with a 2-RBI to deep left center to give the Orioles the lead again at 4-3. Misfortune again reared her ugly head for McGee in the inning after he intentionally walked Wieters and David blasted a 396-foot 3-run Home Run to right and posted the eventual runs needed to secure the O’s first win of the new season. McGee just never seemed comfortable out on the mound yesterday and might have thrown 18 strikes in his 25 pitch outing, but the Baltimore hitters made his exit swift after 2/3rds of an inning.

baltimore-orioles-v-tampa-bay-20130402-125456-149Mistakes happen in ballgames, that is par for the course. A pitch that stays flat or doesn’t break away from the plate is destined to be put into play and bad things can become the immediate result. Both Price and McGee had moments of flatness in this game and it cost both of them dearly with McGee getting the loss plus posting up a ballooned 67.50 early ERA. Both pitchers will find their grooves and make amends this season, but their small mistakes on this day definitely played into the Rays breaking their home opener streaks and taking Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s career home opening day mark to 3-5.

But there were also some moments in this contest that made you not only feel good inside, but built upon the confidence that a few pieces that falters at times in 2012 have been fixed and made great starts to building confidence on the field and in the stands. All around the field yesterday there were defensive plays and great moves on the base paths that showed this team again has that attitude that no game is decided until the 27th out. That kind of mentality will pay huge dividends down the road and even in this initial loss, we saw more than a few reasons to think our defensive debacle in 2012 has been rectified.

201304021523553955827-p2Evan Longoria definitely showed he is psyched for 2013 with 2-straight impressive defensive plays in the top of the 5th inning with the second play coming with a throw on his backside at third against the speedster Jones with his throw bouncing across the turf until James Loney secured it to end the inning. Sam Fuld who replaced Matt Joyce in left also made his presence known as well as Ryan Roberts who replaced Ben Zobrist at 2B when Zorilla went to RF and SS Yunel Escobar showed brilliance on the pivot providing a crucial 6-3 double play in the top of the 3rd to stop the O’s scoring chances.

From the Rays first hit of the season, a solo Home Run by Zobrist to RF, to Desmond Jennings RBI double in the 6th inning then scoring on a Sac Fly by Zorilla. Jennings again provided some needed magic beating out an infield single to the shortstop, then stealing his first base of the season in the bottom of the 7th inning putting him in great scoring position to secure the Rays 4th run of the game on a ground ball to 2B by Fuld in the bottom of the 8th inning. These plays show great glimmers of hope the Rays offensive woes from 2012 might have also vanished over the Winter as the Rays employed both long and short ball concepts during this first contest.

baltimore-orioles-v-tampa-bay-20130402-154433-217All in all it might have been a mixed bag of results for the Rays, but the team showed the type of hustle and strive for victory you need when in the course of a season a single win or loss could decide not only your fate. I know that might seem a bit fatal thinking a single loss can be so detrimental to a team, but in this high contested AL East, especially against a division rival who wants to improve on their 90+ win totals from 2012, a single loss can put you behind the 8-ball early on in the season.

Tuesday the Rays might have come out on the losing end of it all, but there were multiple bright spots to show this team’s improvement and 161 more chances to grab back this loss and get on with the grand scheme of things this season…which is securing another ticket to play deep into October.

Do not forget, this season is the 5th anniversary of the “Miracle of Baseball”, and that 2008 Rays campaign also started off with a opening day home loss to these same Orioles ( 9-6).  And we all know how that season ended up…….Coincidence, I think not.

 

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. 

2B…Or Not 2B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

There Are No “Losers” in This Rays Trade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

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