Results tagged ‘ Zorilla ’
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.
I 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.
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.
My 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.
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.
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.
With “Crunch Time” descending upon the M L B World quickly, I am going to put out a plead, a request, a recommendation as to who I believe should get the final roster spot for the 2011 American League All-Star slot. Of course I am going to be pushing the name of Tampa Bay Rays OF/INF/ Uber-Fielder Ben Zobrist for this selection.
Sure Detroit’ DH/C Victor Martinez will have the Tigers all roaring his name. The South Side of Chi-town will hail DH Paul Korneko’s stats to the heavens. Down by the Inner Bay in Baltimore, the O’s faithful will christen CF Adam Jones their unlimited votes, while Royals fans will try to push 3B Alex Gordon out of obscurity to claim the last spot on the 2011 American League All-Star squad.
Hopefully by the end of this blog entry I will have amply persuaded you to toss the rest of your voting selection towards Zobrist until the conclusion of voting late Thursday. So without further ado, let me state my case for Zobrist.
First and foremost, with a nickname like Zorilla, how can you not cast your vote his direction. Since 2008, this hybrid M L B player who has done everything on the diamond but catch and pitch has evoked the power of Godzilla and the finesse of Zorba the Great. The nickname alone would have ESPN broadcasters giggling like little school girls.
Out of the final 5 selections, only Martinez and Zobrist are switch-hitters that could be used against any of the National League hurlers. The added bonus of Zobrist being able to switch from any infield or outfield position with just a glove change makes him a double threat, and a nice secret weapon for the late innings when guys are shuffled around a lot. Martinez would be mostly a DH selection, which would be moot since the game is held in a N L park.
Zobrist is always a double threat at the plate. Zobrist hit his 28th double on Tuesday which ties him with AL All Star 1B Adrian Gonzalez for the M L B lead. Zobrist lead the majors with 12 doubles in June, and has 11 2-baggers in his last 21 games. At one point (June 17-20th) Zobrist doubled in 4-straight contests. Add to this list that Zobrist is also in a 4-way tie with 4 Triples this season and you see that he can be a run producing machine at this time.
Some will throw the fact that Martinez is hitting .324 at this moment, or Konerko has 22 Home Runs and 64 RBIs. Power is great, but these two players also do the most damage as either First Baseman or Designated Hitters, and as I stated before, this position is moot in an NL park.
If you want to talk about solid defense, then again we must chat a bit about Zobrist. In his 223 career starts in the Rays outfield, Zobrist is still without a single error. Considering the ballpark he plays in at home, plus his constant adjustments to new parks and his evolution as an outfielder, that is an incredible stat.
With his ability to play every position on the diamond, or out in the field (besides catcher), the versatility of Zobrist makes him a clear choice as the other 4 candidates have defined roles and positions. Heck, I personally know he will dive into the stands for a foul ball. You will Remember this!
Let me again harp back on Zobrist’s Extra Base prowness this season for a moment. At this juncture in the season, Zobrist currently has 41 Extra Base Hits. He had a total of 40 for the entire 2010 season. That total of 41 XBH ranks him 7th in Major League Baseball at this very moment. Add the bonus that 7 of his 9 Home Runs have come off of Right-handed pitching, and you get a nice pinch hit option off the bench for Washington.
Who could forget Zobrist’s memorable 10-RBI game back on April 28th against the Twins in Target Field. Zobrist also went 4 for 5 with runners in scoring position in that game. He ended up collecting 18 RBIs in 5 games. The last hitter to collect 18 RBI’s in 5 contests was Reggie Jackson (June 14-18 1969).
I could go on and on with the accolades, a prior All-Star selection ( 2009) and the potential Zobrist has to be a key component in this contest that decides home field advantage for the 2011 World Series. This is very important, and was evident in 2010 as the San Francisco Giants rode a winning streak in Arlington, Texas all the way to their first championship since the team embarked for the California coast.
Zobrist has been one of the great Rays role models from his fight to getting to the majors, to his moral integrity and belief system. Plus, I know I am one of the many who would be more than thrilled to heard the beautiful voice of Zobrist’s biggest fan, his wife Julianna as she sing his walk-up song (The Tree) to a National audience. Heck, Zobrist might just get a chance to take the National League to “School ” too
ADVANTAGE: Double Dose of Zorilla All-Star Magic
And sure there are still a few battles to be won or lost before the team finalizes their 25-man roster, but this is just one Rays fan’s educated guess, a “guestimation” if you will, in what might actually mirror the line-up cars presented to the Umpires prior to the beginning fo the Rays 2010 Major League Baseball season.
The MLB.com Fantasy projections have Bartlett going to the plate over 500 times this season, and sporting a .320 Batting Average with 14 HR, 66 RBI and 30 stolen bases. But the one figure that jumps out at me is not the Batting Average, but the fact he could plate 90+ runs in this high-powered Rays offense hitting in front of Carl Crawford, Ben Zobrist, Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena. If Bartlett does get on base, even via the walk (54), Bartlett could be a thorn in the side of opposing pitchers’ in 2010. And with Bartlett showing early power this season in Spring Training, these stats might just be a launching pad for him this season.
What can you say about the Rays second hitter that has not already been said either in Baseball Fantasy passages or prose. Carl Crawford might just be one of the most exciting players to simply watch during a plate appearance based solely on his unpredictable nature of mixing the infield hit with his power stroke. And the added ammunition of possibly adding a drag bunt to his arsenal in 2010, You could see him get his highest seasonal Batting Average as a Ray in 2010.
Some people are calling Ben Zobrist a ” man without a position”, and also downplaying his 2009 slugging campaign to the pure fact American League pitchers’ were conned early by his extra power and base running abilities. But 2009 was the first full season Zobrist actually has been healthy in his short career with the Rays. A small list of nagging injuries kept him bouncing in and out of the line-up before 2009 when Zobrist finally got a chance to show his abilities after an May knee injury to ex-Rays Second Baseman Akinori Iwamura. And maybe all Zorilla ever needed was a chance to shine after showing rays of brilliance during pinch-hit and spot duty during games in 2007-2008.
And we know that Rays Manager Joe Maddon will do everything to get Zobrist’s bat into the Rays line-up, even considering batting Zobrist in the 3-slot to begin the 2010 season. This is Spring Training swap in line-up spots for Zobrist has shown great results, and might be the answer to provide RBI-opportunities with three straight Rays hitters who can get on base and mix power and speed effectively to get rival pitching staff into early inning troubles. MLB.com Fantasy Projections have Zobrist hitting .297 with 27 HR , 97 RBI and 17 stolen bases. But his key moves in 2010 might be his position flexibility to give the Rays options at Second Base and Rightfield throughout 2010 based on game day match-ups and possible late inning position shifts.
This might be the next step in the evolution of Longoria as Maddon will push more offensive pressure on the young player’s shoulders. But I have a feeling Longo will actually welcome the chance to produce and also be a key leadership component of this 2010 Rays squad. MLB.com Fantasy projections have Longoria posting a .281 Batting Average with 33 HR, 113 RBI and getting 72 walks during the season. If Longoria gets off to a solid and hot start, this might be the season he sees more walks, and could easily pass that 72 walk mark easily.
Early this Spring I was worried about Rays First Baseman Carlos Pena. After he had two of his fingers broken by a fastball pitch by New York Yankees starter C C Sabathia, there were early Spring concerns that Pena, who went over 21 plate appearances before finally getting back into the groove with a Home Run to start his 2010 Spring hitting regiment. But lost in the confusion was the fact he was hitting the ball solid during that time, but the new heavily padded batting gloves might have been more of a mental change and adjustment for Pena than a physical one.
With his fingers healed and ready to go, Pena has recently begun to show more selective plate selection and getting his average moving towards the Mendoza Line this Spring. But you can not discount the sheer power and ability of Pena in this line-up, and he has been working hard this Spring on pulling the ball more towards the Third Base-Shortstop hole to fight off the game day shift that some American League teams employ against him. But the MLB.com Fantasy projections have Pena hitting .227 with 39 HR ,100 RBI and 87 walks. But a key for Pena might be to show an avid decrease in strikeouts since he will be hitting in the 5-spot and might see more different pitch selections in 2010.
I am actually thinking this sixth slot might be a possible second lead-off position for the Rays in 2010.
And who better than speedster B J Upton to be at the plate in this situation. In Spring Training 2010, Upton is showing he has fully recovered from his off season 2009 shoulder surgery, and his bat stroke has looked real clean at the plate. But some of that credit might also rub off on new Rays Hitting Coach Derek Shelton who spent more than a few moments with Upton in the off season working on his front foot placement and swing follow through. The results are early success this Spring for Upton.
Upton might finally have that breakout season Rays fans have been waiting for in 2010. Upton has the ability to be one of the best Centerfielders in baseball, and with some additional pop in his bat, he could possibly meet his brother Justin in Anaheim for the 2010 All Star game. MLB.com projections have Upton hitting .241 with 11 HR and 55 RBI to go along with 42 stolen bases. Upton’s presence on base will also give pitching staff fits in 2010, and I actually see him hitting more like a .265 Batting Average with 16 HR and 70 RBI and posting 50 stolen bases. As you can see, I am expecting Upton to have a nice ” coming out” party in 2010.
This is the one huge question mark to me right now. I want to believe in Pat Burrell’s just having an “off year” in 2010. I really do, but Burrell has to show more than just neck pain and inconsistent plate appearances, because “The Bat” has to perform this season, or be instantly labeled a flop with the Rays. Hopefully in 2010 Burrell can again live up to his moniker and provide some needed hitting from the 7th position in the Rays line-up. This season definitely needs to be a good season for Burrell to help provide some protection for Longoria and Pena, or pitchers will not fret knowing an anemic Burrell is in the On-Deck Circle.
The eight spot in the Batting Order definitely be an “insert here” platoon situation depending on where Zobrist is situated on the field. Both Gabe Kapler and Matt Joyce have the offensive abilities to play every day in Rightfield, but they will be in a platoon situation with Zobrist depending on where skipper Maddon positions Zobrist that night.
And then again, this spot could go to Rays newcomer Sean Rodriguez who was a main piece of the Scott Kazmir trade last July and has been on fire at the plate this Spring and might actually see extended time at Second Base if he gets off to a hot start at the plate in 2010. So with that possibly in the cards, let’s check out all three players projections for 2010. Kapler will definitely get spot starts against left-handers and also time as a late inning defensive replacement in 2010. Kapler no longer seems to have the power potential he had earlier in his MLB career, but MLB.com Fantasy projections have him getting at least 205 plate appearances while hitting .239 with 8 HR and 32 RBIs. Not a big power threat anymore, but a solid hitter who can also still run effectively on the base paths.
Matt Joyce might not even make the Rays roster straight out of Spring Training due to some extra time working on his conditioning because of a early Spring elbow ailment. But Maddon has shown extreme confidence in Joyce’s abilities, and he might be realistically destined for an early rehab or DL visit to begin the season. But projections have Joyce seeing limited duty in 2010 possibly as a fifth outfielder and his ability to rebound might take his stats off the charts in regards to early 2010 season projections.
On paper it seems that Shoppach might have a slight advantage on game day preparations and ability to block balls in the dirt with more regularity than Navarro, but the starting job is not going to be easy as both have been told it might end with both being measured up for possible match-ups based on certain Rays rotation members in 2010. We might definitely see Shoppach being Matt Garza’s battery mate in 2010. But in MLB.com Fantasy projections, Shoppach get the early edge based on power showing a possible .214 Batting average with 12 HR , 40 RBI and you can bet a boatload of Hit By Pitches again in 2010.
But the same MLB.com Fantasy projections show Navarro having a slight edge in average( .218), but lacking the power element that Shoppach will bring to the Rays. And Navarro was given the early edge in plate appearances, where projections have him coming to the plate 376 times compared to Shoppach’s 271 appearances. But the main contribution factor might be who will get an early hot hand and show a firm foundation with the Rays pitching staff. Both players come with their own sidelines of good and bad abilities, but both can throw out runners and have a good knowledge of American League hitters.
But do not be surprised if one of the Rays catchers is injured that the Rays do not quickly pull up minor league catcher Nevin Ashley from the system over minor league veteran John Jaso. Ashley has shown the abilities and stamina that Maddon likes to see in his catchers’ and could be in line to fight for a back-up catching slot in 2011.
The potential is there for this 2010 Rays team to produce and score runs again at another record pace, but the key will be the health of the Rays. Even one key member out of the top of the Rays line-up for an extended time might throw some of these MLB.com Fantasy projections right out the window.
But the stark reality is that this is the most talented and athletic Rays team to ever step onto Tropicana Field. And with that comes inherent dangers of severe injuries, and the possibilities of extended hitting slumps or offensive lapses. Most Rays Republic remember the awful start the Rays got off to during April 2009 (9-14), and the Rays were constantly playing “catch-up” while the rest of the American League East played out their season. But the unsuspecting hand injury to Pena in September took the Rays down a dark path and they quickly fell out of contention for the AL Wild Card. Each piece in this Rays line-up carries a extremely important piece to the entire Playoff puzzle in 2010. One piece missing could cost them dearly in 2010.
With New York and Boston not “reloading” as extensive this off season as they did in 2009, this division instead went ” defensive” and because of that, it might be closely contested into the final weeks of the season. For the Rays to uncork a bottle of bubbly again in 2010, the Rays will have to see a few of these projections shoot skyward and maybe even see Burrell or one of the Rays catchers’ catch fire early and spring the team onto some early success. Only a handful of days and nights before our MLB dreams become a new season of realities. Maddon key phrase for the year is “W.I.N.” which stands for “What’s Important Now”. For the 2010 Rays, it will be getting out of the gate fast and furious and taking no prisoners in their first month battling mostly divisional foes
But the rapid fire interaction of fans and players in the commercial does go great with the drum line music. See Carl Crawford taking a base away from the opposition, or seeing Even Longoria tee-off on a long ball into Section 146 of Tropicana Field can get me excited for the April 6th game, but what then…What happens after that?
Well, the Rays have a call out to all drum lines in the Tampa Bay area to repeat or bring your own style to the auditions to maybe have your own sound bytes on a future Rays commercial. And over the years we have heard several local groups before Rays games get out there and beat their drum skins and mix music with synchronized dancing to the beat. And that is a great thing that the Rays advertising guru’s want to reward the music makers of Tampa Bay.
These commercials brought us into the player’s realm where we like to feel safe. For some odd reason, the commercials that have featured small segments with either the players in the action, or even Rays Manager Joe Maddon discussing the player, using their nicknames from 2009 brought you closer to the team. But this is the first segment of the Rays trying to get you to come out and experience the Rays carnival atmosphere that will be stage front in 2010.
Sure the many activities will still go on in Rightfield and Leftfield Street before the games, but there are many planned activities besides the Hess Express/Rays Saturday Night Concert Series to gain your attention. Every Friday night there will be a series of fireworks 10 minutes after the game indoors. Now this has been done before in Tropicana Field, but most fans remember it was pre-game, and the smoke decided to stay within Tropicana Field for most of the game that night.
I was hoping the Rays would go the route of the Colorado Rockies who have been producing for years player involved commercials and funny interactions that make each of those players featured more human and extremely approachable. The commercial above was even done about 5 years ago and you can see how the Rockies advertising uses a great dose of humor in their ads to get their fan’s attention.
And that has been one of the Rays key thing in the past. They are one of the most approachable teams in the Major Leagues, and the Rays should bank on that popularity and build a further fan base from it. Because the Rays are so easy to get to know and talk to, maybe a commercial where a 10-year old and Carlos Pena talk about life. Or Maybe a moment with a fan where Rays reliever J P Howell teaches a lecture on the physics of the curveball. Humor is a big part of the Rays clubhouse, why not also bring it to the Tampa Bay community in their commercials?
But what do I know. I only minored in Advertising/Marketing in college, so my views might be 25 years old in concept, but then again, they might have good merit. But what I know is the team is striving to gain additional fans into the seat on nights that traditionally have shown a sea of blue seats to television cameras and the Nation on game highlights on ESPN and other media outlets. Maybe the key to getting those fans is to utilize their best natural resource, their players, in more future advertisements.
It is kind of funny, this commercial above was made last season to try and get fans from the Orlando area to attend Rays game, but not sure how that worked out for the Rays. It was a bit boring, but it looked more like a fan produced video, which showed more creativity than some I have seen in recent years.
Both print and visual commercials could be spiced up quickly with plays off of players like B J Upton scaling the wall like Spiderman, or even an old black and white commercial with Zorilla hitting homers into small scale cities. The possibilities are endless if you let your mind wander a bit and think outside the batter’s box on this concept.
Not to say tongue-in-cheek humor like that will fill the stands, but it will generate a buzz in the Tampa Bay community, which could easily translate into fans in the seats wanting to see what magic will happen that night….What about you?
Anyone who knows me outside of the ballpark might say I am just having a “moment” with my increasing adulation for Rays uber player Ben Zobrist. There have even been whispers of a budding bro-mance (No, but I still wave), and that my respect and complete adulation for this budding MLB star might sometimes borders on downright obsession. Sorry to ruin it for the bromance police, but I see a lot of similarities between Zobrist and myself when I was playing sports, and I really admire those traits and sensibilities. I see the child-like wonder still on his face and eyes as he is getting ready to step on the field every day. And his community involvement, not only in his faith, but in his actions to bring the joys of baseball to kids, even during the off season just makes me like him more and more.
There is just something about Zorilla and the way he goes about his business both on and off the field that you want to point out to younger kids and hope they take a bit of his style, confidence and positive demeanor for the game of baseball home with them and hopefully carry it with them on the baseball diamond. Maybe it is the honest fact I might actually be watching one of the budding great role models for the kids forming right in front of my eyes, and I want to shout from the rooftops about it hoping that others outside our realm of the baseball world also hears my loud raves.
And I will agree totally that I seem to push this agenda a bit hard when it comes to Zorilla, but I see so much potential yet to be tapped, or even shown to the MLB baseball world and I am thrilled to be able to watch him daily. And maybe it is a bit creepy as it is written here, but it is done with the best intentions to publicize one of those MLB players I truly label one of the real “Good Guys” in baseball. But you do not have to look too far away from the game of baseball to see he is a great example of a good man and father as well as an excellent multi-faceted baseball player.
You only have to see him on the sidelines before games talking with fans, or shaking hands or hugs to other Rays fans who have grown to also know the inner “Good Guy” to know we are witnessing the ever changing growth of a great person. He always has time for the fans, either with a picture or signing a baseball. He truly knows just how blessed he is to be able to play this game for a profession every game, and it shows on his face. If you have ever seen him hold his young son Zion before games, or even seen the glances between Zorilla and his beautiful wife Julianna, you know this is a guy is grounded and supported at home as well as at the ballpark by thousands of screaming fans. I have to say I am a bit jealous of his relationship with his wife because he seemed to have found the perfect complimentary piece of the puzzle for his personal life.
Thanks to Ryan Bodies films/RaysIndex for videos
From the ground up Zobrist has solidified what each Major League player goes throughout their careers before finally busting through the barrier and getting the plate appearances and the playing time to impress and bring shock and awe to the fans and his teammates. Considering most Rays fans had Zobrist penciled in at shortstop going into 2007 off season before the Rays traded with the Twins to bring in shortstop Jason Bartlett. And some players might have taken a step back, but Zobrist was confident and poised and if not for a thumb injury sustained early in Spring Training, it might have prevented an intense battle between the two. But in reality, the healing time spent nursing that thumb injury might have been the perfect antedote to give Zobrist more time to experiment and hone his swing into the power tool it is today.
By Zobrist going back to basics after this injury to his thumb, it might have helped him develop his swing to incorporate his hips sooner into his swing and bring his power element to the forefront. And it is simply a treat now to watch him hit and because of his fielding versatility, he adds a different dimension to this Rays squad. I actually think he made the Rays a better team by being so versatile both at the plate and in the field so that the Rays are able to pencil him into multiple positions without fear of a decrease in productivity or defensive ability.
And most people look at 2009 as Zobrist’s banner year, but I truly think we are just starting to see the edges of a career that just might explode with more plate appearances and a possibility of position stability in 2010. If there truly was a “10th Man” award in Major League Baseball, then without a doubt, last season it would have ended up resting in Zobrist’s hands. And if you look at his final totals for 2009: a .297 batting average, 27 HR, 91 RBIs and a monstrous .948 OPS, you know we might only be seeing the start of a long career. And that is what is great about the reporting date next Friday down in Port Charlotte, Florida. It is the time for the next chapter in the Zorilla tale to begin.
Chris O’Meara / AP
And it was refreshing in the attached video to hear Zorilla and his wife discuss candidly the upcoming Rays 2010 season and the high expectation goals each see on the near horizon. Neither of them was shy in their opinions and both honestly saw the potential for a great year with more surprises and more Zorilla All-Star chatter. But what I really liked visualizing in that video was the basic fact you saw that these two people really liked and wanted the best for each other. I know that sounds corny and a bit insane, but sometimes you can be “in love” with a person and not like them, but with these two people, the love and the connection between them just shines through in a bright shining beam of awesomeness. Okay, maybe that was a bit much, but you get the idea.
I have gotten lucky enough to talk to Zobrist a few times while he has been with the Rays and he an intelligent and very open guy who truly loves talking about baseball. Even during one of the plays that seemed to have burst his name upon the ears of fans outside Tampa Bay, I was standing right there asking if he was okay and beaming with pride on the extreme effort he took on the play even before making impact with the low Rightfield foul line barrier. And when Zobrist came over the next day and signed his name on the broken piece of the wall, he genuinely thanked me for making sure he was okay. And maybe that is when the bromance from afar started. Because I finally saw a bit of myself in Zobrist and it forged an instant bond.
One of my friends once commented that my new found attention towards Zorilla was my self actualization that we both carried so many of the same values in life, and in that I found solace and respect for him. But I also find solace in the fact he is a “team guy” totally. So many times you hear about players who are “me” guys, well Zobrist is far from a “me” guy, and that fits perfectly into the culture of the Rays clubhouse. I got the idea to write this blog after reading a fellow Rays blog, Rays Index today and seeing Zobrist and his wife compared to Milly and Jimmy from the movie “Bull Durham”. And in reality, Zobrist does fall into that realm of the spiritual team mate who is always smiling and in a positive frame of mind. And that is infectious to a team’s chemistry and always a good guy to have around during the solemn moments. I might not personally throw “Milly” in with Julianna, but I do agree on her love of the game of baseball and for embracing Jimmy and his personality.
Zobrist is one of those budding players among the ranks of the MLB that we can be proud of knowing, watching play and showing our youth the positive things about the game of baseball. I imagine the Rays might have seen some of those special qualities when he was traded by the Houston Astros to the Rays back on July 12,2006 in exchange for slugger Aubrey Huff. And what he has brought to this Rays roster is a lot more than just his steady play and always improving bat. Zobrist answered in one of the attached videos he would love to play the rest of his career with the Rays.
Mike Carlson / AP
It is kind of weird to think of this Tampa Bay Rays squad without a few of its veteran players gone before the 2010 season. It is not like with the Free Agent market ready to heat up on Friday the Rays are looking to unload or even sign someone of extreme value to replace a current Rays player, but would you see the Tampa Bay Rays in the same powerful light if they were missing a player like Carlos Pena?
When I remember back over the last two seasons for memorable Rays moments, or game changing plays, Pena’s name seems to be one of the first ones to pop into my mind every time. His style of cool,calm and collected attitude during the game has taken both himself and this team to new heights since the Rays signed him to a minor league deal several years ago. And Pena’s laid-back style both at the plate and in the field has risen his game to extreme heights while he has been here.
He has been the upbeat and soft-spoken leader of this Rays clubhouse ever since he stepped into it back in 2007. Who can forget his finest moment of upbeat personality when even after he was told by Rays Manager Joe Maddon that he was being optioned to the minor leagues before the end of Spring Training in 2007, Pena remained focused and clear that he would soon see his Rays teammates. And who can ever forget when Pena disclosed his revelation of a premonition during a night time dream of him being on that charter flight with his Rays teammates to New York to start the 2007 season.
That in itself tells me that this Rays team might have been his squad all along, and we were just passengers on his ride to the top. From the beginning of his rebirth in the MLB by winning the 2007 Comeback Player of the Year award, to his first Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award, the Rays GQ-styled first baseman has gained not only the respect of the fans, but of MLB players throughout the league. And I have a feeling his 2009 All Star selection is not the last time we will see Pena accepting an award…..not by a long shot.
So when a fellow Rays blog mentioned that maybe it was time for the Rays to consider trading Pena before his contract is up at the end of 2010, it kind of shocked me that we might be seeing the end to another era here in Tampa Bay. That after all the growth we have seen by Pena and this team, we might end up seeing him traded away late in the 2010 season, or maybe even packing up and saying goodbye at this time next season.
And right now both those notions do not seem like a logical, rationale thing to happen, but the reality is that Pena is in the last year of his contract ( $10.125 million), and his agent is Scott Boras who is renowned to being hard pressed to seeing even a dollar squeeze past his clients. That at some point from today on we might have to consider that Pena might not start, or even finish the 2010 season wearing a Rays jersey.
It is an unfortunate fact of baseball life that players leave or get traded at points in their careers. But you got the feeling here that maybe Pena might have finally found a comfortable spot to place his glove and bat every day, and maybe selfishly I wanted him to retire a Ray. But the stark reality is that Pena has a few years left in his tank, and maybe he will not be within the Rays budget restrictions in 2011. Just like Crawford, it might be an instant reality check that the team will have to find options and create fluid change if Pena were to leave the squad.
But is this the right time to be considering such a drastic change like this? I mean the guy is about to finally get that cast and those pins pulled from his hand and begin some initial hitting drills. Can he have any real high-side trade value before he reports to Spring Training? And even if a team did consider him before the 2010 season, isn’t his $ 10 million contract a monetary distraction to most teams?
But considering the offensive awards and the defensive accolades Pena has received the last few seasons, his contract might be considerably an extreme value right now in comparison with his colleagues around the Major Leagues. I would think Boras for one thinks Pena’s current worth is “out of whack” when considering his talent level and potential.
Pena rebuilt his baseball career when he signed with the Rays in 2007. He came to us as a player who was released by the Yankees and Boston farm systems as a secondary player, and maybe both of those franchises at the time felt Pena might not reach his potential again. But the stark reality is the correlation of Pena and the Rays up-surge happened at the same time. Both the player and the team began to excel and blast past expectations. Ahh, what a difference a year can make in a players career.
I do not want to consider a 2010 season without Pena’s solid defense at first base. No disrespect to Rays players Willy Aybar or Ben Zobrist, but it is hard to replace a diamond with cubic zurconia and feel the same sparkle off the ring. Zorilla could be a solution, and could grow into the position in 2010, but why test fate now? Why would you consider trading the top offensive weapon on your team the last few years when the corner has finally been taken by the Rays.
And hasn’t Pena been a great piece of the puzzle to put in the lineup behind Evan Longoria and make teams pitch to the young star. If Pena was not in the Rays lineup, would Longoria get the same pitches if Zobrist or even Burrell followed him in the lineup? I would think Pena was the perfect piece to put in that spot because of his potential to turn on any pitch and send it deep.
I really hope that at some point in the 2010 season I do not have to write a blog telling people why I am going to miss Pena. But we all know with the realities of this baseball business, anyone can be replaced in a moments notice. 2010 is not even here yet and I can feel the winds of change in the air. This coming season is an important one in the Rays development. Changes is in the air, but hopefully it will be later and not earlier in the season.
But in this ever changing business of baseball these days, you never know what will happen. And with the completion of the fast and furious trade of Rays veteran starting pitcher Scott Kazmir right before the end of August 2009, we know that no one is safe, not even an offensive/defensive weapon like Pena. But hopefully we will be able to say goodbye this time. Hopefully if something was to happen and Pena was to leave the Rays before the end of 2010, we will get to see that smile and maybe even see Pena do that dance one more time.
I have never been one of those Gabe Kapler lovers that dot the Trop from Section to Section. I am for some reason still holding out any love for the guy because of his Boston Red Sox roots, but a home run like the one he hit last night into the first row of the Left Field seats will go far to get me to open my mind to his effectiveness on the Rays. But then again, I was one of those people who questioned his name on the 25-man roster back on April 1st thinking the Rays might be playing an April Fools joke on the fans.
I mean the guy went 9 for 60 in Spring Training for a dismal .150 average that might have gotten most players either a Greyhound bus ticket to the minor leagues, or an outright release from his contract. But the Rays front office and Rays Manager Joe Maddon saw something in the former minor league manager. Granted the guy has heart and an ability to keep motivation strong and focused on the bench, but I questioned the keeping of him over Matt Joyce even a few days ago. Now Kapler has given me a few reasons to even think he might just be another hidden gem that is about to unfold for the Rays.
He has been flirting below the Mendoza line for a bit of time with the Rays, and his defense has been great at times. But the true fact is in the last two games he has done his best “Zorilla” imitation and has produced at an amazing pace. Sure he has gone 2 for 5 in the last two game with 2 HR and 3 RBI to boost his awesome scale to about a 4 based on the rest of his year.
He had not had even a trickle of a hit or a RBI since he posted 2 RBI and went 1 for 3 against the Cleveland Indians back on May 27th. So you can honestly say he has gone 0 for 11 in 6 games between his RBI chances. But for how long can you overlook a 4 for 42 stint that dropped your average from .235 to its present .183 mark.
But the thing that also endeared me to him was the poise he had last night in the post-game interview with Rich Hererra after Dioner Navarro got him square with his mouth open with a shaving cream pie. I mean he got the teeth, tongue and maybe even a few nose hairs deep and dirty in shaving cream.
The flustered Kapler did end his interview because of the incident but gave another one a few minutes later in the Rays clubhouse where he made sure to thank the Coaching staff for their support and belief in him this year. The guy is a class act from head-to-toe and that gained some more style and bonus points from me last night about him on this team.
And that might not be the best of averages, but the guy is here to maintain more than just a bat in his hand. Kapler is like a player/manager on the bench sometimes. He sits there and chats about the game with the other guys on the bench showing them some of the small nuances they might have missed on the field.
It is a great asset to have to show some of the Ray pitchers and reserve players how small things can blossom into great opportunities for the Rays. But he is on this team as much for his defense as he is for his mental and physical make ups.
He is tied with B J Upton with 3 outfield assists this season, and has been involved in 3 game-winning or go-ahead RBI this year. Could he just be that type of player who wills himself a good game when he is counted on, or are we seeing a shell of the former Kapler that spooked us when he took the field for the Red Sox in the Trop. The guy is a classic example of the type of player you want in your locker room. He is always up beat, personable and totally into helping another player with his game.
And that might be one of the reasons he is still here. He is a great bridge between the Coaches and the players since he did a one year stint at Class-A Greenville for the Red Sox in their minor leagues as a manager. And that experience might be a huge plus for him to convey and influence another guy to see a different viewpoint or idea.
But for the longest time, it was Kapler who had the world by his fingers. Few people remember back in the 1998 when Kapler was the Minor League Player of the Year. He was selected for that honor after killing the ball in the Southern League where he hit a staggering 80 extra base hits while maintaining a .320 average.
Because of this honor he got a chance to appear in a K-Swiss shoe print ad as a emerging baseball star for the up-and coming shoe manufacturer. Also of importance is the fact he shattered the Southern League RBI record by driving in 148 that year. But could it just be that we are seeing the worse of Kapler here at home at Tropicana Field and he is excelling more on the road?
And wild as that statement might seem in your mind, it has merit people. He is hitting .163 on turf this season, and combine that with his current .150 average at home and you get a generally miserable .118 in the last 30 days for him.
But there might just be a shade of light flickering in the distance showing he can be the producer the Rays sought when they signed him to his $1,000,018 contract this Spring. That odd two digit anomaly at the back end of his contract financial numbers is actually Kapler’s good luck number. But then again, the number “18″ in Judaism means “life”. Go figure. In June we are starting to see a trend where his numbers are starting to rise as he is currently hitting at a .222 clip, better that the overall .080 he has against right-handed pitchers this year.
Kapler might not the first person you think of when you think power, or even scoring ability this season for the Rays, but he has been productive wherever he has played in the past. Last season he did post a overall .301 average while playing for the Milwaukee Brewers, and we have gotten some good players in the last few years from the Brewers rosters ( Grant Balfour, Gabe Gross). Kapler might not be the best option for the Rays right now in right field based on his average, but he is the kind of guy you want out there to catch that difficult fly ball.
I am opening my eye a bit to the fact he might be a better player than I give him credit for most of the time. Kapler might just end up in a Eric Hinske( 2008) or even a Carlos Pena( 2007) role of being the surprise signing of the spring of 2009. I am going to keep my mind open here for awhile and see what the big guy shows me. But I can guarantee you one thing, you will not see me going against him in a poise down anytime soon.
Gabe Kapler Mini Facts
*** Did you know his middle name was Stefan. Some how that makes sense.
*** If Kapler was not a baseball player he might have dabbled in the culinary arts as a chef. He is very nutrition oriented and might just be on par with Pat Burrell with his cooking skills.
*** He has appeared on several magazine covers including Men’s Workout and Natural Development in the past.
*** He hit his first home run of his career at Tropicana Field while in a Tigers uniform against Albie Lopez on April 30, 1999.
*** Kapler broke up Chris Youngs perfect game with a 8th inning 2-run home run on September 7, 2008.
*** In 2005, he returned to the Red Sox after playing 38 games for the Yomiuri Giants of the Japanese League.
*** He was put on the DL in 2005 after suffering a season ending injury after rounding second base after Tony Graffanino’s homer and injuring his Achilles’ tendon.
*** In 2004, the Red Sox went 92-44 when he appeared in games for the team and they went 6-20 when he did not play for them.
*** In a game against the Rays in 2000, while with the Texas Rangers, Kapler tore his right quadricep in the game on May 2nd and went on the DL until June 9th of that season.