Tagged: Ben Zobrist

BJ Continues to Sit with “Injury”….Yeah, Right….

The Tampa Bay Rays have been trying something new in center field lately.

What’s new?

Their current center fielder is a guy with alot of talent and a bat that can potentially put a ball into the outfield seats on any pitch.

Oh, and THIS guy is grown up enough to understand what it means to be a REAL baseball player.

He hustles.

His name is Ben Zobrist.

Zobrist has been starting in center field for the Rays all week and has yet to be accused of failing to hustle after a ball in the gap, unlike his predecessor.

Yep, BJ Upton has not been in center field since Tuesday night, when he came on late in a game against the Boston Red Sox, and has not started in center since Sunday, when he made the decision that trying to track down a ball hit into the gap did not quite fit with the type of baseball player he felt he was. 

And when the budding leader of the Rays, Mr. Evan Longoria, chose to mention this oversight to the “always-potentially-never-really” talented Upton, this happened.

evan longoria bj upton

Thanks for dailyskew.com for the pic

It was great to see the more mature Longoria turn and walk away from the histrionics of the childish Upton, almost as if to say, “I don’t have time for this baby crap.  Grow up and play the damn game.”

Well done, Longo.

If you haven’t seen it yet, you can stop here.

Manager Joe Maddon said that he had “frank” discussions with Upton several times between Sunday and Tuesday and that the talks went well. 

Funny, I think he said that in 2008 when he had to bench Upton THREE TIMES because the center fielder decided then, too, that hustling was beneath him.

What kind of makes BJ’s current escapade so atrocious is that not only did he jump into the face of one of his “friends” on the team (yeah, right–I don’t know that reacting as if you want to rip the face off a guy indicates that any friendship really existed there) when he was rightfully called out for being a chump, but he also threw a kid who has just been called up, Matt Joyce, under the bus, saying that the left fielder should have gotten to it first.

Nice.

When Upton was not in the starting lineup on Tuesday against the Red Sox, a game the Rays HAD to have, a game against the team the Rays are currently battling for the wild card playoff spot, a game that everybody in Boston and in the Tampa Bay area were eager to watch, Maddon said that it was only because Upton did not match up well with Lackey and NOT because of punishment.

Yeah, right.

I think that every Rays fan was able to read between the lines at the message that Maddon was sending to the youngster:

Insult your team and your fans, and you’ll sit.

Forget the lame excuse for why Upton sat, he sat nevertheless, as he should have.

Then Upton sat again on Wednesday and again on Thursday.  Upton and Maddon claim it is because the loafer has a leg injury of some sort. 

**Is it any coincidence that the Rays have won both of those games?  I don’t think so. 

**Is it any coincidence that Upton taking a seat for those two games came immediately following his temper tantrum?  I don’t think so.

**Is it a coincidence that his “benching” has come against two very good teams that the Rays must fire on all cylinders to beat?  I don’t think so.

It is obvious that Maddon is sending a message.

 

The only real question out there is, will Upton hear it?

I don’t know about that, but I know that there are many things that BJ needs to start doing.

It’s time to realize that the label “potential” has a shelf life, BJ.

It’s time to start playing for the fans and your team, BJ.

In other words, it’s time to grow up, BJ.

Speedy Post: Rays/Red Sox Game 2

 

So…last night stunk.

How else do you describe an 8-5 loss?

And it wasn’t that close.

The Rays find themselves 2 games behind the Red Sox for second place and 3 games out of first.  Nobody said that the AL East was going to be easy, but the Rays as of late have made everything look more difficult than it needs to be.

The Rays send righty Matt Garza to the mound tonight with the hopes of earning a split in the truncated 2-game series.  He has done well and done poorly in two starts against the Red Sox, but there is something tonight that Garza has going for him.

Nobody on the Red Sox team who might start tonight has faced the spitfire righty, emphasis on the SPIT.

In fact, only 6 guys on the Red Sox roster have any at bats against Garza and only Adrian Beltre is hitting over .261 against him. 

In other words, Garza is due for a good start in a big game against a tough team tonight.  As long as the youngster can keep his emotions in check, of course.  That certainly seems to have been a challenge for the Rays as of late.

The Red Sox will send Daisuke Matsusaka to the mound.  The Rays have had moderate success against the guy with the exaggerated windup, though Ben Zobrist (no hits), Jason Bartlett (.143), and BJ Upton (.077) have had significant struggles.

I would expect to see John Jaso behind the plate (he’s a lefty and has yet to see Matsusaka), Reid Brignac at SS (he has yet to face Matsusaka), and either Kelly Shoppach (.400) or Willy Aybar at DH (.333) tonight. 

Will BJ start?  Who knows?  He didn’t start yesterday, but he did end up getting into the game late.  Manager Joe Maddon said it was not a punishment, but, well, we can all read between the lines. 

No matter who starts, the Rays will have to be patient.  Matsusaka thrives when opposing batters jump on his early pitches.  If the Rays hold back and wait for their pitch, work the count, draw some walks, I think we will see them even the series and get to within one game of second place yet again.

But if the Rays’ hitters are overly aggressive and Garza struggles with his emotions, we can expect another ugly game, for sure.

Prepping for the Draft, Rays Style

Major League Baseball will put on its draft tonight as every team around the league looks to improve its club

And if all goes well, these teams will see the fruits of their collective labor in, oh, say, about 3 or 4 years. 

What!?

Yeah, come on, you know how it goes.  This ain’t the NFL or NBA.  These guys who hear their seemingly anonymous names called tonight won’t really find themselves on major league rosters for some time now.

Despite this, teams will be taking very seriously the goings-on that will occur at 7 pm Eastern Time.

A good draft tonight can turn a team like the 2007 Tampa Bay Devil Rays into, say, the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays.

That 2008 squad became potent with the development of one great draft pick, Evan Longoria, and the shining of another, BJ Upton. In fact, the Rays’ success can be attributed quite squarely on the fact that they have drafted well during the Stuart Sternberg era as 10 of the 25 guys on the roster are homegrown.

Manager Joe Maddon and General Manager Andrew Friedman have said this week that they will be looking at the middle of the field as the focus of their draft. We can take that to mean, I assume, catcher, second base, shortstop, and center field.

I am not an expert on amateur baseball players, so I won’t pretend to give a list of great college and high school players who can have an impact on the Rays in the near future.  However, I will say that a guy like Zach Cox, a guy who can play 3B and 2B, would fit well with what Maddon and Friedman would like to see on the roster in the future. 

The Rays have the 17th overall pick in the draft, and the rumor is that they have targeted a catcher who, at one time, was Stephen Strasburg‘s battery mate–just like every other team in the draft.  So, we can’t expect Bryce Harper to don a Rays uni any time soon. 

However, a move for a catcher such as this would make sense considering the fall of Dioner Navarro, the question marks surrounding Kelly Shoppach, and the high hopes–yet unrealized potential–that plague John Jaso

You would think that the Rays would be pretty satiated at the middle infield positions.  They have Jason Bartlett firmly ensconced at short.  At second base they have multiple options: Ben Zobrist, Sean Rodriguez, and Reid Brignac.  In the minors, the Rays have Eliot Johnson and Tim Beckham, though the latter 20-year-old seems to be a few years away as he is toiling at Single-A Charlotte.

Center field is a place that seems to be in question.  BJ Upton mans the spot right now, but soon his arbitration clock will run out and he will become an unrestricted free agent.  Then the Rays will have to decide whether or not to pay him what he thinks he is worth.  Desmond Jennings has center field skills, but he might already be in left field after the Rays (potentially) lose Carl Crawford.  Cuban defector Leslie Anderson was just promoted to AA Montgomery and could be with the big club in the next year or so if his fast rise continues. 

Whichever way the Rays decide to go, I think we can rest assured that it will be the right way.  They have not accrued what Baseball America has deemed the #1 ranked minor league system by accident.  And with 6 picks in the first 98 of this year’s draft, the probability is high that the Rays will put together yet another successful group of recruits.

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Update: 8:24

The Rays are coming up at pick 17. 

The rumor is that they might choose a P/OF Bryce Brentz.  Who knows what position he might play as a pro.  Bryce Harper was supposed to be a catcher, yet the Nats have already made it clear he will be an outfielder. 

However, should the Rays find INF Zach Cox still available at 17 (he is a top 10 projection), I think they will go with him.  This guy is a left-handed hitting power hitter who has the defensive ability and range to play at the hot corner or at 2B. 

Cubs are up.  Rays coming up…

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Update: 8:32

Cubbies took a pitcher.  Rays have their pick (Brentz) and a top-tier infielder (Cox) available.

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Update: 8:37

Rays took neither Cox nor Brentz.  Instead they took Josh Sale, a guy that the MLB Net guys seem excited about.  He is a college guy (Gonzaga) who plays the outfield.  Apparently he will play a corner outfield spot who will hit for some decent power and has little speed.  He sounds like a nice future RF, but it would be pointless to pontificate on where he will play as his major league debut is still several years away.  However, as a college player (as David Price was) his future might arrive a little sooner than many might think. 

Should this guy progress faster than most, then we might see a near-future outfield that could have Desmond Jennings, Leslie Anderson, BJ Upton, Ben Zobrist, and this kid in the mix.  Not too shabby. 

However, it should be noted that the Rays went neither middle infield NOR best available with this pick.  Peter Gammons has guessed that this pick might be more motivated by $$ than anything else, which makes sense.  Remember, the Rays were unable to sign two of their first three picks in their draft last year. 

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Update: 9:55

The Rays closed out their participation in the first round of the draft by taking a catcher with the 31st pick: Jason O’Conner.  The experts said that this guy should be more versatile than a catcher has a right to be, which might mean that Maddon can see him playing middle infield or catcher.  He is from the great state of Indiana, so he’s got that going for him. 

So the Rays got (maybe) their catcher.  That certainly was something that most Rays fans were looking for considering the current state, and franchise depth, of the position.

Rays and Red Sox Get Ready to Throwdown

       VS       

You surely want to get excited about the series that starts tonight between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox. 

You want to get hyped and break out the good snacks before settling down on the couch for a series between rivals.

You want to go through the ritual of getting mentally prepared for yet another series of insanity between to top-notch teams in the AL East.

You want to, but…

Let’s face it, the Red Sox are a long long long way from contending for the division.  Heck, they have to crawl out of 4th place before they can contend for anything.

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Sweeps Is Sweeps

You cannot forget the hard-to-watch destruction that was the 4-game series sweep the Rays handed to the Red Sox last month.  On the one hand, you do not want to put too much emphasis on baseball in April, but you can’t discount it too much, either. 

I mean, the Rays outscored the Rouge Sox in that series by a 24-9 score and dominated pretty much every facet of the game.  They outhit the Sox, outpitched the Sox, and outstole the Sox.

Sadly, while that series was simply legendary, you can’t transfer those good times to this series. 

Damn.

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Pitching In

The Sox are going to throw 2 of their best in this series (all due respect to Josh Beckett, he simply has not been himself lately).

Clay Buchholz (who is pitching RIGHT NOW!) and Jon Lester are having solid seasons.  Their ERA’s are in the low-3’s and they are a combined 9-5 this year.  They typically have good success against the Rays, which could bode ill for the good guys.

They Rays will throw Wade Davis (who deserves SERIOUS Rookie of the Year consideration) in Game 1, which is not an issue because he has pitched in many pressure-filled games this season.  He will be followed by the stellar James Shields and Cy Young-esque Matt Garza.

The Sox pitching in this series might be good, but the Rays’ should be better.

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The Secret?  Stealing

In their series in April, the Rays stole the Red Sox blind.  They took base after base with little resistance. 

Carl Crawford, Jason Bartlett, and BJ Upton could not be stopped.  And that could be acceptable, if you are a Sox fan, if those were the only guys who were swiping bases.  However, the Rays rubbed it in by having Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, and Carlos Pena take bases as well. 

The way the Rays will win this series, and the Sox will lose it, is if the Rays’ stealing success continues.  But if the Sox keep the Rays off of the bases and prevent them from turning singles into doubles we could see another sweep, but this time from the bad guys.

Yikes!

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Closing Thoughts

Funny, when I started this post I thought of this series as yet another ho-hum series in 2010 a la the Royals or Mariners. 

But when you look at the pitching matchups, the battles between base runner, catcher, and pitcher, and the drama that is Rays/Red Sox, I find myself starting to get more and more amped up.

Game 1 might not be looking so good thus far, but jeez I am starting to feel those competitive juices flow.

The Sox may be 8 1/2 back right now, but I would love to see the Rays bury these guys by the end of the series.

Ok, I’m officially pumped.

Zorilla Gonna Be Around For Awhile

As if this season could not get any better…

The Rays announced the signing of uber-utilty player Ben Zobrist to a long-term deal. 

Of course, this is one of those moves that is quite typical of the Rays and has led to the success they have enjoyed the last 3 seasons.  They identify key players to the team’s success in the future.  They ensure that these players are for real.  They swoop in and sign the players to a long-term deal that could be seen in some circles as a bargain.

Zobrist receives what amounts to a 5 year deal worth $30 million.  The final two years of the deal are club options, which gives the Rays complete control over the 1B/2B/SS/3B/RF/CF/LF for the foreseeable future.

This the type of deal that has kept Carl Crawford in town, gave Rocco Baldelli security, and secured Evan Longoria at the hot corner for many more years.  In each instance, the deals were for manageable money–manageable for a team of the Rays’ size and location, that is.

GM Andrew Friedman said at the press conference that giving Zobrist a deal such as this is something the Rays are happy to do with any player who displays “ability, work ethic, and character” (raysbaseball.com). 

With the threat of losing Crawford at the end of this season (or sooner), the Rays HAD to make a move such as this to keep one of their key pieces in the lineup for years to come.

Congrats to Ben on getting just what a good guy should get: appreciation.

And let’s hope that the Rays can get something done with Crawford so they can keep this nucleus intact for the future…

 

Long John’s Power Stroke

Through the first three games of the exhibition season the Rays saw many balls fly over the outfield fences.  While most of them were hit by the team they played back to back, the Baltimore Orioles, three of the dingers came from one of the newer Rays on the roster:

Sean John Rodriguez.

This guy has a lot of pressure on him. 

Think about it.

–He was brought to St. Pete in exchange for one of the most popular–and successful–Rays of all time, Scott Kazmir.

–He has been said to have the potential to knock 20 dingers per year.

–He can fill one of the Rays’ biggest holes in 2010–second base–now that Aki has been dealt and the Rays might want to see Ben Zobrist in right field.

No doubt, Rodriguez can be something of a godsend for the Rays in 2010.  Should he be successful in Spring Training, the Rays will find themselves with the ability to wait on Matt Joyce to mature and give Reid Brignac a chance to play everyday at AAA. 

But is it fair to look at Rodriguez’s three long balls and see him as on track to breaking camp with the big club?

The wind in Florida has been gusting.  That is putting it mildly.  Around town you see signs blown over and trash strewn about because just about everything is getting knocked around by the wind.

That includes fly balls.

Manager Joe Maddon has said that if the Rays had hit more fly balls they would have had many more home runs than they do now. 

That reasoning would have to apply to the young second baseman’s three dingers so far in this spring. 

So perhaps we should not read too much into the early success of Rodriguez’s big stick, but it can’t be too terrible to dream.

After all, if it were the regular season he’d be on pace for 162 home runs. 

Not too shabby…

Five Battles to Watch for in Spring Training

As Spring Training approaches (not fast enough, despite my Indianapolis Colts’ moving the Bowl of all Bowls), there are several areas on the Tampa Bay Rays that are in need of shoring up.  These five areas certainly “ray-se” concerns among fans, and failure for Andrew Friedman and company to address them may result in a long summer for the Boys in Blue.  

Here are the five key areas of consternation heading into these few weeks before pitchers and catchers report:

DH

Rays fans loved Pat Burrell in 2009.

He did an amazing job of keeping those in attendance at the Trop cool every night as the human oscillating fan. Hearing Dwayne Staats announce, “Swing and a miss,” with regards to Burrell never got old. Wait…it did.

No folks, “The Bat” was far from a fan fave-the typical fate of so many .221, 14 hr, 64 RBI guys making 9 million dollars. As of this moment Burrell is still a Ray-not for lack of trying, though. While the much maligned Milton Bradley’s name was bandied about as a possible replacement at DH, nothing happened. Tough to know whether that was for the best or not.

The question remains, though: Who will fill the DH role in 2010? There is no clear cut answer. It seems unlikely that Tampa Bay will look to free agency to find a Burrell replacement. The addition of closer Rafael Soriano and the resigning of Kelly Shoppach pretty much ate up the petty cash lying around Stuart Sternberg’s office. Promoting from within might occur, with Willy Aybar itching for a chance to play every day. A Burrell trade could happen too, but the price tag for the 33-year-old veteran might be a little high for most teams.

Perhaps Rays fans should prepare for another breezy summer inside the Trop.

 

2B

This position was occupied by several people in 2009.  Akinori Iwamura was certainly one of the Rays’ most beloved second basemen of all time (sorry, Brent Abernathy).  However, he is now gone, doomed to the Sarlaac Pitt.  Other second basemen of 2009 include Reid Brignac, Joe Dillon, Willy Aybar (what an experiment in futility that was) and the great Ben Zobrist.

While Zobrist may very well become the Rays everyday 2B in 2010, there could be a problem should Zorilla be moved to right field instead. Brignac probably will not be the every day answer-though it would be neat to see him break camp as the starter so we can see what he can do with consistent at bats-so the Rays might just consider the recently acquired Sean Rodriguez.

Side Note: I know that every team wishes they had a player with the last name “Rodriguez” simply so they can take that player’s first initial and add it to “Rod,” ala “A-Rod.”  But, seriously, Rays fans, let’s please avoid calling him S-rod, ok?

Rodriguez has some serious pop (easily 20 hr power) and shouldn’t be a defensive liability should he take over the 2B position.  I am sure that the Rays see him as a long term answer at that spot in the infield, but it will remain to be seen if Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon will give the youngster the green light coming out of Spring Training.  If he can win the job when the team breaks from Port Charlotte, many things would be cleared up as Zorilla’s move to right would be set.

 

RF

Should S-Rod (oops!) take the 2B competition, the question of who will be the next right fielder becomes simple arithmatic.

Zobrist’s bat and strong arm at the corner outfield position would be a perfect fit.  He would seemingly complete one of the better outfields in the majors and finally settle the revolving door that the Rays have had at that position for years. 

However, if Zobrist were forced to man the 2B position because Rodriguez was not ready for the majors and Reid Brignac was, well, the same ol’ Reid Brignac-a move that Maddon may not frown upon as much as may be thought-then the Rays could potentially be in trouble in right.

In the offseason they unloaded one of the Gabes (both Kapler and Gross were really one entity in 2009, but the Kap has stuck around for about a million in 2010) which means more playing time for Kap-should he earn it.  But his struggles with righties means that the Rays will have only 1/2 of a right fielder-not ideal.

Right fielders in waiting (for how long is to be determined) might be Matt Joyce, Justin Ruggiano, Fernando Perez, and Desmond Jennings, but it is difficult to determine whether or not any are ready to be with the big club.  Jennings, Ruggiano, and Perez may be better suited for CF, which limits thier contributions to RF to a simple “fill in” status from time to time. 

Joyce was a big part of last year’s Edwin Jackson trade, a trade that Maddon has consistently said may work in the Rays favor despite Jackson’s double digit wins and All-Star appearance in 2009 and Joyce’s almost season-long stint at Durham.  Will this be the year that Joyce shows his own All-Star potential and takes the right field spot by force? 

If Rodriguez could take over 2B and Joyce was the every day RF (or at least could platoon with Kapler) then that might give Maddon the option of using Zobrist as that super-sub again-something that certainly worked in the past.  Perfect scenario?  Maybe, maybe not.  It would seem that Zobrist would prefer to have his position staked out beforehand so he could maintain his focus throughout the long season. 

This might be the most contentious position battle as we near spring training.  However, the emergence of either Joyce or Rodriguez will clear everything up quickly.

 

5th starter

The Rays seem to have gotten their money’s worth (we hope) in the Scott Kazmir deal.  Adding the highly touted Sean Rodriguez and the potential of lefty Alex Torres and infielder Matt Sweeney (the biggest Sweeney) has put the Rays in a great position for the future.

However, after moving Mitch Talbot to Cleveland in the Kelly Shoppach trade (he was the player to be named later) the Rays find themselves potentially a little thin in big league ready starters.

Sure, the rotation looks fine at the top with James “Big Game” Shields and Matt “Just As Big Of A Game” Garza.  Spots 3 and 4 should be fine with David Price and Jeff Nieman, especially if both build on their 2009 performances.

But where do the Rays go from there?

At the moment the 5th spot is manned by Wade Davis, but he was hardly consistent in his 6 starts last season in spite of his 2-2 record and 3.72 ERA.  While he struck out an impressive 36 in 36 1/3 innings, he also had games where he simply blew up. 

If Davis does win the 5th spot, who do the Rays turn to should somebody or, God forbid, two somebodys get injured?  In the wings stand Jeremy Hellickson (he might be ready sooner than we think-hopefully) and-<gulp>-Andy Sonnanstine.  Not exactly a scenario that inspires great confidence.

The likelihood of the Rays adding a 5th starter via free agency seem small, though veterans such as Vicente Padilla and Joel Pineiro might be interesting (both would likely expect more than the Rays could afford).

At the moment it seems that Joe Maddon’s squad will be content with the arms they have and head into Spring Training hoping for two things: 1) that those aforementioned arms remain healthy; and 2) that one of the guys in camp really stands out to claim the 5th spot.