Results tagged ‘ MLB ’
Here we are in late December and the Rays still have some work to do for the offseason. With Casey Kotchman and Johnny Damon testing free agency, the Rays are in need of a first baseman and a DH. New names have emerged among Hot Stove rumors that the Rays may be interested in to bolster their offense. Of course, the Rays are also in pursuit of help in the bullpen. They have already picked up Burke Badenhop and Josh Lueke via trade, and sources say they are looking for more relief pitching. With the plentiful young talent that the Rays have, the trade market will probably be the way to go this winter. Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, Alex Cobb, and even David Price have spotlighted Rays trade rumors lately. Although the Rays have been quiet in the midst of all the Hot Stove action, it shouldn’t be too long before they strike. When it comes to the offseason, the Rays are silent but deadly.
Star outfielder Carlos Beltran brings some new excitement to Rays rumors. The 34 year-old veteran had another great offensive season last year, and was elected to his sixth All Star Game. Despite battling a nagging knee injury throughout the season, Beltran still managed to hit .300 and knock in over 84 runs. According to the most recent update on Beltran’s status, many teams are interested in getting the free agent. Unfortunately for the Rays, the St. Louis Cardinals continue to show strong interest in Beltran. The Cardinals obviously have more money to spend if they want him, but the Rays are right behind them if they lose interest for some reason.
Anthony Rizzo of the San Diego Padres is another name that has recently headlined Rays rumors. With the recent Reds-Padres blockbuster trade, the Rays have a golden opportunity to snag the minor league first baseman. Yonder Alonso, who was part of past Rays trade rumors himself, was sent to San Diego in a five-player deal. Now that the Padres have Alonso as their first baseman, Rizzo becomes an immediate trade possibility. A recent Tweet from CBS’s John Heyman reported the predictable news; that the Rays and Cubs are both expressing interest in Rizzo. Being a larger-market team and having first base questions themselves, the Cubs could really get in the Rays’ way here. Hopefully, Chicago will find someone else to fill in at first base (maybe Prince Fielder), and the Rays will have their shot at Rizzo. I believe that Rizzo is the guy to get for the Rays this offseason. Although he’s only played one season in triple-A, his terrific stats show he could be ready for big league success. With the Cubs seeking a star first baseman, I think it’s very possible that this deal might work out.
Luke Scott was one of the biggest bats amongst the notable non-tenders. Scott is not really a star-type player, but he can hit. He has power, and has established himself as a consistent 20-homer guy. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rays aggressively go after Scott this winter. After an underachieving 2011 (mostly because of constant injury problems), Scott will probably not be a hit with the big market teams and won’t be asking for a large salary. A combination of this and his impressive power is what makes him very attractive for the Rays. I definitely would not be shocked if the Rays reel in Scott sometime in the following months.
Joel Zumaya is another player that can’t be scratched off the list just yet. The Rays are looking to get at least one more arm to add to the bullpen, and Zumaya is looking for a job. There’s a chance Zumaya might work out in Tampa Bay. The 27 year-old fireballer has been busy this offseason, throwing in front of hundreds of scouts. The Rays were one team to participate in the Zumaya showcases, a source reported about two weeks ago. The chances of getting Zumaya have gradually decreased as the offseason has progressed, though. The recent injury to Detroit Tigers’ reliever Al Alburquerque, makes Zumaya’s former team a very possible candidate to re-sign him.
Jose Mijares is one non-tendered reliever that may attract the Rays. The 27 year-old left-hander pitched four seasons for the Minnesota Twins, and served as their ‘lefty specialist’ out of the bullpen. The Rays were in need of a lefty for their ‘pen coming into the offseason, but they took some stress off the issue after acquiring Josh Lueke. Still the Rays would like to maybe add another experienced lefty in there for a bargain deal.
The Tampa Bay Rays have always been a team forged by young talent. Most of the big faces of the franchise today are homegrown stars; such as Evan Longoria, David Price, James Shields, Ben Zobrist, and others that were brought up through the Rays’ prestigious farm system. The list of young stars doesn’t look like it’s going to shrink anytime soon, as the Rays have a wave of high-grade rookies upcoming in these next few years. A few of the exciting top prospects have already seen big league playing time in 2011. Some of those names include Matt Moore, Alex Torres, and Brandon Guyer. MLB.com has ranked the top 10 Rays prospects. Here are the evaluations of the top 5 prospects:
1.) Matt Moore- Out of all the late-season call-ups that made a splash this season, phenom Matt Moore made the biggest. Moore’s brief 2011 lived up to all the hype that was built up. His regular season stats included 9.1 IP, a 2.89 ERA, 15 K’s, and a scoreless start (win) in Yankee Stadium. But the Postseason is where Moore really had his chance to shine, when he was called to start game 1 of the ALDS. Moore shutout the Rangers in Arlington through seven innings in just his second career start. He would end up with a astounding 0.90 ERA through 10 innings for the postseason.
There’s no secret of why the flame-throwing lefty is so effective in the big leagues. His arsenal includes a blazing fastball, plus an effective curveball and changeup. Moore’s outstanding fastball can reach up to 100 MPH, and he’s very capable of going deep into games maintaining speeds up in the high-90′s. The command of his heater is the most important ingredient to Moore’s success, and the improvement is clearly noticeable. The left-hander also has an above-average curveball, which has plenty of movement and break to it. The changeup is another pitch Matt uses to keep hitters off balance, and is a big part of his success versus right-handed batters. The player that Moore most resembles is his teammate David Price. Price was also a top-prospect rookie just like Moore in 2008. He too was called up later in the season and made his impact in the playoffs. Both Moore and Price are fireballing lefties, with future Cy Young-type talent. The 22 year-old already has a collection of accolades; including a Futures Game selection, #3 ranked prospect, the MLB.com Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Year award, and the 2011 Spink Award (Top Minor Leaguer). The Rays are very lucky to have young arm like Matt Moore in their bright future.
2.) Hak-Ju Lee- Hak-Ju Lee is not a household name among Rays fans, but it won’t be too long before he gains recognition in professional baseball. The 21 year-old Korean was acquired in the Matt Garza trade, and is on the top 50 Prospect list at #48. Lee was one of three players that represented the Rays at the MLB Futures Game this July. He was promoted in August to class AA after spending most of his 2011 season playing for the Charlotte Stonecrabs (class A+). Lee’s 2011 combined Minor League stats included a .292 average, 30 RBI’s, and 33 stolen bases. Lee is still adjusting to AA baseball, as he batted a low .190 through 100 at bats up in Montgomery. Lee is a left-handed batting shortstop (throws right) that is still improving in all parts of his game. His plus attributes include great speed, good contact hitting, and the ability to have quality at bats. Although Lee will probably never be a hitter with power, there are other weaknesses in his game that can improve. His defense at shortstop is probably the biggest thing that needs to be worked on.
Like most young Minor League shortstops, Lee played some rather sloppy defense. His error total was too much considering his high expectations as a defensive player. His gradual improvement in the field is noticeable though, and many scouts see Lee as being a good defensive shortstop in the future. Baserunning is another area of improvement for the speedy infielder. Although Lee has great wheels, his decisions on the basepads are not so intelligent yet. He was caught stealing 16 times out of 49 attempts this year in the minors. Just like on defense, these faults are not a rarity at all for 20 year-old prospects. Experts believe that he will get much better in the following years, and baserunning will be one of Lee’s fortes during his big league career. Overall, Hak-Ju Lee is work in progress with a bunch of potential.
3.) Chris Archer- Chris Archer has been one of the biggest names amongst Rays prospects. Archer was another top prospect that was included in the Matt Garza trade, and is ranked at #38 in the top 50 list. With all the pitching talent in the Rays farm system, Archer leads the pack of right-handed arms. He features an impressive fastball, with great movement as well as velocity. The hard slider is the next good pitch in his arsenal, which he also throws very well. Then there is the changeup, which is a pitch that Archer is still developing. Like Matt Moore, Archer’s fastball command is the key to his big league success.
The command was the only main issue Archer had this year, but it is clearly improving as he gains experience. Archer’s stats for the year (in AA Montgomery and AAA Durham) include 4.09 ERA, a 9-7 record, and 130 strikeouts. Archer started 27 games in 2011, two of them in Durham. The best news about Chris, is that he ended the season strong on a high note. After being promoted to Triple-A late in the season, Archer posted an ERA of 0.69 in 13 innings pitched . Archer could be a big help to the Rays bullpen at some point in next season, as that will probably be his best chance to contribute to the team in 2011. With the stable and talented rotation that the Rays have, the ‘pen may be Archer’s best opportunity to earn a spot in the rotation anytime in the near future. Chris Archer is a player destined for a career the MLB, and his potential is sky-high. This is definitely a guy Rays Republic should be excited about.
4.) Alex Torres- Torres is another impressive young arm on the Rays’ prospect list. The 23 year-old lefty was acquired from the Angels in the Scott Kazmir. In his first full season in the Rays organization, Torres started 27 games for the Durham Bulls and pitched 8 innings for the Rays. His minor league numbers in 2011 were pretty good, as he went 9-7 for Durham with a 3.08 ERA and 156 Ks. Torres didn’t do bad in his first crack at the big leagues this year. He posted a 3.38 ERA through 8 innings pitched out of the bullpen. Torres’s main arsenal includes a solid and live fastball, a pretty decent changeup, and a developing curve.
The curveball has been sort of his ‘x-factor’ pitch in the past. When he has a feel of the curve, opposing batters are doing a lot of swinging and missing. Like Moore and Archer, Torres is good at striking out batters. Unfortunately, his command issues are worse than Moore and Archer. Not only does Torres have problems placing his fastball where he wants it, but he also walks far too many batters. Torres knows that his command is not adequate for an effective Major League starter, and is working hard to fix it in Venezuelan winter ball. Torres is preparing to pitch another season in a terrific Durham rotation, but there’s also a chance he’ll be pitching out of the bullpen for the Rays.
5.) Josh Sale- The Rays picked up a big bat in the first round of the 2010 MLB Draft. Josh Sale is a left-handed batter who has some great natural power, and scouts love how the ball explodes of his bat. 2011 was the first professional season for the 20 year-old. Sale played 60 games for the class A Princeton Rays, batting .210 with just 4 homers. Besides hitting, Sale isn’t strong in many other areas. His defensive in left field is mediocre but he has improved a lot as a left fielder this year, especially with his pretty strong throwing arm. Sale isn’t exactly Carl Crawford on the basepaths either, and also needs some work on his baserunning. He is only 20 though, and he has plenty of time to develop into the quality player that the Rays drafted in the 2010 Draft.
Two Rays were honored in the BWAA’s MLB awards this offseason; Joe Maddon and Jeremy Hellickson. Also part of the baseball award season, is MLB.com’s team awards. The MLB.com team awards include Breakout Player of the Year, Player of the Year (top non-pitcher), and Pitcher of the Year. The Breakout Player award went to Hellickson, who added that accolade to his prestigious 2011 ROY award. I wouldn’t describe Hellboy’s fantastic season as a ‘breakout year’ exactly, as his 2010 previewed great things to come. James Shields’ unbelievable season was a picture perfect example of a great breakout year though. But with how the MLB.com team awards work, it is unlikely that one player wins multiple awards. The Player of the Year Award was the most anticipated of the three, and was won by Ben Zobrist. The choice for the award was mainly between Longoria and Zobrist, as both put up the best offensive production during the season. Zorilla’s consistency and ability to serve as baseball’s best utility man separated him from Longo’s great glovework and powerful bat. I strongly agree with the decision to honor Zobrist as the Rays’ top player in 2011, after such a terrific season. All season long I felt as if Zobrist was one of the most underrated players in the game, considering how much he contributed to such a successful team. The third team award acknowledges the ace of the Rays talented young pitching staff. Obviously, the 2011 Pitcher of the Year award went to James Shields, who also finished third in the Cy Young Award voting. The stats did all the talking for ‘Big Game’ James, as 11 complete games and a 2.82 ERA were simply impossible to argue with.
The MLB.com awards were not the only official team awards passed out this offseason. The Tampa Bay Chapter of the BWAA gives out three team awards of their own; MVP, the Outstanding Rookie Award, and the Paul C. Smith Champion Award. The MVP award went to Shields, which was definitely the right choice. Many people tend misinterpret the Player of the Year Award and the MVP award, and get them mixed up. Since the MLB.com team awards also acknowledge the best pitcher, the Player of the Year award basically refers to the best player that’s not a pitcher. In the BWAA team awards there is the MVP Award and no Pitcher of the Year award, giving pitchers an opportunity to win the team MVP. That’s exactly what happened in the Rays’ case this year, as Shields deservingly took home the team MVP. The third BWAA team award is the Paul C. Smith Champion Award. This award is handed to the player who best exemplifies the spirit of true professionalism on and off the field. The award was given to Johnny Damon, who I believe represents this award perfectly and was the obvious choice. Johnny Damon not only is a great clubhouse guy and person, but also a real winner on the field. His tremendous effort and hustle displayed on the diamond day after day is what makes him such a great baseball player, and keeps him still playing the game he loves. Those are all the Rays’ team awards for 2011, but that’s not all the accolades for Rays players this fall. The J.G. Taylor Spink Award (Minor League Player of the Year) was won by Rays’ phenom top-prospect Matt Moore. Moore earned the extremely high honor by putting up ridiculous numbers (in AA and AAA combided), including a 1.92 ERA.
The Rays’ award isn’t season over, MLB.com’s GIBBY Awards (Greatness in Baseball Yearly) feature 5 nominated Rays. Click here to vote today!
To see my choices for the 2011 Rays team awards click here.
Yesterday was a monumental and historic day for Major League Baseball. The Astros moved to the American League and the MLB added two more Wild Cards into their playoffs. There’s many debates on wether these two changes are necessary or irrational. Let’s start with the Astros switch to the AL West, which will take effect in 2013. This move was absolutely common sense and should of been done years ago. With Houston now part of the AL West, the MLB now consists of six divisions of five teams. The thirty-team MLB now is split into two leagues of fifteen teams each, rather than a sixteen-team NL and a fourteen-team AL. Therefore, now MLB realignment is unnecessary and unless a team is subtracted or added, the system doesn’t need to be tweaked with. Apparently, regular Interleague year-round was part of the deal with the Astros’ move. I have always been against year-round Interleague play in baseball, and I don’t understand how this is relevant at all with the Astros’ move. My main problem with it, is that it’s going to give the NL a huge advantage in their home games. AL pitchers are simply not trained to hit while NL pitchers are. When Interleague was an occasional affair, it wasn’t really a big concern. I believe that the new Interleague system was made for MLB publicity. When you think about the amount of money being made in MLB Interleague games, it’s not surprising that they would do this. The TV rates, merchandise sales, and ticket sales are all very high during Interleague games. It will be interesting to see how this will effect baseball. Year-long Interleague play will not take effect until 2013 though.
So that covers the first part of MLB’s historic day. The second part is a much larger and more surprising change. I was actually shocked when I first heard that each league was adding a Wild Card. When it comes to my stand on the playoff expansion topic, I was never a huge supporter but thought it could be good if done correctly. The best thing about the playoff expansion in my eyes, is that the Rays may end up being one of the main benefiters from this. Before I state my opinion, I probably should explain how the new postseason system works. The two Wild Card teams play each other in a one-game playoff, the winner advancing to the final eight (regular playoff format). The new playoffs will take effect possibly as early as next year; 2013 at the latest. The decision to make the extra ‘series’ a one-game playoff, is my one problem with the whole thing. After all that work and time, I thought they would be able to make it a best out of 3 series. In a one-game playoff, I believe that the better team doesn’t always advance. It’s not a real big deal, but it just irks me a little bit knowing how close they were to getting it right.
In Rays Hot Stove news now, it looks like the Rays have made their first dive into free agency. Unofficial sources say that Blue Jays’ catcher Jose Molina has signed to a 1-year deal. The deal is pretty unsurprising, as I have mentioned in past articles that the Rays are likely going to look to free agency to find a catcher. Although Molina is in the final years of his career, his defense is still an effective part of his game (well he is a Molina). I was kind of hoping that the Rays would pick up a young backstop, but this move is not such a bad one at all. For a full article at The Rays Way (The Rays Rant ‘sister blog’) on Molina joining the Rays, click here.
Well I already said what I thought about the Rays offseason in my previous post, now I want to hear what the readers think. In this post, there’s a series of polls about different subjects on the Rays Hot Stove.
The first poll is about the three big names that may depart out of Tampa this offseason. You probably already know who they are; Casey Kotchman, James Shields, and B.J. Upton. ‘Big Game’ James and Kotchman were both a huge part of the Rays success in 2011. Upton is a player that has very high potential in his years to come, and is again eligible for arbitration this year.
Coming into the offseason, it was already clear that the Rays had to potential high-value trade pieces in Shields and Upton. Starter Wade Davis is the newest member to join the possible trade picture. Many teams can use a solid pitcher like Wade Davis, as quality pitching does not come easy these days. Wade’s 11-10 record and 4.45 ERA as the #5 starter, proved him to be a pretty effective pitcher in the tough AL East division.
The bullpen was a big topic in my recent offseason outlook article (link in the beginning of the post), and the two biggest names were Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta. Although maybe not as good as 2010′s Benoit-Soriano lockdown 8th and 9th innings, Farnsworth and Peralta had a pretty good 8-9 punch themselves. Farnsworth was very important this year as the team’s closer, and Peralta as the team’s setup-man.
For the second season in a row, B.J. Upton may be the biggest name on the Rays Hot Stove. There has already been a handful of rumors of where he might land, and his chances of playing in Tampa next year don’t seem so high at the moment.
With all these Rays trade names out there, who are the potential players the Rays could reel in these winter. The Marlins Logan Morrison, catcher Chris Ianetta, and the talented star Grady Sizemore are all names floating around in the midst of offseason rumors. There will probably be much more rumors to come, as it is only early November.
The Rays have four free agents this offseason and their names are: Johnny Damon, Casey Kotchman, Kelly Shoppach, and Juan Cruz. All four were talked about in my previous article; Damon and Kotchman obviously being the bigger names here.
Another big topic mentioned in my outlook post was the Rays weak areas. The three main areas to tend to this offseason is catcher, DH, and first base. All three of these positions’ 2011 starters are free agents; Kotchman (1B), Damon (DH), and Shoppach (C). The Rays do not have any strong replacements for these guys at the moment, and it seems likely that these areas will be addressed by the Rays front office this winter.
The Rays Rant is evaluating every Rays player of 2011. Well at least the ones that played a decent amount of time in the big leagues this year. I will also be handing out the following team awards: Team MVP, the Team Leader award, Defensive Player of the Year award, Team Batting Champion, Stolen Base leader, Team RBI King, All-Star, the Impact Player award, the Rookie of the Year award, the Heart & Hustle award, and the Team Player award. Here are the grades and evaluation of the 2011 Rays:
Alex Cobb- When Alex Cobb was called up in the middle of the season to replace the injured Wade Davis, nobody really knew what to expect from him. He quickly showed that he was another Ray rookie talent, and was excelling at the Major League level. It seemed as if he was on a roll, until he required season-ending surgery. I big blow to the pitching staff, but still a bright future ahead. Grade: A
Juan Cruz- The Rays signed Juan Cruz in the offseason as part of their efforts to rebuild the bullpen. When they got Cruz, they were really just trying to get lucky. And very lucky they were, as Cruz went 5-0 in relief for the season. Cruz really was a surprise after the previous two years, which included a horrible 2009 and a 5.1 inning 2010. Grade: A-
Wade Davis- As expected, Wade Davis made the young 5-man Rays rotation. Like the other four guys, Davis looked bright coming into the season. But 2011 ended up being a bit of a frustration for Wade, as he put up better stats the previous season. His ERA climbed .38 points higher, but his 11-10 record with a 4.45 ERA was still pretty decent. Grade: B-
Kyle Farnsworth- Farnsworth was probably the Rays best offseason move. With no bullpen that meant no closer, and the Rays were out to find one. Just like almost every other reliever on the Rays impressive bullpen, Farnsworth didn’t really have high expectations coming into the season. The 36 year-old Farnsworth had the best season of his long career. Grade: A+
Jeremy Hellickson- The surging young right-hander had a tremendous season this year, and was probably the second-best starter in the rotation. His 2.95 ERA is one of the best in the league, and he is a very strong candidate for the ROY award. Grade: A+ Award: Rookie of the Year award
J.P. Howell- Recovering from a horrific shoulder injury, J.P. and the Rays were thrilled after over a year on the sidelines. But it quickly became clear that Howell wasn’t the same, and he ended the season with a 6.16 ERA. Grade: D-
Jake McGee- McGee has been a young bullpen arm that the Rays are excited about. He still is a developing player though, and let up a lot of runs in 2011. Still his 5 wins was pretty good. Grade: C+
Matt Moore- Matt Moore is all he’s hyped up to be. The fireballer southpaw showed terrific stuff in his first month in the MLB, and lead the Rays pitching staff in the postseason. Moore is probably the most exciting rookie in the baseball, and my pick for ROY next year. Grade: A+
Jeff Niemann- Niemann is in a recovering process, after coming back from a major career-setback last year. Everything was looking great for the surging Niemann until he injured his shoulder. This season, Niemann has shown that he is on the right track, with an 11-7 record and a ERA just over 4. Grade: B
Joel Peralta- Peralta had an impressive season as the Rays setup man, and was part of a very smart offseason move. Joel is a big part of the Rays future in the bullpen, and will likely (and hopefully) be a Ray next year. Grade: A-
David Price- Price had extremely high expectations coming into the season. Considering all of that, 2011 may have been a disappointment. After a Cy Young caliber 2010 with a 2.72 ERA and 19 wins, Price finished 2011 with a losing record and an ERA of 3.49. Most think it was just an off-year for the phenom lefty, and he will continue his ace ways in the future. Grade: B Award: All-Star
Cesar Ramos- Being the only left-hander in the ‘pen, Ramos had one of the biggest jobs on the team. He just barely did it good enough. He had problems with the longball, letting up 19 dingers in the season. Grade: C+
James Shields- Shields had an unbelievable season, finishing with a stellar ERA of 2.82 and a remarkable 11 complete games. Shields was really the third-best pitcher in the AL this year, just behind the ridiculous seasons of Verlander and Weaver. Grade: A+ Awards: Team MVP, All-Star
John Jaso- Overall a disappointing year for Jaso. His average dipped to .224 and his defense behind the plate was sloppy. Grade: C
Kelly Shoppach- Quite frankly an embarrassing season for the backstop, hitting .176. The highlight of his season was some clutch homers, but besides that it was just one big disappointment. Grade: D-
Reid Brignac- Another big disappointment for the Rays, Brignac wasn’t able to do anything offensively. He hit .193 and knocked in only 15 runs. His great defense at shortstop was what kept him in the league. Grade: D
Elliot Johnson- Another Rays shortstop hitting in the .190′s. Johnson was still able to get some big hits, and his defense and running game was pretty good. Grade: D+
Casey Kotchman- One of the biggest surprises in MLB this year. Here’s a recent article I wrote about him for a full evaluation. Grade: A+ Awards: C0-Defensive Player of the Year award, Team Batting Champion
Evan Longoria- Just like David Price, Longoria had very high expectations coming into the season. Many experts even picked him to be the AL MVP in their preseason predictions. Considering the player he is, 2011 was a bump in the road. Injuries were a big part of it, as he played at least 20 games less than he would have. He still was able to rack up 99 RBIs and 31 dingers, but his .244 average was really the only disappointment. But it won’t be a season that Longo will forget, as he got the biggest hit in franchise history. Grade: B+ Awards: Co-Defensive Player of the Year Award, Co-Impact Player of the Year award, Team RBI King
Sean Rodriguez- The only part of Sean’s game that wasn’t good in 2011, was the hitting. He finished the season with a .223 average. His defense was great and he really helped the Rays with his high baseball IQ. Grade: B- Award: Co-Heart & Hustle award
Ben Zobrist- Every team in baseball wishes they had a player like Zorilla. The best utility man in baseball also knows how to hit, knocking in 91 runs and hitting 46 doubles. What makes Zobrist amazing, is how he defends every position he plays so great. Almost anywhere you put him, he’ll field above-average. Grade: A Award: Team Player of the Year award
Johnny Damon- Closing out on a great career, Damon has shown he can still play. He’s really a perfect fit for the Rays; the way he plays with his heart and hustles on every play. A .261 average and 73 RBIs is not too shabby for a 37 year-old. Grade: B Award: Co-Heart & Hustle award
Sam Fuld- The young left fielder will always be known for his fearless defense in the outfield. His hitting is something that is still developing though. Here’s a past article about him and his legend. Grade: B- Award: Co-Defensive Player of the Year award.
Desmond Jennings- When the Rays called up phenom Desmond Jennings this season, it was huge boost for the team. Every part of his game was great, including his power (which surprised everyone). His season started off with a bang , and that’s when everyone knew what kind of player he was. Grade: A+ Award: Co-Impact Player of the Year award
Justin Ruggiano- Ruggiano has been in the Rays organization for a long time, but hasn’t seen too much big league playing time. His time came in 2011, and he gave the team a bit of a boost with some clutch hits. His defense in left was also impressive. Grade: B-
B.J. Upton- In maybe his last year in a Rays uniform, Upton once again repeated some of his same issues. His average was once again low (.243), his strikeout total was very high, and his baserunning was also not so great. On the bright side of things; Upton knocked in 81 runs, was great in center field, and lead the team in stolen bases with his great speed. Grade: B Award: Stolen Base leader
Matt Joyce- Last but definitely not least, it’s the big bat of Matt. Joyce was one of three Rays elected to the All Star Game in Phoenix. After a terrific first half, Joyce’s second half wasn’t nearly as good. What impressed me about Joyce this year, is how he met his goals. Coming into the season, Joyce worked hard to improve his running and fielding game; which hadn’t been up to par last season. He committed just 3 errors (with 8 assists) this year, and only 1 caught stealing. Grade: B+ Award: All-Star
Last but definitely not least, the Stan Musial Award is the highest honor of all the BBA Awards. It acknowledges the the (AL) MVP of league. To learn more about BBA and the BBA Awards read my earlier post. Deciding the top players in the AL was a long thinking and research process, and ultimately an extremely tough choice. So many players put up terrific numbers in 2011, making it nearly impossible for me to order the top ten best. Here they are:
1.) Miguel Cabrera- Another great year to a great career for the slugging first baseman. Last year Cabrera finished second in the AL MVP voting, right behind Josh Hamilton. It looks like he will definitely be finishing in the top three again, as he has put out some terrific numbers. First off, Cabrera leads the MLB with a stellar .344 BA. He also has 30 homers, 105 RBI’s, and 111 runs. He leads the AL in doubles, OBP (by far), and games played (161 G). Incredible for a big guy like Miggy, to only miss 1 game, hit the most doubles, lead in OBP, and lead in average. The only part of his game that is not MVP- caliber, is his speed and defense. When I considered that all his competitors were good in at least one of those two things, it made the choice even tougher. But I decided to give it to him because he lead in the most stats, and quite frankly has hit the baseball better than anybody in the MLB. My last factor in this vote, was that his team went farther than any of the other candidates (besides Michael Young and Verlander).
2.) Adrian Gonzalez- Another terrific slugging first baseman, similar to Cabrera. With the second-best avg. (tied with Michael Young) in the Majors (.338), Gonzalez has probably had the best year of his career so far. Adrian has really made a bid for first in this award, knocking in 12 more RBI’s than Cabrera and playing much better defense. I still had to give it to Cabrera though, because he leads in everything else and they both aren’t good baserunners. Also, Gonzalez had more hits, but Cabrera’s less K’s in more ABs definitely evened that out.
3.) Jacoby Ellsbury- At number 3, Ellsbury was almost good enough for me to put him at #1. It was really hard for me to put the young center fielder at #3, after the amazing season he had this year. Every part of his game was MVP- caliber, but the most surprising was the power numbers. Incredibly, Ellsbury has more homers that Gonzalez and Cabrera with 32. Also, he knocked in 105 runs which is tied with Cabrera. He finished the season ranking top 5 in every offensive stat; including runs, hits, and stolen bases. His 39 thefts are much better than any other MVP candidate (including Granderson). Also, his Gold Glove worthy defense in CF is definitely not something I overlooked. Really, the only thing that kept out of #1 or #2 in the voting was his average. A .321 average is terrific, but it’s just not as good as Gonzalez’s or Cabrera’s. Considering the lack of speed of those two big guys, having a higher average than Ellsbury means that they hit a lot more solid line-drives.
4.) Curtis Granderson- The only thing that got in the way of a #1 vote, was Granderson’s .262 average. Average is something that I weigh heavily in these votes, and .262 is not an MVP number. Besides that, everything else Granderson does on the baseball field is MVP- caliber. His run-producing numbers are ridiculous, and he’s also an impressive outfielder and baserunner.
5.) Jose Bautista- It’s really hard for me to put a player like Bautista 5th in this voting. Out of all these candidates, Jose may mean the most to his team. He leads the league in WAR and is the MLB home run champion. His fielding is also above average. The average is really what brought him down.
6.) Michael Young- Let me just start with this: the Rangers would not be in the World Series if it wasn’t for Young. A true ballplayer, Young was moved to SS this year and still performed. His .338 average is second-best in baseball and his 106 RBIs are also remarkable.
7.) Adrian Beltre- Another great Ranger infielder. Beltre struggled through hamstring injuries throughout the year, and still amazingly was able to rack up 105. RBIs. In addition to that, his stellar defense and high average were also impressive.
8.) Robinson Cano- Cano’s ridiculous second half of the season is what puts him in the conversation. He ended the season with 118 RBIs (2nd in AL) and a .302 average. He also had another great year at second base.
9.) Paul Konerko- Now here’s a great baseball player that doesn’t get nearly enough credit. Once again, Pauly has posted terrific offensive numbers. He hit .300 with 105 RBIs and 31 dingers.
10.) Evan Longoria- Well this one may be a little bit bias. Longoria saved his season by ending it on fire. After recovering from an early-season injury, Longo still ended the season with 99 RBIs and 31 homers. His defense was terrific once again, and it looks like he will get his 3rd Gold Glove Award this year. His .244 average is what hurt him though.
Honorable mentions- Some other players with great seasons include: Justin Verlander (pitching Triple Crown champ), Mark Teixeira (111 RBIs, Gold Glove- caliber season), Victor Martinez (.330 average, 103 RBIs), and Josh Hamilton (.298, 94 RBIs, great defense)
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The Al East, unlike any other division, has a three-headed monster: the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays. And then there are the Blue Jays and the Orioles; the typical 4th and 5th place of the division in the past four years. Toronto and Baltimore are usually a team that quickly finds themselves out of the pennant race with the tough division. Although the Rays, Yanks, and Sox are a better baseball team than both Toronto and Baltimore, the Jays and O’s do one thing better than all three. Like many mediocre teams in MLB, the Jays and Orioles play “spoiler” in the month of September. These two teams have the biggest ‘spoiler’ job in all the MLB, being in the AL East. While some teams (like the Rays and Red Sox) are competing in tight race to the playoffs, the Jays and Orioles are playing their hearts out just to put a huge dent in the competitive team’s chances. As pesky as these ‘spoiler’ teams get, I truly believe that all teams should be putting in a 110% effort everyday even if they have no chance of making the postseason. It is the true sign of a hardworking team, that really takes pride in their job. The Rays were in this situation for a long 9 years, so they definitely have played this role before. This year the Jays have been the team helping out the Rays, and the Orioles have been the team giving them issues.
Toronto has won four of their last six against Boston, helping the Rays get back into the conversation. Quite frankly, the Rays wouldn’t even have a chance at this point if it weren’t for the Blue Jays. Toronto has fought to the death against Boston; winning two resilient comeback victories and displaying full-out effort in close games. This is a team that all teams should look up to as a role model. They might not win that many games or have a stacked roster, but they know that every game is a big game. As for the Orioles, this role has become a routine September for them. Unfortunately, their main victim this year so far is the Rays. Baltimore won the series two out of three at Camden Yards, which cost the Rays important ground in the battle with Boston.
Baltimore’s job is just getting started though, with all of their final 14 games of the season against playoff contenders. Hopefully they are just getting warmed up, as half of those four games are versus Boston. As for the members of Rays Republic, good job Jays and good luck O’s!
Four years ago, Jeff Niemann was just a huge kid with an arm. Two years ago, Jeff Niemann was a MLB starter with a very bright future ahead of him. A little over a year ago, Niemann looked like a pitching phenom and future superstar.
Mid-season of last year, one injury almost completely destroyed everything for the Big Texan. That shoulder injury was a major setback in the growing career of a young pitcher. Ever since that day the Rays announced he would be placed on the 15-Day DL, Jeff Niemann has never been the same since. It’s a sad story that has happened to countless pitchers throughout baseball history. The Rays and Rays Republic hope that it won’t end that way for Jeff. Luckily, he’s only 28 years old, and has made a bit of progress this year in getting back to his ‘A-game’ form from 2010. In the first half of 2o1o, Niemann put up ridiculous numbers, including a startling 2.77 ERA through 117 IP. The second half was a disaster, after recovering from the shoulder injury. His velocity and command was nothing like it was in the excellent first half. It was clear it might be a while before Niemann returns to his best form. The Rays knew that injuries were really the only problem the Rays could have with their starting pitching, which was terrific when 100% healthy. In 2011, Niemann worked hard to get back his spot in the rotation. Although another injury got in his way of success. Niemann again spent some time on the DL, but luckily the Rays had Alex Cobb come to the rescue.
After returning from the DL, Niemann got his spot back, but Cobb was not sent back down to Durham. Cobb’s outstanding pitching convinced Joe Maddon that a 6-man rotation would be ideal. This worked out even better than expected, the extra rest was really coming in the pitchers’ favor. Especially for Niemann, who was starting to pitch well after returning from the DL. Unfortunately, that 6-man rotation didn’t last long though. Cobb got hurt and required season-ending rib surgery. Hopefully for the talented young pitcher, the injury won’t be too much of a setback like it was in Niemann’s case. Now Niemann is starting to struggle on the mound, like in last night’s big game in Arlington (http://tampabay.rays.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=18710899&c_id=tb). Niemann will have his chances to return to his 2010 form. Even with the probable addition of Matt Moore and Chris Archer next year, the Rays really hope he’ll be pitching well by next year. The Rays do have a great pitching future, and a healthy Niemann could be an important part of the Rays success in years to come.