Jan 28, 2012

Are the Rays ready?

by Aaron Giddens

We know the new season is almost upon us. But are the Rays ready roster wise? Let's take a look at the infield, outfield, bench and pitching individually and see where we stand.

Infield

In the infield I'd say we're pretty solid. Let's break this down even further and look at the likely starters in the infield.

At first base, we have Carlos Pena returning this year. Yes he has a low batting average every year and a high amount of strikeouts. But he also has power. He has Gold Glove defense. Pena is the all-time home run leader for the team and a great leader. He will almost definitely replace that leadership factor we're losing with Damon.


Over at third, Longo is returning of course. Towards the end of last season, Longo found his stroke and went on a hot streak. That same offensive factor that he found at the end of last season along with his never-left-at-home Gold Glove ability is what won him the Rookie of the Year award in 2008. If he can somehow manage to have that sort of tear all season instead of the second half of the season. We should be fine with Longo once again. As the promotion shirt said a few years ago: Ladies love Longo!

Platooning Short Stop will likely be the trio of Elliot Johnson, Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez. None of these guys can hit very consistently which made up for a lot of our lack of offense last season. However, don't discount them, they all still have very good defensive glove work. If they can work on their offense and get it going correctly in Spring Training enough just to hit consistently rather than trying for power, we should again be fine. Their defense is often invaluable, their offense has often be left for scrutiny though.

Platooning second base will likely be Ben Zobrist and Sean Rodriguez. Since we talked about Sean in the last paragraph, let's focus on Ben. "Zorilla" has the ability to get on a hot offensive streak unexpectedly and hit for power out of no where as well, his glove is like the others we've covered so far, invaluable. If there's one thing this team as a whole is not short of it's the good defense department. If Zorilla can catch lighting in a bottle and hold on to it for the year, this, along with the other things I've mentioned for the infield, should make us fine for the year.

Catcher should be platooned with Rays newcomer Jose Molina and Jose Lobaton. These two will definitely be a upgrade to Jaso and Shoppach who have shared the position for the past two years. Sure I will miss the so-called "Shoppachopters" but we have a championship to win. Molina and Lobaton each have a decent bat and pretty good defense. With these two we should finally be rid of the stupid mistakes at the catcher position. Remember each of the last three World Series winners has had a catching Molina brother, including Jose in 2009 with the Yankees.

Real quick let's touch on the recently signed bench player, Jeff Keppinger, who is a short stop. He has a pretty good batting average against lefties and a little power. So expect to see him against lefty pitchers. Good signing, even though his defense is average.

Outfield

Let's tackle this section the same way as the Infield and start with Left Field. Here we should see Desmond Jennings in his first full season in the majors. If last year was a preview, then I can't wait to see what he does in a full season. A good consistent bat, speed and good defense. Carl who?

In Center, as of now, should be BJ Upton in the final year of his contract with the Rays. By now we know what to expect with Bossman. He has power ability, good speed and good defense. Though he sometimes gets a little lazy. But don't get us wrong, we're still grateful for Upton and will miss him after his likely departure.

In Right, we should see the platoon job of Matt Joyce and Sam Fuld. We know by now Joyce has hot streaks with his bat. But his defense is good and it's consistent. I think we can skip the part on how good The Legend's defense is. It goes without sayin'. His bat can also go through hot streaks. So for right field I think we're set.

Before we jump in to pitching let me touch on our new DH. Luke Scott is a good player. His bat is for power. But like Pena he has a bad strike out habit. If someone Shelton actually manages to coach him right (Good luck with that) then we could see a good year for Scott this year with the Rays. So, in short, he's a power upgrade over Damon, but a consistency downgrade from Damon. Something he can work with Shelton on though.

Starting pitching

Where do I even start? How about with "Big Game" James. James Shields' had a remarkable 2011. It looks like he's figured out his stuff so I would expect a similar year but not a repeat year. Guessing 4 complete games this year.

David Price, I hope returns to his 2010 form. His 2011 season was disappointing. Hopefully the guy has been working on that this off season and comes to Spring Training with little doubt about his ability.

Jeremy Hellickson begins his sophomore year. The reigning AL Rookie of the Year will look to repeat his 2011 performance. I gotta say if he's anything like he was in 2011 we should be set.

Jeff Neimann and Wade Davis were not horrible in 2011 but they weren't good either. There's still a possibility one or both of them could be traded before Opening Day. If they're not look for at least one of them to be moved to the bullpen to make room for the rookie Matt Moore. Either way, look for a bounce back year for both of them. How much bounce back will be a wait and see thing.

Then comes one of the the early favorites to win the 2012 AL Rookie of the Year award, Matt Moore. If his two starts in 2011 were any sign of things to come this year, bring it on. His pitching is so smooth and looks so effortless it's amazing to watch him work. He stifled one of the best offenses in the AL last year in the ALDS. So to that I say, bring it on!


Bullpen

The bullpen is a little more tricky for me to tackle because who exactly will be there is still in flux. However the people we know will be there, save for one, was there last year. Pitchers like Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta, Alex Cobb (who I think I've heard is also yet another candidate for a starting role), Jake McGee and Cesar Ramos will return. They will be joined by Josh Lueke, Fernando Rodney and Burke "The Hopper" Badenhop. Last year the bullpen was a surprise as it was throw together with hoping of the best. When everything turned out well, Andrew Friedman just reenforced the pen rather than further rebuilding it. And it looks like a solid pen. I still have little hope in Rodney though, especially after he recently blew a save in a winter league in the worst way possible.

All in all, this team looks well put together and in my opinion, ready for the trials of the year. Bring it on! This team gets my "ready for action" seal of approval. But does it get yours? Comment and tell us.

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