Hello fellow baseball fans. It being Valentine’s Day, love Spring Training is in the air. Though it is raining here (and not at all sunny in the sunshine state) the Tampa Bay Rays were able to get some work done. So here are the hot stories today from Port Charlotte.
- Wil Myers is Awesome: One of the top baseball prospects was traded to the Rays from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis over the winter break. As everyone knows, the Rays can’t hit, so the fact that a hitter is in practice is great news. “It’s impressive,” said hitting coach Derek Shelton, “And I think the most impressive thing is the bat speed. And the way the ball comes off his bat.” At the moment, Myers is likely to start the season at Triple-A. Hopefully, he will be ready if the Rays decide to call him up around the All-Star Break. He is an outfielder so I predict he will be in left field.
- Reid Brignac Trade: Infielder Reid Brignac has been traded to the Colorado Rockies for cash and a player to be named later. Reid has been with the Rays since 2004 and while he was ranked 17th best MLB prospect in 2007, he never lived up to expectations. He had a good season with the Rays in 2009 (BA .278) and was supposed to be the new shortstop after Jason Bartlett was traded, but after two disappointing years, he was optioned to AAA Durham in 2011(BA .193) to make room for outfielder Desmond Jennings.
- Starting Pitcher Roster: At the moment, three of the five starting pitching positions are (set (Cy Young winner David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, and Matt Moore). The last two spots will be either Alex Cobb, Jeff Niemann, Roberto Hernandez, Chris Archer, and Jake Odorizzi. Cobb should be pitcher number four, so it looks like the fifth spot will probably be between injury-prone Niemann or Hernandez, a man who changed his name illegally when he came to the United States to play baseball…
- Bullpen: Bullpen was pretty impressive last year, but Burke Badenhop, Wade Davis, and J.P. Howell are no longer with the Rays. That leaves closer Fernando Rodney, Jake McGee, Joel Peralta, Kyle Farnsworth, and starting pitcher #6 to fill up the bullpen. The final spot in the bullpen is between Jamey Wright, Brandon Gomes, and Josh Lueke.
- Catchers: Every Christmas I ask for a catcher, and every year Santa fails to bring the Rays a decent one. Jose Molina is the main catcher this year (I wish he could bat) so the backup catcher is where the battle is at; it is between Jose Lobaton and Chris Gimenez.
- Line-Up: Though some players, like Evan Longoria, have permanent positions, others will be battling or sharing positions through out the season. Here is what I predict the roster is going to look like:
1st Base: James Loney
2nd Base: Kelly John/Ben Zobrist
Shortstop: Yunel Escobar
3rd Base: Evan Longoria
Left Field: Sam Fuld/Wil Myers
Center Field: Desmond Jennings
Right Field: Matt Joyce/Ben Zobrist
DH: Luke Scott
Utility Players: Ryan Roberts & Sean Rodriquez
- The first official game of Spring Training is at home (Charlotte Spots Park) against the Pittsburgh Pirates on February 23, 2013. The Pirates are my second favorite team (my parents are from Pittsburgh), though I will probably wait until the Rays arrive in Bradenton to play the Rays at McKechnie Field. McKechnie Field is turning 90-years old this year and just went through a $10 million renovation. To see the rest of the Rays’ schedule, click here.
- Here are players that are no longer Rays, I wish them the best of luck:
- B.J. Upton (Atlanta Braves)
- James Shields (Kansas City Royals)
- Wade Davis (Kansas City Royals)
- J.P. Howell (Los Angeles Dodgers)
- Burke Badenhop (Milwakee Brewers)
- Jeff Keppinger (Chicago White Sox)
- Elliot Johnson ( Kansas City Royals)
- Carlos Pena (Houston Astros)
- Will Rhymes (Washington Nationals)
For the first time since James Shields entered Major League Baseball he will not be wearing a Tampa Bay Devil Rays uniform or a
Tampa Bay Rays uniform because he was traded to the Kansas City Royals on December 9, 2012. The trade is not very surprising since the Rays cannot afford to keep Shields, who was due $10 million in 2013. Meanwhile the Royals are hoping that Shields will be the ace they have been lacking since Zack Greinke was traded. Shields will always be remembered as one of the Rays’ best pitchers in its short history.
Shields was drafted in the 16th round of the 2000 amateur baseball draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. After spending several years in the minors, he debuted in the majors against the Baltimore Orioles on May 31, 2006. Though Shields only lasted five innings and gave up five run, Shields would quickly become the Rays’ ace pitcher. A month after his first start, Shields became the first Rays pitcher to start his career with four straight wins. In 2007, Shields became a number two pitcher, second only to Scott Kazmir. He finished the year with an ERA of 3.85 and over 200 innings pitched, a trend he would continue for the next five years. In 2008, Shields was the only Rays pitcher to win a World Series game. The year 2011 was Shields’ most impressive year; he pitched 249 innings, 11 complete games, 4 shutouts, had an ERA of 2.82, and a record of 16-12. Big Game Shields was now known as Complete Game Shields. In 2011, Shields was selected to the All-Star game and finished third in the American League Cy Young voting. In 2012, Shields felt the pressure of being traded and did not perform at his best until after the trading deadline. The last game Shields pitched was on October 2, 2012 against the Baltimore Orioles. Though the Rays lost the game 1-0, Shields pitched a complete game and had 15 strikeouts.
Besides great pitching, Rays also know that Shields has a big personality. Rays’ fans will always remember Shields fighting Boston Red Sox centerfielder Coco Crisp. In 2008, Crisp was caught stealing by Rays’ shortstop Jason Bartlett. Several innings later, Crisp intentionally slid hard into second baseman Akinori Iwamura. The next day, Shields purposely threw a pitch at Crisp, causing Crisp to charge the mound. Shields swung back at Crisp; though he missed Crisp’s face, he was suspended for six games. Shields stated that the reason he purposely threw a ball at Crisp was to defend his teammate. Shield showed that he is a dependable player that can be counted on. Shields also became a role model to the younger Rays’ pitchers, including David Price. The two of them would soon become inseparable; it became a common sight seeing Shields throw peanut shells at Price during a television interview. When Shields would be interviewed, Price would stroll over and start answering questions. Shields was also active in the Tampa Bay community. At the beginning of the baseball season, he would purchase a suite at Tropicana Field and let different groups of foster kids watch baseball throughout the year. Shields also worked with his wife to help pair parents with foster children; he is responsible for creating families. Not only will Shields’ loyalty and humor be missed in the Rays’ dugout, but his contributions to countless families will always be remembered.
James Shields leaves behind seven memorable years with the Rays, ranging from fights with rival teams to throwing peanut shells at his pitching coach. He also leaves behind a legacy since he is the all-time leader in wins, shutouts, complete games, strikeouts, and innings pitched. His pranks with Price during baseball games will be missed by Rays’ fans as well as his contributions to the Tampa Bay community. Shields will be a great addition the Royals since he is a great player both on and off the field.
When the 2012 baseball season started, hardly anyone knew who Jeff Keppinger was but after a very successful year with the Tampa Bay Rays, all of that has changed. Since being drafted in 2001 by the Pittsburgh Pirates, Keppinger has spent the past decade with the New York Mets, the Kansas City Royals, the Cincinnati Reds, the Houston Astros, and San Francisco Giants – spending most of his time in the minors. In January 2012, the Rays signed Keppinger for a one-year, $1.525 million contract as a utility player. Due to several Rays’ players (Evan Longoria and Luke Scott) spending time on the disabled list, Keppinger became a reliable hitter on the roster. In 2012, Keppinger batted .325 and hit 40 RBIs (Sox sign Keppinger). When Longoria returned to the line-up, other Rays players would rotate their positions with Keppinger since he was always able to put the ball into play. Keppinger would be one of the reasons why the Rays were able to compete without Longoria.
After the season ended, there was talk that the Rays would go after Keppinger once again, even when Keppinger fell down his stairs at his home, breaking his fibula. But to the surprise of many, including me, there was also talk that other teams were seeking Keppinger. After the New York Yankees found out that their third baseman Alex Rodriquez would miss half the upcoming baseball season due to hip surgery, they contacted Keppinger’s agent since Keppinger had experience playing third base. This would drive up Keppinger’s price, decreasing the chance that the Rays would be able to retain him. Then on December 5, it was announced that the Chicago White Sox signed Keppinger to a three-year, $12 million deal (Jeff Keppinger to White Sox). The White Sox had lost third baseman Kevin Youkilis to free agency this off-season and needed someone to replace him.
I am disappointed that the Rays did not go after Keppinger since he was able to hit against left-handed pitchers and has been the second-toughest hitter to strike out over the past three seasons; meanwhile the Rays have had trouble with lefties
and have high strikeout rates. Keppinger also has a career batting average of .288 while the Rays’ team average is .240. The Rays currently do not have a DH and Keppinger could have filled that position for $4 million a year, not a bad deal since the Rays have wasted millions on hitters that have not worked out. The Rays also had trouble playing against the White Sox in 2012 and Keppinger’s offense will make it even harder for the Rays to beat the White Sox. I hope the Rays will be able to find a dependable hitter to replace Keppinger and wish Keppinger the best of luck with the White Sox.
Christmas came early for Tampa Bay Rays’ fans this year due to the one-year, $1.8 million signing of Jose Molina. Molina is one of the famous Molina brothers; his older brother Benjamin recently retired from baseball while his younger brother Yadier is a gold-glove winner with the St. Louis Cardinals. Molina recently played with the Toronto Blue Jays where he showed that even former Ray Carl Crawford could not steal against him. In one game in 2010, Molina was able to catch a total of four Rays stealing, including Crawford twice. This is not a surprise since he has caught 62 out of 170 runners in the past four seasons, boasting the highest percentage (36.5%) in major league baseball. The Rays have had recent trouble catching runners so this will prevent teams, like the Texas Rangers, from stealing bases off the Rays. Molina is also coming off his best batting year since he batted .281, even though he only caught for fifty games. His career batting average is .241, which is about the average the Rays batted in 2011. Another plus of the Molina deal is he is signed for only $1.8 million; a pleasant surprise after the Rays wasted $6 million on Kelly Shoppach who batted under .200 with two seasons with the Rays. (The Rays declined Shoppach’s option this off-season). Molina’s veteran presence will also help prepare current minor league catchers Jose Lobaton and Robinson Chirinos. Before spending some time with the Blue Jays and New York Yankees, he spent several years with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, thus he has worked with Joe Maddon before. The Rays’ catching problems have finally been addressed with Jose Molina.
The other Rays’ catcher, John Jaso, was recently traded to the Seattle Mariners for right-handed relief pitcher Josh Lueke. Lueke was drafted by the Texas Rangers in 2007 but was traded during the Cliff Lee deal to the Seattle Mariners. He made his major debut in 2011, pitching 32.2 innings for an ERA of 6.06; though his ERA is not exactly impressive, he is known for his fast ball. In late November, Lueke was traded to the Rays in hopes of becoming a threat in their bullpen. The 2011 season bullpen was built from scratch and though a few pitchers showed prospect throughout the season, it is currently still a work-in-process that is currently being addressed this off-season. The biggest surprise of the trade was not Lueke’s ERA but his criminal history; he had faced felony charges in rape and sodomy. In May 2008, Lueke and his Class A teammates were at a bar in Bakersfield, California where they met several women. The women went back to the Lueke’s apartment that he shared with some of his Class A teammates. It was there that a 22-year-old woman claimed to have passed out drunk on the bathroom floor after vomiting. When she awoke, she was confused and felt violated. Lueke was then charged with sexual assault but he claimed he never touched her. In March 2009, DNA tests linked Lueke to semen found inside the women. Lueke changed his story and claimed that the sex was consensual and that he had only lied because he did not want his girlfriend to find out. Lueke was arrested. As the trial wore on, the victim gave her consent for prosecutors to offer a plea deal because was becoming depressed due to the stress of the trial. Lueke pleaded no contest to a lesser charge and was sentenced to the 42 days he spent in jail before posting bail and sentenced to three years of felony probation. Lueke’s criminal past is something new to the Tampa Bay Rays since the majority of players are young players with clean images unlike several major league teams known for players with big egos and tempers. It will be interesting to see if Lueke will positively impact the bullpen and if he will be accepted as a Ray by the fans.
“Catcher Molina and Tampa Bay Rays Agree,” The Washington Post
“Jose Molina Career Stats,” Baseball-Reference.com
“Josh Lueke Career Stats,” Baseball-Regerence.com
Geoff Baker, “Coach says Mariners were told of Josh Lueke’s Criminal Past,” The Seattle Times