It has now been confirmed that 2008 first overall Draft pick David Price and four others have been sent down to AAA Durham to start the season. My reaction to this, and likely the fans’ reaction as a whole, is not as negative as that following Evan Longoria’s trip to the Minor Leagues last season. Here is the rundown of those who are going to the Bulls:
John Jaso, C: No surprise here. He barely saw AAA or the Rays last season, so he should be sent down for more seasoning. Up through AA, he had phenomenal walk/strikeout totals and had decent natural power. If he elevates his game one more level, there may be a spot for him on the big stage someday.
Elliot Johnson, IF/OF: Little surprise about this one. Here is a guy with big tools, especially in the speed and defense departments, but still dealing with several flaws (too many strikeouts, low onbase percentage). At age 25, his time is starting to run out, but a little more seasoning wouldn’t hurt.
Reid Brignac, SS: This guy is good right now, but he had a subpar Spring Training with the Rays’ Major League team, though he did get a few big hits. This is not a player that the Rays need languishing on the bench. He missed part of 2008 in AAA, where he had a bit of a down year. So he needs another year, and since he is only 23, he can still grow by leaps and bounds. He can eventually either move to second base in case Iwamura gets injured or leaves the team, play shortstop if anything happens to Bartlett, or become serious trade bait with Tim Beckham moving up the ranks behind him.
Justin Ruggiano, OF: Some fans certainly saw this as surprising. Ruggiano, who turns 27 on April 12, was seen as a strong candidate for the fifth outfielder spot in B.J. Upton’s absence. Even with decent Spring Training stats and playing time, he still got the shaft. I think it may be good for him, as while he has proven to be a 2020 threat in AAA, he still has holes in his game one could drive an 18wheeler through. He needs to cut down on the strikeouts and become a more polished product. He may do that with a touch of Durham.
David Price, LHP: And of course, the big one. When I heard that Jeff Niemann and Jason Hammel were out of options, and that Price was still mastering his changeup, I knew this had AAA written all over it. I think this may be a positive experience for him. He can get back into shape against lesser hitters and perfect that changeup that will elevate him from setup man to staff ace. With less than a year’s worth of professional experience, there are still things he can learn to get better. Meanwhile, I think Niemann should be the fifth starter to begin the season. I don’t know what to do with Hammel… trade him? Well, if the Rays can get a better deal for Niemann, they should pull the trigger on that and take their chances with Hammel. It’s more than likely that Price will be with the Rays for most of the season anyway, so they should not be losing too much.
Speaking of Niemann, he made a strong case to be the fifth starter last night against the Pirates, pitching four innings of onerun baseball with zero walks. This is a relief after his atrocious ninerun outing last week. A rare Adam Kennedy home run put the Rays in the lead early, and a strong bullpen led them to victory. If every possible reliever on this team does as well as he can, the Rays have as many as eight frontline relief pitchers. (Percival, Balfour, Howell, Wheeler, Shouse, Nelson, Isringhausen, Bradford.) Could we have any more depth? Well, there is always Lance Cormier. Until next time, go Rays.
The beloved Rays may be choosing the worst possible time of the season to suffer a monumental collapse. They lost Saturday night to the Yankees thanks in part to an error by Ben Zobrist (who did hit a grand slam earlier in the game), and again Sunday on a barrage of hitting against Edwin Jackson. Tonight, once again, they dropped the ball, this time at home against the arch enemy Boston Red Sox. Scott Kazmir was trounced en route to the worst start of his MLB career, giving up four home runs in 3+ innings. It was trouble from the second his first pitch flew to the backstop. Amazingly, there are actually some positives sorted out of all this. As I became accustomed to doing in the Devil Rays era, I try as hard as possible to focus on those. Here are a few:
David Price made his Major League debut in Sunday’s game and looked like a star on the rise right out of the opening gate. His first pitch was grounded out to third base, then his first strikeout of his third hitter future Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez came on three killer fastballs. His fastball regularly hit 97 MPH, and his cut fastball moves tremendously at about 90. He did give up a home run to Derek Jeter, one of two runs (the other an inherited runner allowed home by another reliever) in 5.1 innings pitched. He struck out four and walked exactly zero Yankees. And it looks like the Rays have no problem letting him go deep into games if it means preserving the veteran bullpen core. Not to mention giving him valuable experience.
Evan Longoria returned to the lineup in Saturday’s first game, a Rays 71 victory, and got two key hits as well as making a diving stop saving two Yankee runs late in the game. He’s been defensively ready for weeks now, but to see him both making web gems and swinging the bat like he should tells me that he can be the key contributor to the stretch run that this team needs. They played well in his absence, but given the choice, I would have him out there every game. And why not? He is the undisputed Rookie of the Year and on his way to an amazing career.
Tonight’s game did feature three Tampa Bay home runs, all from those who needed to spice up their stat sheets in the losing effort. Akinori Iwamura took his countryman Daisuke Matsuzaka deep over the left center field wall, just like he did in Fenway Park early in the season. He has done well this season in hitting home runs to all parts of the field, and half of his six this season are against the Red Sox. Justin Ruggiano and Dan Johnson each hit two run home runs to double their totals to… two. These blasts will look good on their resumes, but the Rays still lost 135.
The Minnesota Twins lost to Cleveland tonight, making it two losses in a row for them and pushing the Rays’ magic number for the playoffs down to seven. While the divisional magic number remains at 14, the Rays at least have an excellent, if not nearly 100%, chance at a playoff berth of some sort. They can still take one or two games from Boston and then beat Minnesota in the next series to clinch themselves a spot. The ultimate goal would be home field advantage, but just getting into October is a great sign of how far this organization has come in just one year after all those years of buildup. So if you want to potentially see a playoff clincher, get your tickets to some RaysTwins games now. I have, so please join me in supporting the cause.
Tomorrow night Andy Sonnanstine and Josh Beckett get their rematch, followed by Tim Wakefield vs. Matt Garza on Wednesday night. Wakefield doesn’t quite own this team like he once did anymore. Garza, meanwhile, is an All Star in the making. So Feel the Heat, go out and support our team until elimination do we part, and go Rays.