Talkin Rays with Rise of the Rays

Here at Bronx Baseball Daily we cover the Yankees all day and every day, but we don’t always spend a lot of time on the other teams in the league. So lately we’ve been reaching out to some other blogs to get a better look at the Yankees opponents.

Last week we spoke with Rob Munstis of The Bottom Line, a Red Sox blog, in an interview that if you haven’t read you’d better go do it now. Rob gave us great insight into what expect from the Sox now and in the future.

Today we get a look at the Tampa Rays thanks to Devon Rogers of the Rise of the Rays blog. Devon gave us an equally in depth look at a very different team. His answers were great and I think it gives us a better idea of what to expect from the Rays in 2010 than what you could get from watching a weeks worth of Baseball Tonight.

Thanks go out to Devon and without further adieu on to the questions:

Bronx Baseball Daily: What are your initial thoughts of the 2010 Rays?

Rise of the Rays: I think the Rays are a very balanced team, but I think, as always, the Rays will be a great defensive team as well as speed and a good offensive team. Their biggest strengths are their offense, because top to bottom the Rays have a great lineup. The weaknesses I see for the Rays are the questions behind the catching position and whether or not Pat Burrell will return to his Phillies form.

BBD: What was the biggest reason the Rays went from the World Series in ’08 to third place in ’09?

RotR: I think the biggest reason was the Yankees and Red Sox got stronger and we did not do much to counter that. Also, the big moves we did make did not pan out like the Rays front office would have hoped. Many people last year had career years, but when you put them together, it did not create as many wins as you would have hoped. I also think the struggle of BJ Upton and Pat Burrell played a big role in the 3rd place finish. The Rays also ran into injury problems down the stretch when we really needed everyone performing to the best of their ability.

BBD: Evaluate the Rays offseason, have they done enough to get back into the playoffs?

RotR: I think the Rays had a great offseason for the money they had available. The Rays filled the holes at closer and catcher. The Rays really spent this offseason building the best team they possibly could with what was available to them so we could make a run at the title. I definitely think the Rays will make a strong run at the playoffs and beyond this season. I give the offseason an A rating.

BBD: What are going to be the keys to success for the Rays this year?

RotR: The keys will be performance out of the catcher position and designated hitter. I also think the up and coming players like Desmond Jennings, Jeremy Hellickson, and Reid Brignac filling the gaps in the team will be key. The Rays cannot afford a drop off in performance from Ben Zobrist and Jason Bartlett and they also need Pat Burrell and BJ Upton to return to form.

BBD: Speaking of Zobrist and Bartlett, what are their chances of duplicating their successful 2009 campaigns?

RotR: I think Bartlett and Zobrist can easily produce like they did last year and that will be needed for the Rays to have success. Zobrist emerged as the middle of the order power source for the Rays as well as being flexible enough to play any position he is needed at. The Rays will need that again because right now it is up in the air as to whether he will spend the majority of his time at right field or second base and that will probably not be decided until late into spring training. The Rays will need Bartlett to continue getting on base at the top of the order for guys like Evan Longoria, Zobrist, and Carlos Pena to drive him in.

BBD: Has Pat Burrell been a complete bust?

RotR: I do not think he is a complete bust. I think we will se a good year out of him, I am just not sure if he will be what he was in Philly. I think he was off due to an adjustment to a new league and not being able to play the field.

BBD: Who are some rookies that could have an impact this season?

RotR: Wade Davis will probably be the rookie who will have the biggest impact on the season in his spot at the back of the rotation, but I think it will be just as key for the emergence of guys like Matt Joyce, Reid Brignac, and Sean Rodriguez as they will probably fill the holes at right field and second base. On a smaller note, the Rays will need Desmond Jennings to be able to come up in the middle of the year and fill one of the outfield spots, and also Jeremy Hellickson to fill a rotation spot if injury strikes or play a role like David Price did in the 2008 run.

BBD: Following a small market team, what is it like to hear so much about the Yankees and their supposed “budget”?

RotR: It is frustrating at times that we are always overshadowed by the big budget teams like the Yankees and Red Sox just because we are in the same division. We are often overlooked as a great power just because we are a small market power and not spending money like crazy.  The Rays have just as much talent as the Yankees and Red Sox, but we are different because we built the core from within and supplemented with free agent signings instead of building our core from free agents and supplementing from within. I think the whole baseball world will be surprised once again at the Rays success this season.

BBD: What are the chances they resign Carl Crawford at the end of the season?

RotR: I would like to think the chances are great but I would probably say 50-50, which is a lot higher than  what most of the people who follow the Rays would say. Based on his comments over the past year it seems as though he wants to be a Ray and he is the type of person who would give a team a discount. I hope he stays a Ray because he is a great player as well as a great person who loves the fans. Whoever he ends up with will be lucky to have a guy like him.

BBD: In hindsight, was trading away Scott Kazmir a good move?

RotR: I think it was a great move. Kazmir had a huge contract that the Rays needed to move and the Rays needed to make room for all the starters they have in the system like Wade Davis and Jeremy Hellickson.  The Rays also got a great package back for him with Sean Rodriguez and Matt Sweeney being great prospects.

BBD: Do the Rays have any positional battles going into spring training?

RotR: There is a battle between Kelly Shoppach and Dioner Navarro as to who will have the starting catcher spot. I also think there is a battle for right field between Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce and Desmond Jennings later in the season. There is also a battle between Ben Zobrist, Sean Rodriguez, and Reid Brignac at second base.

Thanks again to Devon. Great interview. Be on the look out for him again as I think we’d all love to hear from Rise of the Rays again in the future.

On to your thoughts, what do you all think about the Rays? I think they have a pretty good chance of playing spoiler in this division and could even be similar to the 2003 Marlins.

About Rob Abruzzese

Rob Abruzzese created Bronx Baseball Daily in 2008 just before graduating from Brooklyn College. He currently serves BBD as its editor and works as a reporter at the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Follow Rob on Twitter @RobAbruzzese.
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