The Rays Fail To Meet Expectations

Early in the 2009 season, the Tampa Bay Rays could do no wrong. Their biggest star, Evan Longoria, was on a torrid home run pace while Carl Crawford was flirting with 100 stolen bases.

In the end, Longoria’s stats were impressive but not phenomenal after a full season. Crawford, meanwhile, has 60 stolen bases which is not even good enough for first place thanks to the speedy Jacoby Ellsbury.

Worst of all, last season’s Cinderella Story, the Tampa Bay Rays, have been eliminated from the playoffs. Of course, it doesn’t help when you play in a division in which the top 2 teams, the Yankees & Red Sox, spent over $320 million in team payroll in 2009.

It’s been more than twenty years since anyone has stolen 100 bases. Vince Coleman accomplished the feat three years in a row starting in 1985 and reached 700+ career stolen bags despite playing 150 games or more just four times in a 13-year career.

You can find a Vince Coleman certified autograph in 2009 Tristar Obak.

He's No Vince Coleman...

Tim Wakefield is dangerously underrated

Walk up to a typical Red Sox fan, ask them about their favorite player and I will give you a crispy $100 bill if they don’t call out a Josh, Manny, or “Big Papi”. If you go the young route, it’s Jacoby, Dice-K, and Clay but what about the forgotten man, Tim Wakefield? Not only has he reached double-digits in wins 9 years out of a possible 13 with Boston, he has also done it while being moved around more than Mike Morgan, from starting rotation to the bullpen and back a couple more times.

Last season Tim won 17 games and still all anyone talked about was Josh Beckett, who won 20 and came this close to the Cy Young Award. Well, maybe it’s ironic that this season Tim & Josh are tied in wins (3) but it’s Tim who has the better ERA (3.33) compared to Beckett’s 4.13. Maybe it’s finally Tim Wakefield’s turn to shine or maybe much like my Mark Hendrickson post where the readers all but called me crazy, I am getting excited over nothing. Only time will tell!

The Prospect Corner – Jacoby Ellsbury

This will be short and sweet because I think most people have been able to see the potential in Jacoby Ellsbury, but I wanted to make a few comments and give you a few comparable players. In some ways Ellsbury came as a surprise, bursting onto the scene just as the Red Sox were making their way towards another World Series title, but if you take a look at his minor league numbers his success is almost expected. I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure if he would come out of the gates putting up the solid numbers or just getting by, but sometimes a prospects initial response to being called up is hard to predict. He probably won’t sustain the batting average he had in ’07, but I think he’ll be very productive in the Red Sox line-up and Red Sox will soon forget Johnny Damon, if they haven’t already.

I really like several things about Ellsbury, including his speed of course, but I also really like his plate discipline. It’s pretty hard to find a hitter that will consistently maintain a BB/K rate of close to 1.0, and that along with his ability to make contact, will keep his on-base percentage up and make him a very valuable asset as the Red Sox try for a repeat. Leo Epstein and company have done a great job of drafting good young contact hitters that add depth and compliment their more established players.

Some of Ellsbury’s comparable came as a bit of a surprise for me, but I think Red Sox fans will be happy about them.

Reyes obviously went through the minors at a younger age, but with an adjustment for that age difference I think their numbers come out to be very similar. The only big differences I see are that Reyes showed a little more power, while Ellsbury showed better plate discipline.

Gonzalez (who is one of the most overlooked hitters in the National League) had a power surge at the age of 23 so he doesn’t provide quite the same comparison as Reyes, but the BB/K ratios, OBP and SLG numbers are all fairly close and it gives you a sense of the different directions Ellsbury’s career could go. Given the nature of the American League and where Ellsbury fits in with the Red Sox line-up, I think he’ll make a great top-of-the-order hitter, with an OBP and SLG close to what we see out of Reyes, and about 40-50 stolen bases in 2008. At 6’1” and 185 lbs, there’s always a chance that Ellsbury could hit for more power than Reyes, and I think he will, but it won’t be the type of numbers that Gonzalez is capable of putting up. So, here are my numbers for Ellsbury for 2008:

AVG OBP SLG OPS HR SB

.290 .360 .445 .805 15 45

Even though he won’t stay on the pace he set for himself in 2007, I think 2008 will still be a very good year for Ellsbury. I wouldn’t advise buying any of his cards for investment purposes, but if you want a few for a personal collection then just wait until some of the hype dies down and you should be able to pick up a few at a decent price.