Who will be the pet player of Rays’ fans in 2017?

by Gary Shelton on April 12, 2017 · 5 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Rays

Mallex Smith has shown how he can take over a game./ANDREW J. KRAMER

Mallex Smith has shown how he can take over a game./ANDREW J. KRAMER

Wednesday, 4 a.m.

You never see him coming. You rarely suspect success. The bond doesn't always last.

But every now and then, a player worms his way into your consciousness. Every now and then, he becomes more than his average, more than his games played, more than your logic says that he should matter. He usually starts off as a role player, and he does something to get your attention, and the next thing you know, you've bought his jersey because, after all, he is your kind of player.

This year, who will it be?

Rays' fans have always embraced a player or two, and it isn't often the ones you expect. Oh, any fan base can love Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford and David Price and James Shields. But sometimes, especially on teams that are headed nowhere, it can be a player you wouldn't suspect.

Remember the Original Favorite? It was outfielder Bubba Trammell, who was never quite able to make the front office warm to him the way the bleachers did. But Trammell would scrap, and he would hit a little bit. His average that first year was .286, and I'm sure a lot of fans remember him warmly.

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Jumbo Diaz has been sharp out of the bullpen./ANDREW J. KRAMER

Jumbo Diaz has been sharp out of the bullpen./ANDREW J. KRAMER

There was Jonny Gomes, the tough outfielder who brought his attitude with him. There was Super Sam Fuld, the little guy who played hard. There was the last great season of Wade Boggs. There was Fred McGriff. There was Ben Zobrist, who played everywhere but catcher, and I'm sure he could have played there. There was Carl Crawford before he became Crawford, and Evan Longoria before he became Longoria, and Fred McGriff, after he was almost done with being McGriff.

Daniel Robertson gets his first MLB hit  in the first./JEFFREY S. KINGThere was Matt Joyce, who would bang the occasional ball over the wall. There was Shields, the old bulldog. There was Carlos Pena, especially in that special first season of his. There was Kevin Kiermaier, of course, a player you noticed a long time before the rest of the league did.

There was Rocco and David Price and Alex Cobb. There was Logan Forsythe and Rafael Soriano and Felix Rodney. And you loved them all.

Oh, you were onto these guys early, before the stars became stars, before the platoon players established themselves as ordinary. You discovered these guys, right?

Ah, but who might there be this year? It's early, of course,but there are a few candidates.

1. Mallex Smith, outfielder: I'm not sure Smith will be able to hit enough to stay with the big club, especially when Colby Rasmus returns, but he can play defense and he can run. In short, he's the kind of athlete you'd love to see play the game. In the Rays' 10-8 victory over Toronto, Smith was a force, getting on base all five times, hitting a double in the 11th and scoring the winning run. Yeah, he's the kind of guy you like. If he goes to the minors, he'll be back.

2. Jumbo Diaz, relief pitcher: Some guys, you have to wonder why their nickname is what it is. Not Jumbo. He is a large, large man with large, large potential. If he can keep it up, it's one more arm for Jim Hickey to point toward the mound.

3. Daniel Robertson, shortstop: Robertson represents the future, so it's natural that he would be popular. So far, he's hitting .300, and he's played well in the field. The question is whether he can

Jesús Sucre has filled in well for Rays./ANDREW J. KRAMER

Jesús Sucre has filled in well for Rays./ANDREW J. KRAMER

get enough quality time to improve, something manager Kevin Cash says he will do.

4. Jesus Sucre, catcher: Okay, no one is trying to be blasphemous here. But do you realize that, literally, the new Rays' catcher translates to “Sweet Jesus.” If he and Derrick Norris can form a good platoon system, it will give Tampa Bay one more weapon than it usually has.

5. Tommy Hunter, relief pitcher: Don't look now, but Hunter has a zero ERA. That'll do, Tommy. That'll do.

There will be others. Wilson Ramos, when he finally arrives. Rasmus maybe. There are others on the farm.

Keep this in mind, however. The more the Rays matter, the easier it is to find a personal favorite.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Larry Beller April 12, 2017 at 4:28 pm

I don’t know if he is a favorite but I would like to see a lot more of Daniel Robertson playing shortstop. He is supposed to be great in the field and he had a very good spring at the plate. The big mystery to me is why Tim Beckham is playing shortstop. He has proven so many times that he is an inadequate fielder. How many chances are they going to give this guy? I watched 2 innings of today’s game against the Yankees and Beckham messed up 2 different plays in the same inning which lead to 3 runs being scored.

Reply

Gary Shelton April 12, 2017 at 9:00 pm

I’m not a Beckham guy, either. Never have been. Do you think he’ll finish the year there?

Reply

Larry Beller April 13, 2017 at 12:20 pm

I don’t think he should finish the week at that position. Even Longoria had to say in the press how that error by Beckham should not have happened. If you must have Beckham on the roster use him as DH or utility player. What are they thinking? The Rays are supposed to be about pitching and defense. These decisions are killing them.

Reply

Gary Shelton April 13, 2017 at 8:51 pm

The original plan was for Beckham to be a utility player and Matt duffy to play short.

Reply

Larry Beller April 15, 2017 at 8:25 am

Yes I understand that. But Duffy isn’t coming back anytime soon so the Rays have to readjust and this is not something they do well. The next man up theory would dictate that Beckham would go in. However he’s not able to play the position at the level of competency required for that key spot on a regular basis. Let Robertson, who is a good defensive player, play there regularly and Beckham should continue to be the backup. But no the Rays stubbornly stick to the original backup plan regardless of how many errors and losses pile up due to Beckham’s ineptness.

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