Springtime Storylines: Will B.J. Upton finally break out for the Rays?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  I started with the Yankees, so I bet you thought I’d go Red Sox next, eh kitty cat? But I pulled the string like Johan Santana, didn’t I? Is your mind blown?!

The big question: Will B.J. Upton finally break out?

Just because I don’t have an answer to a question doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of being asked. And truth is, I have no idea if Upton is going to do more in 2010 than he did in what was a very disappointing 2009. Disappointing in part because his 2007 regular season and 2008 postseason were so great. Disappointing because he’s obviously got power, plate discipline, speed and the defensive skills to be a game-changer, yet last year he was utterly flaccid, with the biggest concern being the drastic falloff in his walk rate.

Upton was coming off labrum surgery entering last season and, by all accounts, he’s working his tail off this spring.  If that translates to something approaching his 2007 production the Rays are going to be scary as all get-out. If he puts up another .241/.313/.373, the Rays’ offense — while still impressive — will remain a step or two behind their big brothers in the AL East.

So what else is going on?

  • The acquisition of Rafael Soriano changes the complexion of the Rays’ bullpen.  Soriano split time with Mike Gonzalez as the Braves’ closer last year, but he’s better than a lot of guys other teams will trot out in the ninth this season. He has a lot of mileage on that arm, however — Bobby Cox has a thing for treating relievers with a history of arm trouble as so much Kleenex — but if he stays healthy he moves J.P. Howell, Grant Balfour, Dan Wheeler, Lance Cormier and Randy Choate down in the hierarchy, which improves things nicely;
  • Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena are likely in their last go-around as Rays.  It seems like a foregone conclusion that Crawford will leave via free agency after this season. If you’re the Rays you probably keep him and accept the picks whether you fall out of the race or not. Pena may be a different story. He’s not exactly a sterling free agent candidate — there are a lot of big name first basemen coming available soon — so he could very well accept arbitration if offered.  The Rays will obviously need him in a race, but if they disappoint this year, he could be dealt;
  • Joba and Phil get all the press, but there’s been a much less-publicized fifth starter race in Tampa Bay between Wade Davis and Andy Sonnanstine.  Davis got shelled the one day I saw him this spring, but most folks think that he has the edge. Ahead of them, you can expect James Sheilds and Matt Garza to be solid. Jeff Niemann and David Price have tremendous upside — with Niemann having realized more of his than Price has thus far — so how the Rays pitching fares probably depends a lot more on those two than anyone. If any of them falter, Jeremy Hellickson is waiting in the wings.
  • Wild cards:  Even if Carl Crawford hangs around, it’s not beyond credulity to think that heir apparent Desmond Jennings will see some time in the Rays’ outfield, most likely in right if Matt Joyce and Gabe Kapler can’t cut it.  Late pickup Hank Blalock has turned heads during his brief time in camp and could make the roster, pushing Pat Burrell into a platoon situation at DH and shuffling the Rays bench.  Don Zimmer is still coaching, and it’s been a while since we’ve seen closeups of his ugly mug in the playoffs and, quite frankly, I miss it.

So how are they gonna do?

There are a lot of guys on this team that can be expected to take steps forward this year and none that I can think of who should be expected to take a major step back. Maybe Zobrist. They have a lot of premium talent that is just about major league-ready. Assuming nothing but the positive is a good way to find disappointment in this ugly world, but I think that the Rays are going to be a significantly improved team in 2010, and they were already pretty darn good.

Prediction: Second place in the AL East and Wild Card winners.  That’s right, ahead of the Red Sox in what I think will be the closest race in baseball this year.  Sox fans may now commence their whining. But save some, because I’m doing the Sox preview next and you don’t want to tire yourselves out.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Tuesday’s action

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 24:  Rich Hill #44 of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the third inning of the game against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium on August 24, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images
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Rich Hill made his long-awaited Dodgers debut last Wednesday, out-dueling Giants starter Johnny Cueto. The lefty hurled six shutout innings, yielding only five hits (all singles) with no walks and three strikeouts. Of the 81 pitches he threw, a whopping 32 (39.5 percent) were curves compared to 41 fastballs.

That’s been the trend for Hill over his career, spanning parts of 12 seasons: highly reliant on the curve. It’s worked out well since resurrecting his career last year with the Red Sox and continuing it this season before the Athletics sent him along with outfielder Josh Reddick to the Dodgers on August 1.

As we’ve noted in this space several times, the Dodgers have dealt with more than their fair share of injury woes, including to ace Clayton Kershaw. The club has used 30 different pitchers, including 14 different starters. Yet they enter Tuesday’s game against the Rockies a game and a half ahead of the Giants for first place in the NL West. While the NL East, NL Central, and AL West races aren’t particularly interesting at this point, the NL West division race figures to be one of the most enthralling over the final month-plus of the season.

Hill will oppose the Rockies’ Tyler Anderson at Coors Field in an 8:40 PM EDT start. The second-place Giants will send Johnny Cueto to the hill at home to oppose the Diamondbacks Zack Greinke in a 10:15 PM EDT start.

The rest of Tuesday’s action…

Toronto Blue Jays (J.A. Happ) @ Baltimore Orioles (Ubaldo Jimenez), 7:05 PM EDT

Washington Nationals (Max Scherzer) @ Philadelphia Phillies (Jerad Eickhoff), 7:05 PM EDT

Chicago White Sox (Anthony Ranaudo) @ Detroit Tigers (Daniel Norris), 7:10 PM EDT

Miami Marlins (Tom Koehler) @ New  York Mets (Seth Lugo), 7:10 PM EDT

Minnesota Twins (Andrew Albers) @ Cleveland Indians (Josh Tomlin), 7:10 PM EDT

San Diego Padres (Edwin Jackson) @ Atlanta Braves (Julio Teheran), 7:10 PM EDT

Tampa Bay Rays (Jake Odorizzi) @ Boston Red Sox (Drew Pomeranz), 7:10 PM EDT

Pittsburgh Pirates (Chad Kuhl) @ Chicago Cubs (Kyle Hendricks), 8:05 PM EDT

Seattle Mariners (James Paxton) @ Texas Rangers (Cole Hamels), 8:05 PM EDT

Oakland Athletics (Kendall Graveman) @ Houston Astros (Collin McHugh), 8:10 PM EDT

St. Louis Cardinals (Adam Wainwright) @ Milwaukee Brewers (Wily Peralta), 8:10 PM EDT

New York Yankees (Masahiro Tanaka) @ Kansas City Royals (Edinson Volquez), 8:15 PM EDT

Cincinnati Reds (Tim Adleman) @ Los Angeles Angels (Jered Weaver), 10:05 PM EDT

Tim Tebow’s workout: power, speed but not much else

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Tim Tebow is, as we speak, working out for some 40 scouts from 20 organizations and an untold number of members of the media. So far he has run and jumped and thrown and, in a moment or two, will take his hacks. First BP swings, then live, full-speed BP off of a couple of former major leaguers.

His 60 yard dash time was supposedly excellent. On the 80-20 scouting scale he’s supposedly in the 50-60 range, according to people tweeting about it who know what they’re talking about. The guy is certainly big and strong and in amazing shape and that’s not nothing.

Also this:

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That’s from MLB’s Twitter, which provides us with some more in-action shots.

Here he is playing right field out there in the distance someplace:

UPDATE: Tebow’s workout is over. On the “pro” side, based on the assorted tweets of journalists in attendance, many based on quick conversations with scouts in attendance, Tebow’s power was described as “nuclear,” and graded out at an 80 for at least one scout. That’s as good as it gets. The speed in the 60, as mentioned above, was also excellent.

On the “con” side was his fielding, which was considered sub-par, with a scout saying that his routes were circuitous and inefficient and his arm, while alright, was nothing special, especially for a guy of his obvious physical strength.

As far as non-power hitting goes, it was also not great. His stance was very, very wide and did not leave much room for adjustments, scouts said. This was born out by his being fairly consistently baffled by former big leaguer David Aarsdma’s changeup, at which he swung-and-missed three of four times. He was one for six in simulated at bats against minor league journeyman Chad Smith, with that one hit being a single. He also drew a walk.

Maybe that power — both hitting power and star power — is too great for an organization to ignore. Maybe someone takes a chance. But as a prospect Tim Tebow sure sounds a lot like a big strong fast guy who probably doesn’t have a ton of baseball skills.