In the summer of 2004 B. J. Upton was called up to play for the Devil Rays as the 19 year old savior of a franchise. That summer, Upton appeared in 45 games, and showed flashes of brilliance. He batted .258-4-12, and stole 4 bases. He also showed that plenty of seasoning was still needed at the lower levels, especially with his glove. In 16 games at shortstop he made 7 errors. In another 13 games at third base he made 2 errors. He was back in the minors in 2005…and again at the beginning of 2006. He continued to hit the ball. He continued to steal bases and he continued to make errors. When Aubrey Huff was traded to Houston, a move to third base provided Upton with an opportunity to make a quick jump to the major leagues. The frustration was growing, both from the fans and from Upton himself. 3 weeks later, Upton has been recalled from Durham to replace the injured Ty Wiggington. This time, unless he falls flat on his face, he is here to stay. Upton will likely play third base for the last two months of the season. He may get an occasional appearance at shortstop. In the off-season, Upton will likely be given one last opportunity to fine-tune his shortstop play and given a chance to be the team’s shortstop in 2007. If that fails, Upton will in al likelihood be the starting thirdbaseman for the Devil Rays next season.
Complicating all of this is Ben Zobrist. With Julio Lugo on his was to LaLa Land to join former teammates Mark Hendrickson and Tobey Hall, Zobrist has been called up to play shortstop, 3 weeks after being acquired from the Astros for Aubrey Huff. In 18 games at Durham, BenZo batted .304-0-6 with 4 stolen bases and solid defensive play. Tonight’s game will be the major league debut for the 25 year old former 6th round pick. The biggest thing that BenZo will add is his ability to get on base. This season, between AA and AAA, he had a 65 to 55 walk to strikeout ratio. No word yet on tonight’s lineup, but eventually, Upton will be the team’s leadoff hitter and Zobrist will fit in nicely to the #2 spot, moving Carl Crawford down to a more natural #3 spot where he can be more productive driving in runs, as well as getting on base in front of the team’s power hitters. Zobrist will probably be given the last 2 months of the season to audition to be the Rays’ 2007 starting shotstop. Zobrist will have to impress. This job will not be handed to him on a silver platter. There are other shortstops in the system and there is the free agent market in the off-season. Andrew Friedman has stated that he wants the Rays to be strong up the middle. Center field is set with Rocco Baldelli and he has already addressed the catcher position with the acquisition of Dioner Navarro. He now needs to figure out who will be the key middle infielders. There are a lot of candidates. Zobrist is being give the first opportunity to grab the job.