1. James Shields – This Rays team will live and die by its pitching. And right now, no pitcher is pitching better than the pitcher formerly known as “Big Blast” James. Some are mocking the success and calling it all luck. We see a pitcher with new mechanics and less reliance on his fastball (that’s a good thing). While it is too much to ask him to keep this up all year, we don’t think it has been a fluke either.
2. Sam Fuld – We have been reluctant to jump too hard on to the Sam Fuld Superman Express. There is just no way he can keep up the pace we saw early on. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be a serviceable, most-days outfielder (good D, good OBP, good speed), and that doesn’t mean he can’t continue to be a fan fave. But are there enough fans to get him to the All-Star game?
3. Evan Longoria – Did you know Dirtbag is still looking for his first hit of the year? There is some fear that the rest of the bats will ease up with the return of Longoria. But that just doesn’t seem like something Joe Maddon would let happen. And even if Longoria is rusty, he will still be better than what has been at third base in recent weeks.
4. Matt Joyce – The prettiest swing on the Rays. Joyce hit his first two home runs of the season this week and looks like he is heating up in the face up regular playing time. ‘BOUT. DAMN. TIME.
5. David Price – King David is still young. But he needs to develop better consistency. And while it is rare that he doesn’t have his best stuff, he needs to learn how to fight through those nights. There is no reason Price should ever be giving up 12 hits in less than 5 innings.
6. Johnny Damon – He is hitting just .253, but he has driven in 20 runs and has filled that role the Rays have missed since Cliff Floyd left town.
7. Ben Zobrist – Is Zorilla back? He leads the AL in RBI, thanks to his 10-RBI day last week. He has 7 home runs and a huge .395 wOBA. The 23 Ks and just 9 walks is a bit worrisome. But heck, it’s Zorilla! He was Sam Fuld before Sam Fuld. It is time he reclaimed his Mojo.
8. Wade Davis – Every good baseball team needs that #3 or #4 starter that rarely dominates, but just always seems to keep the team in the game. We used to hope Jeff Niemann was that guy. Turns out it was Big Dub all along.
9. Casey Kotchman – Nobody questions his glove. But now he is actually hitting. And soon Dan Johnson will be an afterthought.
10. BJ Upton – We want to love you Bossman. We really do. Which is why it is funny when the apologists label us haters. But he just never gives us a chance. Just when we thought he was going to break out this season, his average is back down to .247 and he has just 1 home run in the last 3 weeks.
11. Jeremy Hellickson – The rebirth of James Shields and the consistency of Wade Davis will allow Hellboy some growing pains. The 2-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio is uncharateristic. Once he starts getting the swinging strikes again, we’ll see the dominance.
12. Sean Rodriguez – This guy should be a doubles machine. He does have 9 extra-base hits (maybe he can give one to Reid in exhange for a playmate) but they seem to be too far in between.
13. Kyle Farnsworth – Joe Maddon won’t name him the closer (shhh, don’t tell anybody, but he really is), but so far he has excelled in the role with 5 saves and just 7 baserunners in 10 innings.
14. Joel Peralta – If the bullpen was going to be good this year, the Rays need Peralta and Juan Cruz to step up. Check and…
15. Juan Cruz – check.
16. John Jaso – We can live with the overly mechanical mechanics behind the plate if he is getting on base. But so far he has just 3 walks and his OBP is just .286. It is not easy to make Kelly Shoppach look like a viable option. Congrats Johnny.
17. Alex Cobb – His debut wasn’t pretty, but there were things to like. With a little more seasoning in triple-A, he could be ready next Spring.
18. Kelly Shoppach – A .149 batting average. And that seems good considering he has 20 strikeouts and just 1 walk in 17 games. Just a horrible hitter living on his past reputation and a lack of better options.
19. Cesar Ramos – Meh. Every bullpen needs a reliever that most fans couldn’t identify in a lineup. That’s Ramos’ role.
20. Jeff Niemann – His last start was the lone bright spot. And we are still a little worried that he is not 100 percent healthy. If the Rays decided to trade a starting pitcher are we still sure James Shields is the first to go?
21. Elliot Johnson – A Joe Maddon team will always need an Elliot Johnson. It used to be Willy Aybar, but he fell off the face of the planet. Now it is Johnson’s turn to be the guy who wouldn’t be in the majors with any other team, but with the Rays he can be JoeMa’s errand boy. As in, hey EJ, go play left. Hey EJ, go play short.
22. Dan Johnson – .141/.214/.203 is not going to cut it as a first baseman or a DH. We love The Pumpkin for what he has done. But he is not a big league hitter. And now he is on the verge of losing his first base job to a guy that couldn’t even make the team out of spring training.
23. Andy Sonnanstine – Joe Maddon doesn’t use him for 17 days. Then when the Rays needed a starter, they turned to Alex Cobb. And in relief of Cobb, Sonny helped blow a 5-0 lead. You have to wonder if he is still in the majors with any other team.
24. Adam Russell – He actually hasn’t been terrible, but Joe Maddon hasn’t used him in high-leverage spots either. His ERA is 2.53 in 10.2 innings. But a guy with his stuff should have more than 4 strikeouts and fewer than 6 walks.
25. Reid Brignac – The California League was the worst thing that ever happened to Briggy Baseball. Because of all those small ballparks, Brignac still fancies himself a power hitter, and the result is the most at bats in baseball without an extra-base hit. The Rays don’t need him to hit home runs. But they need some more singles and doubles. He is hitting .212.
26. Brandon Gomes – His triple-A numbers were delightful. But he is also now the seventh arm in a seven-arm bullpen. When you rank behind Andy Sonnanstine, that’s not good.
27. Felipe Lopez – C-ya. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.
28. Jake McGee – We questioned his inclusion on the roster at the end of Spring Training. Moving from the rotation to the bullpen should be easy, but it isn’t for some. McGee looks like the guy that needs 20 minutes of warm-up pitches before he can unleash his heater with authority.