With Akinori Iwamura being traded in the fall, this is one position where the Rays will have a new starter this year. That player seems to be Ben “Zorilla” Zobrist who had his breakout season in 2009 at RF and at 2B when Akinori was out with an injury. It earned him a trip to the all star game and the title of 2009 Rays MVP. The backup will probably be utility infielder Willy Aybar.
Unlike most Rays players Zobrist wasn’t really a top prospect. He actually thought he was done playing baseball after his high school years but was given an offer by Olivet Nazarene University after playing in a showcase for high school seniors. He managed to play well enough to get drafted in the 6th round by the Houston Astros in 2004 and came to the Rays in 2006 in the trade that sent Aubrey Huff away. In his first four seasons he didn’t have a lot of success and lacked power in his bat.
When he ran into Jaime Cevallos at the Showtime Sports Academy in Tennessee before the 2008 season it would end up changing his career. Cevallos is a swing coach, obsessed with the mechanics of the swing and the bat’s trajectory through the strike zone and towards the ball. The numbers from the 2008 season and onwards speak for themselves and this is when Zorilla was born.
Batting stats, past three years:
One of Cevallos’ goals is to have his batters hit for an average of .400. Zobrist has still got a way to go to reach that number. But looking at the power statistics it is no surprise why Maddon wanted Zobrist to be an every day starter, even if he had to trade away a popular player like Iwamura to make that happen.
Fielding stats, past three years:
* For some reason only 19 players are qualified to be ranked by these statistics at 2B, so this is not his rank among all 2Bs, but among the 19 who have started at least 130 games at the position in 2009.
Clearly the area he needs to focus on now that his batting has improved is defense. He has played a lot of different positions in the major leagues and there still seem to be people who are not quite sure if he should be a 2B or be starting in right field where the defense isn’t as important. But he did play second base and shortstop throughout his college career so it is nothing new for him. I think it is going to help him out a lot this season that he goes into spring training knowing that the 2B starting job is his to lose and he can focus 100% on that position and the timing between him and Pena and Bartlett.
I already covered Aybar in the article about first base so I won’t go into too much detail here. Zobrist is clearly the better batter of the two so the only thing I will add is his defensive stats from second base.
Fielding stats, past two years:
The sample size is still pretty small but the most important statistic here is the zone range. A number indicating how many he reaches of the balls that are hit through the zone he is supposed to cover. Here his number is a bit lower than Zobrist’s. He does lack a bit of range and quickness to be really good at second base and is mainly a corner infielder.
Aybar is pretty much a lock as backup infielder and especially for 1B and 3B but the competition for the other backup infield spot during spring training should be interesting. Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez are two names worth keeping an eye on and probably Dan Johnson as well although personally I’m not sure what they needed another corner infielder for. I’ll be writing more about that type of guys as we go through spring training and they get some playing time. At this point I’m going by the official depth chart.