Tampa Bay All-Star second baseman Ben Zobrist came into 2009 with little fanfare and even less chance of getting steady at-bats. After all, the Rays already had two solid middle-infielders in Jason Bartlett and Akinori Iwamura and an outfield that featured B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford and the Gabes (Kapler and Gross) platooning in right-field. Zobrist had shown good pop in a limited trial during 2008 (12 HRs in 198 ABs), but the utility man didn’t figure to play more than a few times a week for the reigning AL champs.
Yet despite all these hurdles, Zobrist kept hitting whenever he got the chance, and as luck would have it the Gods of Baseball decided to give the former Astros farmhand a chance to shine. When Iwamura went down with a knee injury in late May, Zobrist became the Rays’ everyday second baseman and quickly proved that he had deserved a starting role all along; the legend of “Zorilla” was finally born.
The 28-year-old, who once got more recognition for his wife than his play on the field, is now one of the game’s rising stars and a favorite in fantasy baseball circles. Zobrist is capable of playing second and shortstop as well as any of the three outfield positions, making this jack-of-all-trades nearly indispensable to Tampa Bay. In addition to his versatility, Killer-Z also wields a mean stick at the dish.
Coming into the All-Star break Zobrist was hitting .297 with 17 HRs and 52 RBIs in only 246 ABs. The switch-hitter also shows a keen eye at the plate, drawing 49 walks against 55 Ks, leading to his robust .414 OBP. Zobrist has even developed as a base-stealer, swiping 11 bags while only getting caught three times. The pride of Eureka, Illinois is second in the league in SLG (.598), third in OBP and second in OPS (1.012). Is there anything on a baseball diamond this guy can’t do?
As the season progresses, this former 6th-round pick continues to develop into one of the best all-around talents in the game. The addition of Zobrist to the everyday lineup has reignited the Rays, helping them recover from a slow start and stay in contention in the brutal AL East. At 48-41, Tampa Bay is only 6 1/2 games back in the division and 3 1/2 games behind New York in the wild card race.
The Rays, already one of baseball’s deepest teams, continue to show that they have one of the best farm systems and scouting departments in the game today. Last year’s World Series runner-ups are even better this season with baseball’s biggest surprise leading the charge.
If Zobrist can prove that the first half of the season was no fluke and return the Rays to the post-season he will likely find himself in the AL MVP discussion at the end of the year. Not bad for a guy that once got traded for Aubrey Huff and came into the season with a career .222 average.
The Zorilla strikes again.
Filed under: AL East, Baseball, fantasy baseball | Tagged: akinori iwamura, AL East, aubrey huff, B.J. Upton, ben zobrist, Boston Red Sox, Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, gabe gross, gabe kapler, houston astros, jason bartlett, julianna zobrist, New York Yankees, tampa bay rays, zorilla |