Ben Zobrist: Baseball’s Swiss Army Knife

Zobrist is ten feet all, weighs a ton, and breathes fire.

Zobrist is ten feet tall, weighs a ton, invented electricty and breathes fire.

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?

The grass is always greener on the other side, unless Zorilla has been there. In that case the grass is most likely soaked in blood and tears.

The grass is always greener on the other side, unless Zorilla has been there. In that case the grass is most likely soaked in blood and tears.

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.

 

 

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The All-Ugly Team: NL Uggos Edition

Baseball is a beautiful game. The crisp green grass, the blue skies, Randy Johnson’s mullet, 6-4-3 double plays, etc. However, while the sport may be a feast for the eyes, not all baseball players are exactly dead ringers for Fabio. Most fans look at these players and wished their hats covered their entire faces, rather than just the top of their domes. These players are so ugly the ball actually veers of its course as it’s headed towards them. Ladies and gentleman, I give you the ugliest players at every position in the NL!

gorzelannySP: Tom Gorzelanny (Pittsburgh Pirates)–No ladies and gentleman, that’s not Sloth from The Goonies, it’s Pirates lefty Tom Gorzelanny. As if looking like that wasn’t enough, he’s fresh off a season in which he went 6-9 with a 6.66 ERA. WOOF!

ruach2RP: Jon Rauch (Arizona Diamondbacks)–Apparently ole crazy eyes here hasn’t heard of decaf coffee. It’s not Rauch’s pitching prowess that strikes fear into the hearts of opposing hitters, it’s that unflinching stare. Bonus points awarded for the unfortunate attempt at a soul patch.

fasanoC: Sal Fasano (Colorado Rockies)— 6-2″, 250 lbs + massive handlebar mustache=end of story. Fasano is responsible for over 10000 swings-and-misses in his career thanks to that impressive work of facial hair. He might want to consider spending less time grooming and more in the batting cage (.221 career BA).

laroche1B: Adam LaRoche (Pittsburgh Pirate)–Already another Pirate on the list? Apparently the only thing uglier than this team’s win-loss record is it’s players. LaRoche scores big in two categories, disgusting facial hair and Oscar the Grouch-esuqe eyebrows…and this is one of his better pictures.

uggla12B: Dan Uggla (Florida Marlins): His last name is Uggla, is there really anyway he gets left off this list? Even worse than his mug was his performance in last years All-Star game: 3 errors, 0-4, 3 k’s, GIDP. Ouch!

wilson

SS: Jack Wilson (Pittsburgh Pirates): Good lord, the city of Pittsburgh must add an ugliness supplement to its water, because the Pirates sure don’t have many lookers. Ole Jack-O here is sure to be a hit with the ladies due to his goblin-esque appearance. Rumor has it he served as an extra in Lord of the Rings.

lamb

3B: Mike Lamb (Milwaukee Brewers): Mike Lamb was supposed to be the Twins answer at 3B last year, which had been a void since the departure of Tony Batista. Instead he had exactly the same number of HRs as eyebrows (one). The .235 average in ’08 didn’t exactly make him a beauty queen either.

pierre

LF: Juan Pierre (LA Dodgers): Juan Pierre’s head would be just the right size, if he were 4-years-old. Apparently while the rest of his body was growing (including his honey-dew sized adam’s apple) Pierre’s head stayed just the same size. On the plus side, it does make him more aerodynamic for stealing bases.

rjohnson

CF: Reed Johnson (Chicago Cubs): Believe it or not, that’s not a live hamster on Reed Johnson’s chin, it’s actually facial hair–that he keeps there by choice. Granted he only made $1.3 million last year, very little in these tough economic times, but you think he could spring for a Gillette, or even just a pair of scissors. Who knows how many undiscovered animals live in that patch of wilderness on Johnson’s face (7).spilbroghs1

RF: Ryan Spilborghs (Colorado Rockies): Contrary to popular belief, Osama Bin Laden doesn’t live in a hilly area of Afghanistan, he actually plays rightfield for the Colorado Rockies. Where better to hide then on the roster of one the NL’s most mediocre teams? He does swing a mean stick though (.302 career BA).

gross1Utility: Gabe Gross (Milwaukee Brewers): Unlike Dan Uggla who joins this list simply because of his last name, Gabe combines the strength of his last name, Gross, with a head the size of Nadya Suleman’s pregnant belly–making him a true double-threat. Mother’s cover your children’s eyes, especially when this .238 hitter in ’08 comes to the plate.

Special thanks to ESPN.com for all the photos. One can imagine it’s not much fun to photograph these players.