Because I don't get enough negative comments as it is, I have decided to come to the defense of the most beleaguered member of the Detroit Tigers. With Nate Robertson and Fernando Rodney long gone and Brad Penny buying the Japanese version of Rosetta Stone, the mantle has undoubtedly fallen to Ryan Raburn.
Long hated on because of his questionable defense and large strikeout numbers, Raburn finds himself in a unique position this spring. He has never entered a season with a chance to win an everyday job, as he has been typecast as a utility man for the majority of his career.
Though he will face tough competition from Ramon Santiago this spring, there is reason to believe that the job will be his. Should he win the job, I don't think that an All-Star nod is out of the question.
Here are six reasons why Ryan Raburn will win the everyday job at second base and will make his first appearance as an All-Star in 2012.
Anyone who has ever been around the game of baseball will tell you that one of the hardest things to do is to perform when you are not receiving regular playing time.
To this point in his major league career, Raburn has never received 500 at-bats in a season. There have been stretches where he has played every day, but he has never had a permanent job, and the regular at-bat that come with it.
If Raburn were to win the job out of camp, the consistency that the job would provide him with would help his game immeasurably. One of his biggest bugaboos to this point has been putting the ball in play. He has struck out more than 200 times over the past 2 seasons.
Receiving regular at-bats should greatly increase his contact percentage, allowing him to capitalize on his career .328 average on balls put in play.
Even his staunchest critics will admit that Raburn possesses legitimate power. He has averaged 15 home runs over the past 3 seasons despite being a part time player. Raburn slugged .456 for his career and .533 in 2009.
Left field, though not a designated "short porch," is very reachable at Comerica Park. Inserting Raburn's pop into the lineup on a day-to-day basis should give the Tigers home run threats throughout the order. He could easily put up 25 home runs in a full season's work.
Everybody has a favorite memory of a defensive mishap by Raburn. Its no secret that he lacks a gold glove at multiple positions. However, being given the ability to focus solely on his defense at second base should allow him to develop into an adequate fielder at the position.
While his poor play in both the outfield and the infield has given pundits plenty of ammo to use against him, his split focus is the primary reason that he is a liability. He will never be Roberto Alomar at second, but being forced to spend half of his practice time shagging fly balls certainly did not help him field grounders.
He has shown the ability to make nifty and hustle plays so far in his career. A little patience and a lot of undivided practice could go a long way towards him being able to make the sure-handed play.
As of right now, Raburn would be slotted to hit ninth in the Tigers' potent offense. This means that hitting in front of him will be Delmon Young, Alex Avila, Jhonny Peralta, and whomever the DH will be.
These are all middle-of-the-order hitters on most teams. Raburn is going to come up with runners on base, all the time.
With all of these great hitters batting in front of Raburn, it puts him in somewhat of a bottom-of-the-order clean-up type of role. Quite frankly, 70-85 RBI's are not out of the question. He will be receiving plenty of pitches to hit from pitchers not wanting to walk him before reaching the top of the order.
He will also be in a great position to steal bases and score runs. Far from a speedster, Raburn is a capable baserunner and base stealer.
If Ryan is able to reach, Austin Jackson will be doing a lot of bunting allowing the big boys behind him to drive in runs. 20 stolen bases and 75 runs are certainly attainable. Those numbers could put him in the All-Star conversation.
There are three givens when it comes to second base on the AL All-Star team. Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler are pretty much locks when it comes to making the team.
History, however, suggests that Kinsler will be injured and unable to play in the game, and one of the other two will likely back out, as is the new social norm.
With that being said, Raburn has just as good of a shot at the team as anyone else. Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson are injury prone and inconsistent. Jason Kipnis and Dustin Ackley are young and are likely to face ups and downs during the first part of the season.
The path is clear for Ryan to make the team if he performs like I think he is capable of. He also brings the versatility of being able to play the outfield, something that may endear him to AL skipper Ron Washington.
If there is one thing you can tell from watching Ryan Raburn play, it's how badly he wants to be great.
There have definitely been moments in his career that have left him the laughing stock of baseball. These moments have not paralyzed him however, as you can tell they have only driven him to get better. He is a hard worker and a gritty gamer.
Baseball, much like life, rewards those type of people more often than not.
Raburn has the complete confidence of manager Jim Leyland, something that few players manage to attain. This says a lot about Ryan's character and work ethic. He may not break camp as the sole holder of the job, but this is the year he wins it.
By May 1st, look for Leyland to be penciling in number 25 everyday.
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