Ben Zobrist: What in the World Has Gotten into Him?
Ben Zobrist played his college ball at little-known Dallas Baptist University, and was born in an obscure town in Illinois known as Eureka.
The name of the unknown town is fitting, because no one really knows who Ben Zobrist is, but whenever they glance at the numbers that Zobrist has been putting up so far in 2009, they surely say "wow."
The problem with Zobrist is that he remains a relatively unknown player from a small market team. In fact, he was not even a full-time starter a few weeks ago.
But as injuries have piled up for the Tampa Bay Rays thus far, so have opportunities for some of its players, and Zobrist has certainly made the most out of them this season.
Injuries to fellow infielders Akinori Iwamura and Jason Bartlett have opened the door for Zobrist, and he has broken it down repeatedly.
He has already set single-season career highs in several categories (doubles, RBI, stolen bases), and the rest are sure to fall as his at-bats increase.
His current line is impressive to say the least: .311 BA, 12 HR, 35 RBI, 7 SB, .425 OBP, .675 SLG, 1.101 OPS.
He is out-performing several superstars already. He has more home runs than Dustin Pedroia and Brandon Phillips, more walks and RBI than Derek Jeter, and a better batting average than all three.
He is out-performing "breakout" player Stephen Drew by a wide margin (Drew missed significant time due to injury), and is making Michael Young and Jimmy Rollins look somewhat average as well.
He has been a vital bat in the Rays' lineup, which has seen B.J. Upton and Dioner Navarro struggle, as well as the aforementioned injuries to both starting middle infielders.
But the key question is, can Zobrist maintain this torrid pace?
He is on pace to hit over 30 home runs and drive in over 90 men this season, a far cry from his career home run and RBI totals of 27 and 92.
And with Jason Bartlett expected to return to action next week, will there be enough at-bats for Big Ben?
Odds are there will be enough at-bats to go around, due to Iwamura's season-ending injury and the American League's designated hitter being in place.
Zobrist can fill in admirably at shortstop, second base, or the outfield, so Manager Joe Maddon will likely have room for the man responsible for 11.4 runs created per game.
In a season filled with interesting story lines from around the league, what can be better than an unknown guy like Zobrist blossoming right before our eyes? All-star voters need to start paying attention to this guy and get him the votes he deserves.
Not to mention fantasy baseball owners, who need to pick up Zobrist as soon as possible (I did a few weeks ago, and couldn't be happier).
If the Rays can maintain their success from 2008, look for Zobrist to be a key part of the ride.
An unknown guy with a unique name from a funny-sounding town. Let's hope a few more pages can be added to the Ben Zobrist story before it's all said and done.
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