Some may think the Tampa Bay Rays are hurting right now after the departures of Carl Crawford, Rafael Soriano, Joaquin Benoit, Dan Wheeler, Jason Bartlett and many other players who contributed to their 2010 success.
To an extent, this may be true, but for the most part, anyone who believes this must not know the Rays well. They are one of the craftiest franchises in the league, especially when it comes to fielding a team of highly-talented youngsters while working within their tight budget constraints.
Earlier this decade, the Rays were lauded for the heist of Scott Kazmir from the New York Mets for Victor Zambrano. Nearly two years ago, the Rays made another steal involving Kazmir, this time shipping him out to Anaheim for the versatile, youngster Sean Rodriguez. Kazmir now seems as washed up as they come, but on the other hand, Rodriguez, who carries both second base and outfield eligibility in fantasy baseball this year, seems primed to break out.
In his extensive minor league career, which started in 2003 when Rodriguez was an 18-year-old Angels farmhand, ending in 2009 when he finally forced his way into the big leagues with his offense, Rodriguez established himself as a lethal power/speed combo player who can hit for a high average.
By the time he was called up in 2009, Rodriguez left behind a minor-league career in which he hit .281/.380/.501 with 162 doubles, 127 home runs and 104 steals, an average of 18 home runs and 15 steals per year.
As most players do, Rodriguez got better and better as he got along in his climb up the minor-league ladder, culminating in his .294/.397/.608, 30 home run, nine steal line from 2009.
He struggled in two partial season for the Angels in 2008 and 2009, which may have been why the Angels were willing to trade him for a risky pitcher like Kazmir.
Last year with Tampa Bay, the 25-year-old Rodriguez saw extensive playing time at the major league level for the first time, which likely played the biggest part in his .251/.308/.397 line, a major step back from what he showed in the minors. Still, there were encouraging signs in Rodriguez’s season if one looks close enough.
In 343 at-bats, a little more than a half-season, he still showed some of that pop and speed, with nine home runs and 13 steals.
His plate discipline was uncharacteristically bad as he struck out a lot (97) and hardly walked at all (21). Rodriguez was at his best with regular playing time, namely June and July. He struggled more in months when his playing time was more sporadic, but he should improve by leaps and bounds as he sees more time on the field and gets more time to adjust to big league pitching.
In terms of playing time, it shouldn’t be a worry for Rodriguez.
He enters the year as Tampa’s starting second baseman. With shortstop Jason Bartlett now in San Diego, teammate and fellow sleeper candidate Reid Brignac will no longer be forced to split time with Rodriguez, which is a positive sign because it means more opportunity for him to improve his approach at the plate and make necessary adjustments.
Even if he’s not starting at second, he played every position but catcher for the Rays last year, which means he should see regular at-bats, if not regular action at second base. With an ADP of 198.4, many people are taking the gamble on Rodriguez, which isn’t surprising since middle infield is such a thin position and he brings power and speed to the table.
2011 projected stats: .266 AVG, 16 HR, 57 RBI, 11 SB, 69 Runs