Coming into the 2011 MLB season, most fans had noticed only some of the significant differences in the Tampa Bay Rays Roster.
Key players Carl Crawford, Matt Garza, Rafael Soriano, Carlos Pena and Jason Bartlett had departed for other organizations via trades and free agency.
Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon had signed for bargain deals for one season, Ramirez for $2.0 million and Damon for $5.25 million. Both veterans were hoping to make an impact.
At the time, not too many fans noticed the fourth outfielder that had made the roster, 29-year-old Sam Fuld. Fuld was one of the five players that were acquired from the Chicago Cubs in the Garza trade. Fuld made the team to provide a late-inning weapon off the bench, a speedy pinch runner and a possible defensive replacement.
Fuld was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 10, but he has not let the condition keep him from becoming a professional baseball player. The 5'10", 175-pounder attended Phillips Exeter, where he had an outstanding high school baseball career. As a senior, he was named a 2000 Pre-season First Team All-American by Baseball America, USA Today and Fox Sports.
After 94 college teams approached Fuld about playing college baseball, he decided to go to Stanford, where he graduated in 2004. During his four years at there, Fuld became Stanford's and the Pac-10's all-time leader in runs scored (268). Fuld was drafted in the 10th round, 306th overall, by the Chicago Cubs in the 2004 MLB draft.
After working his way through the Cubs minor league system, Fuld collected three 20-steal seasons. In September 2007, he made his major league debut. For the next few seasons, Fuld split time between the majors and the minors and in 2009, Fuld managed a .299 average in 65 games with the Cubs.
After being dealt to Tampa in the offseason, Fuld made the Rays' opening day roster, edging out upcoming prospect Desmond Jennings. After the Rays were swept by the Baltimore Orioles and had already lost the first game of their two-game series with the Anaheim Angels, Fuld got his first start. Fuld went 2-for-3 with a double and a stolen base against the Halos.
Due to Manny Ramirez's recent "retirement" from baseball and Johnny Damon's slow start at the plate and inability to play stellar defense, Fuld got the start in all three games against the Chicago White Sox.
In Saturday's game at Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field, Fuld made one of the best catches in Rays history. With two outs and the bases loaded, Fuld made a backhanded, run-stopping, leaping catch that landed him the best play of the season so far and a weekend Web Gem on Baseball Tonight.
Fuld is making a convincing case to be the Rays' new leadoff hitter. In the Chicago series, Fuld stole four bases from the leadoff spot. His speed makes him a lethal threat for the Rays offense, and his defense in the outfield has been more than impressive this season.
Rays manager Joe Maddon clearly believes in the fearless outfielder and patient hitter. Fuld got the start last night in left field against the Red Sox on one of the biggest stages in all of the major leagues, Fenway Park. Fuld produced in a monumental way and had the best game of his young major league career.
Fuld was 4-for-6 at the plate and came to bat in the ninth inning needing a single to complete the cycle, but instead ripped a double into the left field corner. Fuld got to the majors through his hard work and dedication; it would be tough to imagine him stopping at first if he had the option to help his team.
The speedster also drove in three runs, scored three runs and threw in a diving catch against Dustin Pedroia for the play of the night.
The Rays have struggled in their first 10 games, starting out with a 2-8 record. The team doesn't have the power, leadership or bullpen the club had in 2010 that made it the best team in the AL East. Players like Fuld are what the Rays are built on—the best young talent in the league.
Fuld is a fairly young player that can lead this Rays team and help them get on the right track to the postseason. He has been one of the most exciting players to watch early on in this 2011 season. Only time will tell if his efforts will help spark this Rays team back to the postseason.
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