Tampa Bay is making the best of a tough situation.
At least, that's what I thought when they started using Sam Fuld in the outfield every couple days.
Then I sat down and watched him lead the Tampa Bay Rays to a 16-5 thrashing of the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on national television on April 8th. It's not often that you can truly watch a player and feel the effort he brings to the team.
But Sam Fuld is one of those guys.
The generously listed 5'10" Fuld was a star in high school where he was recruited by an astounding 94 colleges according to the St. Petersburg Times. He chose Stanford and played alongside current major leaguers Carlos Quentin and Jed Lowrie.
The speedy outfielder quickly become the leadoff hitter for college club, batting over .350 his freshman year. In his four years, he was routinely amongst the Pac-10 Conference leaders in hits and was respected by his teammates for his aggressive fielding.
How do guys like these always seem to fall through the cracks? These kind of players, spark plugs as they always seem to be called, are vital to a team's success.
David Eckstein and Craig Counsell are two run-of-the-mill players at first glance. But a little digging will reveal that both of them are two-time World Series champions and each have a World Series MVP Award.
Who has been the best leadoff hitter in the AL East thus far?
Every team needs a spark plug and Sam Fuld has the grit and determination to be just that for the Tampa Bay Rays.
After a 1-8 start, the Rays have won 10 of their last 13. The turning point? It was Fuld's breakout performance (4-6, 3 R, HR, 3 RBI) against Boston.
The Rays have gone from scoring 2.22 runs per game to 4.54 runs per game over that same period. Just like at Stanford, his outfield defense has endeared him to the Rays' ace David Price after an amazing diving catch he had in support of Price's win on Saturday.
It seems like when the leadoff man is able to take the onus of hit production off the bigger bats, great things happen. With an average of .346, no one can deny that Fuld is doing his part.
Ben Zobrist seems to be coming around. BJ Upton is in a nice groove. Even the pitching, supposedly unrelated to hitting, has improved since the Boston breakout. Let's not forget that the best hitter on the team has been out for several weeks, too.
Indeed, thanks to Sam Fuld, Evan Longoria's return could spell an early season surge at Tropicana Field.