Inbox: Lee destined for The Show this season?
Beat reporter Bill Chastain answers questions from Rays fans
I hear a lot of talk about middle infielders, but no one is mentioning Hak-Ju Lee. Will he have a chance to make the big leagues this year?
-- Billy D., Arcadia, Fla.
Lee is in the mix, but I would consider him a long shot. MLB.com ranks the South Korean shortstop as the organization's No. 5 prospect. Had torn ligaments in his left knee not forced him to miss most of the 2013 season, he might have already reached The Show. Unfortunately for Lee, he did suffer the injury, which served as a major setback.
The Rays have a competitive situation in their middle infield this spring, with shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera looking like the only lock. Also in the fray are Tim Beckham, Logan Forsythe, Nick Franklin, Alexi Casilla and Jake Elmore. I would say the spots are up for grabs, so it should be interesting and I'm intrigued to see how Lee looks.
I liked former manager Joe Maddon, but I thought he got a bit too much credit for being a genius. I think many fans and some of the players will be glad to see a more stable lineup and fewer silly theme trips and gimmicks in the clubhouse. Am I wrong? Evan Longoria batting third every day is a good start.
-- Kyle E., Bradenton, Fla.
I believe Maddon should be remembered for having done a wonderful job. Remember, he helped change the culture of a team that had never put together a winning season. Among the many nice qualities of Maddon was the fact he remained consistent. He never wavered from being the positive guy, which seems to be his nature. Having said that, I believe change will be good for the team and Maddon. After a while, the message seems to go stale no matter who is delivering it. I do believe some felt too much of the credit went to Maddon and not enough to the players, but Maddon was never the guy saying he deserved the credit.
Now we have Kevin Cash, who brings an unbridled enthusiasm to the team, albeit no managing experience. I think it's an exciting time to be a Rays fan and to embrace the changes. Change is good. Maddon would be the first to tell you so.
Ever since Longoria signed his extension, he hasn't done much. Do you think he's in the midst of a career slide? If not, do you think he will ever become the Hall of Fame-type player that he looked like he would become when he first came into the league?
-- Clay T., Sarasota, Fla.
Longoria signed a six-year, $100 million contract extension in November 2012, which included a 2023 club option. All he's done since is play in 322 of the team's 324 games. That's pretty impressive when the rap on Longoria used to be his health. While he might not have posted Superman numbers the past two seasons, they have been solid numbers. Longoria still has what it takes to be one of the best players in the game.
Last season, Longoria expressed frustrations on several occasions that he had simply not experienced the feeling that put him into a sustained groove. He further went on that nobody was more frustrated about his production than he was. As for what's ahead for Longoria, I'm still convinced this is a Hall of Fame-type player, and the coming years should prove that.
I think the Rays' offense is going to be a lot better this season based on the production from the team's catchers alone. Last season, the tandem of Jose Molina and Ryan Hanigan produced 89 hits between them -- .198 combined average -- with five home runs and a grand total of 44 RBIs. I'm hoping Rene Rivera might be the answer to rejuvenating our offense. What do you think?
-- Jose A., Tampa, Fla.
Hanigan and Molina were strong defensively, but I've got to agree with you. If Rivera can get anywhere near to what he did offensively last season, Tampa Bay's offense will get a much-needed boost from a dead spot in the order. The Rays are way overdue to get a break at catcher.
Tropicana Field is a different place than any other field in baseball. Why then isn't it more of a home-field advantage?
-- Ken S., Tampa, Fla.
Yes, the Rays did have a losing record at home in 2014 (36-45), but that was the first losing record the team has had at home since 2007 (37-44). Since 2007, Tampa Bay has gone 338-229 at home, with last season being the club's only losing season at home. Thus, Tropicana Field appears to be a home-field advantage. It didn't used to be, which I suspect had something to do with the number of games players had played at The Trop.
Yes, getting acclimated to a ballpark takes time, and back in the day, veteran players on opposing teams had, ostensibly, logged a number of games under the Trop's Teflon-coated fiberglass roof. Meanwhile, young players on the Rays -- particularly back in the Devil Rays days -- were new to Tropicana Field and domes in general. That's my best theory.