To fans of the Tampa Bay Rays, Ben Zobrist may well be the embodiment of the team’s philosophy. A weapon at multiple positions, Zobrist can hit for occasional power, get on base, and hit while playing excellent defense regardless of where Maddon slots him in the field. Zobrist has both led off and hit cleanup for the Rays, producing regardless of where he finds himself in the batting order. Naturally, he appears all over the list of offensive leaders in the history of the Rays.
Yet, outside of Tampa, Zobrist may well be unknown. While he has made All-Star teams both this season and in 2009, and earned votes for the American League MVP, most fans outside of Tampa may not realize the value Zobrist has on the Rays. Manager Joe Maddon thinks that may be due to those people not getting to see Zobrist playing each day, making Zobrist underrated in the eyes of many in baseball.
“To be with him daily, you get to see it all and all the little things that he does,” Maddon said. “And beyond that, all the team things that he does. This guy is all about winning.”
On a team with stars like Evan Longoria and David Price, as well as phenom Wil Myers, it may be easy to see why Zobrist would be overlooked. He may not have the power of Longoria or Myers, nor the flash of a player like Yunel Escobar, but he may well be the most important part of what the Rays are able to do as a team. His ability to play multiple positions, and hit virtually anywhere in the lineup, allows Maddon to be able to keep everyone involved. That versatility frequently comes into play late in games as well, as Maddon is freer to pinch hit or pinch run, knowing that Zobrist can slide around to wherever he may be needed.
Despite this, Ben Zobrist has not received the recognition that it would appear he should. Even though he may be underrated among fans of other teams, the Rays and their fans know how valuable Zobrist truly is.