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Ben Zobrist Headlines the 2014 Rays Awards

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This afternoon, the Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America named its 2014 awards for the Tampa Bay Rays. The 2014 Rays awards included some obvious players and some less clear ones, but overall it features an interesting group of players, all of whom excited this season and will shape the Rays’ present and future.

Winning the Rays Most Valuable Player award, now known as the Don Zimmer Award, was Ben Zobrist. Zobrist has showed the last couple of years that his power is unlikely to return to its previous levels, but that doesn’t even matter when you’re doing as many things to help the team as he does. Zobrist has hit to a .268/.353/.394 line (115 OPS+) with 32 doubles, 10 homers, and 47 RBI while seeing time at second base, left field, shortstop, right field, and centerfield. He has been the team’s most reliable hitter since returning from a dislocated thumb at the end of May, and the fact that he has done so while moving around to help the team is incredible.

Zobrist just barely edged out Jake McGee and Evan Longoria for the award, but Longoria did manage to come away with the Paul C. Smith Champion Award for professionalism. It is nice to see Longoria playing better after how much he struggles much of the year, and hopefully after a more symbolic award this year, he will be in greater contention for the team MVP in 2015.

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The team’s top rookie, meanwhile, was Jake Odorizzi, who beat out Kevin Kiermaier. We never would have thought it when Odorizzi struggled so much the second time in opposing batting orders at the beginning of the season, but he has delivered a strong initial season in the big leagues. He is 11-12 with a 3.98 ERA and a 171-56 strikeout to walk ratio in 165 innings pitched, with that ERA going down to 3.41 since May 8th. Congratulations to Odorizzi, and he could very well be a strong part of the Rays’ rotation for years to come.

Now to the minor league awards. The organization’s MVP was Johnny Field, who came out of nowhere to unceasingly impress between Low-A Bowling Green and High-A Charlotte. The 22 year old centerfielder hit to a .300/.376/.488 line in 531 plate appearances, drilling 36 doubles, 8 triples, and 12 home runs while driving in 58 and stealing 23 bases. We will have to see how he does at higher levels, but the Arizona product has certainly done his best to catch our attention.

A prospect we have heard a little more about, Blake Snell, won the Pitcher of the Year award. Snell also split time between Bowling Green and Charlotte, going 8-8 with a 3.19 ERA and a 119-56 strikeout to walk ratio in 115.2 innings pitched. Included in his year was a rain-shortened no-hitter. Snell began getting his control in order this year, cutting his walks from 6.6 per 9 last year to 4.4, and he took off as he did so.

Jacob Faria also received the Erik Walker Community Champion award for having good sportsmanship, being a great teammate, and making an impact in the community. Faria surely make an impression to receive the award, and it is even sweeter that he is getting it in his breakout year in the minor leagues. Faria went 7-9 with a 3.46 ERA and a 107-32 strikeout to walk ratio in 119.2 IP for the Hot Rods this season.

To wrap up the general awards, Thomas Coyle was the top baserunner, Adam Liberatore was the top reliever, and Justin O’Conner was named the best defensive player. High-A was a challenge for Coyle at the plate, but you can’t argue with his 30 stolen bases in 34 attempts. Liberatore has some other lefties ahead of him on the depth chart, but his 1.66 ERA and 86-15 strikeout to walk ratio give him a chance to make the Rays’ 40-man roster nonetheless. O’Conner, meanwhile, accompanied his .278/.316/.466 line at the plate with a strong 55% caught stealing rate behind it.

In terms of the full-season team MVP awards, Mikie Mahtook took home the honor from Durham, Ryan Brett was Montgomery’s best, Patrick Leonard distinguished himself from Charlotte, and Kean Wong was acknowledged from Bowling Green. Mahtook rebounded from a couple of iffy years with a .292/.362/.458 line with 33 doubles, 12 homers, 68 RBI, and 18 stolen bases. The Rays have a crowded outfield picture, but Mahtook will be a part of it soon. Brett is Nick Franklin‘s top competition for the Rays’ second baseman of the future after he hit to a .303/.346/.448 line with 25  doubles, 8 homers, 38 RBI, and 27 stolen bases. Leonard hopes to be the next impact acquisition from the James Shields trade after he hit to a .284/.359/.448 line with 26 doubles, 13 homers, 58 RBI, and 14 stolen bases without getting caught. Finally, Wong was one of the youngest players on the Hot Rods but you wouldn’t know it from his .306 average this season.

From the short season teams, Hunter Lockwood was the Hudson Valley MVP, Brett Honeywell separated from the pack at Princeton, Henry Centeno stood out for the GCL Rays, Angel Perez can be marked down as the name to watch from the DSL Rays, and Oscar Rojas earned recognition from the VSL squad. Lockwood may have the best raw power in the system and showed it off with a .266/.313/.494 line with 13 homers this season. Honeywell’s professional debut was incredible as he went 2-1 with a 1.07 ERA and a 40-6 strikeout to walk ratio in 33.2 innings pitched. What Honeywell did not do, though, was lead his league in ERA–Centeno did that with a 1.50 ERA and a 51-11 strikeout to walk ratio in 54 IP. Perez hit to a .290/.373/.378 line with 18 stolen bases while Rojas had a .282/.318/.400 line, also with 18 steals.

These 2014 Rays awards featured a nice combination of stars, top prospects, and breakout players we had not heard of before, and it will be interesting to see where everyone goes from here.

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