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Tampa Bay Rays: The Breakout Stars of Team History

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On this date in 2014, the Tampa Bay Rays had their worst record in the American League at 36-49. This season has been an entirely different story, and a major reason why has been the emergence of Logan Forsythe as a star second baseman. Forsythe is well on his way to having his best season in the majors, eclipsing old personal highs in nearly every offensive category. This is exactly what the Rays needed to become more of a threat in the division, but Forsythe isn’t the first to have a breakout season in a Rays uniform. In fact, the Rays have had a long line of players in their history pull off such seasons.

The first two Rays to have notable breakout seasons with the team are familiar names to longtime Rays fans: Aubrey Huff and Randy Winn. Huff wasn’t great in his first full season in the majors in 2001, managing just a .248 average, 8 homers and 45 RBI. However, in 2002 things would change for the better as at the end of the season he had a strong .313 average with 23 home runs and 59 RBI. He was just getting started, delivering 34 homers and 107 RBI in 2003 and then 29 and 104 in 2004. He slipped from there, but retained enough trade value to acquire another player on this list.

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After splitting time between the minors and majors for two years after a decent rookie season in 1998, Winn took a moderate step forward in 2001. He hit .273 with 6 homers, 50 RBI, and a .339 on-base percentage. Then, when the 2002 season arrived, something even bigger clicked for Winn. He batted .298 with 39 doubles, 14 home runs, and 75 RBI. He even stole 27 bases in 35 attempts after swiping just 53 in 91 tries in his first big league seasons. Winn was good enough to make the 2002 All Star team for the American League and remained productive in subsequent years with the Mariners and Giants.

A subtler breakout came from one of the best position players ever for the Rays, Carl Crawford. In his first full season in 2003, he led the AL with 55 stolen bases and hit .281, but he managed just a .309 OBP and a .362 slugging percentage as he neither walked nor hit for power. In 2004, however, he improved to a .296/.331/.450 line while doubling his homer and triple totals, stealing 59 bases, walking more, and striking out less. He was an All-Star for the first time and was emerging as a star in the Tampa Bay outfield.

In more recent history, there is Carlos Pena. In the first part of his career, Carlos Pena was a journeyman, traveling to the Rangers, Athletics, Blue Jays, Tigers, Yankees and Red Sox before winding up on the Devil Rays in 2007. He had shown the ability to hit for power on the Tigers in 2004 when he slugged 27 homers, but had been inconsistent on the whole. On the Rays, however, he became an offensive juggernaut, slamming 46 homers and driving in 121 while hitting .282. Though his batting average would slip, Pena would go on to have several more successful seasons with the Rays, leading the AL in homers in 2010.

After he was acquired in exchange for Huff, Ben Zobrist was given chances to be the Rays’ starting shortstop in 2006 and 2007, but both of them failed to work out as he didn’t hit. In 2008, however, he performed well as a backup, hitting to a .253/.339/.505 line with 12 home runs, and when he was given a chance to become a full-time player in 2009, his numbers soared even more. He was an All-Star and finished 8th in the MVP voting as he hit .297 with 27 homers, 91 RBI, and 17 stolen bases. The Rays made the gutsy call of extending him early in 2010, and that looked brilliant as Zobrist became a staple on the Rays’ roster until he was traded to the A’s this past January.

Before 2015, Logan Forsythe was an unimpressive utility infielder type. He mashed against left-handed pitching in 2012, but he hadn’t hit at all in his other three MLB seasons. However, he was given the opportunity to be the Rays’ starting second baseman following an injury to Nick Franklin, and he has turned into a completely different player. So far this season, he has a .293/.377/.447 line with 15 doubles, 8 homers, 32 RBI, and 7 stolen bases. He has already set career-highs in doubles, homers, and RBI, and he is on pace to shatter the rest all his personal bests across the board.

For every Carl Crawford or Ben Zobrist, there is a Dioner Navarro, who took years to recapture the potential he showed in 2008, or even a Jeff Keppinger, who did nothing after his apparent breakthrough in 2012. We will have to see what happens with Logan Forsythe in the coming years. However, all of the players above faced the same questions that Forsythe is now about whether they could sustain their performances and proved to be critical to the Tampa Bay Rays’ success over the years. We may just be looking at another special case.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays MLB/MiLB Recap: Blake Snell Rolling Again

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