In the last 21 years, nine players have regularly called first base their home for the Tampa Bay Rays (and Devil Rays). When compared to the ballclub’s messy turnover rate at catcher, first base has enjoyed relative stability. In fact, selecting the top five Rays to play the position was easy. Ranking their individual performances proved a lot trickier. Relying on Baseball-Reference.com for the numbers and my own opinionated heart for the rest, here are one fan’s picks, from worst to first, for the High-Five of Tampa Bay First Basemen.
Was there ever any doubt? Ladies and gentlemen, Carlos Peña.
No. 1, Carlos Peña
The Tampa Bay Numbers
Home runs: 163
Batting average: .230
Fielding percentage: .994
Signed by the Devil Rays as a free agent in January 2007, Carlos Peña was originally drafted by the Texas Rangers with the 10th overall first-round pick in the 1998 draft. Eventually he made his way to Detroit where he spent four years, hitting 75 HR and contributing 100-plus hit seasons twice to the Tigers’ cause. After an abortive stay in Boston, Tampa Bay welcomed Peña home to Tropicana Field.
From that point on, through five seasons (2007-2010, 2012) as a Devil Ray and a Ray, Carlos Peña owned first base for Tampa Bay. His numbers are simply astounding. Let’s rack up a few and gape.
In ’07 and ’08, Peña finished 9th in AL MVP voting. He won the silver slugger in ’07. He earned an All-Star nod in ’09, the same year he tied Mark Teixeira for the league lead in home runs with 39. His slugging percentage in ’07 was second in the AL. With 121 and 102 RBIs respectively, Peña finished in the top ten in the AL RBI races in ’07 and ’09. Those same two campaigns found Peña leading the league in AB per HR (10.7 and 12.1). And let’s not forget, Peña helped take the Rays to their only World Series appearance in 2008. Hefty stuff, right?
Now, let’s look at Peña’s glove.
Playing 144 games at first base in ’07, Peña led the American League in games played at the position. The following year, Peña simply slammed down a .998 fielding percentage (first in the AL) and took home the Gold Glove, the first player in Tampa Bay’s history, at any position, to do so.
Finally, if any doubt still exists as to who owns this top spot, may I call your attention to Opening Day 2012.
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Against the rival New York Yankees and in his first at-bat back with the Rays, Carlos Peña hit a grand slam off of C.C. Sabathia. Better yet, Peña would later drive in the game-winning run against Mariano Rivera. (You know the Sandman, the first unanimous Hall of Fame vote-getter? Yeah, that guy.)
Case closed. Mr. Peña, we humbly offer you the No. 1 spot on the Tampa Bay High-Five of First Basemen. Thank you so much for the ride.