Inbox: Can Zobrist be an All-Star?
Beat reporter Bill Chastain fields questions from fans
Do you think Ben Zobrist will settle into a regular position this year? I feel he could be an All-Star at second base or right field if he could settle into either role. I know manager Joe Maddon likes to use Zobrist as a utility player, but couldn't his offense erupt if he could settle in on defense?
-- Eric G., Fremont, Neb.
Zobrist has always liked playing different positions, so I don't think changing positions affects his offense. But I could see him settling in at second this season, based on the fact that he's a really good second baseman and that Matt Joyce will likely be the everyday right fielder -- or darn close to it.
There might be times when the switch-hitting Zobrist will slip out to right on a night when a tough lefty starts for the other team. Otherwise, I believe Zobrist will be at second base on most days. And I agree with you, he is an All-Star.
Mike Mahtook was included in MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects list this year and is set to begin his Minor League career. If B.J. Upton, who becomes a free agent next winter, doesn't raise his batting average and ability to go deep, do you think that Mahtook can replace him in 2013 in the Rays' outfield?
-- Lucas B., Gdansk, Poland
The way Mahtook played in the Arizona Fall League, I certainly wouldn't write off his chances. But he has not been in professional baseball too long, so I think the odds of him reaching the Major Leagues in 2013 are remote.
Carlos Pena faces the same defensive shift that Mark Teixeira faces. Teixeira said he will work on bunting this spring to try to counter the shift. Shouldn't Pena consider doing the same?
-- Lloyd K., Sarasota, Fla.
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We've already seen Pena bunt when facing the shift, which he did several times in 2010 before leaving the Rays, so I wouldn't be surprised to see him drop down a few bunts this season, too. Based on the frustration of facing that shift, I would also expect Pena to try and hit the other way on occasion as well.
Here is my lineup for Opening Day: Desmond Jennings (left field), Upton (center), Evan Longoria (third base), Pena (first), Zobrist (second), Luke Scott (designated hitter), Joyce (right field), Jose Molina (catcher) and either Sean Rodriguez or Reid Brignac (shortstop). If I were Maddon, I would be licking my chops to put together a lineup every night with all that talent. What do you think?
-- Ryan S., Valrico, Fla.
As all Rays fans know, Maddon likes to use a lot of different lineups. However, I think this year he will employ a lineup on most nights that's pretty close to what you are proposing. And I would agree that it is a pretty formidable lineup.
Who is going to be the other catcher on Tampa Bay's Opening Day roster along with Molina?
-- James Y., Wells, Maine
Jose Lobaton is earmarked for that spot right now. I know he didn't have the greatest offensive season last year when he got his chance, but I do believe the left knee injury he suffered affected him.
What makes the Rays think Pena was worth bringing back? I know he's a fan favorite, although I don't understand why. He is the worst starter I've seen at the plate. It's embarrassing to see every team Tampa Bay plays shift the whole infield to the right side of the field only to see Pena continually ground out to first base. Why bring him back with $7 million?
-- Walter C., Apollo Beach, Fla.
I have been getting some mixed reviews about bringing Pena back -- though the majority has been highly positive about the move. I think the signing was a good one. Not only will the Rays get a hitter who can hit 30-plus home runs, but he's also a Gold Glove first baseman and will be a positive influence in the clubhouse.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.