Weeks Jr: “I Want to Bring a Championship to Tampa”

Learning a brand new position, after following an awkward outfield campaign in 2016 with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Rickie Weeks Jr. went from “stud” to “dud” at seemingly the snap of a finger. Known as a superstar second baseman in Milwaukee, the 2011 All-Star signed with the Seattle Mariners in order to see a platoon role before heading to Arizona, where he hit .239 with 9 homeruns in Chase Field, one of the more hitter-friendly ballparks.

Weeks Jr. was beyond terrible defensively after being shifted to the outfield for the first time in his career, and just when it seemed that he was being pushed out of baseball, he took his best offer; a minor league deal with the Tampa Bay Rays.

MLB: Spring Training-Tampa Bay Rays at Baltimore Orioles

A non-roster invite, especially for a guy who once hit 29 homeruns in a single season at the Major League level isn’t exactly enticing. However, when you’re given some sort of opportunity, and it’s likely your last, you siege it. That’s exactly what Weeks Jr. did. He saw a small window of opportunity and took full advantage of it.  For a team that ranked last in on-base percentage in 2016, Weeks Jr. has led the team in on-base percentage for the spring at .325, while posting a stellar .947 OPS to go along with it.

Hitting .270 with 3 homeruns, he has even impressed defensively, as he quickly adapted to a new position to give Tampa Bay a platoon option with Logan Morrison at first base. Weeks Jr. thrives against lefties (which the East is full of), and Morrison thrives against righties, proving that this could be a perfect combination.

Calling his clubhouse presence “off the charts”, Rays manager Kevin Cash said his biggest strength is more than likely his clubhouse attitude and work ethic. While most guys see they’re likely on the roster and goof off, Weeks was serious his entire time on the field, setting a fantastic example for these prospects.

Heading into spring training, there were six players that were guaranteed a spot on the active roster: 3B Evan Longoria, Closer Alex Colome, CF Kevin Kiermaier, 2B Brad Miller and SP’s Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer. With everyone else having to work their way into their role, Weeks Jr. has proved to Tampa that he still belongs in the majors, and is finding himself on the Opening Day roster.

After being informed on his future with the club, he was quoting saying that “this is one of those things where I’m happy and blessed to be in the position I’m in, but the next step is the real world. I want to win games and bring a championship to Tampa.” Tampa could make a run for a wildcard slot, with Boston at the helm, but with the pieces they have put together, is it enough? Let’s take a look at their projected 40-man roster:

OPENING DAY ROSTER

ROTATION: 
1. Chris Archer
2. Jake Odorizzi
3. Alex Cobb
4. Blake Snell
5. Matt Andriese
LINEUP:
CF Kevin Kiermaier
SS Tim Beckham
3B Evan Longoria
2B Brad Miller
LF Corey Dickerson
1B Rickie Weeks Jr.
RF Steven Souza Jr. 
C Derek Norris
DH Logan Morrison
BULLPEN:
Alex Colome (Closer)
Erasmo Ramirez
Tommy Hunter
Xavier Cedeno
Danny Farquhar
Austin Pruitt
Jumbo Diaz
BENCH: OF Mallex Smith, UTIL Nick Franklin, C Jesus Sucre, OF Peter Bourjos 
DL: RHP Brad Boxberger, LF Colby Rasmus, RHP Kevin Gadea, RHP Nate Eovaldi, RHP Shawn Tolleson, SS Matt Duffy, C Wilson Ramos
Rest of the 40-man roster:
1. RHP Chase Whitley
2. RHP Jaime Schultz
3. RHP Jose DeLeon
4. RHP Ryan Garton
5. INF Daniel Robertson 
6. C Curt Casali
7. C Luke Maile 
Ten outside shots at 40-man roster: SS Willy Adames, 1B Jake Bauers, 1B Casey Gillaspie, OF Kevin Padlo, LHP Justin Marks, C Michael McKenry, RHP Cory Rasmus, RHP Andrew Kittridge, LHP Jose Alvarado, LHP Ryan Yarbrough  
Some have surprised in the Grapefruit League, such as Jesus Sucre taking over the backup spot for catchers. He will likely find himself back in AAA when All-Star Wilson Ramos returns from injury, giving Tampa a deadly bat and nice frame behind the plate. The recently acquired Peter Bourjos will also likely find himself back in the minor leagues, or even dealt again when Rasmus is healthy. Rasmus will assume the LF role, moving a defensive liability in Corey Dickerson to DH. Brad Miller and Evan Longoria are both coming off of career years, where both had 30-homerun campaigns. When the bullpen is completely healthy, they have three All-Star closers (Colome, Boxberger, Tolleson) and Erasmo for long relief. Cedeno’s a great LHP option, with Jumbo Diaz and Tommy Hunter surprisingly finding themselves as a big piece of Tampa Bay’s puzzle.
Tampa has never had a World Series ring to their name, as its sole sports championships are from the 2002 Buccaneers and 2004 Lightning. They had a magical run in 2008, after finishing dead last in 2007, where they made their only World Series appearance, falling to the Philadelphia Phillies. Can they find that magic back? Rickie Weeks Jr. assumes that they can.
(Photo Credits: Getty)
Jameus Mooney, editor at the Athlete’s Hub. Follow me on Twitter: @TheJameus, Follow us on Twitter, @HubofAthletes
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