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Classic Player Profile: Ben Zobrist

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Perhaps the best player in team history.

Nick Laham/Getty Images

Player: Ben Zobrist

Age: 34 years old, born on May 26th, 1981

Career Span: Drafted in 2004, currently a member of the Cubs (2004-2015, 12 years)

Accolades:

  • Two-time all-star (2009 & 2013)
  • Has received MVP votes three times
  • Numerous minor league awards and honors
  • World Series victory in 2015

Numbers:

TEAM SEASON(S) GAMES PA AVG OBP SLG HR K% BB% wRC+ WAR
Minors 2004-2008, 2014-2015 370 1,666 .318 .428 .456 23 11.8% 15.2% NA NA
TB 2006-2014 1,064 4,478 .264 .354 .429 114 15.7% 12.1% 118 34.6
OAK 2015 67 271 .268 .354 .447 6 9.6% 12.2% 122 0.8
KC 2015 59 264 .284 .364 .453 7 11.4% 11.0% 124 1.4
Career 2006-2015 1,190 5,013 .265 .355 .431 127 15.1% 12.0% 118 36.8

On-Base Machine

(2004-2005)

During the 2004 draft, the Houston Astros selected a 23 year old shortstop out of Dallas Baptist University in the 6th round by the name of Ben Zobrist. It only took a week for Zobrist to sign with the Astros, and he was assigned to Low-A Tri City where he displayed excellent contact and on-base skills as he slashed .339/.438/.463 with 4 home runs.

"Batted .378-8-66 with 22 steals in 60 games. He's a 6-foot-3, 200-pound athlete who switch-hits and has a good approach at the plate. He also shows speed and arm strength." - Baseball America on Zobrist before the draft

It was an excellent start to his pro career, as he led the league in numerous categories, however, he was over a year older than the average player in Low-A. The following year in 2005, Zobrist continued his excellent hitting as he slashed .304/.415/.413 with just 2 home runs in Singe-A. Zobrist was proving to be a fantastic contact hitter, but didn't posses that much power.

Nonetheless, Zobrist was promoted to Advanced-A at the mid-season mark, where he was an on-base machine. Over 180 plate appearances, Zobrist reached base 86 times, resulting in a slash of .333/.475/.496 with 3 home runs over 46 games. Despite his remarkable skills for getting on base, Zobrist was still excluded from Baseball America's top 10 prospects for the Astros (he was ranked 16th), although they did say he had the best strikezone discipline in the system.

Backup Infielder

(2006-2008)

In 2006, Zobrist was promoted to Double-A, where he again showed little intimidation as he slashed .327/.434/.473 with 3 home runs over 83 games. His dominance caught the attention of the Tampa Bay Rays, as they made sure they acquired him, along with a solid pitching prospect, Mitch Talbot as the dealt franchise staple, Aubrey Huff to the Astros.

Draysbay take on the trade:

"Zobrist has average tools, except for power, of which he has none, and will be a high-OBP type guy, nothing wrong with that, while Talbot shows outstanding control to make up for underwhelming stuff." - Patrick L. Kennedy

The Rays then aggressively assigned Zobrist to Triple-A Durham, where Zobrist's on-base numbers dipped, but not by much. After 18 games, the major league trade deadline arrived the Rays traded away their starting shortstop, Julio Lugo, to the Dodgers, opening the door for Ben Zobrist to be promoted.

Zobrist played his first major league game on August 1st, 2006, and faced the Detroit Tigers with Rookie of the Year candidate, Justin Verlander on the mound. Zobrist would go 0-4 that night, and then went 0-3 the following night. Then he went 0-3 once more. It wasn't looking better the night after that, either as the Rays took on Boston at the Trop and Zobrist flew out in his first at-bat.

Zobrist 2006

Zobrist making his major league debut

Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

However, his next plate appearance came during the bottom of the fifth, against Curt Schilling. Zobrist took an 0-1 pitch and blooped to right-center field where it fell in, giving Zobrist the first hit of his career. Two nights later, Zobrist recorded his first career home run, as well as the first multi-hit game of his career as he helped the Rays defeat the Red Sox.

That was the high point of the year for Ben though as he finished having slashed .224/.260/.311 with two home runs over 52 games. In the offseason, the Rays sent the 25 year old Zobrist to the Arizona Fall League, an annual showcase for prospects from around the baseball. Zobrist excelled during his 27 games in Arizona as he slashed .366/.488/.515 with two home runs.

In 2007, Ben Zobrist was the Rays opening day shortstop, but lost his starting job to Brendan Harris, who got off to a very quick start. After only a couple of weeks, Zobrist was optioned to Durham on May 11th when the Rays claimed Josh Wilson off waivers. Zobrist had slashed just .159/.156/.222 during 21 games, shockingly walking zero times.

Back in Triple-A, Zobrist's on-base skills returned as slashed .279/.403/.455, and also showed an increase in power as homered seven times in 61 games. The seven home runs were a new professional high for Zobrist. He returned to the majors on July 30th, replacing Ty Wigginton who was dealt to Houston the night before for Dan Wheeler.

Zobrist 2008

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Unfortunately for Zobrist, his minor league success didn't translate to the majors as he continued his early season struggles. On August 18th, Zobrist was mired in a 3-28 slump, when he was removed from that day's game after sustaining an oblique strain that would end his season.

In 2008, Zobrist was seemingly on his way to a second opening day roster spot before a thumb fracture dashed those hopes. Zobrist was activated in mid-May and spent just a couple of weeks with the team before being demoted, and he was used sparingly during that time, however, he did display his versatility as he played four different defensive positions in seven games.

Zobrist was promoted back up to the majors on June 24th when Jason Bartlett took a few games off for the birth of his son, and Zobrist made the time count. He only played in two games, but he homered in both of them. However, he was sent back down to Durham when Bartlett returned.

Zobrist was once again promoted in early July, and he homered in his first game back, giving him three straight major league games with a home run. However, following that game, Zobrist would record just five hits in his next 40 at-bats. He would be optioned back down to Durham on July 23rd, following a game in which he actually hit his 5th home run of the year.

On August 5th, Zobrist was recalled for a final time in 2008 as was able to stick with the team for the rest of the year. This go around, he did much better. He slashed .230/.288/.486 in 23 before the August promotion, but following it, he slashed .266/.367/.516 over 39 games. In September, he really started to come around as he slashed .390/.469/.927 over the final few weeks of the year and even earned AL co-player of the week honors after homering in the last four games of the season against Detroit.

At the conclusion of the 2008 regular season, the Rays made the playoffs for the first time in the franchise's history. Zobrist was added to the team's postseason roster for the ALDS, but he never made it into a game. Zobrist remained with the team for the ALCS, but was one of the few players not to get a hot bat during the seven game series as he was hitless in five plate appearances.

Zobrist finally recorded his first postseason hit during game one of the World Series against Philadelphia, however it came in a losing effort. He would not record another hit for the remainder of the year, although he did come oh so close to tying game five when he hit a frozen rope right at a fielder during the ninth inning against Brad Lidge.

He also did some nice work in the field.

In total, over the course of 62 games played at the major league level in 2008, Zobrist slashed .253/.339/.505 with 12 home runs, while he also played at six positions.

Zorrilla!

(2009)

Despite his impressive power display in the 2008 season, Zobrist had his doubters, including the much-esteemed former manager of this site:

Hm.

He’s was worth 1 run in the corner outfield, but he’s awful on the infield. I severely doubt his power is legit, but we’ll see. Otherwise I’d rather have Willy.

The season was proven not to be a fluke, though, as Zobrist had retooled his approach and just began to 'swing harder'.

Zobrist didn't get an opening day start in 2009, however he would play in the majority of the first month's games. He even provided a very dramatic moment during that month as he came off the bench to hit a pinch-hit grand slam that erased a 5-2 deficit.

Zobrist's excellent start and forced his way into Joe Maddon's nightly lineup, and he played six different positions over the first two months of the season. Around late May, fate played a cruel hand to Akinori Iwamura, as he was taken out by a vicious takeout slide that ultimately ended his career. With this injury, and Zobrist's hot start, Ben was given the position and he took off.

At the start of play on June 1st, Zobrist was hitting .304/.412/.632 with eight home runs -- incredible numbers considering where he was just two years prior. It was easy to expect those power numbers to diminish, but the numbers that regressed were his average and on-base ones, while Zobrist actually increased his power output as he hit eight more homers over the course of 21 games.

With his incredible versatility, strong character, and tremendous play, Zobrist quickly caught the attention and hearts of all who watched him play. He was eventually nicknamed 'Zorilla,' due to his beastly power during the 2009 season.

When July came around, Zobrist was one of a franchise-record five players to represent the Rays during the all-star game.

Zobrist had one month, August, during the season in which he slumped but he still posted an on-base percentage of .383 during that time, so slump may not be the right word. Unfortunately, his excellent play wasn't enough to carry the team, as they their hopes of making the playoffs slipped away late in the year. He closed out the year with a stellar September, but the Rays finished third in the AL East.

Take a look at his numbers!

AVG OBP SLG HR wRC+ fWAR
2009 Stats .297 .405 .543 27 152 8.6
MLB Rank 47th 11th 19th 37th 6th 1st
Team Hist. Rank 10th 3rd 4th 10th 2nd 1st

Most Valuable/Versatile Player

(2010-2014)

The following year, Zobrist retained his starting spot on the team and Iwamura was traded in the offseason, leaving the second base job fully open. During the month of April, Zobrist got off to a slow start, both in the average and on-base department, but found his groove in the following months. Also during the month of April, Zobrist signed a contract extension with the team that bought out his arbitration years as well as his first two years of free agency, and included team options for 2014 and 2015 with the total contract being worth around $30 million over five years.

From May 1st to July 1st of 2010, Zobrist slashed .320/.404/.442 with five home runs. Four of those home runs came over the span of 10 days, with the first one actually being his first of the season on May 20th. It was downhill from there though for Zobrist as he fell in a season-long slump, slashing .175/.308/.284 with five home runs over the final 75 games.

Despite Zobrist's weak second half, the 2010 Rays were arguably the best team in baseball that season, and they made it to the postseason as the Division champions. However, they ran into the buzz-saw that was Cliff Lee, with Zobrist being one of the only player on the team to have a decent series, slashing .300/.364/.550 over the five games.

In 2011, Zobrist got off to another slow start again for the first 21 games of the seasons. However, as the team arrived at the Minnesota Twins glamourous new ballpark, Zorilla came out to play.

The first night he had a triple, then during a doubleheader the following day, Zorilla ran wild over the Twins' pitching, hitting a combined 7-10 over the two games with two home runs, three doubles, and a stolen base. He also set a team record, with eight runs batted in during the first game. Zobrst was fine from that point on, and put a fantastic year for the team as he slashed .268/.353/.469 with 20 home runs over 156 games despite the early-season slump.

The Rays reached the postseason once again 2011 following an incredible September run, but for the second year in a row, Cliff Lee and Rangers ended their season (Zobrist recorded a hit in each game of the series, all singles).

In 2012, Zobrist got off to a seemingly-poor start, but his struggles contained a lot of bad ball-in-play luck while his on-base game remained superb. After two months of play, Zobrist had slashed .203/.341/.397 with six home runs over 49 games.

Then, from the beginning of June to the season's end, Zobrist was excellent slashing .299/.393/.505 with 14 more home runs over 108 games. Late during the season, towards the end of July, management finally decided to give up on the trio of Sean Rodriguez, Elliot Johnson, and Reid Brignac at short and move Zobrist back at his original position where he performed excellently.

In 2013, Zobrist had another prototypical year, putting up respectable numbers on all fronts as he finished the year having slashed .275/.354/.402 with 12 home runs over 157 games. Zobrist was moved back to second base at the season's beginnings thanks to the acquisition of Yunel Escobar's. Zobrist excelled at the position and earned a nomination for the AL Gold Glove, finishing runner up to Dustin Pedroia. Zobrist was also the Rays' lone all-star game representative, his second time being selected.

In 2014, Zobrist once again exhibited all the traits that have made him one of the best players in the league, as he played five different positions brilliantly, and once again hit over 10 home runs for the seventh year in a row. Zobrist slashed .272/.354/.395 over 146 games.

Winning a Ring

(2015)

Going into 2015, Zobrist had finally reached the last option year of his contract with the Rays. As December passed, he prepared for his 10th year with the team.

However, on January 10th, the Rays traded Zobrist, along with Escobar to the Oakland Athletics for John Jaso, Boog Powell, and Daniel Robertson. On opening day, 2015, Ben Zobrist was the Athletics starting left field, and even homered in his debut. The good times in Oakland were brief though, as just a few weeks later, Zobrist suffered a knee injury that would require surgery. That injury sidelined him until the end of May.

Zobrist slumped in his returnover the first 17 games, hitting just 10-59; however, after June 14th, he went on a run where he slashed .325/.416/.548 over 36 games. Then on July 28th, with the A's out of the playoff race, they dealt Zobrist to the Kansas City Royals for Sean Manaea and Aaron Brooks.

Zobrist excelled down the stretch for Kansas City, and helped guide them to their second world series appearamce in a row. As a member of the Royals, Zobrist slashed .284/.364/.453 with seven home runs over 59 games. He continued to produce in the postseason for the Royals, slashing 303/.365/.515 with 2 home runs in 16 games en route to his first world series ring.

Once the series ended, Zobrist became a free agent for the first time in his career, and found himself to be an extremely hot commodity, as his versatility allowed him to help virtually help any team. It turns out the team he'll be helping is the Chicago Cubs as he was signed to a four year deal worth $56 million on December 8th.

Assuming that he does not return to Tampa Bay, he will have ended his time with the Rays, per Baseball Reference, as the single-season WAR leader, the second-highest in career WAR, second-highest in both career offensive and defensive WAR, tied for third in career on-base percentage, first in walks, second in both doubles and triples, and third in stolen bases.

He will remain an essential part of the Rays pantheon.