Rays' Zobrist adds punch to all-around game

BY foxsports • July 13, 2009

Three years ago Sunday, after the requisite midsummer speculation, the Tampa Bay (then-Devil) Rays traded Aubrey Huff to the Astros for a pair of prospects.

One was right-handed starter Mitch Talbot, who would reach the majors with Tampa Bay a little more than two years later. He's on the Class AAA disabled list now, because of a sore arm, but he's likely to return in a couple weeks.

The other was a shortstop for the Class AA Corpus Christi Hooks, who until that point had hit 12 home runs in 960 minor league at-bats. Andrew Friedman, then a first-year general manager, liked the reports veteran scout Donnie Williams had filed on the switch hitter.

As Friedman remembers it, the reports talked about an ability to take quality at-bats and play multiple defensive positions. Williams could not have been more correct in those respects.

As for the All-Star selection and 30-homer pace in 2009? Well, that's where Ben Zobrist surprised pretty much everyone in baseball.

"He's gotten a lot more physical since we made that trade," Friedman said in a telephone interview last week. "He's always worked a good at-bat. The thing that's changed with him is the power. That wasn't something we necessarily foresaw.

"Last spring, he came to camp a lot stronger than when he had left after the 2007 season. We saw that in the spring, then he got hurt (fractured left thumb). With the way our roster was configured, he was up and down. When he came back up for good, he slugged over .500. His at-bats had a much different sound to them.

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