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Carlos Pena to retire a Ray, Blake Snell rules the minor leagues

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For the Tampa Bay Rays, today is inching in the wrong direction. Where better to look than yesterday and today?

The Rays looked to their past and signed first baseman Carlos Pena, one of their most powerful, most strikeout-prone hitters in all their history. Pena, a popular player, hit 163 home runs as a Ray, including 46 in 2007. He was the cause of perhaps the most exaggerated infield shifts ever against the Rays.

Pena led the team in homers in four different seasons, but he also struck out more than 811 times in his five seasons with the Rays. He hit .282 his first year with the Rays, but his average dwindled in the following seasons.

The Rays also celebrated the days to come as left-hander Blake Snell of the Rays’ organization has been named as the Minor League Player of the Year. He is only the ninth pitcher in 35 years to win the award. Former winners of the award include Hall of Famer Frank Thomas, Yankees icon Derek Jeter and former World Series MVP Josh Beckett.

Snell is the fourth Ray to win the award after Rocco Baldelli (2002), Delmon Young (2005) and Jeremy Hellickson (2011), who was the last pitcher to win the award.

Last year, Blake was just another pitching prospect, but he combined development strides with performance like no one else in the minors in 2015,” said John Manuel, editor in chief of Baseball America. “His season ranks with the best performances by a pitcher in the last decade, as he was stingy with runs and profligate with strikeouts.”

A supplemental first-round pick in 2011 out of a Washington high school, Snell vaulted from high Class A Charlotte to Double-A Montgomery and then to Triple-A Durham, where he finished the season.

Snell, 22, opened the season with a 46-inning scoreless streak and went on to lead the minor leagues in ERA at 1.41, the lowest mark since Justin Verlander’s 1.29 ERA in 2005. Overall, Snell went 15-4, 1.41, striking out 163 in 134 innings. He allowed just 84 hits, limiting opponents to a .182 average (best in the minors among starters), and walked 53 while posting a 1.02 WHIP. He tied for fourth in the minors in wins and strikeouts and ranked ninth in WHIP.

He’s very driven and he wants to be a No. 1 starter in the big leagues,” Durham pitching coach Kyle Snyder said. “There’s no question that’s his ceiling, and he’s confident he’ll reach it. Certain guys have confidence, but with certain guys, confidence can be a liability. That’s not the case with Blake.”

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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