All-Star selection could be first of many for Tampa Bay Rays’ Isaac Paredes

As if adding an exclamation point to his All-Star selection, Isaac Paredes hit a three-run homer in his first at-bat since being selected. The fact that he went deep in the opener of a three-game series against the visiting Yankees on Tuesday night only added to the moment.

Paredes’ home run swing has become a familiar sight at Tropicana Field and elsewhere in Major League Baseball. He has a team-leading 15 homers this season and also leads the club with 50 RBI and an .830 OPS. He’s a deserving first-time All-Star who is looking forward to the experience in Arlington.

“It’s a really good feeling and something you play for,” the 25-year-old third baseman said. “I hope to keep my emotions in check and enjoy the moment when I’m out there.”

Paredes played in 57 games in the 2020 and 2021 seasons with the Tigers, hitting just two home runs in 172 plate appearances. Tampa Bay acquired him before Opening Day 2022 in exchange for Austin Meadows, who was coming off a season in which he hit 27 home runs and drove in 106.

“It was a big change,” he said, of being traded. “It gave me a lot of confidence and allowed me to be the type of player I can be.”

Paredes, who began the 2022 season at Triple-A Durham and bounced around before settling with the Rays in mid-May, has flashed power, hitting 20 homers in 111 games. His offensive output has only increased, as he went deep 31 times and drove in 98 runs last season.

“Did we know the power was going to be there?” manager Kevin Cash said. “Probably not. We knew we were going to get a young player with a lot of power, and the power has developed over time. I think the most impressive thing is how his mentality has developed in knowing who he is and going out there and sticking to the game plan and really being consistent with his offensive approach.”

It was Cash who, ironically enough, delivered the good news about being selected to the All-Star team last Sunday in the privacy of the visiting locker room in Arlington.

“There was a lot of emotion,” said a grateful Paredes, who grew up admiring the play of fellow American and former slugging third baseman Vinny Castilla. “Cash told us in front of everybody and it’s something you try to control (emotionally).”

The Rays have long emphasized versatility, something Paredes has offered since he stepped onto a professional ballpark. He was signed by the Cubs in 2015 and sent to Detroit in 2017. He played primarily shortstop his first three seasons in the minors before spending most of his time at third, while still playing short and occasionally second.

Paredes has played primarily at second and third, while seeing some time at first in his first season with the Rays. He has largely settled into the hot corner position since the start of 2023, and this season he has a .973 fielding percentage in 73 games (through July 10), which is good for third-best in MLB. Paredes has occasionally been moved around the field to replace Yandy Diaz at first, and while he hasn’t played much at second this year, he has played 43 games at the position in 2022 and 14 last season, while committing just one error between the two.

“In late-game moves, it’s helpful to have that versatility,” Cash said. “He works as hard as any infielder we have with his pregame routine. I think our defense has gotten better and he’s had more success defending over the last month.”

It’s no coincidence that shortstop Taylor Walls returned from injury in the time frame Cash mentioned. Walls has since soaked up nearly everything thrown his way.

“I think a lot of that has to do with Taylor Walls coming back, because he makes a lot of people around him better,” Cash said.

With the work he’s done at the plate and in the field, Paredes’ All-Star nod is more than deserved. It wouldn’t be a surprise if it’s the first of many, given how his game continues to develop.

“There’s a first time for everything,” he said. “This will be the first time for me and it will be a learning experience. Just embrace it.”

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