In the field and at the plate – infield looks to be a strength for the Rays in 2017.
The first half of 2016 was a mess, defensively, for the Tampa Bay Rays. They were 20th in MLB in the first part of the year committing 55 errors only to start showing signs of a turnaround after the All Star Break. Heading into the 2017 campaign, the infield, on paper at least, looks like it could be a strength not only in the field but at the plate, as well.
C: Curt Casali and Luke Maile will most likely head into spring training as the two catchers making the Opening Day roster. With Wilson Ramos due back much earlier than expected – he, himself, is shooting for May as a timetable to at least DH – the backstop position will be one to watch. Casali proved he can square up and crush the ball a long way but is also very prone to strikeouts and hit just .186 in 84 games. Maile, who had an impressive .300 BABIP despite hitting .227 overall in 42 games in 2016, has proven to be more of a contact hitter than the “all or nothing” approach of Casali. Both were very successful throwing out base stealers having caught 21 of 53 on the bases in 2016. They’ll hold down the fort well until Ramos is ready to take over.
1B: For the first time since Carlos Pena, the Rays have a legit threat at first base. Brad Miller is making the transition from shortstop and that may bring some growing pains in the field. However, Miller hit 30 home runs in 2016 and even if he has a slight decline this coming season – he’s still going to be someone pitchers have to account for in the middle of the lineup. Backing him up will most likely be Nick Franklin and possibly Maile who played a handful of games there last season.
2B: Logan Forsythe is coming into his fourth year with the Rays and he seems to just get better year over year. While he missed some games in 2016 (127 games in ’16 down from 153 in ’15) he still managed to set career-highs in home runs (20) and runs scored (76) as well as continue to play above average defense at second base. He also became a legitimate lead-off hitter. Whether the Rays want to stick with him at the top spot in the order come Opening Day or not is yet to be seen. But it’s nice to know they have an option in Forsythe who can hit for power and get on base (.333 OBP in ’16). Franklin as well as possibly Tim Beckham could back up Forsythe in the field.
SS: If he’s healthy, Matt Duffy will be the Opening Day shortstop. The Rays brought him over from San Francisco in the Matt Moore trade last July and have very high expectations for him in the field as well as at the plate where he’s just a couple seasons removed from finishing second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2015. Franklin, Beckham, or even Miller could back up Duffy on a needed day off.
3B: He’s coming off a season where multiple career-highs were set – and he’s 31 years old heading into his 10th year. Evan Longoria will once again man the hot corner for the Rays and there’s no reason to believe he can’t continue to play elite-level defense as well as produce offensively. He’s also hoping to finish his fifth year in a row playing 160+ games. Beckham and Duffy could back up Longo on the depth chart.
The wild card in all of this might just be how INF Daniel Robertson does in the spring. He’s a natural shortstop but has played all over the infield at the minor league level and just might get a shot to crack the Opening Day roster off the bench. In 118 games at Durham last season, Robertson hit .259/.358/.713 and a very impressive .322 BABIP.
Depth has always been a focus for the Rays be it on the MLB roster or the minor leagues. In 2017, they could very well have their deepest and most productive depth at the infield positions quite possibly in franchise history. Willy Adames could be just a September call-up away from showing he’s ready. Looking past the 40-man roster, Ryan Brett has some MLB experience and Casey Gillaspie and Patrick Leonard could get a look sooner than later.
There could still be some changes and/or tweaks to this depth chart before February but as it stands right now – fans have got to like what they see heading into the 2017 season from a no doubt impressive Rays infield.
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