September 18, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays right fielder Ben Zobrist (18) catches the ball against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field. Boston Red Sox defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 7-5. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Rays 2012 Positional Review: Shortstop

Shortstop was a bit of a black hole in the lineup for the Rays during most of 2012. Elliot Johnson and Sean Rodriguez received most of the time there early in the season, but neither did anything to show that they are likely more than utility players. Reid Brignac was up for the first twelve games of the season, and was then exiled to the minors due to a lack of performance. In August, Ben Zobrist moved to shortstop in an attempt to get more offense into the lineup, in a move that worked, and helped solidify the Rays lineup over the remainder of the season.

The Good:

As a whole, the Rays were around the middle of the pack offensively at shortstop. This production was greatly boosted by Zobrist being converted to shortstop. In 170 at bats, Zobrist hit .312/.396/.553 with 13 doubles, 8 home runs, and 31 RBI. This boosted the Rays production at the position to seventh in batting average, sixth in on base percentage, and fifth in slugging in the American League. Elliot Johnson also had a solid season offensively, producing a .259/.313/.362 batting line with 4 home runs and 28 RBIs.

Zobrist also acquitted himself well to short defensively. Prior to this season, he had played all of 13 games, with 6 starts, at shortstop, making 5 errors in 27 total chances. In his 47 games there this season, Zobrist made only 4 error in 189 total chances, and was right around league average defensively.

The Bad:

Reid Brignac was given an opportunity to be the primary shortstop at the start of the season, and completely booted the opportunity. While he played well defensively, he had only 2 hits in his first 17 at bats, then was sent down to the minors. Rodriguez was better, but not by much as he produced a .209/.283/.295 slash line in 129 at bats at short, was sent down to the minors, punched either a teammate or a locker depending on the report, and fractured his hand. In fact, Rodriguez may have punched his ticket out of Tampa.

Defensively, the Rays had a rough 2012 at short. Their fielding percentage of .968 was 22nd in all of baseball, and their 23 errors were tied for 21st. Johnson was one of the main offenders, committing 11 errors in 317 chances over 68 games. Rodriguez was worse, committing 5 errors in 172 chances at short.

Looking Ahead:

Given how well he performed when moved to shortstop last season, Ben Zobrist may open the year as the Rays primary shortstop. While a part of his value over the past few seasons had been due to his defensive versatility, Zobrist may be more valuable in 2013 at shortstop. Should this be the case, Johnson likely returns to the role of utility infielder, which seems to be something he is better suited to.

With Zobrist and Johnson, as well as other potential options as Reid Brignac under team control next season, the Rays are unlikely to look outside the organization for a shortstop, unless they decide to keep shuttling Zobrist between second and right field. In fact, they are probably more likely to move one of the multiple players they have that have major league experience at short. With players like Hak-Ju Lee and Tim Beckham on the horizon, Rodriguez may have literally punched his ticket out of town when he broke his hand.

Lee is likely the future at short for the Rays, but may not be ready until 2014 at the earliest. The Rays may be grooming Beckham for more of a utility role as he spent time at second base in Durham this year, but he could push for the position with a strong Spring Training. The future for the Rays at short appears bright.

Tags: Ben Zobrist Elliot Johnson Tampa Bay Rays

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