In 2012, the Rays outfield was beset by injuries. Right field in particular was a bit of a revolving door for part of the season when Matt Joyce got hurt. Ben Zobrist moved between second base and right field, as has been the norm since 2009, before ending up at short. In total, six different players appeared in right for the Rays in 2012.
Zobrist hit quite well in right, producing a .286/.404/.507 slash line over 213 at bats, with 18 doubles, 7 home runs, and 29 RBIs. Joyce produced 11 home runs in right, tied for 21st in baseball despite having only 278 at bats as a right fielder. Once he returned from injury, Sam Fuld hit well in his limited chances, batting .372 in his 43 at bats. Even Hideki Matsui produced a couple of highlights, slugging home runs in two of his first three games. Rays right fielders got on base at an amazing clip, as the Rays were fourth in baseball, and third in the American League, in on base percentage.
Fuld also did Sam Fuld type things in the field, making diving catches while being a threat on the basepaths with his speed. Zobrist was also the Rays best defensive player statistically, coming in close to league average in fielding percentage and range factor. He also contributed six of the seven outfield assists the Rays received from right fielders.
This can simply be summed up as the Matsui after June 1st section. It became quickly apparent that Matsui had nothing left in the tank, yet due to injuries and/or perhaps the hope that he would turn it around, Matsui appeared in 34 games, producing putrid .147/.214/.221 batting line. As a whole, the Rays were 19th in baseball in batting average and home runs.
The Rays were not great defensively in right, as their limited range showed up as they finished just 27th in total chances. When they got to the ball, they were around league average with a .983 fielding percentage; however, opposing base runners were able to run almost at will on any non-Ben Zobrist right fielders, as the Rays had only one other assist from the position.
Looking Ahead To 2013:
There are really two keys to right field for the Rays in 2013. First, the Rays need to determine whether or not Zobrist is going to be their primary shortstop in 2013. If so, then they need Matt Joyce to step up to his 2011 All-Star levels of production. In fact, 2013 might be a major point in Joyce’s career; in 2010 and 2012, he batted .241, while hitting .277 in 2011. Joyce is entering his theoretical prime, as he turned 28 on August 3rd.
Should Joyce get back to his 2011 levels, then the Rays would potentially be looking for a player to platoon with, or back up, Joyce. Fuld is likely to be that player, as he slotted well as a fourth outfielder. As the free agent market for right fielders is weak, the Rays may look internally to fill that slot. However, if they do sign a free agent, a player like Xavier Nady may be an interesting target. He has been hampered by injuries over most of the past few seasons, but has a bit of power and is a solid hitter. He also provides flexibility defensively, as he can play first, right, and left – which happen to be positions the Rays may be looking at a backup for.
Internally, the Rays still have Leslie Anderson as a potential backup outfielder. Anderson could potentially be in the mix at first base also during the spring, and may get a long look during Spring Training. Ben Francisco, who was acquired from the Houston Astros for the infamous Player To Be Named Later, is another option.
Right field for the Rays in 2013 may end up looking very similar to 2012. Joyce is likely the key to the position, and may end up being the key to the lineup. He has shown flashes of potential, but the Rays may need him to step up and turn into another threat in the lineup, joining Zobrist and Evan Longoria.