There was just one hurdle remaining for Luke Scott before he would be officially placed on the Rays’ 25-man roster: a minor league game on Friday. Unfortunately, though, it did not go well. Scheduled to have four to eight at-bats in the game (the rules are very flexible in those games), Scott left after just 1 at-bat when his calf tightened up and will now start the season on the 15-day DL, although the Rays will be able to backdate it to March 24th, the last time he played in a major league spring training game, making him eligible to return on April 8th. Scott looked great when he was healthy, going 11 for 34 (.324) with 6 doubles, 3 homers, and 9 RBI in 12 MLB spring training games, and losing him will be a major blow to the Rays’ lineup early on in the season.
How will the Rays replace Scott? Their options on the 40-man roster are confined to Chris Gimenez, Brandon Guyer, and Stephen Vogt, with only Vogt being a left-handed batter, and among that group, Gimenez is the easy choice. Gimenez lost the Rays’ backup catcher competition not because he played well but only because he had a minor league option remaining, and he seems to have broken through at the plate and might actually be the Rays catcher with the best chance of providing the team with decent offense. If Gimenez truly makes the team, you would expect Jose Lobaton to still be the Rays’ primary backup catcher, but the Rays will certainly get plenty of mileage out of Gimenez’s ability to play catcher plus all four corner positions. The real beneficiaries on the roster in terms of playing time, though, while Scott would be out would appear to be Sam Fuld, Ryan Roberts, and Sean Rodriguez. Fuld will replace Scott as a left-handed hitter in the lineup versus right-handed pitching, although he’ll most certainly bat 9th instead of Scott’s 5th, and while he’s not the hitter Scott is, he could make up a good portion of the difference with his speed and defense. That could happen as soon as Opening Day, when after announcing this lineup that featured Scott, the Rays could wind up going with a lineup like this.
Against left-handed pitching, the absence of Scott will essentially guarantee that both Roberts and Rodriguez will be in the lineup on a regular basis, with one likely at DH and the other playing first base, second base, or left field. The Rays might also take the opportunity to ease Evan Longoria back into the lineup a little more and put Roberts or Rodriguez at third base every once in a while against lefty pitching with Longoria at DH. Roberts’ situation could be especially interesting as he actually hit righties better than lefties last year and could compete with Fuld for time in that role. Putting any of Fuld, Roberts, and Rodriguez into the lineup is certainly a drop-off compared to Scott, but each of them can do a bunch of things well and will allow Joe Maddon to get creative as he hopes to make up as much as possible for what the offense will lose with Scott out.
Luke Scott starting the season on the DL especially stings after he played so well in the spring and looked primed for a huge year in the middle of the Rays’ lineup. But the good news is that the injury does not appear to be too severe as Scott could return in a little over a week and the Rays will be able to survive fine without him with several players in position to step up. This offseason, the Rays did an excellent job compiling infield depth knowing how quickly injuries can change everything. That will pay dividends immediately with multiple players emerging as options for increased playing time as the Rays look for the best way to weather the storm without Scott.