Jun 14, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Tampa Bay Rays right fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) hits a double during the first inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Kiermaier's Development Crucial to Rays' Outfield Picture

A bizarre thing has happened for the Tampa Bay Rays lately–Wil Myers isn’t in the lineup, and the Rays are actually getting more production out of right field. Kevin Kiermaier has been outstanding in the first 64 plate appearances of his major league career, and while he has only just begun proving himself as a starting option for the long-term, he will surely be a piece of the Rays’ roster moving forward. Combine Kiermaier’s breakout with Brandon Guyer doing the same plus Mikie Mahtook impressing at Triple-A, and suddenly the Rays have decisions ahead of them as they figure out their future outfield.

It is a relatively safe assumption that the Tampa Bay Rays will be carrying five outfielders moving forward. On Opening Day, those five were Desmond Jennings, Wil Myers, David DeJesus, Matt Joyce, and Brandon Guyer, but you can find a quibble for every player. Jennings and Myers have been up-and-down, DeJesus and Joyce don’t hit lefties, and Guyer has to find a way to stay off the disabled list. Kiermaier comes with his concerns as well–he still has work to do at the plate and on the basepaths–but it seems pretty clear that he should take someone’s spot for next season. The obvious candidate appears to Matt Joyce.

Joyce’s numbers this season are actually pretty good. He has a .266/.356/.388 line (112 OPS+), showing streakiness once again and doing all of his work against right-handed pitching, but showing strong enough overall results that the Rays can deal his limitations. On the negative side, though, Joyce is under control for just two more seasons and plays the worst defense of any Rays outfielder. It is not as though Joyce is a bad player, but combine all of his concerning factors and the Rays may be best off dealing him, especially if they can get back a prospect of value. Joyce has come up as a player the Rays could trade if they fail to get back into contention, but even if they do have a remarkable turnaround, he could end up in another uniform following the season. At the end of the day, Joyce is good but inherently replaceable. He has been a solid player while the Rays have attempted to find a player capable of doing more, and now that is finally the case. Whatever happens to the Rays the coming weeks and months, do not expect Joyce with the team for Opening Day of 2015.

If the Rays deal Joyce, they have no obligation to do anything else for next season. DeJesus can slide to primary designated hitter against right-handed pitching, and Jennings, Myers, Kiermaier, and Guyer can receive the majority of playing time in the outfield. Even if Kiermaier falls back to earth, him and Guyer would make a fine platoon. We also haven’t even mentioned Sean Rodriguez yet. Eventually, though, the Rays will have more choices coming. Jennings has three years left under contract–he is currently the Rays’ best option in centerfield, but the Rays ever tire of him never quite living up to his potential? We know that Kiermaier is more than capable of playing centerfield defensively, and if he proves himself at the plate, the Rays could find themselves with options at the corner spots. Mikie Mahtook could be a candidate for at-bats if he continues playing well at Triple-A, and even former first rounder Richie Shaffer may be a factor by the end of 2015 (likely in the outfield with James Loney and Evan Longoria at the corner infield spots). Jennings is getting more expensive, but the Rays have shown with Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton that they will hold onto Jennings if he is truly their best option for a starting outfield spot. However, if that becomes less clear between the performances of Jennings and the Rays’ other outfielders, a trade could be a real possibility.

Finally, by 2016 or 2017, we will see another group of Rays outfield prospects coming to the major leagues. Neither Tyler Goeddel and Patrick Leonard is currently an outfielder, but they are likely to end up there with third base locked down and an heir hopefully apparent for James Loney by then (Casey Gillaspie is the early favorite). The one big thing to note, though, is that Goeddel, Leonard, Shaffer, and even Mahtook do not profile as centerfielders. The big question is who is in centerfield at that time–will Kiermaier be the guy or will Jennings depart after 2017 leaving an uncertain outfield picture? Andrew Toles could be the answer if he overcomes his rough start to 2014, or the Rays could acquire a hotshot prospect in a trade, but centerfield could be a major question for the Rays moving forward if Kiermaier does not prove himself capable of starting there.

There is a lot up in the air in regards to the future of the Rays’ outfield, but one thing that stands out is the importance of Kevin Kiermaier. Whether Kiermaier develops as expected will determine whether or not Desmond Jennings remains a Tampa Bay Ray for the duration of his team control and whether centerfield is a strength or weakness when Jennings departs. Thus far, Kiermaier has been everything the Rays could have hoped for, but the Rays’ outfield picture could very well hinge on how his career comes together, and we will have see how everything falls into place.

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Tags: Desmond Jennings Kevin Kiermaier Matt Joyce Tampa Bay Rays

  • Phattitudes

    The outfielders are the key to the Rays offense. Out of those there positions (plus DH) we need to get a Lead Off Hitter, a high average 3 hole hitter, and Power – RBI guy to hit in the 5 hole. We need outfielders who belong in the top six positions in the lineup. This year more than every other year has resulted in a total production shutdown from our 3-4-5 combo. That has to be fixed. It may be “hard to find but we need at least one of these guys to be a run production power hitter. It that player is not in this group, which may be the case, the Rays have to pick him up in a Price trade. Myers has been our “hope” but this has been an extremely disappointing year for him. He needs to turn it around. Guyer is another one who needs to have something go right for him. We don’t need a platoon guy. We need a power bat that can drive in runs. He has the tools and again the Time in Now.

    • Robbie_Knopf

      This sophomore slump and more from Myers is certainly concerning, but at the very least, the Rays have different cards to play as they attempt to find the right combination for the outfield, and the trades they will likely make will add a couple more names. The Rays have to hope that Myers can recover from this, that Kiermaier can be some fraction of the player he is looking like now, and that Guyer can finally stay healthy. But no matter what happens, players are coming up, and this Rays offense will improve. We’ve heard so much about the lack of impact from the Rays in the draft, but suddenly guys are starting to establish themselves and some of them will meet expectations.

    • Lexi Ronson

      I’d put our top 6 hitters (Longo, Myers, Zobrist, Loney, Jennings, Joyce) up against all but 4-5 team’s top 6 hitters, and feel pretty confident for the rest of the season. They are all having bad starts though. It happens. We don’t need to throw in the towel for next year. Myers is younger than most of our AA roster. He slumped for the first 1/3 of the season, but he wasn’t terrible. It’s not like he’s been Jose Molina at the plate. I don’t expect him to be this bad ever again.

      I don’t see any position on the field in need of an upgrade next year. I’d like to upgrade our future though, which is why Price should be dealt for a top tiered pitching prospect, and nothing less. Our current lineup is good, just not right now. Our future rotation, even without Price, is astounding! Cobb, Archer, Moore, Hellickson, Odorizzi, and Colome, with Ryne Stanek and Tyler Guerreri a year or 2 away, is something most teams dream about.

      We got off to a bad start. I like our chances next year though!

  • Lexi Ronson

    The next 3 weeks determines the future of the franchise in my opinion. There is no one running away with the 2 wild cards, and if we can pull off a 15-5 or so stretch, at 43-48, we at least have a chance. If we can’t, and we play .500 ball, then it’s time to start dealing some outfielders. We have to deal at least 2 of the group you just mentioned, excluding Myers and Kiermaier. Joyce and Jennings are my choices. Joyce no matter what, as Guyer and Myers need to take someones spot. Jennings if the return justifies the move. Even though Jennings has disappointed, so did BJ, and he got 80 mil on the FA market. Team’s get desperate for an above average CF’er, and that’s what Jennings has been, above average. He’s not a superstar, but a couple All Star games in his career are plausible. The Dodgers, Cards, and Mariners all badly need a CF’er, and all have World Series aspirations. 3 years of Jennings might be worth 1 of their 2 best prospects, and if they offer it, I’d take it.

    Kiermaier could be the next Sam Fuld, as Sam got off to a hot start as well. Or he could be the next Zobrist, a non prospect who suddenly developed into a star. If we are out of playoff contention this time next month, I vote we deal Jennings and find out who Kevin Kiermaier really is.