In baseball, you always have to live in the moment, but at the same time it is necessary to keep one eye on the future. The Tampa Bay Rays ability to do just that is why they’ve turned from yearly bottom dweller to consistently competing. The Rays are set at many positions for the long-run, however one position that might see a changing of the guard is second base. So who is the Tampa Bay Rays second baseman of the future?
Option 1: Ben Zobrist
Zobrist is the Rays; current starting second baseman. A quintessential Rays player, he has started games every position but pitcher and catcher, but in the past couple of years he has played the majority of his games at second. Zobrist is a solid hitter, posting an OPS below.756 one time in the last seven years. While his power has slipped in the past couple of season, he has retained his on-base skills and remains a valuable piece of the Rays lineup. Currently, he is under team control through 2015 via a team option that will surely be exercised. The way that Zobrist becomes the Rays second baseman of the future as well as the present is if he signs a contract extension. Given the fact that he fits the Rays system so well, the Rays would likely be open to a long-term deal. However, they already have quite a bit of money tied up in Evan Longoria in the future, and they may not want to fork over money to lock up Zobrist unless he takes a team-friendly contract. Trading him at the deadline or in the offseason is a possibility, but I imagine there will be at least some extension talks between the two parties at some point if they haven’t already occurred.
Option 2: Logan Forsythe
Forsythe was acquired last offseason from the San Diego Padres to be a good utility man. He struggled mightily in the first half of the year, but in taking over at second with Zobrist moving to short thanks to Yunel Escobar‘s injury, Forsythe has done great. Since June 16th he is hitting .373/.422/.576, showcasing just how good of a hitter he can be when he is on. He still has just a .640 OPS on the year, and still has plenty of work to do if he wants to establish himself as a big league utility man, let alone a potential everyday second baseman. He may never be an everyday player, instead staying in a versatile lefty-masher role. But, there is an outside chance he could end up as a starting second baseman, or at the very minimum a stopgap between Zobrist and a prospect.
Option 3: Ryan Brett
Brett is the Rays’ top second base prospect, and he could be an everyday player by 2016. Brett is a scrappy player who plays with an all-out mentality. That can be a great characteristic, but he can get a bit overagressive at times, and needs to work on honing that in. Defensively, he has great range thanks to plus speed, and he has a good arm at second, but a combination of recklessness and poor hands results in too many errors. That is something he is going to have to work on, but he should be an above-average defender in the future. His speed also plays well on the basepaths, but he needs to work on being a bit more efficient. Offensively, he has shown great contact abilities and a good plate approach. At 5’9”, 180 pounds he also displays surprisingly strong gap-to-gap power. He will never be a middle of the order bat, but could be a quality number 1 or 2 hitter in a big league lineup. Brett remains a bit raw to this point, especially on defense, but with another year and a half of seasoning he could be ready to take over the Rays’ everyday second base job by 2016.
Option 4: Hak-Ju Lee
Lee is a shortstop prospect, but with Escobar firmly entrenched there for the future, Lee is going to have to find another way to get the to big leagues. The more likely outcome is that he would be a super utility player, as his great range and good arm would play well just about anywhere on the diamond. However, if his bat comes along the Rays may want to give him an everyday job, and the best place to do that would be at second. Of course, that is a big if, as Lee is hitting just .211/.285/.272 at Triple-A this year. His bat needs significant work if he wants to reach the big leagues at all, but he has shown good contact abilities and gap power in the lower minors.
In the end, I have my money on Brett. Unfortunately, I believe that if Zobrist was going to sign an extension he would have done it already. Forsythe will be a good role player, but I don’t believe he will have the bat to play everyday. The same can be said about Lee, who will play great defense anywhere he is put, but might struggle to hit big league pitching enough to play everyday. Brett, meanwhile, has ability to play defense and hit. There is still work to be done, but he could turn into a solid player. The good news for the Rays is that this is a solid list of names, and there are many teams that wish they had one future option at second, let alone this many.