When the Tampa Bay Rays called-up Kevin Kiermaier on May 28th, there weren’t huge expectations. He was going to be a nice role player, and he probably was going to be sent back to Triple-A before too long. However, Kiermaier has not looked back since then, taking over an everyday role in a crowded Rays’ outfield and becoming a fan favorite.
The reason that Kiermaier has done so well is his hustle and knack for making plays on both sides of the ball. Offensively, there a few players more adept at stretching a single into a double and a double into a triple. Kiermaier’s hustle alone on the basepaths has given the Rays an extra few runs. On defense Kiermaier has also been quite impressive. Look no further than Thursday’s game against Detroit. Mired in a pitcher’s duel, the Rays had managed just 1 hit but still plated a run and led 1-0. In the top of the 8th Brad Boxberger allowed a double with one out and up came Rajai Davis. Davis then hit a shallow pop fly to right field, and Kiermaier responded with a web gem catch to ensure that the Tigers could not score. Highlight reel catches have become the norm for Kiermaier. However, he still has plenty of work to do in his game.
What Kiermaier still has to improve on is keeping his hustle from becoming reckless. Kiermaier is a playmaker- the Rays recognize that and they aren’t going to stop him from going all-out. However, they can work with him to become a smarter player. Occasionally, Kiermaier tries to make a play that simply isn’t there. That can result in errant throws, allowing a ball to roll to the wall after he missed a diving catch, and misplaying a ball off the wall because he is too eager to get to it. Kiermaier has to recognize situations when he can make a play and accept that he can’t do so every time that he touches the ball.
Kevin Kiermaier is a solid player, and the crazy thing is that he can become even better. I’m not suggesting the Rays tell him to stop going 110%. Simply, Kiermaier has to learn that sometimes there is no play to be made. If he can do just that, then he will only improve on a season that has seen him put up 3.4 fWAR despite not even being with the team for the full season.