Rays Roundup: Jose Lobaton Entrenching Himself at Catcher, Kelly Johnson Getting Comfortable at 3rd

By Robbie Knopf

At the start of the season, why was it Jose Lobaton and not Chris Gimenez who broke camp with the Rays as their second catcher? Simple: Gimenez had a minor league option and Lobaton did not, and the Rays wanted to have both of them around in case of an injury. Lobaton seemingly didn’t make the team because he played great last year or impressed in spring training, but out of sheer luck. But in reality, that was not entirely the case. Andrew Friedman talked about the potential the Rays saw in Lobaton that made them stay confident he would succeed.

"“In the minor leagues at different times he was able to do basically everything we want a catcher to do at the major-league level,” Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. “And with all young players it takes time to develop. Some guys get it quickly. Some guys get it a little slower, and some guys never get it at all. . With Loby, we definitely felt like he had upside.”"

Great to see Lobaton coming into his own this season and somehow making the Rays’ catching pairing the group with the 5th-highest batting average, 9th-highest on-base percentage, and 6th-fewest strikeouts among all the catching corps in baseball. The decision to pick Lobaton over Gimenez is a great example of how there is often a lot fans don’t know about that goes into major league teams’ decisions, and this time, the Rays certainly knew what they were doing.

After not previously playing third base his entire career, Kelly Johnson has suddenly found himself starting at third base in 6 of the Rays’ last 7 games. Joe Maddon can’t get enough of his glovework.

"“I’ve seen him at a lot of different positions. (Third) might be his best spot,” Maddon said Thursday. “He’s played really, really well. I’m telling you. He looks very natural.”"

If Johnson couldn’t play third base, a lot of things would be vastly different for the Rays. They might not have been as comfortable sending down Ryan Roberts to call up Wil Myers (and then David Price), and Johnson would have an awfully hard time getting onto the field. Instead, Johnson is impressing defensively at third and he’s also picking things up a little bit at the plate (4 hits, 3 walks in his last 5 games). It was crazy enough that Johnson was willing to play left field when coming over to play with the Rays, but playing third base, a position he hadn’t manned in the major leagues before and played only 15 times in the minor leagues (with a disastrous .881 fielding percentage) tells you just how committed Johnson is to helping the Rays win. Johnson’s days of batting third in the Rays order appear to be over , but his ability to play third base defensively have been a huge help to the team with Evan Longoria limited to DH.