Tyler Bortnick: A Forgotten Former Tampa Bay Rays Farmhand

By Drew Jenkins

The Tampa Bay Rays are known for making great trades. Andrew Friedman’s ability to do so is a big reason why they are competitive year in and year out. In fact 14 out of the 24 players currently on the Rays’ active roster were acquired via trade (only 24 because Nate Karns, who was acquired by trade, was just sent down and a corresponding move has not yet been announced). But, even the best cannot avoid a poor trade every once in a while. A rare poor trade for the Rays was when they acquired Ryan Roberts from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for prospect Tyler Bortnick. Roberts only ever played 120 games with the Rays, and was underwhelming. He put up just a .647 OPS in his first 60 games with the Rays in 2012, and in 2013 he wasn’t much better, putting up just a .671 OPS in 60 games. Roberts is no longer even with the Rays organization.

Bortnick, meanwhile, has established himself in the Arizona Diamondbacks system. Last year he was solid in Triple-A Reno, hitting .291/.397/.402 (taken with a grain of salt in the hitter-friendly PCL) while seeing time at shortstop, second base, third base, and left field. He is not off to a great start this season back in Triple-A, though he has only played in a small sample size of 19 games. As his 2013 triple slash indicates, Bornick’s calling card is his ability to get on base, something that his career .387 minor league on base percentage indicates as well. He also adds value on the base paths, as he went 19-21 in stolen base attempts last season, though he has showed even more promise in that area in the past, stealing 43 bases at High-A in 2011. Defensively, his weak arm means he will never be a special defender at third or short, but he is passable at the positions thanks to soft hands, nice range, and good instincts, which also makes him an above-average defender at second base. He has little left to prove in the minors, but has yet to make his major league debut because of a talented Diamondbacks middle infield that includes youngsters Didi Gregorius and Chris Owings, All-Star Aaron Hill, and veteran backup Cliff Pennington. That being said, Bortnick is ready to be a big league utility player, and an everyday second base job in the future is not completely out of the question.

Bortnick is the quintessential Rays’ player, and that is why they regret this trade. He gets on base at a great clip, strikes out infrequently, and is versatile, which just about describes the Rays’ favorite characteristics in any player. While Roberts is no longer in the organization, Bortnick will be with the Diamondbacks through at least 2020, and should be a solid piece of their club while he is there. The Rays do have plenty of versatile players, which makes his loss much easier to accept. Though he will never be an All-Star, he should be a quality big league player, and you never want to give up those type of guys for little in return.

Here is the great thing though- the Bortnick for Roberts trade is one of the worst in recent Rays history. If the worst you do is make a mistake by trading a guy who is likely going to be a career bench player, even if he is a good one, then your club is doing pretty well. The Rays wish they could have this one back, but it does nothing to tarnish their reputation of making great trades.