It took two injuries to make it happen, but Kevin Kiermaier is back on the Tampa Bay Rays’ roster and looks primed to stay for a while. The question, though, is going to be how he fits on the team. We know that Kiermaier can excel in a Sam Fuld-type role off the bench, but he is more talented than that and will get more regular at-bats than Fuld did. How often will we see Kiermaier starting as a member of the Rays?
It is ironic given that he is a lefty hitter, but Kiermaier’s best opportunity for playing time is against left-handed pitching. With David DeJesus and Matt Joyce always on the bench and James Loney occasionally joining them, Kiermaier joins Sean Rodriguez and Logan Forsythe as the players to replace them. It is not difficult to make the argument that Kiermaier is the best player of the three or at least second-best behind Rodriguez. Kiermaier is good enough in centerfield to push Desmond Jennings to left if the Rays so choose, and having him would significantly improve the Rays’ defense. He also does hit lefties fairly well, managing a .278/.370/.361 line against them the last three years. With that in mind, it is easy to see Kiermaier playing 3 of every 4 games against left-handed pitching.
Against righties, things get a little more complicated, but there are still ways to get Kiermaier in the lineup. The way to make that happen would be a rotating cycle of Jennings, Joyce, DeJesus, and Wil Myers getting days off. It isn’t crazy to say that the Rays could give four off-days combined to those four players every 10 games against right-handed pitching. If Joyce goes into another extended slump, the Rays might even up that to five or six every 10 games. Kiermaier could play quite a bit against lefties, but he really is at his best against right-handers, who he has a .296/.362/.447 line the last three years. Adding a solid bat to his incredible defense would make him an even more valuable player, and we have to think that the Rays will get him in the lineup for around half of their games against righties if not more.
Usually, the Rays will only call up a top prospect to play every day, but things are a little different with Kevin Kiermaier. With the Rays’ outfield picture now five players deep and everyone talented, it would take another injury or tremendous performance by Kiermaier for him to become a starting outfielder. However, playing in three-fifths or two-thirds of the Rays’ games is enough to keep Kiermaier involved and making an impact, and the Rays are excited to have him. All things considered, Kevin Kiermaier makes the Tampa Bay Rays a better team, and he will do so without any cost to his development.