Sometime in the coming weeks, both Wil Myers and David DeJesus will come off the disabled list, do a rehab stint, and be back on the Tampa Bay Rays’ man roster. That will put six outfielders in the mix and, even with one serving as the dh in most games, will create a logjam. How will the Rays handle this plethora of outfielders? Let’s take a look at some possibilities.
Right now, the Rays outfielders on the 25-man roster are Matt Joyce, Desmond Jennings, Kevin Kiermaier and Brandon Guyer. Jennings is the only everyday player, with Joyce and Kiermaier starting against right-handers and Guyer playing mostly against lefties. This rotation has Ben Zobrist playing a lot of left and right field, but that will cease once Myers and DeJesus return.
Kiermaier has been one of the Rays few offensive bright spots, hitting to a .290/.342/.517 slash line with 9 homers and 29 RBI in 227 plate appearances. Guyer, in limited playing time, has a .276/.349/.358 line, including .333/.403/.420 against left-handed pitching. For the most part, he has also been healthy. Joyce, the elder statesman of the group, has managed a decent year with a .278/.364/.417 triple slash, but he is only effective against righties and has suffered a power outage, hitting just 7 home runs. For a team that desperately needs power, that is a problem. Finally, Jennings has once again been a disappointment on offense. His .243/.326/.385 line is even worse than his career totals. He a superb defensive center fielder and continues to tease the team with his athleticism, but he simply may never hit consistently and certainly isn’t a leadoff man.
Wil Myers will most certainly start in right field when he returns. He is one of the team’s crown jewels and they need to get him back on track. DeJesus, meanwhile, offers little power but is a good table setter with a .269/.367/.440 slash line before he went on the DL. The Rays are desperate for consistent hitters in the one through four slots in the batting order and DeJesus is a clear upgrade from Jennings against right-handed pitching, with Kiermaier able to slide into centerfield.
All this leaves the Rays in a real conundrum. How do they all use all six outfielders for the rest of the season? First of all, juggling the twenty-five man roster is made easier by the fact that several bench players have options and DeJesus may not return until September anyway. Then, their course of action will be dictated by their standing in the race. If they are out of the playoff picture, it would make sense to go with an outfield of Myers, Kiermaier, and Guyer and get a better idea of what this trio can contribute next year. Whether Kiermaier can hit lefties and Guyer can hit righties will prove critical in regards’ to the Rays future outfield, and it would be nice to figure that immediately. If they think they are still in the hunt for a Wild Card spot, however, Myers playing every day and a situational mix of the other five with DeJesus and Joyce playing against right-handers gives the team the best possibly alignment.
You can be assured that whatever happens over the remainder of the season has big implications towards next season. If the Myers, Kiermaier and Guyer continue to play well, it’s hard to see Joyce and Jennings returning. Mikie Mahtook is also having an All-Star year at Durham and Baseball America just recognized him as having the best strike-zone judgment in the International League. He might fit into the mix by next season as well.
The Tampa Bay Rays need more offensive firepower, and whether it’s from the younger talent within the organization or through signings and trades, the outfield is one area they need to improve for next season. One thing is for certain: returning the same cast of characters would be a waste of resources and still leave them with a less-than-ideal arrangement.