Sep 28, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals left fielderSteven Souza
(21) makes a diving catch for the final out of the game against the Miami Marlins to secure Washington Nationals starting pitcherJordan Zimmermann
(27) no hitter at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit:Brad Mills
-USA TODAY Sports
Here is where the Rays’ real decisions lie. The only things that seem clear are that Desmond Jennings will play every day in centerfield, Kevin Kiermaier will see time against right-handed pitching, and Brandon Guyer will get at-bats against lefties.
Against right-handed pitching, it looks like the Rays will have David DeJesus, Desmond Jennings, and Kevin Kiermaier from left to right in the outfield with Jaso at DH. Against lefties, that will shift to Guyer in left, Jennings in center…and who in right field? What about DH? Now is the part where we need to start counting backups.
Let’s say that against most lefties, James Loney will still start at first base. That means that the candidates to be platooned are Kiermaier, DeJesus, Franklin, and Jaso. Guyer will replace DeJesus, but the Rays only have two more backups–Logan Forsythe and Tim Beckham–to fill the remaining three spots.
Jaso has been well established as a platoon player (albeit an excellent one), so the Rays are currently lined up to have Kiermaier and Franklin alternate against left-handed pitching. Both of them have struggled against lefties in the past, but the Rays will give them at-bats against them to try to change that. If it is possible, the Rays want to ensure that they will not also be platoon players, so that certainly makes sense.
Another issue is that neither Forsythe or Beckham is an outfielder–how could either of them replace Kiermaier? Forsythe does have 17 career games in the corner outfield spots, and Beckham could learn those positions as well, but will the Rays be comfortable playing either one in the outfield regularly?
That could point to the Rays starting Beckham back at Triple-A in favor of an outfielder, especially since Steve Geltz hasn’t yet been designated for assignment, but another option would be that Franklin would slide to the outfield when he plays over Kiermaier against lefties. He also has limited experience at the position, but if the Rays want to make him into a Zobrist-esque super-utility player, this would be a great way to start.
The Rays do have another option: calling up Steven Souza. If Souza was on the team, DeJesus’ at-bats would be gone against righties while Guyer would move to DH against lefties. Their 25th man would rarely play. Of course, that would require the Rays to trade DeJesus, and that may not make sense between now at the start of the season.
The Rays have something to gain both by starting Souza at Triple-A Durham and keeping DeJesus. While Souza looked excellent in the International League last year, he still has only 407 Triple-A plate appearances at the level, less than many other top prospects, and he still needs work on his pitch recognition.
DeJesus, on the other hand, does not have much trade value after an injury-riddled year. Especially if the Rays believe that Souza could use some time at Durham, what do they have to lose giving DeJesus a couple of months to show everyone what he can do? Once Souza is ready, the Rays could either trade DeJesus if he is worth anything or they could bench or trade him if he is not. DeJesus’ days with the Rays are numbered, but he will likely make their Opening Day roster.