Asdrubal Cabrera Named Rays’ SS, But 2B Questions Abound
By Robbie Knopf
Today was supposed to be the day that the Tampa Bay Rays’ middle infield picture became much clearer. The Rays began the spring trying to figure out whether Asdrubal Cabrera would play shortstop or second base and who would play alongside him. The first question was answered today when Marc Topkin first reported that Cabrera was going to be the Rays’ starting shortstop.
Just a few hours later, though, the news came out about Cabrera’s presumptive double play partner, Nick Franklin. Franklin has suffered an oblique strain and will almost surely be out to begin the season. He may be back before long, but he joins the list of Rays set to be on the disabled list to start the year that just keeps getting longer. Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly, Jake McGee, Matt Moore, and Alex Colome are also out of action.
With Franklin gone, who will start for the Rays at second base on Opening Day and beyond? Against left-handers, Logan Forsythe remains set to see the bulk of the time, but what about against righties?
We should start by talking about Forsythe himself. He is coming off a poor season, but he has looked great this spring, leading the Rays with three home runs while posting a 5-3 strikeout to walk ratio. The obvious counterargument to that, though, is that spring stats mean so little, and the stronger one is Forsythe’s track record against right-handed pitching. It’s pretty simple–Forsythe hasn’t managed an OPS above .603 against righties in any of his four major league seasons.
There is reason to believe that Forsythe can be a strong platoon player for the Rays this season, but that’s it. If he is starting for the Rays against right-handed pitching in addition to lefties there is only one reason: the Rays simply have no better option. There has to be someone that makes sense among the Rays’ remaining middle infielders in camp: Tim Beckham, Jake Elmore, Alexi Casilla, and Eugenio Velez.
Beckham is clearly the player with the most upside of the four, and he is also the only one of them on the Rays’ 40-man roster. The spring has not treated him particularly well, but more important than his numbers is the fact that the Rays considered a realistic candidate for a big league job even after a season lost to knee surgery. At the very least, he can’t be any worse than Forsythe and deserves a chance.
Jake Elmore has attracted interest in camp thanks to his incredible versatility, but what else does he have? Even ignoring his .045 batting average this spring, he has never hit the ball with much authority and his best-case scenario will be that he’s passable enough against lefty pitching to earn a 25th man spot. He could still earn such a role if the Rays manage to trade David DeJesus, but the Rays would need to carry another one of these four middle infielders as well.
We haven’t talked about Casilla and Velez’s chances of making the Rays very much because they were always quite small. At the moment, though, they are as high as they ever been and not just for the obvious reason that Franklin is hurt. Unlike Beckham and Elmore, both Casilla and Velez have shown signs of hitting right-handed pitching in the major leagues.
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The reason they were available on minor league deals was because those seasons occurred quite a while ago. Casilla hit righties well in 2008, 2010, and 2011 while Velez was capable against them in 2008 and 2009. Both also come with good speed, but Casilla separates himself with his his solid second base defense. He could give the Rays a potential starter against right-handed pitching and a strong pinch-runner off the bench. Of course, the major caveat is that he hasn’t hit since 2011.
At the end of the day, does it really make sense for the Rays to add an extra player to their 40-man roster for a marginal upgrade over Tim Beckham at best? None of Elmore, Casilla, and Velez is particularly impressive, and a David DeJesus trade doesn’t even look that likely at this point given his limited market. With Nick Franklin out, Beckham is primed to share the role of Asdrubal Cabrera’s double play partner with Logan Forsythe, and we will have to see how long that lasts.