Will the Tampa Bay Rays’ bad luck with injuries ever end? After beginning the season with Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly, Matt Moore, Jake McGee, Alex Colome, and Nick Franklin on the disabled list, James Loney and John Jaso have since gotten injured as well, with Loney hitting the DL with an oblique strain. Replacing him on the roster is Allan Dykstra, whose 40-man roster spot was created when yet another injured player, Burch Smith, was moved to the 60-day DL.
In a twist that nobody saw coming, Dykstra is now lined up to be the Rays’ starting first baseman against right-handed pitching. Juan Francisco was released (he would have exercised the out-clause in his contract if he wasn’t), so Dykstra appears to be the guy, at least for the next few games. Can he hold down the fort at first or will he just be a fill-in until a more qualified player is brought in? Are the Rays actually on the phone trying to bring back Francisco right now?
One thing we can say right from the start is that Allan Dykstra is a very different player from James Loney. Both bat lefty and play first base, but that is about where the similarities end. Loney is a filled-out 6’3″, 235 while Dykstra is taller and lankier at 6’5″, 215. Loney is a line drive hitter who specializes at making contact while Dykstra is a power hitter whose best asset is his ability to draw walks. Finally, Loney is a terrific defender at first while Dykstra has a bad reputation at the position.
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As the Rays call up Dykstra, they dream of him turning into a prototypical first baseman, something they haven’t had since Carlos Pena‘s prime. As we know, such players are almost never available in the Rays’ price range. Pena had delivered a few solid seasons for the Detroit Tigers before joining the Rays, but he was available on the cheap after a season spent mostly in the minor leagues. Dykstra, on the other hand, was ripe for the taking on a minor league deal because he is entirely unproven.
It is not too often that 27-year-old rookies turn into impact players, and Dykstra faces long odds of defying that. However, the Rays’ fascination with older prospects has become apparent the past two years as they have acquired both Steven Souza and Nate Karns in trades. Brandon Guyer is another player on their roster who got off to a late start. Dykstra does not come with the prospect pedigree of any of those three, but he will hope to garner similar results.
Allan Dykstra spent three years at Double-A in the New York Mets organization, but he played extremely well when he finally got his first chance at Triple-A last season. In 439 plate appearances for New York’s Las Vegas affiliate, he hit to a .280/.426/.504 line with 23 doubles, 16 homers, and 74 RBI. He struck out 97 times, 22.1% of his plate appearances, but that was fine given his power and plate discipline–he walked 84 times, or 19.1% of his PA’s.
Despite those numbers, there are several real reasons for concern with Dykstra. His patience is far ahead of his pitch recognition, and teams should be able to beat him with good secondary pitches. He swung-and-missed at both a changeup and a slider in his first big league at-bat, and then he whiffed at a curveball and a changeup in his second trip to the plate. Luckily for him, Miguel Gonzalez threw him a couple of fastballs that he saw well and took out of the zone on his way to a walk.
In his first big league game, the scouting report on Allan Dykstra was already pretty clear. He received a steady diet of secondary pitches and the Baltimore Orioles actually shifted against him on the right side in his second at-bat. If Dykstra can succeed early on despite those obstacles, it could mean something. Dykstra has a few weeks until Loney returns to prove himself, but he really doesn’t have that much time. If he falters in the next week or so, the Rays could already start looking for alternatives.
The bottom line with Dykstra is that the Tampa Bay Rays signed him thinking he might be a sleeper, and the opportunity quickly arose for them to find out if they were right. He comes with question marks and the odds are probably against him, but he’s a low-risk gamble with the potential reward of a power-hitting first baseman or designated hitter. It is less than 50-50 that Dykstra will still be the Rays’ first baseman throughout Loney’s DL stint, but the Rays are excited to see what he can do nonetheless.