The Tampa Bay Rays used infielder Derek Dietrich to acquire Yunel Escobar in the 2012 offseason, but Dietrich’s story in relation to the team may not be over. The Rays already reacquired John Jaso for this season after trading him away, and Dietrich may be next. Joe Frisaro of MLB.com reports that the Rays have talked with the Miami Marlins about their former second round pick, and the fit is quite interesting because the Rays don’t have an obvious place for Dietrich on their roster right now.
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Dietrich, who just turned 26, has played extremely well since making his way back to the major leagues in June, hitting to a .303/.384/.579 line with 6 doubles, 5 homers, and 7 RBI in 86 plate appearances. It isn’t as though he was terrible in previous years either–he now has a .234/.312/.428 line in 502 career PA’s in the majors. Dietrich’s power especially stands out, and while he will continue striking out without walking too much, he appears to have enough patience and pitch recognition to keep hitting the ball authority moving forward. A left-handed hitter, Dietrich is unsurprisingly better against right-handed pitching (.746 OPS), but his .706 OPS versus lefties is fine as well. To top it all off, Dietrich won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2019 season.
The reason that Dietrich has spent so much time in the minor leagues, though, is his defense. Among second baseman who played at least 800 innings at the position the last three seasons, only Rickie Weeks (-19.3) managed a worse UZR/150 than Dietrich’s -14.4 mark. Even with Dee Gordon hurt, the Marlins haven’t let Dietrich play second base a single time this year, instead playing him primarily at third and also giving him one game at first. He has been even worse defensively at third in a small sample (-31.8 UZR/150).
Fielding will never be a strong suit for Derek Dietrich by any stretch, but the Marlins did continue to play him at second base primarily in the minor leagues as they haven’t given up on him entirely yet. Something interesting from his 2014 defensive numbers is that he was only slightly below-average in terms of range and double plays–it was really just errors that were killing him. If Dietrich can improve on making routine plays, then he might be a decent defender to turn into a bat-first starting second baseman.
The Marlins also had Dietrich playing 8 games at first base at Triple-A, 7 at third (a little bizarre considering how much he is playing there in the majors), and even once in left field. It is easy to look at that and say that Dietrich could have a future as a Mark DeRosa-esque super-utility player. He doesn’t run well, but he has good hands and arm strength, giving him a chance to play every infield spot but shortstop and every outfield spot aside from centerfield. If he can be below-average rather than a train wreck at most of those positions, then his power bat would make him a useful player for the Rays.
Dietrich still doesn’t have an obvious place on the 2015 Tampa Bay Rays, but given his power and versatility, the Rays would find ways to get him at-bats. He isn’t the type of guy that they would give up a top prospect for, but they could be willing to give up say an A-ball arm with moderate upside like German Marquez or Hunter Wood along with a less regarded player. The fit for Dietrich with the Rays isn’t perfect, but in their search for offense, they can’t be too picky. Dietrich is the type of controllable young hitter that won’t change everything for the Rays, but does have the ability to help.