Matt Silverman did a nice job of bringing some power to the Tampa Bay lineup in the offseason. The signing of Logan Morrison and Steve Peace and the trade for Corey Dickerson gave them three new bats that are capable of hitting three through five in the order and driving in runs. The only question is who are going to set the table for the run producers.
Ever since Carl Crawford packed his bags and moved on to Boston, the Rays have been looking for top of the order hitters and not finding them. The prototypical top of the order hitter has an on base percentage of .350 or better and runs the bases well. Stolen bases are always a plus. Last season only Logan Forsythe was in the top 100 in on base percentage with a .359 average. Kevin Kiermaier showed the best ability to run the bases but his on base percentage was only .305. The Rays gave neither player much consideration as a top of the order hitter in 2015.
So where do the Rays find hitters who get on base with regularity and not clog up the base path? In the past the Rays have turned to Desmond Jennings. He has the speed and has a somewhat respectable .327 career on base percentage. Unfortunately, Jennings wants to be a power hitter and that leads to too many strikeouts and not enough hits and walks. The Rays have not used him as a leadoff hitter consistently this spring and that tells you a lot.
Kevin Kiermaier is probably the best base runner on the team. He might be the best in baseball going first to third. Unfortunately, he also tries too hard to be a power hitter. He only had a .298 on base percentage last season and had a 95 strikeouts to 24 walks ratio. With the influx of power into the lineup, it would seem to make sense to teach Kiermaier take pitches, bunt and hit to right but the hitting approach of the Rays has always been a mystery.
Probably the best candidates are a couple of power hitters. Logan Forsythe, as mentioned above, had the Rays best on base percentage in 2015. He also led the team in batting average with a .281 average and walks with 55 and while he is no speedster, he won’t clog up the bases. The Rays are already looking at him in the leadoff role in spring training and seem to like what they see. If he takes a few more pitches and goes to the opposite field, he should be able to adjust to his new role.
The next choice would be newcomer Corey Dickerson. Dickerson was brought in to be a middle of the order power hitter. However, given the lack of an base guys, his numbers at Colorado last season might serve him well in the number two spot in the batting order. In his last full season with the Rockies, he had a .312 batting average and .364 on base percentage. He struck out 101 times which is not bad for a power hitter. Also, his power numbers may have been inflated because of Coors field so a line drive hitter with occasional power might be more his game.
Lastly, you have to take a look a Brandon Guyer. Last season he had a .266 batting average and a .359 on base percentage In addition, he managed 25 walks and was hit by a pitcher a league leading 24 times. Whatever it takes to get on base! The only problem is that he may not even make the team and if he does, it will be a part of a platoon and/or a part time outfielder.
In the end, the Rays have choices for table setters even if they are not the best choices. With Morrison and Pearce joining Evan Longoria, James Loney and Steven Souza Jr. available for the three through six spots in the batting order, they can afford to put Forsythe and Dickerson in the one and two spots. It’s not perfect but it may work for the new, bulked up Rays,