One of the signs that the baseball season is upon us is getting the most recent Baseball Prospectus in the mail. Their section on Tampa Bay Rays catcher Luke Maile was interesting, to say the least.
The Tampa Bay Rays took steps towards solidifying their catcher position when they inked Wilson Ramos to a two year contract. However, as he is still recovering from a torn ACL, Ramos will not be behind the plate for at least the first month of the season. Even once he is ready to return, the Rays are likely to be cautious with his workload behind the plate until he proves to be fully recovered.
In the interim, this currently leaves Luke Maile atop the Rays depth chart. This prospect is not exactly exciting to Baseball Prospectus in their writeup about the Rays players heading into this season. In fact, here are their words:
"Taupe paint. One bag of dead leaves. Weak tea. The 3-0 fastball down the heart of the plate, taken for a strike. Uncle John’s well regarded accounting practice. Verb conjugations. Not that old warehouse, but the one further back. Breaking tax code updates. A perfectly normal toenail clipping. 3:30 PM, waiting for the work e-mail to arrive. Unbuttered wheat toast. Six tarnished pennies in the car ashtray. Your local state senator. And so forth, until….Luke Maile."
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Well now. Any time a player is compared to tap water, the DMV, a Kenny G album, or whatever color taupe is, that’s a sign of boredom. I mean, it’s a pretty amusing way to declare one’s views on a player, but what did Maile do to deserve that?
While Maile’s 2016 campaign, with a .227/.252/.361 batting line, may not impress, there were some positives. He had ten extra base hits in 126 plate appearances, showing a decent amount of pop. And he did draw the first four walks of his Major League career. Maile was also solid behind the plate, saving five runs and gunning down 28% of opposing baserunners. So, he was a decent enough player.
However, Maile’s performance was hampered by his inability to make contact. He struck out 36 times in those 126 plate appearances, giving him a 28.6% strikeout rate on the year. He had an astonishing nine to one strikeout to walk rate, numbers that would embarrass even some of the more free swingers in the game.
Typically, it takes catchers a while to have their offense catch up to their defensive ability. Maile, at 26 years old, did show some improvement last year. With his potential power, he could even be a solid presence in the lineup until Ramos is ready to return.
Luke Maile may not be the most exciting option, but he is better than the above list would indicate. If he can improve his contact rate, Maile may be a pleasant surprise for the Tampa Bay Rays.