Kevin Kiermaier has proven to be a defensive stalwart for the Tampa Bay Rays. This year, he is focusing on improving his production with the bat.
Virtually any Major League team would love to have a player like Kevin Kiermaier on their roster. With his all world defensive capabilities, Kiermaier can turn even the most spacious outfield into a place where fly balls go to die. While the first switch hitter in MLB history, Bob Ferguson, was nicknamed “Death to Flying Things,” Kiermaier could lay claim that that nickname as well.
Although he has been stellar defensively, Kiermaier is still a work in progress with the bat. He does provide excellent speed on the basepaths and has some pop, but his production lags behind what he can do with his glove. Kiermaier is aiming to change that this season, as he is looking to become a part of the conversation as one of the best players in the league.
He certainly has a point. Quite a few players have earned a reputation as solid defensive players based, somewhat strangely, on their offense. Derek Jeter won five Gold Glove awards despite costing the Yankees 159 runs defensively in his career. Rafael Palmeiro won a Gold Glove award at first in a year he only played 28 games at first.
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While Kiermaier can change a game defensively, that is typically not enough to be considered one of the best. Of course, that does not mean that he is entirely bereft of offensive ability, as Kiermaier did set career highs with 12 homers, 21 steals, and 40 walks in 2016. He just needs to continue that progression.
In fact, Kiermaier may not need to change much in order for that offensive explosion to occur. As solid a year as he had with the bat, it could have been better with some improved luck with the batted ball. Kiermaier only had a .278 batting average on balls in play, a surprisingly low number given his speed. He did, however, hit more fly balls than in the past, perhaps in an effort to produce more power.
He may never be a 20 home run hitter, but Kiermaier is at his best when hitting line drives and using his speed. Considering his improved batting eye and ability to make contact, he could even become the type of leadoff hitter that the Rays need. If that happens, it may not be long before Kiermaier finds himself as a part of that conversation about the best players in the game.
Kevin Kiermaier has a goal for 2017, to get his offense to the same level as his defense. If he comes close, the Tampa Bay Rays will have another star.