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Tampa Bay Rays Key Players for the 2017 Season

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Mar 26, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) and right fielder Mallex Smith (0) smile as they run back to the dugout against the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 26, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) and right fielder Mallex Smith (0) smile as they run back to the dugout against the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
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Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Kevin Kiermaier – Center Field

Even if Kevin Kiermaier did not have a hit all year, his glove in center field would more than make up for his presence in the lineup.

Although his offense is clearly a work in progress, Kiermaier did show some signs of improvement last season. He hit a career high 12 homers and stole 21 bases, while improving his contact and walk rates. This led to a .246/.331/.410 batting line, as he nudged his OPS+ above league average once more.

That improvement could be just the beginning. Kiermaier’s drop in batting average can be attested to his .276 batting average on balls in play, which was 24 points below league average. Given his 23% line drive rate and excellent speed, a return to average is certainly possible for the coming year. If Kiermaier does get there, his batting line should reap the benefits.

If his offense does improve to the point that one could reasonably expect, Kiermaier could finally take his long expected spot atop the Rays lineup. He would also ascend to being one of the top overall players in the game, instead of only being considered the top defensive player. The Rays need a catalyst, and Kiermaier could be on the precipice of developing into that player.

Kevin Kiermaier is certainly valuable as it is, but if he can bring his offense up to even close to the same level as his defense, he would be a star. This may be the year that happens.

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