Tampa Bay Rays roster outlook: Who is manning the hot corner?
By Austin Reimann
Having already covered the catching situation for the Tampa Bay Rays, let’s start the trip around the infield starting at third base. A trio of candidates will give Rays fans something to keep a close eye on all spring.
What might be an obvious choice to some Tampa Bay Rays fans isn’t as obvious to me. The three-man race for the starting third base gig, like the backup catcher job, will be an interesting one to watch. All three candidates have been acquired via trades. Both Duffy and Arroyo were originally Giants and Robertson was once a top Athletics prospect.
Third base is crowded in Tampa Bay with Yandy Diaz, Joey Wendle, Andrew Velazquez, Kean Wong all having showed the ability to play there but I believe that the bulk fo the paying time will go to Duffy, Robertson, and Arroyo.
Now all three are fighting for a piece of the pie at the hot corner. Duffy, once a Rookie of the Year runner-up now enters camp trying to stay on the field for the second year in a row. Next up is Daniel Robertson who enters camp with a focus on staying healthy as his 2018 season was cut short due to injury. Finally, the former top prospect in the Giants system will also look to stay healthy and earn a permanent spot on the big league club.
His job might be in more jeopardy than most fans realize. The 28-year-old provides the Rays with less than stellar defense and rather mundane offensive production. Duffy’s -4 defensive runs saved ranked 10th out of the 15 third basemen who logged at least 1000 innings at third this season. The leader, Matt Chapman of the Athletics, who logged over 200 more innings at third saved 29 runs.
Sure, Duffy is nearly a .300 hitter, but he lacks the power and production you would like to see out of a corner infielder. Luckily, Duffy was able to stay on the field for 132 games and amassed 2.4 bWAR. This is how he fared at the plate:
.294 // .361 // .366
4 HR // 44 RBI // 104 OPS+
Duffy will have his hands full this spring fending off Robertson and Arroyo. He did enter camp 20 pounds heavier in an effort to stay healthier.
Daniel Robertson has a good glove and pop at the plate. When healthy, he makes it very hard for Kevin Cash to keep him out of the lineup. I have previously predicted that the 23-year-old would be the starter at third by the end of the year. He was on his way to a great sophomore campaign prior to a season ending, freak thumb injury.
He played in 45 games less than Matt Duffy and was worth 0.3 bWAR more than him. Robertson’s shortened 2018 could have been a special one and there is a chance that he could have finished the year leading the Rays position players in bWAR with a strong second half.
At the plate, he also more than doubled Duffy’s home run total:
.262 // .382 // .415
9 HR // 34 RBI // 122 OPS+
I expect Robertson to give Duffy a run for his money this spring and if he doesn’t prevail with the starting role come Opening Day, I believe he will eventually.
When the Rays sent franchise player Evan Longoria to the west coast, the Giants sent back their #2 prospect among other pieces. That prospect was Christian Arroyo. A Florida native, Arroyo exceeded his rookie limits last season and is no longer considered a prospect, but he might as well be. He only has 178 career at bats at the bug league level, but there is still plenty of promise surrounding the 23-year-old third baseman.
Last season, he appeared in Tampa Bay for a brief stint, 20 games in total. He performed well at the plate and made appearances at second and third base.
.2 bWAR // .264 (14-53) // .339 // .396
1 HR // 6 RBI // 104 OPS+
Like his competition at third this spring, Arroyo needs to avoid the injury bug which disrupted his 2018 campaign at Durham. With a strong spring, Arroyo may sneak onto the Opening Day roster, but I would expect him to open the season at Durham and prepare for multiple trips to Tampa Bay and back over the course of the year as injuries occur.
If I am repeating myself, I am sorry… But, the bottom line for Duffy, Robertson, and Arroyo will be health. Any of the three could emerge as the third baseman if the other two go down in camp of later on in the season. I still think Duffy opens as the starter but Robertson will be ready and waiting for his chance filling in elsewhere.
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Don’t forget that Yandy Diaz, Joey Wendle, and Andrew Velazquez could all see time at third this year as well. The Tampa Bay Rays have a plethora of options at the hot corner this season, but everybody likes stability and I think by the end of 2019 Kevin Cash will have found that in Robertson’s glove and bat.
Roster breakdown to this point: