The Tampa Bay Rays have a surplus of talent on both offense and defense. We take a look at how third base could play out in 2020.
The Tampa Bay Rays are loaded with bats heading into the 2020 season. They are one of the best teams at managing matchups and putting players in a perfect position to succeed. The Rays rolled out a franchise-record 57 players last season en route to a 96-win season.
An interesting scenario unfolding this spring (prior to the suspension) was the third base position. Yandy Diaz had a breakout season before suffering an injury.
Tampa Bay Rays – Yandy Diaz
How have his immense muscles translated to hitting a baseball? Well, we know he hits it hard. Here’s how he stacks up against some of the game’s best sluggers.
Player //Exit Velo//LD% //GB% //FB% //HR-FB%//Hard-hit (95mph+)*
A. Judge // 95.9 (1st)// 27.3 // 40.3 // 32.4 // 35.1 // 53.8
C. Yelich//93.1 (5th)// 20.9 // 43.2 // 35.9 // 32.8 // 50.8
J. Donaldson//92.9 (7th)// 21.5 // 42.2 // 36.4 // 25.7 // 47.5
J. Abreu // 92.1 (16th) // 21.7 // 46.3 // 31.9 //21.0 //40.7
M. Olson // 91.9 (19th) // 24.0 // 31.4 // 44.6 // 23.7 // 50.3
Y. Diaz // 91.7 (23rd) //17.2 // 50.8 // 32.0 // 17.5 // 42.4
*Borrowed from a previous article about the power of Diaz (linked below)
The problem is where the ball goes. He’s not a natural power hitter. His velocity allows him to hit for a high average, even on groundballs. Which is good because he hits a LOT of groundballs.
In 2017 at AAA-Indianapolis, he drove an almost unbelievable 63.5% of his batted balls into the dirt. Even more intriguing (you better find this intriguing) is that the year prior he had an even higher GB% of 65.7%.
Again, his ground balls are no normal grounders. It’s like trying to field a charging bull. So, despite all of the groundballs, the excessive amount of groundballs, he still hit .313 in the minor leagues. So it worked for him.
Upon joining the Rays last season he made a slight adjustment in the spring and he started hitting dingers. In 256 at-bats with the Indians he slugged his on-base percentage. In his first 156 at-bats with the Rays he had nine homers.
One thing that sticks out about the comp between Yandy and the other sluggers is his HR-FB rate. Yandy had a career-low GB% and a career-high FB% last season. It did equate to more homers, but there are some caveats. His career-low GB% was still over 50%. That’s still high. His increased flyball percentage without a very high HR-FB rate meant lower batting average, more flyouts, and the lowest OBP of his career.
Tampa Bay Rays – Nate Lowe
He has a ton of potential, but he’s being asked to alter a swing that brought him to the majors. There’s a chance the natural power of Nate Lowe earns his way into the majority of reps at the hot corner. Being left-handed is a huge advantage for Lowe.
Lowe had a very limited sample size last season, but he showed off his power. I’ll refrain from referencing his clutch homer against Boston because it was just one moment… It was a great moment, though.
Nate came into camp 20 pounds lighter this season intent on working out at third base. He was getting a considerable look at third base by the team before the end of spring.
in 2018 Lowe had 32 doubles, 27 homers, 102 RBI, and drew 68 walks in 130 games for the Rays across three levels (A+-AA-AAA). He finished with a slash of .330/.416/.568 on the season.
He’s got the left-hand advantage over Yandy and he’s got a natural power stroke. There’s a chance we see as much Lowe at third, if not more than Yandy this season. It will come down to his ability hold his own defensively at third.
Does he have a chance? Well, he played third in high school and the Rays began toying with the idea of putting slugger at third late last season. He started three games at third in Triple-A last season and made a key debut at third for the big-league club in game 153 of their playoff push last season against the Dodgers.
Do you think Lowe can establish himself as the primary third baseman for the Rays this season? Let us know in the comments below.