Tampa Bay Rays: Grading Each Player's First Half
Position Players: C
Yandy Diaz, A+
Isaac Paredes, A+
Harold Ramirez, A+
Ji-Man Choi, A
Manny Margot, A
Randy Arozarena, B-
Wander Franco, C
Francisco Mejia, C
Kevin Kiermaier, C
Josh Lowe, D+
Taylor Walls, D
Brett Phillips, D-
This is the area that has been the core of any Rays-related frustration. Half the regular lineup has been hurt for what feels like all year, and any satisfaction that came with finally getting Brandon Lowe back has been offset by another long-term loss of Wander Franco due to a hamate injury.
That said, there have been bright spots. At the forefront is Yandy Diaz, who altered his approach at the plate to drop any semblance of power and make getting on base his only goal. It's working: he leads Rays position players in bWAR and he's currently rocking an OPS+ of 137 despite his OBP being 17 points higher than his slugging percentage. He has 49 walks to just 35 strikeouts, and the plate discipline master has been one of just 3 players in this lineup to stay healthy all season. It's rare that a player with just 3 home runs would get an A+, but Diaz is having a great season in his own unique way.
In other news, the Rays inexplicably keep winning trades that seem awfully lopsided at first. While former Tampa Bay slugger Austin Meadows has battled underperformance and injury over in Detroit, Isaac Paredes has done nothing but hit since finding his way onto the MLB roster in June. He has 13 homers in just 51 games, and has blown fans' expectations away despite cooling off to start July. Harold Ramirez was a career-below-average-hitter before coming to the Rays in 2022 and he is also somehow mashing at the DH spot, sporting a .329 average and a 143 OPS+ through his first 78 games.
Ji-Man Choi has remained consistent, establishing himself as one of the best first basemen in the game. He still doesn't see lefty pitching much, but like Diaz, he has a knack for walking a lot (.107 difference between his OBP and AVG) and ranks 2nd among Rays' position players in bWAR despite the slightly abbreviated playing time.
Manuel Margot was having a career season (132 OPS+) before going down with a knee sprain that came from crashing into the wall in right field; he will unfortunately miss significant time. Randy Arozarena hasn't been a bad hitter, but his all-or-nothing approach on the bases (leading the AL in times caught stealing for the 2nd straight year) and the abundance of swings and misses in his approach have cost the team on occasion. Still, his .744 OPS is above league average, and the Rays will hope for some more progression as he gets more experience in the big leagues.
From there, the drop-off is steep. It's not necessarily Wander Franco's fault that he only managed a C; he has had to play catch-up all year and is already on his 2nd lengthy IL stint. That still doesn't take away from the fact that he was not an effective hitter when healthy, despite not losing a step in the field.
Francisco Mejia isn't a terrible hitter as far as catchers go, but that doesn't make a .660 OPS any good. He has been below average on both sides of the ball and he strikes out a ton for a guy who has only managed 2 walks all season. He's still young, so the game-calling and framing abilities will come with time, but the team has missed Mike Zunino's presence behind the plate. Kevin Kiermaier is possibly done for the season with a hip injury which is tough to see since he has survived the team's constant wheeling-and-dealing patterns for 8 years, making him the longest-tenured Ray. He started off the season incredibly well, but struggled at the plate during the team's losing month of June. That isn't necessarily surprising since he has always been a great defender first and foremost, but even his field in the play has been a lot closer to average this year (just 1 Statcast Out Above Average).
The team has high hopes for prospect Josh Lowe, but he has an OPS under .600 through his first half-season in the big leagues. That says pretty much nothing about how good he'll be in the future as prospects take time to adjust, but it has been a tough go so far. Walls was getting extended playing time when Franco and Lowe were both hurt at the same time, and he's a wizard at shortstop, but his .178/.257/.295 slash line shows that he has not been a big-league caliber hitter.
Brett Phillips has always been outstanding defensively and he's a greater ambassador for MLB off the field than most of the people running it, and for that, he deserves a passing grade. However, he's a non-factor at the plate: he has a 41 OPS+ on the season, which is over 50% below league average. That suggests he probably wouldn't even be one of the best hitters at the AAA level.