Spring Preview 2014: The Infield | The Process Report

Spring Preview 2014: The Infield

With camp opening this week, we’re going to begin previewing the roster in segments. Today we’ll focus on the potential members of the opening day bullpen. The format is as follows:

Player name
2013 role
Expected 2014 role
A brief breakdown of the player

Wilson Betemit
Missed most of the season with a knee injury
On a minor league deal

Betemit, should he accept an assignment to Durham if he does not make the major league roster, provides the Rays with depth at the corner and at DH. He is limited in the field, with first base being his better position on the corners. He is a switch hitter on paper, but an overwhelming majority of his production has come from the left side of the plate.

Yunel Escobar
Everyday shortstop

After a slow start Escobar got things going, ending the season as a league-average batter. He has solid bat-to-ball skills and a firm understanding of the strike zone. Double-digit home runs have eluded him over the past two seasons, but he will litter the gaps with extra-base hits. Has more chrome than a ’57 Chevy in the field, but great range and excellent arm strength provide more than enough to back all the flash. Should be one of the better two-way shortstops in the league once again.

Logan Forsythe
Utility player
Spent 2013 with the Padres
Should become part of a platoon while playing all over

Nothing about Forsythe’s game is flashy, but he’s a well-rounded player who fits the roster perfectly. The Arkansas product has a good approach, some pop, and better than average speed. Defensively, Forsythe has more than enough arm to play the left side, and should see time at second base.

Ryan Hanigan
Was part of the catching platoon in Cincinnati in 2013
Should see majority of time at catcher in 2014

2013 was hindered by injuries that limited his effectiveness. He has previously shown better offensive skills than were on display in 2013, but more importantly, brings better defensive skills to the catching platoon situation. He and Molina have combined for 77 defensive runs saved over the past two seasons allowing the team some continuity on the pitch-framing front that has been missing over the past two seasons. While he has never had more than 400 plate appearances in a season, he also has a .359 career on base percentage fueled by 38 intentional walks from hitting in the 8-hole in NL lineups.

James Loney
First base
Spent the season as the Rays primary first baseman
Should do the same in 2014

Loney returns to Tampa Bay the same player he was when the season ended. His glove is fantastic, with a strong arm and the sense of how to use it. Offensively, Loney has a good approach and stays within himself, showing a willingness to spray the ball from line-to-line. Though he won’t post big power numbers, he should be able to atone for it with enough average and on-base skills.

Evan Longoria
Third Baseman
Spent 2013 playing nearly every day

The team MVP, in nearly every sense of the label. His team friendly contracts have given the team the flexibility to round out the roster around him. His gold caliber defense anchors the infield and his bat is the straw that stirs the drink on the offense. The health of the franchise player is what ultimately determines the success of a season, but the team is better prepared in 2014 to replace him when needed than they have been in the past.  He has not played 150+ games in back to back seasons since 2009-2010 and the team would love to see that stretch end in 2014.

Jose Molina
Every-other-day catcher and defensive sub
Backup catcher

Molina returns yet, for the first time in his Rays career, he’s unlikely to be the best overall catcher on the roster. His defensive skills remain as good as his bat remains bad. How Maddon manages the playing time between Molina and Hanigan is unclear, though it stands to reason the younger backstop might carry a larger burden.

Sean Rodriguez
Super-utility player
Spent the season playing all over for the Rays, including first base and the outfield
Likely to repeat that role

Rodriguez is an underrated part of the Rays machine. He plays all over without complaining and has hit better than people realize. Maddon used Rodriguez aggressively against left-handed pitchers last season, and figures to do the same in 2014. Expect his contributions to remain unappreciated.

Ben Zobrist
Everyday player at multiple positions

Pretty much the epitome of a “Rays’ player” Zobrist does not have one tool that stands out above the rest – unless you count versatility as a skill – but does almost everything well. Most of his remaining power comes as a left-handed batter versus right-handed pitching, but can still stand in the opposite box and get on base versus southpaws. He is a virtual lock for 50 extra-base hits with double-digit steals. With a full complement of outfielders, he will likely get most of the reps at second base, but expect him to appear at four or five positions before the season is up.

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