It's pretty common knowledge the Rays have strong pitching depth, and the trade of Nathan Karns to Seattle shows their confidence in the depth they have. However, Drew made a case on why the Rays should hold onto their starting pitching depth by highlighting all the injuries that the rotation had to deal with last season. In simple terms, it's better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
While the Rays pitching should be left alone at the winter meetings, there are other places of depth the Rays have room to work with, particularly at the shortstop position.
Within the next two to three seasons, the Rays could have quite the dilemma at shortstop. Daniel Robertson could be in the majors as soon as next year if all goes well in the first half of 2016. He carried a .274/.363/.415 hitting line which left him with a 123 wRC+ in Double-A Montgomery, and if the Rays feel confident enough out of spring training, Robertson could be in Triple-A Durham and see a promotion to the majors at some point during the season. With Asdrubal Cabrera most likely signing somewhere else this off-season, there is a very small chance Robertson could even start in the majors next season, should Brad Miller or Logan Forsythe not prove to be the future.
The "problem" is that Robertson is not alone in this career arc. Willy Adames is one step behind in terms of development, but could be fast approaching. The Fangraphs No. 90 overall prospect coming into 2015 put up a solid season in Advanced-A Charlotte, and launched into mlb.com's Top-50. By wRC+ standards, Adames had a very similar season to Robertson with a respectable 121, compared to Robertson's aforementioned 123. Depending on how his 2016 goes, Adames could be in St. Pete for a cup of coffee in September as well.
This means that the Rays will have a decision to make within the next year or two. Which shortstop would they want more? The contact-heavy Robertson or the defensively sound Adames? Better yet, is there room for both?
Daniel Robertson could conceivably become a second baseman. He played about half of his games in the Arizona Fall League at second base and profiles well there. Adames could also move and become a third baseman, as some scouts criticize his speed, calling him "an average runner." But so far Adames still looks like he can handle the position.
Either way, there could conceivably be a Rays infield with both Adames and Robertson, solving the hypothetical problem. On the other hand, I like the possibility of trading one of the two at the winter meetings or next season at the deadline. If Robertson really does look stellar in the pros, Adames could become a headliner in a deadline deal for something the Rays need badly.
Last season the Rays struggled to find consistent hitting, and Adames could be a catalyst in a trade for a steady hitter. Teams would like the high floor of the 20-year old Adames as a defense-first shortstop who has the potential to become a solid hitter as well. If Adames blossoms next season at Double-A (where he should start, barring injury), Robertson could become a trade candidate as well.
Photo Credit: Kim Klement--USATODAY
For those who worry about if the player the Rays don't trade ends up being a bust, enough shortstop depth still exists as a fail-safe. The Rays have Tim Beckham and Nick Franklin on retainer at the major league level, and there are plenty of other quality shortstops in the system.
Brad Miller was just acquired in the aforementioned Karns trade and figures to be the short-term option for the Rays at shortstop until Robertson or someone else from the minors forces him out. Miller was a utility man in Seattle and lost the starting job there, making him available to trade, and there's no guarantee he regains form in Tampa Bay. The same fate may wait for him here in Tampa Bay as soon as Robertson breaks into the pros.
Adrian Rondon just finished his first season in the organization in the GCL, and he has an approach at the plate and defensive skills that scouts love. Considering he turned 17 during the season in the GCL, his upside is high in the coming years as he continues to develop.
Andrew Velazquez is another option at shortstop, and he is following the same pace as Adames after spending this season at Charlotte. Velazquez broke his hamate bone, which required surgery, but he returned after missing two months, playing 47 games in Charlotte with a .290 average and .336 wOBA. Broken hamate bones often hurt power at the plate, but Velazquez was never a power hitter to begin.
Jake Hager is an additional option at short who is closer to the pros. Hager missed 2015 due to knee surgery, but before the injury Hager looked to be set for Triple-A Durham to start the season. If the surgery went well enough, Hager should start in Durham with a chance to end up in the majors as the season progresses. Hager profiles as a utility man but could start if the need arises. At worst, he can act as a bridge from Miller to Velazquez or Rondon.
While the Rays could keep Adames and Robertson and move one to another position, the team could fill other holes using one as a trade chip. And if the Rays held on to both, there's plenty of other depth to play with at the Winter Meetings.
Just to make it a little easier to process that wall of text, here's a table of all the options the Rays have at shortstop.
|Rule 5 Eligible
|Likelihood to become starter
|High-Hit tool is there
|High-High floor as defender w/ strong potential to hit
|Medium-Strong raw tools but has to develop
|Medium-MLB experience, struggles with throwing & against LHPs
|Low-Strong runner and defender but hit tool still developing
|Low-Utility man projection and missed 2015 after knee surgery
The Rays finally have depth at a position other than pitcher, and it's actually at a pretty important one too.