The Rays outfield alignment in 2015 will certainly be a different look than last season, and based on some quotes here and there, the stars are beginning to align for exactly that will like.
Personally, I feel it's important to play toward player preferences and the Rays may have learned that lesson as well.
Former catcher Wil Myers had a clear preference for playing center field when he was acquired by Tampa Bay, but after multiple outfield blunders -- one of which was the turning point int 2013 ALDS, the other resulting in a season ending injury in 2014 -- the Rays gave up and dealt the former top prospect in a three team deal to acquire highlight reel defender Steven Souza Jr.
Our friends at at Federal Baseball interviewed Souza on the same subject prior to the trade, and site editor Patrick Reddington was kind enough to forward the quotes. Checking in on his defensive flexibility, Souza confirmed that he is certainly capable of playing first base if needed:
"I've actually got more years under my belt in the infield than I do in the outfield. So, going back to first base and playing there, I was just talking to everybody in there about it, I'm ready and I can do it and I'm excited if I need to do that."
But when asked what he'd like to improve upon in 2015, his reaction was to focus on his already excellent arm and speed from the outfield grass.
"Defensively, I know this sounds crazy, but I'd love to get [better] defensively -- assists and stuff like that -- trying to shut down the running game a little more, just little things like that, consistency at the big league level. Staying focused on what I need to do."
Interestingly, the biggest play of his career coming from the opposite side, Souza has his own preference and that's firmly to play right field. He said as much two spring trainings ago in interview with mlb.com's Bill Ladson:
"I played center at the end of the season last year, and it was fun and I had a blast doing it," Souza said. "But I love right field. I feel like you get to throw more people out from out there. You get a little more opportunities out there and it's fun."
Of course the Rays have yet to announce that he's being promoted at the start of the season, but all signs point to that being the case. If we give right field to Souza, that leaves two capable center fielders left for the expected starting slots in Desmond Jennings and Kevin Kiermaier.
Based on the history of both players, Jennings has played well in Left and Center, while Kiermaier is more inclined to Right or Center, and Kiermaier has the more dominant outfield arm. Just lase off-season his arm was rated the best among any prospect in the minors by Baseball America, and he's been making strides in Spring Training this off-season to make that evident, nailing runners and third and second in the early games.
Arm aside, there's a case to be made for either defender in center field, but Desmond Jennings may have already made his own preference known to return to left field, as was evidenced in an off-hand remark post-game by Kevin Cash on Saturday:
"For a guy that says he wants to be out in left field, he's looking pretty comfortable out there."
Skip to 1:19 for the quote. The impression seems to be that Desmond "wants" to change positions, but he's making diving catches like he'd never changed to center in the first place. The impression holds true to my memory as well.
Desmond Jennings was a web gem defender in left field, and has been solid in center. Which is better? A silent assassin or a world beater? I can't say I'd be disappointed to have Crawfordian plays back in left.