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Rays Position Battles: Bedlam in Left Field

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Examining the LF battle between Jennings, Guyer, and Mahtook.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Last September, Mikie Mahtook was promoted to the big club for the 30th time that season. Up to that point, his success had been severely limited, although it was in a very small sample size.

Mahtook's first nine games in the majors, he was just 2-for-18, with those two hits being home runs. Then in his next 32 games, spanning from mid-June to the end of the season, Mahtook slashed .333/.383/.655 whilst lighting the world on fire in September, leading some to believe he could be a possible 'Seven WAR player'.

Now is it likely that September resembled his true skill? Probably not, but it sure would be nice if it did.

Even though Mahtook excelled during the final of the season in 2015, there's no guarantee he starts the year with the Rays and come opening day, he'll probably be starting in the outfield for Durham, due to his option status.

The players keeping Mahtook down? Brandon Guyer and the embattled Desmond Jennings.

The Battle for Left Field

Desmond Jennings is a victim of time and over-hype as he was tasked with the dubious honor of replacing one of the greatest players in franchise history, Carl Crawford.

Jennings has been very good when healthy, but that's been a rare occurrence as of late as he has appeared in just 28 games since September of 2014. In his most consistent playing time, Jennings averaged close to three WAR per season showing he can an above average player, but with younger, cheaper players knocking on the door, his time with the Rays may be coming to close.

That battle begins with Brandon Guyer, who the Rays acquired back in the 2011 Matt Garza trade that also netted the Rays Chris Archer.

Guyer has also dealt with his share of injuries but has been able to mostly put that behind him these past two seasons and has accumulated a total of 4.2 fWAR over 225 games as the fourth outfielder.

Is now the time for Guyer to become an everyday player?

Brandon Guyer stepped up in a big way in 2015 when Desmond Jennings went down in early May. From May 1st to the season's end, he put up 126 wRC+ in 326 plate appearances. However, the big factor that's preventing Guyer from starting most everyday, is how he's performed against right-handed pitching.

Let's take a look at how two players faced against RHP in 2015

AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ K% BB%
.245 .306 .390 .301 92 20.6% 7.1%
.257 .318 .354 .299 91 13.8% 5.0%

I am being intentionally vague because the sample size is one third of the other player's. The top stat line belongs to Evan Longoria, an unquestionable everyday player, and the bottom belongs to Brandon Guyer. The SSS belongs to Guyer, who had 159 PA, as compared to Longoria's 494.

Now, 2015 was of course a down season for Longoria offensively and hopefully he can improve upon it in 2016. The same cannot be said for Guyer, who produced the best season of his career, however, he may just be entering his prime and may have turned a corner regarding his struggles against right handed pitchers.

Concluding thoughts

Looking at their current contracts, Jennings $3.3 million, a minuscule amount if he can produce the same level of production as in year's past. The only deterrent has been injury risk. Jennings is also controlled through the 2017 season.

Guyer will make just $1.19 milion in 2015 and is controlled through 2018, giving him a lot more value on the market if the Rays were willing to trade.

Then you have Mahtook, whom the Rays control through 2021 with him not entering arbitration until 2019 giving the Rays a potential impact bat that's cost controlled for quite a few years.

All three players have area in which they excel with Jennings employing his speed -- although his knees may make that a problem --, Guyer mashing lefties and being able to get on base making getting hit by a pitch look  like a skill as he set a team record in that category last season, and Mahtook using his pure athleticism to succeed.

Defensively, Mahtook had a respectable showing in the majors last year, but it remains to be seen how Jennings performs coming off the injury. Meanwhile Guyer will make the routine play, and has defensive flexibility to move about the outfield, but isn't forcing his way into the roster with his glove. Then again, wiith Kevin Kiermaier in center, there won't be that much ground for a left fielder to cover anyway.

The three mentioned above will be competing for the starting left field duties with the first loser likely taking the fourth outfielder job. If need be, Mahtook is the only player with options remaining as Jennings' and Guyer's have both been depleted. Batting from opposite sides of the plate, those two could also fashion a platoon, as in years prior.

My personal prediction:

  • Brandon Guyer is the odd-man out and will be traded prior to opening day for another bullpen piece
  • Desmond Jennings is given another season to regain value and is either traded at the deadline or in the off-season
  • Mahtook is the fourth outfielder, unless pushed to start by injury