Daniel Robertson found his way in the Tampa Bay Rays system as the main prospect piece received from the Oakland Athletics in the trade for Ben Zobrist and dumping Yunel Escobar’s contract. Robertson was the 34th overall pick in the 2012 MLB draft.
Robertson was coming off his best year of his minor league career in the very offensive friendly California League playing for A+ Stockton. He was ranked #66 in both the 2015 Baseball America Top 100 and the 2015 Baseball Prospectus Top 101.
Robertson’s first season in the Rays minor league system started off on the right track. The then 21 year old middle infielder hit .274/.363/.415 and put up a 123 wRC+ for AA Montgomery.
Then he broke his hamate bone in his hand when he was hit by a pitch. In 2,371 career minor league plate appearances he has been struck by 54 pitches. A rate that isn’t quite on Brandon Guyer’s level, but is well above average. Robertson returned in time to spend time in the Arizona Fall League, but struggled as he hit .228/.315/.266 and put up a 66 wRC+ in 89 plate appearances.
To start the 2016 season Robertson was assigned to AAA Durham. For the first half of the season Robertson struggled. In his first 348 plate appearances he hit .248/.326/.322. He wasn’t getting too much power, which, it is important to say, isn’t uncommon when returning from a broken hamate bone. He also wasn’t transferring power from his lower half in his swing.
After working with then Rays Minor League Hitting Coordinator Chad Mottola in the middle of July his season turned around. Over his final 163 plate appearances he hit .287/.426/.434 and put up a 155 wRC+. He increased his OBP, but equally important he found his power. His ISO went up to .147 after being .075 to begin the season. Before the end of the season, Mottola would be named the Rays major league hitting coach.
Defensively last year the Rays started to move him around the infield. He received significant playing time at 2B, SS, and 3B. Likely this is to prepare him for eventual role as a utility infielder to start his MLB career.
Robertson doesn’t possess the greatest range at short, but is able to make the plays that he can get to. His ideal home is probably second base, but should be able to handle short off the bench or starting for stretches. By Baseball Prospectus’s FRAA he was worth +1.8 runs at SS in 75 games and +2.0 runs in 21 games at 2B.
Robertson is still in contention for a spot on the opening day roster due to the delay of Matt Duffy returning from offseason surgery. It’s hard to say what role he can play for the 2017 Rays as he could not see any time or get a couple hundred plate appearances.
As with all young players their error bars are wide for how much they will produce offensively. Robertson’s power comes more from doubles than home runs. His line drive approach reminds me a lot of Logan Forsythe. He could end up being the utility infield version of Forsythe or could play his way to a major league regular. He should be a major league contributor.
Robertson is coming off a weak 2016 by his standards, but that was likely due to injury and he finished strong. It’s unlikely that he’ll be the answer if the Rays need extended playing time from a middle infielder, as Willy Adames will become that option sometime this summer, so a utility role may be his ultimate future. In the meantime, Robertson can be a useful piece off the bench, or fill-in the first half of this year until Adames’s time comes.