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The Rays need a plan for second base

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Which option is the best fit for the 2018 season?

San Diego Padres v Washington Nationals Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images

In an offseason that has brought more questions than answers, second base remains the biggest unanswered question on the Rays roster, at least on paper, as Matt Duffy will likely slide from shortstop to third base in 2018 and Brad Miller is the strongest internal candidate to man first base (non-prospect edition).

From there, the Rays have five options for second at-bats on the 40-man roster, assuming the Rays don’t add from the outside (which I’ll address later). This group would include Daniel Robertson (the incumbent), Christian Arroyo (the prospect with major league experience), Ryan Schimpf (the extreme), Micah Johnson (the speedster) and Joey Wendle (the unheralded).

Each has interesting skills to offer, but glaring deficiencies. The question is whose flaws can the Rays live with the most to start the season?

Rays’ 2B Comparison

Name PA Contact% BB% LD% ISO
Name PA Contact% BB% LD% ISO
Daniel Robertson 254 77.2% 11.4% 17.8% 0.119
Ryan Schimpf 527 74.1% 13.1% 15.9% 0.297
Christian Arroyo 135 82.4% 5.9% 18.1% 0.112
Joey Wendle 118 85.4% 5.9% 20.9% 0.073
Micah Johnson 131 79.1% 6.9% 21.3% 0.034
*All statistics from Fangraphs.com

In this group, Robertson appears to have a leg up among his competition considering how much the Rays like him. They traded for him, developed him, and he made the opening day roster last season. His game is also a little more well rounded than Ryan Schimpf, Micah Johnson, Joey Wendle and Christian Arroyo. This chart comparing each player’s career MLB stats gives a little proof to this idea.

It may not be fair to compare major league track records given the sporadic playing time Micah Johnson has seen or how quickly Arroyo was rushed towards the majors. Still, Robertson has reasonably acceptable contact rates, power, and patience.

Robertson’s relatively low variance profile gives him an advantage over Ryan Schimpf, who’s extreme fly ball and swing-and-miss profile could make him a streaky and unreliable option if he’s running cold.

Arroyo’s extreme contact approach — he struck out only 15% of the time in over 1,600 plate appearances minor league — could allow him to hit for a high average as he transitions to the majors, although his subpar power and low level of selectivity will put pressure on him to maintain a high BABIP. Either way, he may still be in need of minor league development, and it would be reasonable to assume the Rays would want to see him in Triple-A with Willy Adames and Jake Bauers to keep the prospect class together (Rule 5 concerns, etc).

Joey Wendle and Micah Johnson each possess intriguing skills, but inconsistent contact rates and poor selectivity take too much away from their profiles, along with each of their lack of power. It’s difficult to see any of the new arrivals usurping Daniel Robertson.

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees
Daniel Robertson
Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Conclusion

If the Rays stay with the group they have at the moment, Robertson likely sees the lion’s share of plate appearances at the keystone.

But what if they do add a bat? The Rays have long been thought to be prowling through the bargain been for an affordable first baseman. Given the stagnant nature of this offseason, no one would be surprised if the Rays added Lucas Duda, Adam Lind, Mike Napoli, or Jose Bautista (to name a few) to start the season at first base as the Rays wait for Jake Bauers to force his way to the majors.

If the Rays opt to add a first baseman, Brad Miller likely slides to second and Robertson moves into his familiar platoon/bench role.

After a solid 2016 (111 wRC+ in 601 PAs) Miller struggled through injury to a disappointing 83 wRC+ in 2017. Miller’s ISO went from .239 in 2016 to .136 in 2017 and his strikeout rate continued to trend upwards.

On the positive side, He walked at a 15% rate and cut his chase rate to just 27%, compared to almost 31% for his career. If he can recover from his abdominal/core injury and regain some of his breakout power and keep his breakout patience, Miller makes for a solid second baseman.

All in all, the Rays’ second base options for 2018 and beyond aren’t all that savory, as the prospect class yet to be promoted sometime later this year are the likely answers around the infield.

Robertson projects best as a utility infielder, Miller likely isn’t a long-term option given his contract, and the group of Schimpf, Wendle, and Johnson are thus far career organizational depth. Still, it’s worth testing what each infielder might bring throughout the spring.

Second base may be a roller coaster for the Rays in 2018.