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Tampa Bay Rays Season Preview: The Battle for Second Base

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Who will win this epic battle of also rans for the right to man the keystone sack for a couple months?

MLB: Spring Training-Philadelphia Phillies at Tampa Bay Rays Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

When I was ten, my dream was to be a minor league second baseman, and one day maybe get a cup o’ coffee as a mediocre utility guy for an middling major league baseball team. Let that be a lesson, kids: Even if you aim low, you can still fall pitifully short.

Given that aspiration, I believe that makes me the ideal person to write the 2018 Season Preview for whoever will be playing second base for the Tampa Bay Rays.

I mean, just look at these guys.

Joey Wendle. Micah Johnson. Ryan Schimpf. (Oops, nope, sorry, not him), and Daniel Robertson. None of these guys exactly bring the wow factor.

And what’s worse, you know that whoever wins this job is a just a placeholder for a couple months till the reinforcements arrive. That is: Until Christian Arroyo or Willy Adames pass some vague Super 2 date and take the position themselves, or push somebody else (Matt Duffy) into it. That’s kind of anticlimactic.

Except...

Except sometimes, a guy will seize a job and not give it up.

Ben Zobrist did that. Carlos Pena did that. Logan Forsythe did that. Lots of guys in major league history have done that. Guys who were not successful big leaguers, until all of a sudden they were. Because you can’t predict baseball.

I mean, it probably won’t happen. It hardly ever does. But it does happen. So let’s put on our Optimist Club specs and take a look at what we have in — sorry, what are the choices again?

Joey Wendle

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays-Media Day
Not actually Joey Wendle, this just the stock photo you get when you Google “scrappy.”
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Behind door number one is Joey Wendle. He was originally drafted out of West Chester University in Pennsylvania with the Indians’ sixth round pick of the 2012 draft.

Though Joey was leaving WCU on a high note, fresh off leading the Golden Rams to their first ever Division II National Championship, he was still a bit of an under the radar pick. (How far under the radar was Joey Wendle? Dude, I went to West Chester, and I didn’t even know we won a National Championship. These are the kind of things you can only find out when you toil away on an internet blog.)

Wendle had some solid production in the Cleveland system before he was shipped to Oakland for Brandon Moss in 2014. Then last December, after a cup of coffee in Oakland, Wendle finally made his way to the Rays in exchange for a player to be named (Jonah Heim).

He’s been labeled an average defender with average speed and a second baseman’s arm, but his hands and his bat have been his calling card throughout his rise through both the Cleveland and Oakland systems. That aspect is interesting because the Rays are signalling they see him as a defense first player.

His compact swing from the left side uses all fields, and has shown decent pop throughout the minors. The 26 year old managed a .266/.305/.339 line in a tiny 118 plate appearance sample during two sips of latte with the A’s over the last couple seasons. While the Steamer and ZIPS projection systems aren’t in love with Wendle, pegging him for a .276 wOBA / 69 wRC+ and .279 / 73 respectively, at the time of my writing the rough draft of this post, he was also sporting a shiny .400 spring training batting average. And all that without batting gloves!

So obviously Joey has figured everything out. What else do you need to know?

Oh, and not only did Joey and I go to the same college, we also graduated (20 years apart) from neighboring Southeast Nowhere, Pennsylvania, high schools, where we were both overlooked and undrafted. So, yeah, me and Joey are tight, is what I’m saying, and I’m really pulling for him and his .5 career bWAR to make something of himself.

Here’s Joey hitting a Slam Grande against the Phillies from last September:

Micah Johnson

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays-Media Day
Oh my...
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Non-roster invitee Micah Johnson is an artist, and has mad Twitter/Instagram game. He deserves your follow whether he makes the team or not. As a ballplayer, he’s also been around, from the Braves to the Reds to the Giants to the Rays. And that’s just since October.

Micah has struggled to make an impression in his 61 big league games (131 plate appearances). Over three seasons — with three different teams, naturally — he’s only managed a big league .550 OPS.

But before becoming a journeyman, Johnson was the White Sox 2012 ninth round pick out of Indiana University-Bloomington, and he was once rated as highly as their #4 prospect.

While some of that shine may have worn off, there is one thing Micah Johnson still has to burn: speed. The lefty-hitting 27 year old can still fly.

In his first full season, he led all the minor leagues with 84 steals, and he has racked up a grand total of 190 milb stolen bases. Lately, Johnson added versatility to his game, spending considerable time in the outfield in both ‘16 and ‘17, including center field, where he has impressed this Spring.

ZIPS predicts a .265 wOBA /63 wRC+. Steamer predicts one major league at bat. So maybe that should tell you something?

Anyway, here’s Micah showing off some of that versatility for Gwinnett last year:

Daniel Robertson

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays-Media Day
Why so serious, DRob?
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Daniel Robertson is a face we’re more familiar with. DRob came to the Rays from Oakland as a piece of the 2015 Ben Zobrist trade and made his debut under the catwalks in 2017.

It didn’t take long for the former first round pick (34th overall) to make a name for himself with the glove, making several webgem worthy snags at second and playing adequately at short and third.

Check out some Highway DRobbery:

As for his work with the stick, though Robertson posted just a .206/.308/.326 slash line and 76 wRC+, he did show a little pop, hitting 5 homers in his 254 plate appearances.

If Robertson can bring a strikeout rate that approached 30% more in line with his minor league numbers, it will bode well for him going forward and might justify his once top ranking in the Oakland system. And if not, there’s always the utility role, where this Spring has seen Robertson getting more outfield work.

Of the three candidates, the projection systems like Roberson the best, with Steamer predicting a .300 wOBA / 87 wRC+ and ZIPS Inner Eye foreseeing a .290 / 81. All projections can be amplified through platoon usage.

So, who ya got?

Poll

Who should start at second base for the Rays

This poll is closed

  • 29%
    Joey Wendle
    (82 votes)
  • 9%
    Micah Johnson
    (27 votes)
  • 55%
    Daniel Robertson
    (154 votes)
  • 5%
    Does anybody know what Brent Abernathy is up to?
    (15 votes)
278 votes total Vote Now

(The correct answer is Joey Wendle. Go Rams!)

***

NOTE: I haven’t forgotten that Brad Miller was our Opening Day second basemen last year, though I really wish I could. Right now, he’s ticketed for first base/DH and will be profiled there.