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Rays Op-Ed: What are we to make of Daniel Robertson?

An article kind of about Daniel Robertson, and how players can be hard to evaluate.

Boston Red Sox v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

I had a rather interesting realization today.

I began writing for DRaysBay a little over a year ago. Before my move to DRB, I was a baseball lover, but I didn’t have a team per se. This was not the first time I had hitched my wagon to a team that I had previously followed peripherally but had not had under my microscope. In past iterations, I had written about the Oakland A’s and Minnesota Twins, despite growing up in Yankees country (don’t worry, that love has been burned out of my soul thanks to too many years of Steinbrenner shenanigans).

I feel quite comfortable in my ability to dive deep into the vibe surrounding a team: What the fans care about, players that are loved, players that the fanbase is just a bit chilly toward for whatever reason. I thoroughly enjoy deep-diving into different franchises, and what was first an appreciation of the Rays has grown into a budding romance in my second year covering the team.

However, whenever this process in undertaken, there are inevitable blind spots. For me, Daniel Robertson was a blind spot.

I started off an article with what I believed to be an excellent premise early this morning: Daniel Robertson as the next Ben Zobrist.

It made perfect sense. Here was a middle infielder/super utility player who struggled a bit offensively in his Rays debut, but (potentially) broke out after a change in approach. It wasn’t hard to imagine Robertson, his excellent patience at the dish and ability to play nearly every position on the diamond as a Ben Zobrist for the next generation of Rays.

Perfect. Excellent article idea. Good work, Jim.

However, once I actually sat down and started doing to do the research to make the comparison, it became clear that the comparison broke down quite quickly.

Texas Rangers v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Daniel Robertson was drafted in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft. In 2014, he sported an .873 OPS at High-A, and he was tracking nicely as one of the A’s better prospects. Even before that strong 2014 campaign, he was listed as the fourth-best prospect in the A’s organization by our friends over at Minor League Ball.

After that season, he was traded as part of a package from Oakland to Tampa Bay in exchange for, irony of ironies, Ben Zobrist. (It was going to make such an excellent pivot point in the article!)

Robertson was the main piece in the deal, and while he wasn’t as flashy as the top pieces in the David Price or even the memorable Wil Myers deal, he was certainly on the radar of more Rays fans than a player like Ben Zobrist was before he made his debut.

In 2015, he first year in the Rays system, he was a consensus top-70 prospect, topping out at #65 on’s top 100.

All of this happened before I had my MLB microscope specifically pointed toward Tampa Bay. I obviously knew of the Zobrist deal, but I was not reading into the prospects who comprised the return, or if I did, it was mostly in one ear, out the other.

As such, when I arrived on the scene before the 2017 season, and a bit of the shine had worn off of Robertson (he did not make any top 100 lists before last season), I looked at him (and this is where I am admitting to holding a bias that I’m not super proud of) and thought: Hmmm, ok, nothing special, he’ll probably will be a replacement-level utility player who won’t stick around long.

That’s where the titular idea for a “Daniel Robertson as the next Ben Zobrist” article came from. A bit of ignorance, a bit of slowing hype for a prospect, and a bit of judging a book by its cover.

Of course, we’re only 13 games and 44 plate appearances into 2018 Robertson, so maybe it’s best that I just ranted and raved about any and every other than SSS analysis for the past 600 words, but let’s really talk about Robertson for a minute.

Robertson is slashing .250/.434/.450 this season for a wRC+ of 156. But even more than that, he just kind of has the look of a guy who’s ready to be with the team for the long haul. He’s the guy who you want up at the plate in a clutch situation (if Dernard Span is predisposed), and maybe it’s from having seen too much of Brad Miller’s defense away from first base, but Robertson’s glovework is as smooth as they come.

What stands out to me the most is how he’s tackled every plate appearance with the same solid approach: working the pitcher, not going out of the zone for easy strikes, and waiting for his pitch. He’s not going to maintain a 24.5 percent walk rate all season, but it’s not hard to imagine him rocking a 15+ percent walk rate in 2018.

Considering where my expectations were when I was first initiated into the Daniel Robertson Experience, this is incredible. Simply put: Daniel Robertson has already surpassed my expectations.

Of course, the larger issue is that expectations can be a set of moving goal posts, based on numerous factors: how well informed the fan is, what his/her biases are, and how close to his ceiling a player has played in his minor league career. It’s part of what makes talent evaluation - on a macro scale - so challenging.

Now, I am lucky enough to write with a team of Rays fans who are 0 percent ignorant (and also don’t judge books by their cover). I learned my lesson quickly and didn’t waste too much of my time on my failed article idea.

The whole experience also reiterated that, having not grown up a Rays fan - but having fallen head over heels for them and their fanbase (easily the smartest in baseball) in the past year - I’m going to be a Lifelong Learner when it comes to the Rays.