So you’re jumping on The Playoff Wagon? Don’t worry, that’s my favorite band, too. If you’re looking to catch up on the Rays roster, we’ve got you.
The Starting Platoons
Some players are good enough to be everyday starters in Major League Baseball, but aren’t always the best option on their own team. There’s no shame in a platoon. This Rays roster is deep with interchangeable parts, who might be the best option against the opposing pitcher on any given day.
Here are those starter-caliber interchangeable parts, once more ranked by PA.
RF Avisail Garcia - 530 PA, .282/.332/.464, 112 wRC+, 1.8 fWAR
The Rays were in the market for a right-handed bat, and Rays fans wanted Nelson Cruz. The Rays instead signed Avisail Garcia. The reasoning was that Garcia could play the outfield (although he’d been below average at that over his career). Also that he cost less.
Fans weren’t primed to like him, but eventually they did.
Because he walks infrequently, Garcia is dependent on ball-in-play results, which makes him a streaky player. But at 6’4”, 250 pounds, and he hits the ball very hard, and those ball-in-play results are good. And it turns out that when healthy, despite his size, Garcia can really run. He’s been good in right field. He’s even played some center when the Rays have needed him to.
1B Ji-Man Choi - 487 PA, .261/.363/.459, 121 wRC+, 1.9 fWAR
The Rays have been in on Choi for a long time, apparently offering him a major league contract before the 2018 season. Instead he chose to sign a minor league contract with Milwaukee. So the Rays traded for him (in exchange for Brad Miller). After he flashed his power potential down the stretch in 2018, the Rays gave him the primary first base job in 2019.
For much of the season, that power regressed, and there were people who thought it was time to shift those plate appearances to rookie Nate Lowe. But the Rays stuck with Choi, and he rewarded them with an absolutely scorching end of the season.
Choi has been an adventure at first base, but mostly the good kind of adventure. Or at least the kind of adventure that’s average when all is said and done. And he plays with an infectious enthusiasm that’s hard not to appreciate.
2B Eric Sogard - 442 PA, .290/.353/.457, 115 wRC+, 2.6 fWAR
Sogard had potentially the most kismet season of any Ray. First, the team traded for him while they were in Toronto, meaning he left the Jays at the end of the series and headed off with his new club. Then, while benched due to injury, he was back in a dugout in Toronto when the Rays clinched their wild card berth. Sogard had a tremendous 2019 season, hitting .290/.353/.457 between his two clubs. While he had only 10 RBIs and three home runs in Tampa Bay, they came when the ailing Rays needed his bat, and his defensive impact probably saved a few runs from scoring as well (though his actual advanced defensive metrics list him at a -4 DRS for the season). Sogard may have only played in 37 games for the Rays this season, but he made his presence known. At the end of the season he lost playing time to a few injuries, one of which involved a fastball to the face; hopefully he is fully recovered and able to contribute in the postseason.
Yandy Diaz - 347 PA, .267/.340/.476, 116 wRC+, 1.5 fWAR
It looked certain that Yandy’s magnificent breakout season was done when what was first described as a bad bruise turned out to be a broken foot. It was a huge loss to the Rays team, as Diaz’s 158 wRC+ vs LHP was 2nd on the team behind only Tommy Pham (min 50 PA). It was also a big personality loss, as Yandy was quickly a fan and clubhouse favorite. But Rays fans received some shocking and exciting news when Diaz was activated on the final game of the season.
Kevin Cash has stated that Yandy will be limited to just DH duties for the postseason, but having his right handed bat available will be a tremendous boost for the Rays against LHP in October.
2B Brandon Lowe - 327 PA, .270/.336/.514, 125 wRC+, 2.6 fWAR
At 5’10”, 185 pounds sopping wet, Lowe looks like he should be a slap-hitting minor-league journeyman, or even better, “Brandon from Accounting” at your office. He’s not. He cranks majestic home runs. His power really emerged in 2018 at Double-A, and he never looked back. The Rays believed in his bat enough to buy out his rookie contract with a guaranteed long-term deal, and this year, while he’s struck out more than any time or level in the past, he’s hit the ball a mile when he does make contact.
Limited to second base by a weak arm, Lowe has worked hard to maximize his defensive tools, with crisp motions and smooth footwork, and is probably now an average fielder at the position. He is physically limited right now though, making it back from a left quad injury that was previously expected to end his season.
UTIL Joey Wendle - 263 PA, .231/.293/.340, 72 wRC+, .6 fWAR
After a breakout 2018 that saw him place fourth in AL rookie of the year voting (but deservingto be higher), Wendle got off to a slow start, and then was hit by a pitch in April which fractured his wrist. He returned in June, but then strained a hamstring, and eventually went back on the IL in July. Since returning in late August, though, he’s been a big part of the Rays run-up to the postseason.
Wendle pairs an average bat with excellent base running, and plus defense at either second base or third. He will play against all right-handed starters, and possibly come on as a defensive sub late in games when the Rays face a lefty starter. He’s also the primary backup for Adames at shortstop. And he’s gritty.
3B Matt Duffy - 169 PA, .252/.343/.327, 88 wRC+, -.3 fWAR
You just have to wonder what might have been. When he arrived in Tampa Bay, in the Matt Moore trade, Matt Duffy was the shortstop of the future, but he’s never been able to put together a continuous stretch of health.
Duffy got healthy enough to play just in time this year, when Diaz, Wendle, and David Robertson were all on the shelf and the Rays really needed a warm infield body, but his continuous injuries had robbed him of much of his former athleticism. For the first time in his career he’s a below average runner (and it was worse earlier in the season than it looks now). And, once an elite fielder, he’s struggled mightily at third, with a negative rating on both UZR and DRS (but by the eye test he’s gotten more comfortable lately).
The thing Duffy does well is work counts and make (soft) contact. And help his teammates out behind the scenes—numerous young players rave about his support and leadership. One would prefer this current version of Duffy not to start, but he might have to.