During the offseason leading up the 2015 season, the Tampa Bay Rays underwent a massive change, as they faced the exodus of several integral parts of the team.
Andrew Friedman flew the coup and landed in L.A, with Joe Maddon leaving shortly after to take over the managerial gig in Chicago (the north side, that is). Several trades significantly impacted the active roster, as the Rays traded away Wil Myers, Yunel Escobar, and one of the longest tenured players in franchise history: Ben Zobrist.
During the trade in which the Rays parted ways with Zobrist, they landed a top shortstop prospect by the name of Daniel Robertson.
Robertson, at the time, was the number one top prospect in the Athletics system, following a breakout campaign in High-A for Oakland. He seemed primed to make the leap to the majors at some point during the 2015 season
He’s a mature, professional hitter who consistently grinds out quality at-bats. He does a good job of staying inside balls, and while his approach isn’t predicated on power, he has the strength to hit balls out if a pitcher makes a mistake. Robertson has gotten better about cutting his swing loose on pitches he can drive, and as he continues to mature physically he could develop into a 20-homer threat.
Unfortunately, Robertson suffered a broken hamate bone in 2016 that would delay his ascent in the Rays organization.
Robertson ultimately made his major league debut in April of 2017 after successfully making it on the Opening Day roster. Robertson would be up and down on the Durham shuttle over the course of the season, but he struggled during his time in the majors, hitting just .206/.308/.326 with five home runs over 254 PA.
However, in 2018, Robertson turned it around, breaking out and becoming one of the Rays top performers for the majority of the season.
Robertson played excellently all around the infield for the Rays, splitting a nearly even amount of time up the middle, while also taking in some innings as the Rays third baseman. As a hitter, Robertson slashed .262/.382/.415 with nine home runs over 340 PA, accruing 2.4 fWAR over just 88 games played.
Robertson’s season would be cut short, though, by a sprained thumb, suffered in early August.
Now, with 2019 upon us, Robertson is coming off a breakout campaign in which he should have won a starting job. Instead, he will be competing for playing time as the Rays infield situation is currently stacked with major league talent.
Daniel Robertson is a premium player who can play almost any infield position at above average level, while he is also coming into some power. In 2018, he displayed an astute ability to get on base, sitting atop the Rays leaderboard for the better part of the season last year, before suffering the season-ending injury.
In 2019, Baseball Prospects projects Robertson to hit .227/.320/.352 with 10 home runs over 441 PA. ZiPS projections for Robertson don’t look much better. However, Kevin Cash has already come out this spring and said he has pegged Daniel Robertson to share leadoff duties with Joey Wendle to start out the season. Whether it be part of a platoon or just giving Robertson a starting job is still to be found out, of course.
Rays principal owner, Stuart Sternberg even addressed Robertson as one of the most key players to the team, when addressing the media following the second day of full-squad workouts.
Robertson figures to platoon with Joey Wendle up the middle, while giving Matt Duffy and Willy Adames the occasional day off their feet on the left side of the infield. In 2018, Robertson had a 135 wRC+ against LHP, while he maintained a 124 wRC+ over 244 PA against RHP in 2018.
The Rays have to figure something out, as Daniel Robertson slates to be a solid major league regular, but just needs a position, and as of now, the Rays do not have one to give him, full-time.