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Will the Rays keep Joey Wendle as the starting Third Baseman?

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From bench player to starting third baseman in the World Series, what’s next for Joey Wendle?

Rays Baseball

During the abbreviated 2020 campaign, Joey Wendle proved that his breakout campaign in 2018 wasn’t a fluke as he nearly replicated his numbers from that season.

A gritty, hard-nosed player that is willing to do whatever is asked of him, Wendle played in 50 of the Rays’ 60 regular season games, and then in 20 more during the postseason last year. During the 50 games of the regular season, Wendle hit .286/.342/.435 with four home runs, registering 116 wRC+ over 184 plate appearances and accruing 1.0 fWAR.

Defensively, Wendle spent the majority of his time at third base with Brandon Lowe controlling his natural position at second base; Wendle also spent some time at short stop. He was an above average defender at third base (3 DRS) and second base (2 DRS), while struggling during his limited time at short stop (-2 DRS).

So trustworthy was Wendle in 2020 that when the World Series came, Joey Wendle was cemented as Kevin Cash’s starting third baseman.

In all, it was a rebound season from a 2019 in which Wendle struggled with injuries and poor performance over the course of the season. During the first series of that season, with the Tampa Bay Rays taking on the Houston Astros, Wendle strained his hamstring, which required a stint on the Injured List.

Almost immediately upon his activation, Wendle was drilled with a pitch in his right wrist, fracturing it. Wendle returned from that injury in June, but struggled offensively for two months (57 wRC+ over 132 PA). Then, in late July, Wendle would again go on the Injured List after experiencing some discomfort in the wrist that had been fractured in late April. After returning from this final stint on the Injured List, Wendle performed much better (101 wRC+ over 106 PA).

It was likely Wendle’s injured wrist that plagued his performance during the 2019 season and seemingly once he recovered, he performed to his true talent level during the last month of the 2019 regular season and then again during the 2020 season.

Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA system currently projects Wendle to hit .257/.312/.394 with eight home runs over 439 plate appearances, registering 92 dRC+ and accruing 1.8 WARP. The majority of his time is predicted to be at third base with PECOTA tagging him with 6 Fielding Runs Above Average or FRAA, with 3 FRAA at second base.

Wendle is still under contract with the Rays through the 2023 season and just went through his first round of arbitration. The Rays and Wendle settled on a one year, $2.25M contract for the upcoming season.

The Rays have ‘starters’ penciled in at each position, but Wendle will certainly see time all around the diamond, either backing up or platooning with the players currently projected to play there over the course of the season. And in the highest leverage moments? Maybe he takes Third Base back again when it matters most, or maybe a stud prospect supplants his position.

For 2021, Wendle’s role with the team will be one he has grown used to: undefined.