2B…Or Not 2B
Sometimes things happen in the off-season that just boggles your mind. Players are picked up for their subtle and special nuances that can be used by a statistical savant like Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon to intricately change the delicate nature of a game in progress, possibly for his advantage based on match-up potential situations or maybe even a simple hunch.
I know there is a logical explanation and suitable conclusion to why the Rays are currently carrying 7 out of a possible 9 infield players on their 40-man roster, 1 signed player but not added to the 40-man roster yet, plus 2 additional players who are non-roster invites who can man the middle infield. Considering the Rays traded for their potential starting shortstop in Yunel Escobar, you have to logically conclude that 8 of the other 9 might have to fight tooth and nail to get selected for that revolving door slot known as Second Base.
I think with the large amount of veteran bodies vying for a job at 2B, you can easily see the current Triple-A duo of Tim Beckham and Hak-Ju Lee getting their fair share of starts and possibilities this Spring, but the reality is they are the Rays future for right now and with minor league control on both players, their rise to the MLB level might not come until possibly September barring an unforeseen Rays injury situation.
So that immediately shuffled the field down by a third and with the Rays facing 3 different player signing going “official” this week, maybe a few old Rays household names will be bidding the team farewell even before the positional players make their way to Port Charlotte, Florida. 3 other Rays middle infielders who might be on the invisible bubble might be the enigmas known as Elliot Johnson, Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac could all get an unexpected call or pulled in from the Rays Spring Clubhouse soon possibly severing their Rays tenure.
All 3 did not have the kind of 2012 campaigns the Rays envisioned when they popped their name on the 25-man roster last Spring, and any or all of the 3 could be subject to waivers or possibly traded before the Rays officially add DH Luke Scott, 2B Kelly Johnson or RP Kyle Farnsworth to the Rays 40-man roster. You would think Johnson and Rodriguez might have the leg up on Brignac because of their utility play everywhere around the Rays infield, but even then, their lackluster numbers from last year could get them penciled in as potential casualties when the Rays add their 3 signed, sealed but not roster delivered players.
There are mumblings in the Rays Republic that “Briggy Baseball” might be the most expendable of the this enigmatic duo, possibly the first name to be announced and waived this week by the Rays. Brignac has had multiple chances to secure and hold onto his shortstop slot, but for some reason his bat did not follow him into either of the past 2 Rays seasons with any regularity. Johnson might get an initial pass because he is a switch-hitter just like tag-team 2B Ben Zobrist who will get to camp late this Spring as he is playing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.
Even with a slight edge over S-Rod, Johnson could find himself again straddling the bubble if he gets off to a weak Spring or doesn’t get into the game flow with consistency. You have to like Rodriguez’s chance since Spring seems to be the time he rises to the occasion and shines bright, but he could also see his star darkened if he gets off to a bad slump or has some defensive irregularities early on in camp. Another small sliver of hope for Rodriguez is the fact he still has 1 minor league option while Brignac and Johnson have exhausted their minor league options.
That takes care of 6 of the 7 players that currently are designated as “infielders” for the Rays. Zobrist is categorized as an “outfielder” on the Rays 40-man roster, but should see substantial playing time at Second Base along with the only other player listed, Ryan Roberts. “Tat Man” should have an advantage heading into Spring Training to secure a utility and tag-team situation with Zorilla at Second Base. Roberts did not have a huge year at the plate in 2012 either in Arizona or St. Petersburg, but should come into the Spring as a penciled in player in the mix for that part-time 2B gig. But there are other who might also have a say in it all before the roster is set into stone when the calendar changes to April.
Spring Training non-roster invites to the Major League camp have also been extended to MLB veteran Mike Fontenot and former Rays invitee Shawn O’Malley. Even with these 2 additional names to be put into the middle infield pot, Fontenot might have to stage a spectacular Spring to unseat any of the potential Rays utility players, but I also think O’Malley who made a great impression last Spring with the Rays might have a more viable chance to hang on late into the Spring Training schedule with Zobrist out and possibly be offered a Triple-A slot.
The Wild Card in this suspected scenario might just be newly signed, but not added to the roster Kelly Johnson who can basically play any of the fielding positions, including possibly being the guy who could give James Loney a rest. In Johnson’s favor to possibly get a long look and possible spot on the Rays 25-man roster is his ability to hit right-handed which could make him a valuable asset at First. And with KJ’s birthday coming in late February (22nd), he could possibly have an inside chance of securing a spot even before the Rays play the Red Sox in their first Grapefruit Series game.
2B or not 2B…….That is surely the question here as the Rays have a huge pool of player talent and potential to pick from the get their final selection before their first seasonal contest on April 2,2013 in Tropicana Field. This might be the strongest the middle infield as been in quite a few years in Tampa Bay, and with some of the names and potential, the players inked on the Rays final 25-man roster could provide that spark of offense the team needs along with some stellar defensive work.