The Longoria-era is over in Tampa Bay. It’ll be tough to see someone else manning the hot corner going forward but, alas, the business of baseball has made it so. The Rays now have to decide who takes over. Spring training is around the corner and there is officially a battle in camp to replace the big shoes of the three-time Gold Glover and 10-year clubhouse veteran.
While the Rays will most likely look to sign a free agent to fill the hole at first base, the other side of the diamond should be a fun battle to watch.
Matt Duffy seems to be the front-runner…if he gets through camp healthy. That’s a huge “if.” He missed all of 2017 with a nagging heel injury that seems to be behind him after a second surgery. Duffy’s natural position is third base, having played 206 of his 253 big league games at the position. He logged just 91 games in 2016 (21 with TB) but looked good. With the Rays, he hit .276/.300/.355 and struck out just 13 times in 76 plate appearances.
Ryan Schimpf was brought in this off-season from the Padres and has legit power at the plate. In two seasons with San Diego he hit 34 bombs in 142 games including 20 just two seasons ago. He’s billed as a second baseman but has played 50 games at the hot corner in 2017. While his defense leaves something to be desired, of the candidates on this list, he might have the most to offer offensively.
Daniel Robertson might be the best defensive option the Rays have at third – and he’s pretty darn good. He’ll be just 24 when the season starts and showed signs of some pop in his bat to go along with his slick glove. While he hit just .206/.308/.326 in his rookie season, his above average defense might be enough to sneak him into the every day role, especially if Duffy gets moved to short.
The outside shots
Christian Arroyo was the key piece in the Longoria trade with San Francisco. In fact, he was San Fran’s top prospect. One would think that would almost guarantee him the job. One would be a bit hasty to assume such things. While he is most likely the future, 2018 might not be the year he takes over. At least not right away. He played in 34 games last season with the Giants and struggled at the plate. While he hit a staggering .396 and a 1.065 OPS at AAA last year in 25 games, he managed just a .192 avg at the MLB level and a .548 OPS. The Rays might want him to get a few more games in at Durham to fine-tune some things before handing him the keys to the kingdom.
Kean Wong (non-roster) will get some looks at third in the spring. His chances of cracking the 40-man let alone the big-league squad are slim. His resume is impressive enough to put him in the conversation. The 4th round pick in the 2013 draft by the Rays, Wong has a .284 career avg at multiple levels including .265 in 2017 at Durham. Another prospect who’s billed as a second baseman, Wong played 18 games at third last year and has 58 games there in his career.
The shoes left by Evan Longoria won’t be easy to fill. Whether the Rays feel defense is more important than the offense might determine who winds up with the bulk of time at the hot corner. They’ve got options. The ‘ol “good problem to have” cliche. It’s a position few saw ever being an issue for this team. Alas, here we are. Longoria and the Rays have moved on – now it’s time for a new cliche in Tampa Bay.
Next man up.
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