Rays' Top 5 second basemen: Toribio's take

April 6th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Juan Toribio’s ranking of the top five second basemen in Rays history. Next week: third basemen.

1) , 2006-14
Key fact: Two-time All-Star

Zobrist played all over the field during his time with the Rays, but the position he played the most was second base, so we’ll slot him there for ranking purposes -- and he was the best the Rays have ever had. Zobrist was so successful -- and important -- during his time with Tampa Bay, that other teams (and even the Rays) began to look for players who had the same skill set as Zobrist. Utility players have always been a luxury, but there are few that have helped teams win as much as Zobrist did throughout his career.

• Tampa Bay's All-Time Team: Catcher | First base

With the Rays, all Zobrist did was hit. Once he became a full-time contributor during the 2009 season, the Illinois native hit under .269 just once in six seasons. During his nine-year run with the franchise, Zobrist finished with a 35.3 bWAR, which is third all-time behind Evan Longoria (51.8) and Carl Crawford (35.6).

Zobrist was an All-Star in 2009 and '13, while also receiving votes for the Most Valuable Player Award in '09, '11 and '12. With the versatility that Zobrist provided, you can add an emphasis on the word valuable.

“If you ask any manager in the league, they’d be like, ‘This is a guy I want on my team,” said Joe Maddon, who managed Zobrist with the Rays and Cubs. “To be with him daily, you get to see it all and all the things that he does, and beyond that, all the team things that he does. This guy is all about winning. That’s it. That’s it.”

2) , 2007-09
Key fact: Seventh all-time in Rays batting average

Iwamura doesn’t own the highest WAR of the remaining players on this list, but he certainly has one of the most iconic moments in franchise history. The native of Japan recorded the final out of Game 7 of the 2008 American League Championship Series against the Red Sox to clinch the franchise's first AL pennant. Aside from that moment, Iwamura was still a pretty good player on the field.

In his three seasons with the Rays, Iwamura hit .281 and compiled a 6.6 WAR, including a 3.1 clip during the historic 2008 season. Had injuries not slowed him down in '09, his WAR would’ve been higher, but we're only left to be guessing. What we do know, however, is that Iwamura is one of the best to play the position in a Rays uniform.

3) , 2014-16
Key fact: 20 home runs in '16

After a disappointing start to his career with the Padres, Forsythe found plenty of success once he became a Ray in 2014. Forsythe had the best season of his career in '15, playing in 153 games and finishing with 17 home runs and a career-high .804 OPS. In '16, Forsythe one-upped his home run total, blasting 20 dingers.

4) , 1998-2000
Key fact: 10th all-time in Rays batting average

Cairo served as the first second baseman in franchise history, and he did a solid job filling the position. Cairo played 119 games or more in each of his three seasons with the Devil Rays, hitting .275 during that stretch, which ranks 10th in franchise history and second among second basemen, behind just Iwamura. Cairo didn’t provide much in the way of power, hitting just nine home runs in three seasons, but did compile 373 hits with the franchise.

5) , 2018-present
Key fact: Finished third in AL Rookie of the Year voting in '19

OK, hear me out. Lowe has just 425 big league at-bats, but it’s hard to ignore his production over the last couple seasons. Lowe’s career 120 OPS+ is the highest of anybody on this list, and his 124 OPS+ last year is higher than any season by Iwamura and Cairo. Lowe was the frontrunner for the AL Rookie of the Year Award last season, but injuries ultimately cut his year in half. Despite that, he made the All-Star team in '19, and his ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark will give him a chance at many more nods to the Midsummer Classic over the next couple of seasons.

Honorable mentions
also deserves to be on this list and could make a case with another strong season in 2020. ... played some second base during his time with the Rays but also spent a fair share of time in the outfield and in the corner infield. ... also had a very strong season with the Rays in '12, posting a 2.6 WAR during that campaign.