ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays' outfield is one of the more stable stations on the field as we continue the offseason examination of the roster through the Around the Horn segments.That stability comes from having two solid young outfielders in place to play center and right in Kevin Kiermaier and
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays' outfield is one of the more stable stations on the field as we continue the offseason examination of the roster through the Around the Horn segments.
That stability comes from having two solid young outfielders in place to play center and right in Kevin Kiermaier and Steven Souza Jr., respectively. The question mark comes in left, where multiple scenarios could play out before the start of the season.
Kiermaier is off the charts on defense, but he also showed improvement on offense in 2017. He hit a career-high 15 home runs, even though he only played in 98 games due to a stint on the disabled list with a right hip fracture. His batting average jumped by 30 points, to .276. Much of that offensive improvement came after Kiermaier returned from the DL, when he hit .306/.352/.517.
• Rays' infield has uncertainty
Souza showed a lot of improvement as well, hitting .239 with 30 home runs and 78 RBIs. On defense, Souza had nine Outs Above Average (OAA), a range-based defensive metric, according to Statcast™. Kiermaier had 12, putting the Rays pair among the MLB leaders.
Now for the left-field question. The Rays have seven outfielders on their 40-man roster, including Kiermaier and Souza. The others are Jake Bauers (who is more of a first baseman), Corey Dickerson, Mallex Smith, Denard Span, and Justin Williams.
• Rays in good shape behind plate for 2018
After losing weight prior to last season, Dickerson was much improved in the field in 2017. However, he'll be used primarily as the designated hitter -- if he's still with the team. Dickerson will be paid $5.95 million in '18, but the Rays are looking to lower the payroll.
Span's status with Tampa Bay also appears precarious due to his salary. The veteran outfielder, who came from the Giants in the Evan Longoria trade, will make $11 million in 2018. If he does remain with the team, the Rays will add a solid player to the lineup.
Smith made an impact in his first season with Tampa Bay in 2017, bringing a different kind of player to the lineup with his speed and bunting abilities. Of all the candidates for the job, he appears to be the most likely.
Williams (the Rays' No. 11 prospect per MLB Pipeline) is an impact player in the making. But he'll start the season at Triple-A Durham, as will Joe McCarthy (No. 20). Lower in the farm system are highly touted prospects Jesus Sanchez (No. 5), Joshua Lowe (No. 9) and Garrett Whitley (No. 10).
Versatile Micah Johnson, who will compete for the second-base job, could also be considered for left field.
Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.