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Around the Horn: Duffy has edge at hot corner

February 4, 2019

In the final weeks prior to Spring Training, MLB.com will be going around the horn to examine each area of the Rays' 2019 roster. Next up: third base. Projected starter: Matt Duffy While the Rays could go in a couple different directions at third base, as of right now, it's

In the final weeks prior to Spring Training, MLB.com will be going around the horn to examine each area of the Rays' 2019 roster. Next up: third base.
Projected starter: Matt Duffy
While the Rays could go in a couple different directions at third base, as of right now, it's Duffy's job until somebody else takes it. Duffy's numbers won't pop out, especially if you're looking at them through advanced stats, but there's reason to believe that the 28-year-old could be better in 2019.
Around the Horn:Catcher | First base|Middle infield
A left Achilles injury forced Duffy to miss the entire 2017 season but he had a decent showing in '18, slashing .294/.361/.366 in 132 games, most of which came at third base. The workload eventually took a toll on Duffy and his numbers began to suffer because of it.
In the first half of the season, Duffy was the best hitter in the Rays' lineup. The third baseman had a .317/.371/.413 slash line in the first 80 games, which included a red-hot month of June, when he finished with an .884 OPS. The second half, however, was a different story. Duffy didn't hit a single home run and saw his numbers dip across the board, finishing with a .257/.347/.288 line in his last 52 appearances of the season.
Duffy admitted that the heavy workload after sitting out an entire season ultimately caught up to him, but that shouldn't be an issue in 2019. The third baseman looked to add strength over the offseason, with hope to get more extra-base hits. The Rays have a lot of options across the infield, which brought up the possibility of Tampa Bay moving Duffy in order to get more depth at other positions. But it appears more likely that the Rays will enter Spring Training with Duffy on the roster. If Duffy is able to get closer to his first-half form, then there's a good chance that he's manning the hot corner on Opening Day.

Other options: Daniel Robertson, Yandy Díaz, Joey Wendle
Finding playing time around the infield is going to be a challenge for manager Kevin Cash. The good thing for Tampa Bay, however, is that every option has the potential of playing multiple positions and will not just be limited to playing third base.
Diaz is expected to be the Opening Day first baseman for the Rays, but he'll find time at third base once the team is ready to call up top prospect Nate Lowe from Triple-A Durham. 

Robertson and Wendle have the ability to play every position in the infield and can step out and play left field when needed. Both players will find a lot of time playing at second base, while Robertson figures to play shortstop whenever Willy Adames needs a breather. The 24-year-old Robertson has the ability to be the Rays' everyday third baseman and showed that he could be a productive Major Leaguer in his first full season at the big league level. Robertson finished last season with a bWAR of 2.6, despite not playing the last two months.
Ultimately, the matchups and hot/cold streaks will determine who gets the majority of playing time in the Rays' infield. It's going to be interesting to see how Cash and the Rays find playing time for every player, but there's plenty of options. And that's just how the Rays like it.
Prospect to Watch: Michael Brosseau
The Rays have one of the best farm systems in baseball, but it remains thin at the hot corner. Of the team's Top 30 prospects, not one of them is a third baseman. Tampa Bay's No. 30 prospect, Osmy Gregorio, could ultimately move over from shortstop to third base as he continues to grow and develop.
Brosseau, however, has been able to establish himself as a prospect that will get a chance to showcase in Spring Training as a non-roster invitee. The 24-year-old third baseman went undrafted after a four-year career at Oakland Community College in Michigan, but he has put together a couple of solid seasons in the Minors. He had a career-high 13 homers in 2018, all with Double-A Montgomery, and he is expected to climb to Triple-A Durham in '19.

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.