Basabe hoping to make most of opportunity with Rays

August 15th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Adam Berry's Rays Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ST. PETERSBURG --  wasn’t supposed to make the trip to San Francisco.

The infield prospect joined the Rays on Sunday at Tropicana Field to start the series finale against Cleveland in his Major League debut. Tampa Bay needed someone to spell shortstop Wander Franco, who had played in each of the team’s previous 40 games and started 39 of them, for one day. Then, the club intended to rebalance its roster by replacing Basabe with another pitcher on Monday at the Giants’ Oracle Park.

The plan was for Basabe to head back to Triple-A Durham on Monday. But the plan changed in a hurry when Franco was the subject of serious social media allegations on Sunday, then placed on the restricted list on Monday.

Now, all of a sudden, Basabe is the Rays’ starting shortstop for at least another week.

“It's not exactly the way we thought it would play out,” president of baseball operations Erik Neander said during a conference call on Monday. “But circumstances changed. He is with us. We think really highly of Osleivis. [We] think highly of him on both sides of the ball, and he's going to get a little bit of an opportunity here to play.”

The club’s announcement said Franco would be on the restricted list “for the duration of the current road trip,” which includes two more games in San Francisco and three games this weekend in Anaheim. The Rays will lean on Basabe, the organization’s No. 6 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, as their regular shortstop in the meantime.

“When I got the call, I thought I was just getting the call just to debut. For other reasons, I’m going to be staying up here for a little bit longer and just be happy to play and just play my game,” Basabe told reporters in San Francisco, including’s Sonja Chen, through interpreter Manny Navarro. “I’m prepared mentally pretty well. Ready for anything the manager calls on me to do for this game.”

It’s an unexpected opportunity for Basabe, the 22-year-old Venezuelan acquired alongside prospects Heriberto Hernandez and Alexander Ovalles in the December 2020 trade that sent first baseman Nathaniel Lowe to the Rangers. Hernandez was considered the higher-profile prospect at the time of the deal, but Basabe rose up the ranks and blazed a quicker trail to the big leagues.

Basabe had a nice season in 2021 but he broke out in ’22, slashing .324/.385/.462 with only 59 strikeouts in 495 plate appearances over 112 games between High-A Bowling Green and Double-A Montgomery. He kept hitting this year, slashing .296/.351/.426 in 94 games for Durham. He’s off to a solid start for the Rays, hitting a double on the first pitch he saw Sunday, then going 1-for-4 with a walk and his first two RBIs in Monday’s 10-2 win against the Giants.

"He likes to hit. He likes to swing,” manager Kevin Cash said Monday afternoon. “Kind of similar to what we saw in Spring Training. He hit really well in spring.”

Basabe started more games at shortstop than any other position in Triple-A, but he was developed as more of a utility infielder also capable of playing second and third base. But he’ll be the shortstop for Tampa Bay for at least the next week, as the Rays aren’t currently carrying a backup at the position. Cash said he would also consider using Isaac Paredes, Curtis Mead or Brandon Lowe at shortstop “in a pinch, because of a late-game situation,” if needed.

“Give [Basabe] the opportunity here in the near term and see what happens as we go from there,” Neander said. “Obviously, we're still only carrying one true shortstop on the roster. We consider him a true shortstop. He does a nice job there. We're excited to see him get an opportunity.”

If Franco is out beyond this week, the Rays have other options, even with the Trade Deadline behind them, if Basabe isn’t up to the task. They can pursue free agents or players on waivers, or make a Minor League trade. As a backup plan, they could also turn to super-utility man Vidal Bruján, who has struggled to hit in the Majors but can play anywhere on the field.

They are also optimistic about slick-fielding Taylor Walls, who is recovering from a strained left oblique. Walls had a symptom-free day on Monday, Neander said, and he should begin baseball activities by taking dry swings on Tuesday. Walls won’t be ready this week or next, most likely, but the latest developments would seem to indicate he should be back in the mix at some point this season.

For now, though, the job belongs to Basabe.

“Osleivis is a good player,” Neander said. “He doesn't have a whole lot [of experience] underneath him, but we've never been afraid to go with an internal option with little underneath them if they show they can handle it. So we'll give him that shot.”