Tampa Bay Rays Biggest Questions at Infield for 2011

By on March 15, 2011

Key Additions:  Robinson Chirinos (part of Garza trade CHC), Casey Kotchman (Minor League Deal fm Sea), Felipe Lopez (Minor League Deal fm Stl/Bos)

Key Subtractions: Carlos Pena (FA to CHC), Jason Bartlett (Trade to SD)

Projected stats for Infielders:

C  John Jason .276 avg 8 HR 42 RBI / Kelly Shoppach .245 avg 5 HR 36 RBI

1B Dan Johnson .230 9 HR 40 RBI

2B Sean Rodriguez .280 avg 12 HR 55 RBI 18 SB

SS Reid Brignac .271 avg 12 HR 50 RBI

3B Evan Longoria .286 avg 24 HR 104 RBI (Gold Glove)

Super Utility (Starts at 1B, 2B, RF) Ben Zobrist .282 avg 18 HR 86 RBI

Utility Felipe Lopez .275 avg 5 HR 28 RBI

Are Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez ready for expanded roles in 2011?  One of the moves that the Rays made in an effort to rebuild their bullpen was trade away SS Jason Bartlett.  They were able to make that move because of the confidence they have in Reid Brignac to take over the everyday SS position in Bartlett’s absence.  This will also open up more playing time at second base for Sean Rodriguez who at time last season shared the position with Brignac and Ben Zobrist. 

Both guys are ready for the expanded roles and may actually be a slight upgrade offensively with Brignac as he will offer more power than Bartlett.  Rodriguez is a guy who could be a real star in the making if he can get the strike zone under control and swing at good pitches.  He has always hit for power in the minors and it the Rays are waiting to see if that power translates in the big leagues.                      

Will Evan Longoria get protection in the lineup this year?  When Andrew Freidman picked up Manny Ramirez in the offseason he had to have Evan Longoria in mind when he did so.  With the loss of Carlos Pena in the offseason it left a big hole in the Rays lineup behind Longoria.  So the hope is that if Manny can hit at all it should give enough protection to Longoria to allow him to productive, if not it’s going to be a long year for the young Rays superstar. 

Manny should help Longoria's production in 2011. (RSEN FILE PHOTO )

If you look in the past when Longoria had his best year in 2009 when Pena hit right along with him, Longoria produced 33hrs 113rbis when Pena was hitting 39hrs 100rbi behind him.  When Pena’s number declined last year Longoria’s power numbers dropped, as he only had 22hr as teams really pitched Longoria tough knowing that it was a hit or miss whether Pena was going to put the ball in play behind him.  So the hopes are that Manny hits enough to put a little fear in the pitchers with Longoria at the plate, otherwise if Manny does not hit they are going to need that production to come from some other souce whether it be Matt Joyce, Ben Zobrist or BJ Upton to give the lineup some balance. 

Who is on rise and decline for Rays in 2011?  Every year the Rays seem to have a darling of the spring that gets fans excited for the upcoming year.  That guy so far this spring has been Robinson Chirinos, a catcher acquired in the Matt Garza trade with Chicago Cubs in the off-season; he is a player who just took on the challenge of catching in 2008.  Chirinos is showing that he has a solid bat and his defensive abilities are getting better with day and that he may be more than just a solid backup catcher in the big leagues.  The Rays figure that Chirinos will start the year in AAA Durham to gain some experience handling a pitching staff and getting some steady at bats. 

With the addition of Chirinos, Kelly Shoppach has to feel a little uncomfortable with his long term position on the roster.  Last year Shoppach had a miserable year for the Rays with only 5 HRs and 17 RBIs as he battled injuries early in the year which never allowed him to get into a groove early in the season to make him feel comfortable.  He was brought in offseason to provide some power from the right side of the plate after a solid couple of years in a part time role for the Indians, as he averaged of 16 HRs and 48 RBIs primarily against left handed pitchers.  With the addition of Chirinos, expect that if Shoppach does not have a solid beginning to 2011 season  then he will be out of a job quickly if the young 26 yr. old catcher shows some promise in Durham.

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