Rays Playing Time Battles: Hitters by Paul Kastava January 29, 2016 The Rays have two potential positional battles. One is more of a classic debate, whereas the other battle is a little more complex as it is not Player A vs. Player B for the same position. At catcher, the Rays will need to decide how much they value defense over offense with Curt Casali and Hank Conger slated to be behind the dish. Things are a little more complex with the addition of Corey Dickerson, who will certainly play right field with a righty on the mound. What will the Rays do when a lefty starts? Catcher In a small sample size (113 PA), Casali raked. By setting the qualified minimum PA to to 100, Casali ranked first amongst catchers in wRC+ with 144. He made the most of those plate appearances with an isolated power of .356. Casali has shown glimpses of being a strong hitter in the minors. The one problem that seems to come up consistently is sample size. The most plate appearances Casali has had in one league was in A ball with the Tigers in 2012 with 206, where he did well triple-slashing .288/.402/.500. Tigers moved him to High-A and he struggled a little. The next year he started in High-A with the Rays, did well, and then crushed in 142 PA’s in Double-A. He started the next season in Double-A, showed great discipline, then struggled in his promotion to Triple-A. In 2015, struggled in Triple-A and then raked in the pros. Why the long narrative of his minor league career? Simply because I do not know what to make of Casali as a hitter. There are signs that he could be a solid major league hitter, and then there are other data points that are concerning. Very much reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry dates a girl who looks pretty or ugly depending on the lighting. It would help to see Casali in one light for an extended period in order to gauge what type of hitter he can become. Casali will more than likely be the starter even if he doesn’t hit because he can throw to second. That may seem like a very low level comment, but when your competition is Hank Conger who threw out a whopping 1 out of 43 runners attempting to steal, you have to be real bad to lose out from a defensive perspective. Casali threw out 7 of 26, so he for sure edges Conger. The only reason to really mention Conger as potential playing time thief is that he mashed righties last year in slightly over 100 PA’s. For his career, he hits righties better, but last year he really amped it up matching Casali’s total wRC+ of 144. If Casali struggles offensively and the lighting is off, Conger could start getting some time against righties if the Rays need some late line-up pop. Wouldn’t count on it from the start, but worth monitoring. Outfield/First Base Kevin Kiermaier and Desmond Jennings are staples in the outfield. In right field or at first base, a platoon is in order. Steve Pearce (with the exception of last season) typically rakes against lefties. James Loney and Corey Dickerson both hit righties well, but struggle against lefties. The issue is who do you bench for Pearce when a lefty is on the hill? Dickerson’s struggles could be a sample size issue, since he has only faced a lefty less than 200 times in his pro career. He is only twenty-six, so there is some hope he could break out and potentially become average. Loney is older and has showed throughout his career he struggles against lefties. Problem solved, right? Well, not quite. Defense becomes the issue. Dickerson is not the greatest outfielder, and Pearce has fluctuated statistically in his career. Loney is a solid defensive first baseman, so from a defensive standpoint, it seems the Rays will platoon in RF before 1B. As if leaving Coors Field wasn’t enough to hurt Dickerson’s value, but a platoon would also significantly impact it as well. At least he would be on the better side of the platoon, still garnering a significant amount of at-bats if he can stay healthy.