Rays position analysis: Outfielders

BY foxsports • November 20, 2014

The offseason has arrived, and the time has come for the Tampa Bay Rays to study what went right and wrong from a season that ended short of October.

In the coming weeks, we'll break down the Rays at each position. The review will include highlights and lowlights for the players who saw a majority of the action there, and we'll touch on the possibility of their returns.

This week, we focus on outfielders, where Matt Joyce, Desmond Jennings, Kevin Kiermaier, Wil Myers and Brandon Guyer played significant roles.

Kiermaier became the group's surprise, and Guyer contributed as well. Myers' season was abbreviated because of injury. Meanwhile, the Rays face questions about what to do with Joyce and Jennings in the coming months.

Here's a closer look at the play from Rays' outfielders during the 2014 season ...

MATT JOYCE

What he did right: Though his power declined -- he had nine home runs compared to 18 in 2013 -- he saw an uptick in his RBI total. He had 52 RBI, an increase from the 47 he had the year before. His batting average improved in finishing with a .254 total after closing with a .235 in 2013. His on-base percentage increased from .328 in 2013 to .349 last season.

Where he needs to improve: A greater threat to go deep would be appreciated. The nine home runs were his fewest for a season in which he played in more than 11 games. He'll never be a 30-home-run player -- his career high of 19 home runs happened in 2011 -- but double-digit home runs should be an expectation.

Contract status: Arbitration eligible. He made $3.7 million in 2014.

Likelihood of return: He's an interesting case. At age 30, he's the oldest of the Rays' outfield options. He played in 81 games at left field, but Guyer received ample time at the position and could be considered the future there. Joyce may be viewed as too expensive and be packaged in a trade.

DESMOND JENNINGS

What he did right: His speed remains his greatest asset. When healthy, he can make catching up with a well-hit ball in the outfield look routine. He can cover significant ground in center field, and that's why he appeared in 118 games at the position.

Where he needs to improve: More stolen bases. He finished with 15, a total that was the lowest of his career during years in which he appeared in more than 17 games. From 2011 to 2013, he had at least 20 stolen bases each season. The Rays need improved speed to add complexity to their offense.

Contract status: Arbitration eligible. He made $517,000 in 2014.

Likelihood of return: It's not out of the realm of possibility that he could be packaged in a trade. Kiermaier's emergence could give Rays officials something to think about regarding Jennings' future. Kiermaier is younger, cheaper and pre-arbitration eligible. Jennings' situation will be one to watch.

KEVIN KIERMAIER

What he did right: For a majority of the season, he made the most of his call-up in right field to replace an injured Myers. He created a highlight reel with circus catches, and he quickly became a fan favorite. He was named an American League Gold Glove Award finalist among right fielders, and he finished with an impressive WAR of 3.7. He played in 68 games in right field, 42 in center and one in left.

Where he needs to improve: More consistency at the plate should be his concentration. He finished hitting .263 with 10 home runs and 35 RBI, though he struggled after a hot start. He hit .316 in June, but then fell to .282 in July, .190 in August and .238 in September.

Contract status: Pre-arbitration eligible. He made $500,000 in 2014.

Likelihood of return: He'll be back, and he could be awarded a larger role. Where to place him? Myers figures to be the answer in right field, but Kiermaier could receive significant time in center field depending on what the Rays do with Jennings in the offseason. Kiermaier will offer strong depth no matter what happens.

WIL MYERS

What he did right: Not much. The most recent season can't be considered anything other than a disappointment for the 2013 American League Rookie of the Year. Thought to provide a needed spark with his bat, he hit just .222 with six home runs and 35 RBI in 87 games. A fractured right wrist kept the rightfielder out for a significant time. He never seemed comfortable at the plate before and after the injury. Consider these declines when compared to his production in 88 games in 2013: A .294 on-base percentage (.354 in 2013), a .320 slugging percentage (.478 in 2013) and a .614 OPS (.832 in 2013).

Where he needs to improve: The Rays need his bat next season, plain and simple. Aside from Evan Longoria, Myers offers the most hope to provide fireworks within a lineup that's short on power threats to begin with. He must stay healthy. He must be better.

Contract status: Pre-arbitration eligible. He made $504,200 in 2014.

Likelihood of return: Which Myers will appear next season? The promising rookie or the slumping sophomore? Perhaps no other Tampa Bay position player will be watched more closely to see how he responds. The Rays need improve offense next year, and Myers must be one of the main bats to provide it.

BRANDON GUYER

What he did right: He became a solid addition to the lineup with his first significant time in the majors. He hit .266 with three home runs and 26 RBI. He closed with a .334 on-base percentage, a .367 slugging percentage and a .701 OPS.

Where he needs to improve: He has room to sharpen his fielding. He finished with a minus-0.1 defensive WAR, with 62 games played in left field, 11 in center and one in right. Depending on what the Rays do with Joyce in the offseason, Guyer could be viewed as a future everyday player in left field.

Contract status: Pre-arbitration eligible. He made $501,200 in 2014.

Likelihood of return: He'll be back, and he could receive a larger role if Joyce and/or Jennings find new homes in the offseason. His play in 2014 didn't do anything to harm him.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.


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