Jason Bartlett was one of the key components to the Rays success in 2008. He helped shore up one of the most important positions defensively and has been a solid contributor ever since. It is going to be an interesting position to watch in spring training. Both to see if Bartlett can keep up his recent offensive power surge and to see how close Reid Brignac is to Bartlett’s level.
Starter: Jason Bartlett
Bartlett is a California kid who went on to play in college for the University of Oklahoma. He wasn’t seen as a big prospect and was drafted by the Padres in the 13th round of the 2001 amateur draft. The year after he was traded to the Twins and then his career started getting on track. He had his MLB debut in 2004 and saw increasing playing time each of the following years. In June of 2006 he became the full time starter at shortstop. In 2007 he came to the Rays in the trade that sent Delmon Young to the Twins and also sent Matt Garza to the Rays.
His situation with the Rays is in a little bit of a limbo at this point. They managed to get him re-signed without going to arbitration but only to a one year deal. Bartlett has said that he wanted to sign a long term contract, but Rays management wouldn’t even discuss it. Even though he would have been a lot cheaper to sign now, than after another strong season. The $4 mio. they pay him this year makes him one of the most expensive players on the team. It would seem like they expect this to be his last year with the team and have Reid Brignac ready to take over by next year.
Batting stats, past three years:
Bartlett was brought in mainly for his defensive skills. When it comes to offense he was seen as a fast player with decent average but not a lot of power. But this past year he not only managed to increase his average quite a bit but added a dramatic increase in power. Bartlett has never in his life been close to 14 home runs in a season before. Across the board he has developed into somewhat of a power hitter, who still has the speed to steal bases too. It’s going to be interesting to see if he can keep it up. If he can put up this kind of offense along with being a solid shortstop he will be very hard to replace if they are going to let him go.
Fielding stats, past three years:
It’s not hard to spot Bartlett’s biggest weakness. His many errors was the biggest point of criticism against him even when he came to the Rays. It looked like he had cut down on the errors in 2008 but he didn’t start as many games either and the number has already increased again. The name range factor is a little misleading as the number of putouts and assists a shortstop has really has more to do with his pitchers and opposing batters than his own skills.
The one stat where he is doing really well, the zone range, happens to be very important for the position. Having a shortstop with a large range is going to take a lot of singles or doubles away. If he can somehow get the number of errors down a bit he will be really good. Some people have argued that some of his errors comes from having a wide range, which means that he gets called for some errors that other short stops wouldn’t have been because they wouldn’t even have been close to the ball. I’m not sure how much of a difference it makes but it does sound plausible that it is the reason for some of the errors.
Backups: Ben Zobrist and Reid Brignac
Zobrist has already been covered in the article about second base. I’m not going to spend a lot more time on him here as his primary focus will be to start at second base. Brignac however is an interesting prospect.
He was drafted in the second round in 2002 straight out of high school. He got his major league debut in 2008 and played in 32 games in 2009. He has been spending the rest of those seasons in Durham where he has been playing well. Brignac is generally considered a top 10 prospect in the Rays organization with everyone but Desmond Jennings who are ahead of him being pitchers. He seems to be the favorite to be the backup middle infielder unless they decide they want to keep him in Durham to get more playing time.
Tim Beckham was the 2008 1st overall draft pick and is still considered by most to be the future starter at shortstop for the Rays. But at this point they are still taking it slow and he will start the season in single-A Charlotte. So don’t expect to see him in a Rays uniform until at least 2011.