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The Tampa Bay Rays four infielders all finished 2013 as AL Gold Glove finalists
The Tampa Bay Rays infield is filled with returning AL Gold Glove finalists James Loney, Ben Zobrist, Evan Longoria and Yunel Escobar.
If they are all healthy on Opening Day, it will mark the second time in franchise history the team has returned the same infield from the previous year. The only other season was 1999, following the franchise’s inaugural season.
James Loney re-signed with the Rays this offseason with a three-year, $21 million contract. He finished 2013 hitting .299/.348/.430 with 13 home runs and 75 RBI.
His return was the most questionable of the Rays infielders after his breakout performance last season. He described his desire to return to the organization to Roger Mooney from the Tampa Tribune:
It’s that feeling you want to experience like everybody else, especially since I knew this place, I knew the people here, I knew they were committed to winning.
Super-utility player Sean Rodriguez provides the best backup option for the Rays. He played in 23 games (17 starts) at first base for the Rays last season.
Ben Zobrist returns as the Rays second baseman. He started in 117 games at second last year, marking only the second time in his career he started at the same position for more than 90 games (118 games at second in 2011).
In 2013, he continued to be one of the most consistent hitters in the lineup with .275/.354/.402 line with 12 home runs and 71 RBI.
Aside from Rodriguez, Logan Forsythe is the next most viable backup candidate for Zobrist. He was acquired by the Rays from the San Diego Padres in the trade that included relief pitcher Alex Torres in exchange. He is a career .241/.310/.349 hitting utility man who can offer some more versatility to the roster.
There is no question who the Rays third baseman is.
Evan Longoria played in 160 games in 2013, the most in his six-year career. He finished the year batting .269/.343/.498 with 32 home runs and 88 RBI.
Even with his success early in his career, he still sees areas he would like to improve (h/t usatoday.com):
Of course, there are things I'd love to accomplish," he added. "I'd like to hit for a higher batting average. But in reality, I just want to hit for a better batting average when there are runners on base, when there's a chance to a hit to directly impact the game.
Longoria has a career .293 batting average with runners on base.
Yunel Escobar is returning for his second season with the Rays.
He was decent at the plate with a .256/.332/.366 line. He set career highs with 129 starts and 27 doubles.
Escobar’s largest impact came with his glove.
He finished 2013 with the best fielding percentage (.989) of any shortstop in the majors. Rays manager Joe Maddon was disappointed Escobar did not win a Gold Glove last season.
Hak-Ju Lee is a prospect who could add some depth at shortstop for the Rays. He was batting .422/.536/.600 with six stolen bases in 15 games for Triple-A Durham last year before a season-ending knee injury.
Lee offers an element of speed that is lacking from the Rays roster. He averaged just under 32 stolen bases per season in his first four full seasons in the minors.