Following last night’s rumored interest, The Tampa Bay Rays have acquired Ryan Roberts from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for minor league infielder Tyler Bortnick. A 16th round selection in the 2009 draft, Bortnick has turned into a semi-prospect because of his speed, defense, and feel for the strike zone. He has spent the entire season at Double-A Montgomery, where he just recently celebrated his 25th birthday. His skill set could make him a useful bench piece down the road similar to Roberts.
With Evan Longoria still on the mend, the Rays continue to shuffle infielders in search of production. Following names like Will Rhymes, Drew Sutton, and Brooks Conrad, Roberts will see some time at third base with the flexibility to play second base and some corner outfield as well.
Roberts is somewhat of a late bloomer. After spending time with the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays, he caught on as a role player with Arizona in 2009. Last season, at age 30, he became the Diamondbacks primary third baseman, hitting 19 home runs and 25 doubles in 555 plate appearances. Meanwhile, in 2012, he has a .290 wOBA through 280 plate appearances, and was on the verge of losing his job to prospect Ryan Wheeler.
While Roberts fell out of favor in Arizona, he is plenty useful in Tampa Bay. It is unlikely he will repeat his power output from a season ago; however, he still has some pop and a good approach at the plate. His walk rate is down this season, but he does not chase many pitches out of the strike zone and makes a lot of contact within the zone.
As a right-handed batter, Roberts excels against left-handed pitching. He has limited success against right-handed pitching, but is not Sean Rodriguez-bad. In a perfect world, he would be the right-handed piece of a platoon facing just southpaws; however, the Rays do not have a go-to, left-handed option at third base.
Equipped with a small frame, and a swing that is more Jeff Keppinger than Brooks Conrad, Roberts has had a lot of success on pitches located on the inner half of the plate. Last season, 39 of his 46 extra-base hits came off pitches classified as middle or inside. In 2012, pitchers have modified their approach, wearing out the outside corner. Unless he shows the ability to hit those pitches, or spoil them off, expect that type of attack to continue.
Defensively, Roberts gives the Rays flexibility; although it is likely the bulk of his playing time comes at the hot corner. Unlike the others Longoria replacements, Roberts has a good defensive reputation. His workout routine includes a long-toss regime centered on accuracy. The goal of the exercise is to keep his receiver stationary rather than a moving target due to offline throws across the diamond. His ability to handle third base may also come in handy if Evan Longoria is limited defensively when he returns from injury.
The acquisition of Roberts is certainly designed to help immediately, but could also extend beyond this season. As an “arb-one” player this past offseason, the 31-year-old has remaining years of team control left. His 2013 salary will likely be in the range of $2.5 million dollars. That is pricey for a bench player; however, his role may expand based on other moves (perhaps a Ben Zobrist trade). If nothing else, his extensive tattoo collection should make for some interesting anecdotes.