Depending on what the Rays do with Ryan Roberts and Sean Rodriguez, they could dip into the free-agent market to pursue a new utility infielder. At worst, the Rays might pursue a few potential options at shortstop. Maicer Izturis seems to fit in both circles.
Izturis is a small, switch-hitter coming by way of the Angels organization. Although Izturis has played off the bench throughout most of his career, his performances are good enough to merit starting consideration. The question worth asking is why Izturis never received the opportunity to start with the Angels. Part of it is talent; the Angels have featured Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick up the middle in recent years, both with brighter presents and futures than Izturis. Durability also plays a role. Izturis has held up better in recent years, having last made a trip to the disabled list in 2010, but injuries were a staple of his earlier days; to the point where it’s still unclear if he can handle the grind of playing daily.
Forecasting injuries is a science beyond my means, so let’s focus on Izturis’ on-the-field attributes. At the plate, the 5-foot-8 Izturis sees plenty of strikes. Pitchers don’t think the little guy can burn them, so they pound the zone until he proves otherwise. In past years, Izturis would show more power than anticipated; that wasn’t the case in 2012, for whatever reason. What Izturis did in 2012 does form the core of his offensive game. His swing is quick and he controls the bat well, which leads to a ton of balls in play and not many strikeouts. He has an idea of the strike zone, and takes walks when they’re offered.
Maicer Izturis and Other Available Middle Infielders (based on 2010-12 True Average)
Once Izturis reaches, he isn’t the stolen base threat you might expect. His career-high in steals is 17, set in 2012, and his overall success rate is 76 percent; acceptable, but not great. That’s because Izturis doesn’t have blinding speed. One Angels observer said Izturis possesses “smart speed,” meaning his baseball aptitude makes him appear faster than he is. It’s a term applicable to a few Rays, like Matt Joyce and Ben Zobrist, and a trait that usually shows up during the run of play. Sure enough, Izturis has taken the extra base 45 percent of the time over the past three seasons (Zobrist, by the way, is at 43 percent over that time).
Defensively, Izturis drew praise from the observer for his play at third base. I watched a few of Izturis’ games at shortstop to gauge his ability at the position. His arm is fine; on routine plays he’s not going to bounce the ball or throw it at the first baseman’s shoes. Range is harder to parse on video, so I’ll leave that unevaluated. I will say, though, that being a good defensive third baseman does not mean Izturis can play shortstop. Whereas shortstop involves lateral range, third base is about reactions. I did witness one hiccup from Izturis, where he showed indecisiveness on a double-play ball and failed to record an out as a result. That appeared to be an isolated incident.
The Rays should have a better feel for Izturis’ ability to play shortstop. Joe Maddon has some firsthand experience with Izturis from their days together with the Angels. If he can, and if the team thinks his skill set warrants starting at the position, then he seems like a nice, potentially overlooked target. The cost and length of the deal should reasonable—particularly if Izturis is out to prove he can cut it as a starter.