Cash sees benefits of Zobrist-type utility player

Manager says that having flexibility would be helpful, but not going to force it

Cash sees benefits of Zobrist-type utility player

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Ben Zobrist is gone, leaving a legacy as the Rays player that put "utility" on the map. The Rays this spring will explore the possibility of finding someone who can fill the void he left.

In nine seasons with the Rays, Zobrist played 1,064 games, making 547 appearances at second base, 331 in right field, 229 at shortstop, 66 in left field, 34 in center field, 20 at DH, 17 at first base and four at third base.

Joe Maddon "had the best [utility player] in baseball, as far as I'm concerned," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "That versatility helps making lineups and everything so much. On a daily basis, knowing Ben could go to any spot at any time. Yeah, that's a great luxury to have."

Cash noted that he would not force it if one of his players is not able to serve in that role. He added that having a player in said role would help with the team's flexibility, specifically when using the DH spot as a place where the regulars can get some rest.

"Being able to get guys off their feet and being able to plug another guy in there when Longo [Evan Longoria] needs a day, when Cabby [Asdrubal Cabrera] needs a day, when [James] Loney needs a day, stuff like that."

Many players in camp are capable of playing multiple positions, including Vince Belnome, who played in four games for the Rays last season.

"The more positions I can play, the better chance I have of getting on the field," Belnome said. "They told me I was going to be playing everywhere.

"It's always nice to have that utility guy, because it gives the lineup more leniency. You can play matchups better, and you can get other guys in there. When you've got guys who can play three or four different positions, it makes the team even better."

Belnome will likely see time at first, third and the outfield. He can play second base, too, but given the glut of middle infielders, he doesn't believe he'll see too much action at second.

Others who could possibly settle in at one position, or play a number of positions, include Nick Franklin, Logan Forsythe, Tim Beckham, Jake Elmore and Alexi Casilla.

Beckham said he's certainly not "trying to replace Zobrist."

"I'm taking it one day at a time, man, handling what I need to handle on a daily basis," Beckham said. "Not looking any further than that and just helping my team produce. ...

"I have three gloves. All middle infield. Shortstop and second base. No outfield yet. If they need me there, I'm there."

Franklin said he hasn't heard anything specific about the Rays' intentions for him -- or finding a utility man -- this season.

"I'm just going to go out here and do all I can," Franklin said. "I haven't heard anything about playing anywhere specifically. I've got about eight gloves. I've got a couple in there that are secretive. I can do anything. I'm ready to go."

When pressed for whether he would try to create a Zobrist-type utility player for this year's team, Cash answered, "I'm set for whatever works for us. I can't answer that right now, because we have to see these guys play for a little bit. But whatever is best for our team."

Stay tuned.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.