Rays enter 2017 with improved defense

Rays enter 2017 with improved defense

With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Rays squad each day this week. Today's topic: What's the difference?

ST. PETERSBURG -- Change had to happen after the Rays posted a 68-win campaign in 2016, and it did. But the cornerstones of the team will still be in place for '17.

Tampa Bay traded away two big pieces in second baseman Logan Forsythe and left-hander Drew Smyly. Forsythe's departure left a hole to fill in the infield, while Smyly's thinned a deep starting pitching herd.

Spring Training begins on Feb. 14, with pitchers' and catchers' workouts at the Charlotte Sports Park complex in Port Charlotte, Fla. Full-squad drills get underway on Feb. 19.

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What remains should be a better defensive ballclub in 2017, with solid pitching and a flexible lineup that looks to be capable of scoring runs.

Entering the 2016 season, Rays management took a swing at improving the offense. The experiment didn't work out, which helped explain the club's lackluster 34-54 first-half record.

The defense began to improve after Brad Miller moved from shortstop to first base, Matt Duffy came in to play shortstop, Luke Maile and Curt Casali began to split the catching duties and American League Gold Glove Award-winning center fielder Kevin Kiermaier came off the disabled list.

The Rays went from 20th in the Major Leagues in fielding in the first half (.983 percentage, 55 errors in 88 games) to 13th in the second (.985 percentage, 39 errors in 74 games).

In line with the fielding frustrations was the Rays' 13-27 record in one-run games. No doubt some of those fielding miscues played a role in the team's close games.

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The additions of Colby Rasmus and speedy Mallex Smith, along with a full season of Duffy at shortstop and Kiermaier in center, should ensure that the Rays' defense will be solid. In turn, that should help the team's starting rotation.

Rasmus on preparation for 2017

The only remaining question for the defense is: Who will start at second base?

Tim Beckham, Nick Franklin and Daniel Robertson will all get a look at the position. If one of them does not step forward, a platoon situation might develop, or Miller could move from first to take hold of second.

Rays' options at second base

The Rays' recent signing of first baseman Logan Morrison would seem to indicate that they are considering using Miller at second base.

Overall, the Rays appear as though they will have a much stronger group in the field in 2017. That defense could make a big difference.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.