HOUSTON: Jeff Keppinger # 8 of the Houston Astros hits a two run home run in the third inning against the PIttsburgh Pirates at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
According to Marc Topkin, veteran infielder Jeff Keppinger is close to signing a contract with the Tampa Bay Rays, who are looking to add a right-handed who (presumably) can play a bunch of positions (because with Tony La Russa gone, no manager loves super-utility players like Joe Maddon loves super-utility players). Topkin:
Keppinger has a career .281 average, .332 on-base and .388 slugging percentages but of more relevance are his numbers against left-handed pitchers: .324/.371/.481. Also, he is a high contact hitter, putting the ball in play in 84 percent of his plate appearances, according to baseball-reference.com. (The major-league average is 70 percent.)
Keppinger seems likely to compete for one of the two open reserve spots, battling with the loser of the shortstop competition between Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac, outfielder Brandon Guyer, and infielders Elliot Johnson, Russ Canzler and Will Rhymes. The other two spots are ticketed for outfielder Sam Fuld and the backup catcher.
Just for the sake of completion, I'll mention Keppinger's numbers against right-handed pitchers: .263/.316/.350 ... which is hugely less than his numbers against lefties, obviously, but really not terrible for a utility fellow.
Anyway, it looks like a spirited competition for those two reserve slots, as you could make a pretty good case for everybody except Canzler (who can't play shortstop or second base) and Rhymes (who hasn't yet built any goodwill management).
Now, it's fair to ask why we're obsessing over the 23rd and 24th spots on the Rays' roster. Well, because they could matter, as the Rays figure to be in the postseason mix once again. They're bringing back virtually every key player from the team that won 91 games last year.