11:37am: Topkin further elaborates that Kiermaier suffered a hairline fracture in the hip and will need to allow six to eight weeks for the injury to heal before he even begins ramping back up to playing condition. Smith is “going to get his chance” to play on a regular basis, according to manager Kevin Cash.
Kiermaier suffered the injury when sliding into first base to avoid a collision with Jose Abreu last night and quickly exited the game, as Topkin wrote this morning. He was seen on crutches following last night’s contest and underwent a series of tests this morning, including an MRI, CT scan and x-rays. Topkin tweets that Mallex Smith will be recalled from Triple-A in place of Kiermaier.
[Related: Updated Tampa Bay Rays depth chart]
Kiermaier, who signed a six-year, $53.5MM contract extension this offseason, will be missed both in the Rays’ lineup and in the outfield. While he’s made an uncharacteristic six errors in center field this year, he has a track record as the game’s best defensive center fielder (and, quite arguably, best overall defensive player). In spite of the errors, Defensive Runs Saved still pegs him at +9, due largely to his exceptional range and strong throwing arm. At the plate, he’s provided roughly league-average offensive production, hitting .258/.329/.408 with seven homers, 10 doubles and two triples. Kiermaier has also swiped 10 bags in 14 tries and been among the game’s best baserunners, per Fangraphs’ BsR metric.
In Smith, the Rays have a player who may not match Kiermaier’s general excellence but can still provide considerably above-average glovework. Smith possesses excellent range in center thanks to elite speed on which many scouting reports have placed an 80 grade (on the 20-80 scale). Acquired in the offseason trade that sent Drew Smyly to the Mariners, Smith hit .261/.346/.304 in a tiny sample of 26 plate appearances with Tampa Bay earlier this season. The 24-year-old has had a considerably more productive year in Triple-A Durham, slashing .311/.345/.477 with three homers, five doubles, four triples and 16 steals (in 23 attempts).
While Topkin suggests that Smith will get a chance to play on an everyday basis, the Rays are reasonably well-stocked with alternatives should he struggle at the plate or should further injuries arise. Veteran Peter Bourjos has plenty of experience in center field and could spell Smith against left-handed pitching, should the need arise. And left fielder Colby Rasmus, too, has spent several seasons of his career as a center fielder. While an alignment of Rasmus, Smith and Steven Souza seems likely on most days, the Rays can still mix in Bourjos, Corey Dickerson and bench pieces such as Michael Martinez and Rickie Weeks on an as-needed basis.