After being activated from the 10-day IL, Taylor Walls will become the Rays’ primary shortstop, manager Kevin Cash revealed to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Osleivis Basabe will move into a utility role around the infield.
Walls has been with the Rays organization since he was selected in the third round of the 2017 draft. He made his big league debut in 2021 and took on a regular role the following season, flashing the leather at shortstop, second, and third. While he wasn’t particularly effective at the plate, he demonstrated an aptitude for drawing walks and contributed on the basepaths, swiping 14 bags in 19 attempts during his first two seasons.
Prior to suffering an oblique strain, Walls was enjoying a mini breakout in 2023. After posting a .569 OPS and a 70 wRC+ in 196 games throughout his first two seasons, he had a .675 OPS and a 94 wRC+ across his first 79 games. Those are still below-average numbers, but they represented a significant improvement for the young infielder. On top of that, he went 20-for-21 on the bases and drew his walks at one of the highest rates in the American League. In 79 games, he accumulated 1.1 FanGraphs WAR. By naming Walls the primary starter at shortstop for the rest of the season, the Rays are expressing optimism that he’ll pick up right where he left off.
The Rays added Basabe to their 40-man roster this past November to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. Entering the season, he was a consensus top-15 prospect in the organization. Baseball America praised his “baseball IQ” and his “bat-to-ball skills,” although they gave his glove an average grade. MLB Pipeline also mentioned that the Rays were impressed with his “competitiveness and work ethic” in 2022.
Basabe made his MLB debut on August 13, starting at shortstop in place of Wander Franco, who has since been put on administrative leave while investigators look into allegations he’d had inappropriate relationships with multiple minors. The rookie has started at shortstop in all but two of his team’s games since. He has performed admirably, slashing .255/.327/.383 with a 103 wRC+. The 22-year-old had played only half a season at Triple-A before he was recalled. Nevertheless, he will move into a utility role now that Walls has returned to the active roster. While Basabe put up slightly above-average offensive numbers in his brief cup of coffee, Walls is the better defender and has far more experience facing big league pitching.
Walls is also a switch-hitter, thereby providing his manager with more flexibility in crafting the everyday lineup. Meanwhile, the right-handed Basabe will be able to spell Brandon Lowe at second base with a tough southpaw is on the mound. Lowe has a .536 OPS against left-handed pitching this season.
The Rays will need every advantage they can get in September, as they fight a close battle with the Orioles for the AL East crown. They currently sit 1.5 games back in the division with four games remaining against Baltimore. As Jeff Passan and Juan Recio reported for ESPN, it appears unlikely Franco will return this season with the investigations expected to last into the winter. Thus, Walls will take on a new challenge, becoming the Rays’ starting shortstop in the heat of a division race. The Rays will hope he’s up for the task.