Expanded Rosters May Help Ray-Patrick Didder
Shortstop Ray-Patrick Didder was left off the Braves’ 40-man roster last December and then went unpicked in the Rule 5 draft.
As disappointing as that news is for a player, Didder's future got a little brighter this week. No one knows for sure how teams will handle the expanded 26-man rosters next season, but talking with scouts and front office officials around spring training, there is some thought that the larger rosters and the yet-to-be-set limits on number of pitchers on the roster will open up more possibilities for versatile backups who can help a team in a variety of ways.
And few players fit the versatile backup description more than Didder. He's played every position as a pro other than left field, catcher, pitcher and first base (and with his arm, he'd probably be a plausible emergency pitcher). In 2016, Didder was set to play right field at low Class A Rome, but when Ronald Acuna went onto the disabled list, Didder slid over to center field and handled it capably, thanks to his plus speed.
A year later, the Braves tried Didder at shortstop and he quickly showed he could produce average defense there as well. With the Braves thin at middle infield options in the minors, Didder focused exclusively on shortstop last season, although he also played second base and third base in the Arizona Fall League. His plus arm works well at any of the three spots (and enables him to handle left or right field as well).
Although Didder didn’t play any outfield last season, he still went out and shagged balls in the outfield during batting practice to remain comfortable out there.
“I’m still taking reads and routes so I still can play it,” Didder said.
Long term, scouts generally see DIdder projecting as a versatile defender whose plus speed and basestealing skills make him useful on the basepaths as well. Didder stole 27 bases in 32 attempts last season, and he has stolen more than 25 bases in each of the past three seasons.
Didder’s speed was apparent in a minor league spring training game on Thursday, as he stole a base and also went home to third on a triple in only 11.3 seconds. But his improved approach was also apparent. He showed better selectivity at the plate as he worked from being behind in counts to getting back into advantageous situations. Didder finished a double short of the cycle in Thursday’s game against the Phillies while also drawing a walk.
“All the hard work in the offseason is paying off,” Didder said. “It’s about being more selective at home plate, having better plate discipline, and I want to stay longer in the zone.”