Projected Division Finish
1. Boston Red Sox
2. Toronto Blue Jays
3. Baltimore Orioles
4. Tampa Bay Rays
5. New York Yankees
Tampa Bay Rays
2014 Finish: 77-85 (Fourth Place)
Projected Batting Order My Batting Order
CF Kevin Kiermaier LF Desmond Jennings
RF Steven Sousa DH David DeJesus
SS Asdrubal Cabrera SS Asdrubal Cabrera
3B Evan Longoria 3B Evan Longoria
LF Desmond Jennings C John Jaso
C John Jaso 1B James Loney
1B James Loney RF Steven Sousa
DH David DeJesus 2B Logan Forsythe
2B Logan Forsythe CF Kevin Kiermaier
Projected Starting Rotation/Closer
RHP Chris Archer
RHP Nathan Karns
RHP Jake Odorizzi
RHP Matt Andriese
LHP Drew Smyly
CLOSER Jake McGee
The Rays are always on the verge of re-building due to their financial limitations. They seem to be in a re-building mode right now, but still have some young, quality players on their squad and hope it won’t take too long to be good again. With their pitching, I think they could be competitive this year though I suspect they will not really be in contention for the playoffs this season. Losing Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman hurts as that manager/GM combo found the magic touch for making this financially strapped team competitive in the highest priced division in baseball. Its frustrating for Rays fans because this division has never looked more winnable, and now it looks like the Rays are taking a step back. Also, their once vaunted farm system looks thinner than it has in years. We’ll have to see how the Rays do without their old brain trust, but most of the other front office/development staff is still in place and nobody develops players, especially pitchers, better than Tampa Bay. And as long as they have pitching, they will be competitive.
As is usually the case, the Rays struggled offensively in 2014. They hit 247 as a team and ranked near the bottom half of the league in AVG, hits, HR and SB. Most telling, they tanked dead last in R. If you can’t score, it’s hard to win. The offense doesn’t look much more intimidating this year.
The cornerstone of this offense is Evan Longoria. He’s struggled with injuries at times, but has tried to put that behind him with 160 games played in 2013 and a full 162 last year. But that doesn’t mean he was healthy. He dealt with nagging injuries all year and refused to sit, realizing that without him this offense has nobody pitchers are afraid of. The tradeoff was one of his worst seasons in the majors: 253, 22 HR, 91 RBI, 83 R and 5 SB. Those aren’t bad numbers at all, but it’s not what he is accustomed to. He holds himself to a higher standard and has to carry this offense, which means they need more. And while the HR, RBI and R numbers look good, he still had a career low 724 OPS. I’ll say this about Longoria, I never have thought of him as an elite offensive performer. He’s never hit 300, hasn’t driven in more than 100 runs since 2010 and has only reached double-digit stolen bases once. That being said, he can do a lot of things well and generally hits 20+ HR when he’s healthy. That’s a quality offensive player. Put him down for another season of being pitched around which will result is lesser numbers. I’m thinking 260 with 20+ HR, 80+ RBI and 70+ R. Not bad at all, but not enough to carry an offense..
The Rays signed Asdrubal Cabrera to play short and take some of the offensive load off of Longoria. He split his time between the Indians and Nationals last year and played both short and second. He popped 14 HR, stole 10 bases and hit 241 overall. For a middle infielder, that’s good, but I don’t know if it will really provide much incentive to pitch to Longoria. He’s a career 267 hitter who has hit 14 or more HR the last four years. I think he will be a good player for Tampa Bay, but don’t think he’s really a game-changer. Put him down for an AVG around 250 with double digit HR, 70+ RBI and 60+ R. Toss in 8-10 SB as well.
I think one of the keys to the Rays offense is going to be Desmond Jennings. He has never lived up to his potential, but has skills. The problem is, he doesn’t seem to play to his skills. He’s a speedy guy, but has a career 248 AVG and 327 OBP. He’s got some pop, but doesn’t play in a park that is conducive to power hitting. Right now, he’s hitting 5th or 6th in the middle of the lineup because he wants to hit for power. That’s a mistake. They have to turn him into a leadoff hitter if they want to be successful. Hitting in the middle of the order limits his greatest asset, his speed. Last year he stole a career low 15 bases. I’d put him in the leadoff hole and make him work it out since this is likely a lost year. I don’t think it will happen though. I’m thinking 245 with 10 HR, 18 SB and about 50 RBI, not at all what the Rays need from him.
After those three players, there is really no one else that will have a major impact on offense. First baseman James Loney is a quality player, but has never become the power hitter many hoped he would. He’s generally good for 270 with an OBP around 400, 15 HR and 10 SB. That’s good, but not what you are generally looking for from a first baseman. Additionally, he is currently on the DL so the Rays are trying to get by without him to start the season.
Catcher John Jaso has some legitimate pop. He hit 9 HR in only 307 ABs last year with Oakland. He goes from one pitcher’s park to another in Tampa, but if he hit in Oakland, the hope is he will hit in Tampa. He’s a career 259 hitter, but hit over 264 the last three seasons. When Jaso returns from the DL, he will be the primary catcher and get extra ABs in the DH spot to put his bat in the lineup. The Rays hope he turns into a 15-20 HR guy, but there’s no guarantee. I’m thinking 15 is likely his ceiling with an AVG around 265 as he will have to make adjustments the more he plays. If his stay on the DL stretches on those numbers could take hit.
David DeJesus is one of the only veterans left on the team this year. He is technically a fourth outfielder, but I think he’ll find his way into some extra playing time as either a DH or the guy who gets into the field to allow others to DH. He is a quality, left-handed bench player with a career 278 AVG and a little pop left in his bat. He plays good defense, runs well despite his age and has a professional approach at the plate. He won’t reach double digit HRs or steals anymore, but he can chip in 5+ of both while hitting around 270 with an OBP north of 350.
Nobody else on this team is proven to be a performer at the big league level. Kevin Kiermaier has plenty of talent in center field. He hit 263 with 10 HR and 5 SB last year in 108 games. For a youngster, that’s very good. He’s got to work on his approach on the bases as he was caught almost as many times as he was safe (4 CS….5 for 9 overall). All young guys have to make adjustments and mature, but I think he’s got a bright future with a decent OBP for a rookie (315) and not an over abundance of Ks (71 in 33 AB). His second season may feature some growing pains, but with a starting job and more ABs, 12-15 HR seems legitimate with another 8-10 SB. And if has the ability to make adjustments quickly, he could do more. He’s off to a hot start right now.
So is right fielder Steven Souza. He’s got even less experience than Kiermaier playing in only 21 games before this year. You really cant’ put any expectations on anyone with that little experience but he’s already surpassed his HR and SB totals from last year. After a slow first week, he’s playing better and a lot of people think he can have a big year. If so, that’s great, but the Rays are just hoping he gets some experience and can prove to be a valuable addition to their future.
Logan Forsythe will likely get the lion’s share of the time at second base. He’s got plenty of experience, but has not proven himself to be more than a platoon player to this point. I don’t expect much from him, an AVG around 220 and maybe a handful of HRs. If Tim Beckham or Ryan Brett can distinguish themselves in some way (and Beckham is starting to), he may lose playing time. He’s nothing more than a stopgap at this point.
Rene Rivera is the backup catcher, who will get more playing time than most other backups. Jaso is out right now, but also will get a lot of DH time, allowing Rivera to catch more. He’s been a capable backup a long time with great defensive ratings. But last year he hit 11 HR in 103 games so there is hope he can produce more with more playing time.
This offense won’t score a lot of runs. There are only two legitimate threats on this team in Evan Longoria and Asdrubal Cabrera. But Cabrera is only above average and while Longoria is good, he’s not great. Loney and Jennings are good players but neither has lived up to their potential. There is youth on this team, but they aren’t proven players yet and this year they will likely feature a lot of growing pains. So if the Rays are going to win ball games, they will be low scoring ones.
The defense looks like it should be okay. James Loney is great at first and Evan Longoria is above average at third. Cabrera is bad at short, but Forsythe is fine at second. Beckham is good at short, despite his lack of experience and Brett looks like he’ll be a good offensive piece. Desmond Jennings is much better in left than in center. Souza is fantastic in right. And Kiermaier is at least average in center, but I think he’s better and being a young player he will continue to improve. Jaso is fine behind the plate and Rivera is great. DeJesus is good in either corner outfield spot and can still play center in a pinch. This defense won’t win any awards, but they have talent and depth.
As always, the Rays were carried by their pitching staff last year. That being said, they weren’t quite as good as they have been in the recent past and threw in the towel halfway through the year and let their best pitcher, David Price go. They were 6th in the league with a 3.56 ERA. They gave up a lot of BBs, but were second in the league in both Ks and WHIP because they are a staff of young guys with great stuff. They will be a little shorthanded this year and will definitely miss David Price. That being said, they should still be the best pitching staff in the division.
The Rays have let David Price and James Shields go over the last few seasons. They also will deal with the loss of Matt Moore (for the majority of the year), Alex Cobb, Alex Colome, Jake McGee and Drew Smyly who have all started the year on the DL.
With all the injuries, Chris Archer starts the year as the ace. He’s got the stuff to be a true ace and had a good season last year. He went 10-9 with a 3.33 ERA last season. He’s not a huge strikeout guy, but may grow into one with 173 Ks in 194 IP. He’s still young and making adjustments as his 1.28 WHIP and 243 BAA were fairly pedestrian. But he’s got great stuff and should be a quality starter on this team for years. Think another 10 Wins, even with the limited offense behind him. 200 IP is a possibility with 180+ Ks and an ERA around 3.20.
Jake Odorizzi is one of the many highly touted young arms for Tampa Bay. Added in the James Shields deal, Odirizzi got his most major league action last season with 31 starts. He went 11-13 with a 4.13 ERA. His WHIP was a little higher than the MLB average and his BAA right around it. Most impressive was his 174 Ks in 168 IP. He’s still young and has a lot to learn. But he has great stuff and is well on his way. I’m putting him down for double-digit wins, though perhaps another losing record. Expect that ERA to dip below 4 and with 180 IP we could see 200 Ks.
The rest of the starting rotation is currently made up of fill-in pieces. Drew Smyly and Alex Cobb will certainly return to the starting rotation when healthy and Alex Colome would like to join them, but he’ll have to outpitch all three of the guys currently on the staff. Matt Moore would also like to be back this year, but if the Rays are struggling, I don’t see the point in rushing him back.
Until then Nathan Karns will get some starts. Coming into 2015, he’s got only 5 to his name. Last year, he made 2 starts going 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA. He’s got as many Ks as IP and had a sparkling 0.92 WHIP and 163 BAA. Why the high ERA with those numbers? He gives up a lot of HR and more walks than he should. If he can avoid that he could be a solid starter. But if not, he won’t keep his job as the Rays get their original starters healthy again.
Matt Andriese is another fill-in. He’s got 1 start and 1 relief appearance to his name. I have no idea what he’ll do, but he’s another young guy with pretty good stuff that should become a major leaguer at some point. It’s happened sooner than many thought, but he will only keep his job if he’s successful.
Erasmo Ramirez has the most experience of the fill-in guys from his time in Seattle. But he was a subpar pitcher in one of the best pitching environments in baseball. Last year he was 1-6 with a 5.26 ERA and lost his starting job. They’d love to see the Ramirez of 2012 who had a 3.36 ERA in 8 starts and 8 relief appearances. But with his AVG, WHIP and BAA rising each season, the Rays aren’t expecting much. He will almost certainly go to the bullpen or to the minors when Cobb and Smyly return.
Cobb has been great in his short career. His last two seasons were his best as he pitched to a sub 3 ERA and won double-digit games both years with good winning records. His career WHIP and BAA are both better than the league average. I think he’ll be productive upon his return, but don’t know how long he’ll be out so I have no idea what his numbers will be.
Smyly is in a similar spot, but may have a higher ceiling. He’s always been a good pitcher in Detroit, but Tampa is a better place to pitch and that coaching staff made him better, turning him into more of a strikeout guy. He’s 43-19 in 114 career starts with a 3.26 ERA. That’s great, but if he becomes a better strikeout guy he could be elite. I love his future and think he could turn into a 200 K guy. His numbers for this year are cloudy because I don’t know how long he’ll be out.
This starting staff could be great. Until it’s fully healthy however, they are just average with a lot of unproven commodities. Luckily, they have a strong bullpen to support them even with closer Jake McGee on the DL. Until he returns, Brad Boxberger has been closing and should be a solid option in that role. Boxberger is coming off a season where he had 18 Holds and a 2.37 ERA in 63 games. He struck out 104 in 64 IP. While he doesn’t have a lot of closing experience, he’s got the stuff to be successful for a short time, if not longer. When McGee returns, he will setup and has proven he can be great in that role.
Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri are veteran arms with good stuff in the Rays pen. Frieri even has closing experience, although he’s been better as a setup man. They complement the other arms in the pen, many of which are young. When the starting rotation gets back to full strength, the bullpen may get an upgrade with some of the fill-in starters moving to relief roles. McGee was a very good closer last year with 19 Saves and 14 Holds after taking over the job part way through the season. He struck out 90 in 71 IP and had a 0.90 WHIP and sparkling 189 BAA. I can’t estimate his numbers because I don’t know how long he’ll be out. But I have no doubt he’ll be successful after he returns and settles back in to his role.
This pitching staff is very strong. However, it’s not as good as it has been in recent years. They are trying to overcome the loss of David Price and all the injuries on the staff. They will keep the Rays in a lot of games and get them some wins in spite of their offense. While they may be the best pitching staff in the division, they aren’t as good as they have been in the past and likely aren’t good enough to carry this team to the playoffs.
The Rays are in a tough spot. They have always had small windows for success and impossible financial constraints. However, there was always a trust in Friedman and Maddon that things would be ok. Losing those two hurts. In addition, the Rays lost Price, Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce and Wil Myers in the last year. I didn’t like this offense in the past and like it less now. They will win some games and be in all of them. But at the end of the day, I don’t think they score enough to win a serious number of games and don’t see them threatening to be a playoff team.
I’ll say 72 Wins and a fourth place finish in the division. They will not factor in the playoff hunt.