2018 MLB preview: Tampa Bay Rays

2017: 80-82 (3rd Place in AL East)

Last Postseason Appearance: 2013

Last World Series Title: NEVER WON A WORLD SERIES (Began play in the 1998 season) 

2017 Recap

For a team ranked 29th in Opening Day payroll to begin the season, 80 wins for the Rays is pretty impressive. They hovered around .500 all season and pitched well. As a team, Tampa Bay finished 7th in BAA, and 8th in ERA. They also had a top-10 bullpen. Unfortunately, they struggled mightily when playing the top two teams in their division. Against Boston and New York, the Rays went 15-23.

Archer finished fourth in strikeouts in 2017. (BIGPLAY.com)

Chris Archer, Tampa’s ace, led the MLB in starts with 34. He also finished fourth in strikeouts and had the fifth highest K/9. Although Archer had an ERA of 4.07, he ranked 10th overall in WAR for pitchers. Alex Cobb also had a solid season, going 12-10 while walking less than 6 percent of his batters. Closer Alex Colome led the MLB in saves with 47.

The key reason as to why the Rays fell short of the postseason was the offense, or lack of. Tampa Bay finished 25th in batting average, on base percentage, runs per game, and hits per game. They hit 228 home runs, which was good for 6th in the AL, but, unfortunately, most of them were solo shots. The Rays hit 149 solo home runs, which was tied with Baltimore for most in the league.

The power surge was led by Logan Morrison, who finished tied for 8th in home runs with 38. Steven Souza added 30 to the total, but also finished 8th in strikeouts. After a down year in 2016, Corey Dickerson returned to being the player he was in Colorado. The outfielder hit .282 with 27 home runs and earned the right to start at DH in the All Star Game for the American League. Kevin Kiermaier, who had the 5th highest defensive WAR in baseball, hit 15 home runs and stole 16 bags. Evan Longoria, now a member of the San Francisco Giants, hit 20 home runs, but had an OBP of just .313.

2018: Around the Diamond

Not only does the offense need to get on base more, but the defense needs to improve. Last year, Tampa Bay finished ninth in errors. Wilson Ramos, who missed significant time because of an ACL tear, will be ready to start behind the plate for Opening Day. In 2016, before getting injured, Ramos hit .307 with 22 home runs, and was named an All Star for the National League.

Logan Morrison’s career season, an OPS of .868, means his time is probably done on the low payroll Rays. This means an opening at first base, as well as 30+ home runs off the books. Brad Miller, who missed around 1/3 of the season because of time on the DL, looks to be in line to start at first, at least until Tampa makes a move. Keep in mind, Miller hit 30 home runs in 2016.

Evan Longoria not suiting up for the Rays already feels weird, but life goes on. Matt Duffy, who missed all of 2017 after two Achilles surgeries, looks to be in place to take over the hot corner. Up the middle, we have Adeiny Hechavarria or possibly Christian Arroyo at SS, and plenty of options, not great ones, at second. At any point, Tampa Bay could use Daniel Robertson, Joey Wendle, Michal Johnson, and Ryan Schimpf.

As part of the Longoria trade, longtime outfielder Denard Span will have a shot to compete for a spot in an outfield that consists of Kiermaier, Souza Jr., and Mallex Smith. Corey Dickerson will also get sometime in LF, but will mostly remain as the starting DH. In all honestly, Dickerson has great range, finishing 2nd in range factor/9 innings for leftfielders.

On the Bump

Chris Archer will be followed by Jake Odorizzi, Blake Snell, Nathan Eovaldi, and either Matt Andriese or Jake Faria. Snell is only 25 years old and was a first round pick in the 2011 MLB Draft. Eovaldi missed 2017 because of Tommy John Surgery, and Jake Odorizzi has proven to be pretty average, although only entering his age 28 season.

Colome will remain at the back end of the bullpen, with Dan Jennings setting him up. The majority of the ‘pen is young, but remember, Tampa has the same names as last year, and the pitching was fine.

The Future

According to MLB.com’s “Top 100 Prospects” for 2018, the Tampa Bay Rays have six players making this list, which is tied for the third most in baseball. Notably, RHP Brent Honeywell is ranked as the 12th best prospect, and fourth highest RHP. Last year, between AAA and AA, Honeywell went 13-9 with a 3.49 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. He also had 172 strikeouts in just 136.2 innings. His fastball hovers around the mid-90s, and his command is impeccable. Besides his fastball, Honeywell throws a screwball, which has become his trademark, a changeup, slider, and curveball.

Known for his screwball, Brent Honeywell is the future for Tampa. (Drays Bay)

Even though Longoria is now gone, the future of the infield looks promising. In return for Longoria, the Rays received Christian Arroyo, who can play SS/3B and ranks 81st on the top 100 list. Ahead of him is SS/2B prospect Willy Adames (#22 on top100). Adames, just 22 years old, could reach the MLB in 2018 and take over for Hechavarria. Acquired in the David Price trade back in 2014, scouts believe Adames will blossom into an All-Star caliber shortstop. He is great defensively and has proven he has some pop, hitting at least 30 doubles and 10 home runs in back-to-back minor league seasons.

Another big name is first basemen/LHP Brendan McKay (#25 on top100). Also 22 years of age, McKay is a pure ball player. Drafted fourth overall in the 2017 MLB Draft, McKay is widely considered the best two-way prospect since Dave Winfield. The Rays are open to trying anything with McKay, who hit .232 with 4 home runs and 22 RBIs at Class A Short-Season Hudson Valley. In 20 innings pitched, the lefty had an ERA of 1.80, a WHIP of .750, and 21 strikeouts. Talent evaluators see this kid being a .300, 20 home run type player.

Outfielder Jesus Sanchez, who was signed for 400k out of the Dominican Republic, is off to a tremendous start during his pro career. Last season, in A-ball as a 19-year-old, Sanchez, in 117 games, hit .305 with 15 home runs and 82 RBIs. He projects as an above average defender with good speed. Because of his offensive skills, Sanchez could be playing in Tropicana sooner than later.

The last of the six is outfielder/first basemen Jake Bauers. Bauers, a left handed hitter, has the ability to spray the ball all around the field. He also has a great eye, as he led the International League in walks with 78. During the 2017 Spring Training, Bauers hit .371 with three doubles, four home runs, 10 runs scored, and 13 RBIs. No more Logan Morrison means Bauers has a serious shot at 1B against Brad Miller.

 

2018 Prediction: 79-83

Again, hovering around .500 is completely acceptable for a low-payroll team like the Rays. Who knows if they will keep Archer, and the lack of notable names in the lineup will again be an issue. However, the Rays have a plethora of young studs who look like they could bring this team back to the playoffs in a few years. If he is not traded before the break, Chris Archer will be the only All-Star on this team, and Tampa Bay will come in 4th in the AL East.

Featured image by MLB.com

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Fantasy Baseball 2017

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Early Season Promotions

With the 2017 fantasy baseball season in full swing, it is time to examine this year’s early promotions. The following players have all been called up recently, and may offer significant fantasy value now and in the future. Each player will be listed along with their age, team and position.

Daniel Vogelbach, Seattle Mariners, First Baseman

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Dan Vogelbach is the first baseman of the future in Seattle. (Courtesy of MLB.com)

Vogelbach was called up on April 23 and is expected to be the left-handed half of a platoon with Danny Valencia at first base. Valencia is also expected to platoon in right field with newly called up Ben Gamel after starting right fielder Mitch Haniger went out due to an oblique injury. This means that Vogelbach could see a bit more playing time than originally anticipated.

Vogelbach was originally a second-round pick by the Chicago Cubs and made his way to Seattle in the Mike Montgomery trade in 2016.

He has shown the ability to hit for contact and power in the minor leagues, as he has a career .287 minor league batting average with 85 home runs in 560 games. The 24-year-old is Seattle’s anticipated first baseman of the future, although their reluctances to start him against lefties confirms his lack of readiness for everyday at bats.

Julio Urias, Los Angeles Dodgers, Starting Pitcher

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Julio Urias will be apart of the Dodgers rotation for the remainder of the season. (Courtesy of NBC Sports)

The 20-year-old phenomenon has officially received the call up and is expected to stay with the club for the remainder of the season. This is huge news, as Urias has drawn comparisons to his teammate Clayton Kershaw in delivery and arsenal. They both are hard-throwing lefties who primarily use a fastball, curveball and slider while occasionally working in a changeup.

Urias has been astounding in the minor leagues with a career ERA of 2.62, WHIP of 1.09 and K/9 of 10.9. The Dodgers’ star prospect pitched over 100 innings for the first time in his career in 2016, which shows that they have been patient with workload. This decreases his injury risk and puts less mileage on his arm moving forward.

There may be a few more learning curves for Urias, but he will be a star in the Dodgers’ rotation for years to come, and is sure to improve as he matures physically and mentally.

 

Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers, First Baseman/Outfielder

Fantasy Baseball 2017

The tenth ranked prospect in baseball, Cody Bellinger, has officially been called-up to the bigs. (Courtesy of True Blue LA)

The top prospect in the Dodgers’ farm system was called up after Joc Pederson was placed on the 10-day disabled list due to a groin injury. With injuries to Pederson, as well as Logan Forsythe, Franklin Gutierrez and Andre Ethier, the Dodgers expect to play Bellinger primarily in left field. They plan to play Andrew Toles, Trayce Thompson and recent call-up Brett Eibner in center.

Bellinger’s combination of power and speed make him a very intriguing target in fantasy baseball. He batted .271 with 65 home runs and 36 stolen bases in only 361 games.

His versatility also increases his value. He is a first baseman who can comfortably play all three outfield positions. The 21-year-old will have to play his way into a full-time roll with the big-league club because they may send him down once Pederson and/or Forsythe return.

 

Trey Mancini, Baltimore Orioles, Designated Hitter/Left Fielder

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Trey Mancini is tearing it up so far in his first big-league action. (Courtesy of Camden Chant)

Mancini was promoted by the Orioles in early April and has continued to find success. He has shown the ability to hit for power and contact in the minor leagues with a career batting average of .306 with 54 home runs in 483 games. He currently has five home runs and 11 RBI in 13 games.

The 25-year-old has found himself playing first base, left and right field and designated hitter so far this season. That bodes well for his fantasy versatility moving forward.

Mancini has done incredibly well so far. However, with Seth Smith back from injury, it may be harder for him to find the field this year.

 

Christian Arroyo, San Francisco Giants, Shortstop

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Christian Arroyo is ranked the 84th prospect in baseball and will replace Brandon Crawford for the time being. (Courtesy of What Pros Wear)

Arroyo was given the call this weekend after starting shortstop Brandon Crawford was placed on the three-day bereavement list due to the passing of his sister-in-law. Crawford is also nursing a groin injury, and has yet to get an MRI, which complicates his timetable for return.

Arroyo was a first-round pick in 2013, and is a career .300 hitter in the minor leagues. He is currently the 84th ranked prospect by MLB.com and will be a part of the Giants infield in the future.

Once Crawford returns, Arroyo will likely be sent down. When that will be is unknown as of right now.

 

 

 

 

Gift Ngoepe, Pittsburgh Pirates, Shortstop

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Gift Ngoepe is the first South African player to reach the major-leagues. (Courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

The first ever South African-born MLB player was promoted to the majors this week since starting third baseman David Freese has been hampered by a hamstring injury. The Pirates will presumably move utility man Josh Harrison to third base in the meantime, while Phil Gosselin and Alen Hanson platoon at second.

Ngoepe is a career .232 hitter in the minor leagues, with only 37 home runs in 704 games. Although the utility infielder may not be an impact player of the future for the Pirates, he is an inspiration to South Africans and baseball fans world-wide.

 

 

 

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