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)
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.
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.
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.
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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