2015 Season Previews: Tampa Bay Rays

Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks! 

Tampa Bay Rays

Courtesy: MLB.com
Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 86-76 (2nd in AL East, 7th in MLB)

Manager: Kevin Cash (1st season with Tampa Bay, no prior experience)

Top Three Players: 3B Evan Longoria (5.3), RHP Alex Cobb (3.0), OF Desmond Jennings (2.8)

Bounce-back Player: 3B Evan Longoria

Longoria is a star. For some reason, he continues to be overlooked when people talk about the best third basemen in baseball. Perhaps it is because he has played for the Rays for seven seasons. He’s entering his age-29 season and he’s coming off of his worst career season, a career-worst .724 OPS. He slipped a little defensively, as well, seeing his range factor fall below league average for the first time in his career. Perhaps he was playing hurt, perhaps he is just aging, but Longoria will be asked to fill a major role in 2015, a role that he is familiar with. He will be the biggest bat in the Rays lineup, and, even with a lot of talented players around him, he must improve upon his 2014 season. We will look back at last season as an outlier to his incredible career, as he rebounds to post a .270/.350/.500 season.

Smyly will have Rays fans smiling...once he's healthy Courtesy: sportstalkflorida.com
Smyly will have Rays fans smiling…once he’s healthy
Courtesy: sportstalkflorida.com

Fantasy Player to Watch: LHP Drew Smyly

Smyly, acquired in the David Price trade last season, has battled some shoulder soreness this spring, which is always a scary, wearisome injury. He is coming along and will likely have his first start in mid-to-late April, likely missing the first two weeks of the season – if everything breaks right. In seven starts with the Rays last season, Smyly posted a 1.70 ERA and 0.76 WHIP, numbers that he will not duplicate over an entire season, but numbers that show why Smyly and his health are worth monitoring. Over his career, Smyly has a 3.55 ERA and 1.20 WHIP over 43 starts and 241 innings. At 26, he is quite capable of becoming one of the top starters in the American League, joining Alex Cobb, when he is healthy, as well above-average starters.

Offseason Overview: The Rays appeared to give up on Wil Myers, but they got some value out of him, even with his huge struggles, acquiring OF Steven Souza, a late-blooming prospect from the Nationals, and a bit of depth (Travis Ott, Burch Smith, Rene Rivera, and Jake Bauers) to their roster and to a system, which, suddenly, isn’t drafting and producing prospects at the rate that it used to. The Rays did the same type of deal when they sent Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar to Oakland for John Jaso and prospects (Boog Powell and Daniel Robertson). Even with new leadership, after Andrew Friedman left for the Dodgers, the Rays continue on with their cost-saving, intelligent ways. The Rays wrapped up their offseason by signing Asdrubal Cabrera, who appears to be the starting shortstop, even after proving to be below-average at the position the last several seasons in Cleveland, prior to being traded to Washington last season; however, at just 29 and on a one-year deal, it was a smart investment. The best move of the offseason by the Rays may have been the recent buy-low deal that brought their injury-ravaged rotation Erasmo Ramirez, a pitcher with great stuff and inconsistent results and opportunities in Seattle, for LHP Mike Montgomery, a flamed out piece of the James Shields trade with Kansas City.

The Verdict: Even with Ben Zobrist and Wil Myers gone, the Rays have a very solid roster. Nick Franklin, acquired in the David Price deal, or Tim Beckham could fill the Zobrist role, as both can handle shortstop and second base, though they won’t have the same type of offensive production. Jaso will fill the DH role, providing solid power and on-base skills, while Kevin Kiermaier provides elite defensive ability as the center fielder. If they don’t deal David DeJesus prior to Opening Day, he looks like the fourth outfielder, which is a nice option for the club to have. The biggest issue will be their rotation. Cobb and Smyly will miss the first couple of weeks due to injuries they suffered in camp, while Matt Moore may come back from Tommy John surgery by July. Jake Odorizzi made huge strides last season and Chris Archer is underrated, despite his 3.28 ERA and 1.22 WHIP over the last two seasons. If they can survive the first couple of weeks with their pitching staff decimated, the Rays will make the playoffs for the fifth time in eight seasons, and, for some reason, they will continue to be overlooked by those who cover the sport. 88-90 wins for a very undervalued, under-appreciated team.

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