After making it to the playoffs four times in six seasons under Joe Maddon, the Rays finished under .500 for the first time since 2007 last season. With Maddon now gone to the Cubs, the Rays spent the offseason selling off anyone and everyone and have a very different look in 2015.
The Rays lost much of their offensive core and didn’t add much during the offseason so they’ll once again rely on their former top prospects in the rotation and in the lineup to develop into Major League-caliber studs. It’s the start of another rebuilding project in St. Petersburg but with a solid veteran core and impressive youngsters, it may not be a long one, depending on whether new manager Kevin Cash can get the most from his players.
Batting Average: 19th
1B: James Loney, John Jaso
Loney has been very solid for the Rays since joining Tampa in 2013, batting .290 and .299 over those two seasons while hitting 9-13 home runs, driving in 69-75 RBI, scoring 54-59 runs, and hitting 27-33 doubles. That’s right around the production we should continue to expect from the veteran.
Jaso will likely split time between DH and the outfield for the Rays and while he’s a solid on-base guy who seldom strikes out, his ~.270 BA and low run production hardly instill a lot of confidence in his bat. He’s a solid singles hitter who can draw walks but not much else.
Franklin was limited to just 28 games between the Mariners and Rays last season and struggled but the former top-50 prospect might be exactly what the Rays need in the middle. In his first 102 games in 2013, he struggled to hit for average but showed some potential as he hit 12 HR while driving in 45, scoring 38 runs, and hitting 20 doubles.
In the minors, Franklin owned a .284 career BA and .811 OPS and hit as many as 23 home runs and stole as many as 25 bases in a single season. At 24, there’s a lot of developing left to do and Tampa might just be the best place for him to do so.
Forsythe is here for his glove and ability to play multiple positions, at the plate he’s as bad as most backup middle infielders.
3B: Evan Longoria
Longoria saw his numbers fall in 2014 despite playing a career-high 162 games. His .269 BA, .842 OPS, 32 HR, and 39 2B fell to a .253 BA, .724 OPS, 22 HR, and 26 2B last season. He did drive in 91 runs, though, and may have simply been impacted by a mediocre lineup around him. At the same time, it’s not like Tampa made strides in improving their offense so this may be another year in which Longo has to try and carry the team on his back which may lead to another down year.
SS: Asdrubal Cabrera
Cabrera is no longer the All-Star caliber shortstop we saw in 2011 and 2012 but he’s still better than most shortstops at the plate and sports a serviceable glove. His .241 BA, .694 OPS, 14 HR, 61 RBI, 74 R, 10 SB, and 31 2B last season amounts to very solid production from the shortstop position and is right around what we can expect from Cabrera this season.
C: Rene Rivera
Rivera is a journeyman veteran backup catcher who is good behind the plate and should be an improvement over the Rays’ 2014 Jose Molina-Ryan Hanigan combo at the plate. In 294 at-bats with the Padres last season, Rivera batted .252 with a .751 OPS, 11 HR, 44 RBI, and 18 2B.
Desmond Jennings saw his numbers fall across the board in 2014 as he struggled to stay healthy and batted a career-low .244 with a career-low .697 OPS, 10 HR, 36 RBI, and 15 SB. He did hit 30 doubles but that’s about the only silver lining on an otherwise disappointing season. A healthy Jennings should be able to add double-digit home runs and 20+ steals but, since he’s never cracked the 140-game plateau, it’s hard to see him healthy for a full season.
Kevin Kiermaier was impressive in his first Big League action in 2014 as he batted .263 with a .765 OPS, 10 HR, 16 2B, 8 3B, 35 RBI, and 35 R in 331 at-bats. He never flashed a lot of pop in the minors but showed a great ability to squeeze out doubles and triples as well as a very solid strikeout-walk ratio. Kiermaier could be a late-round steal in fantasy drafts if the 24-year-old continues to develop.
Steven Souza came over in the Wil Myers-to-San Diego trade and should have a chance to win an outfield job in spring training despite playing very few Big League games. In the minors, Souza developed an ability to hit for high averages as he moved up the Nationals farm system and hit as many as 23 home runs in a single season while stealing 20+ bases five times. He’s got 20-20 potential with a good approach at the plate, drawing a lot of walks and keeping the strikeouts down. Depending on how Myers develops, Souza may actually end up the better outfielder.
David DeJesus is expected to play DH against lefties and may see some time in the outfield. At this point in his career he does a bit of everything but excels at little. He can still draw a good number of walks, has occasional pop, and is a decent doubles hitter. At 35, though, it’s hard to see him providing Tampa with a lot, especially with a lot of youngsters pushing for playing time.
Brandon Guyer is a solid fourth or fifth outfielder who showed an ability to hit for a high average in the minors while hitting double-digit home runs and stealing as many as 30 bases. He wasn’t quite as impressive in his first Big League stint last season but he’s got potential to be an impact player off the bench.
Alex Cobb is 21-12 over the last two seasons while posting a 2.82 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 283 K to 95 BB. He does everything well and has established himself as one of the best young arms in the league but he’ll need to stay healthy, which he hasn’t been able to do in his three seasons in the Bigs.
Chris Archer isn’t the most consistent pitcher but he’s now posted a 3.28 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in his first two seasons in the league and is only getting better. His walk and hit totals increased a bit in 2014 and he can really be a star if he can get those back down to his 2013 levels.
Jake Odorizzi showed plenty of promise in his first full season in the league as he posted a 1.28 WHIP and 174 K to 59 BB despite putting up a 4.13 ERA. His 3.75 FIP suggests he pitched significantly better than that and could be a real steal in fantasy drafts if he can lower his home run and walk totals.
Drew Smyly had a great season coming out of the pen for Detroit in 2013 but remained a quality arm as he moved into the rotation for the Tigers and later the Rays. In 28 games last season, Smyly posted a 3.24 ERA and 1.16 WHIP and only improved after he was sent to Tampa. The former top-100 prospect has developed quickly since being drafted in 2010 but, at 25, is still getting better.
Alex Colome struggled to keep his ERA down and walked a lot of batters in the minors but the former top-50 prospect has a lot of potential as a strikeout arm. He’s actually looked better in the Majors Leagues than the minors, posting a 2.50 ERA and 1.31 WHIP in 39.2 Big League innings. Colome could go either way this season but if he can keep his control in check he’ll be a major boost to the back of the rotation.
Nate Karns was stellar in the Nationals farm system but struggled after being traded to Tampa and playing in Triple-A last season, putting up a 5.08 ERA and 1.40 WHIP in 145 innings. Like Colome, Karns has a high-strikeout arm but struggles with walks. He’ll have a chance to win the fifth starter job in the spring.
Matt Moore is expected to be out until late June or early July after undergoing elbow surgery early last season. He was limited to just two starts before getting hurt but was stellar in 2013 as he went 17-4 with a 3.29 ERA and 1.30 WHIP. If he can get healthy and work on his control, Moore should be a stud for years to come.
Jake McGee is expected to miss the first month or so of the season but looked solid after he took over the closer job, saving 19 of 23 games while posting a 1.89 ERA and 0.90 WHIP. McGee had a similarly great season in 2012 before posting a 4.02 ERA in 2013, though, so we’re not fully sold just yet but he showed a lot of promise last season.
Grant Balfour is fighting for the closer job in McGee’s absence after he lost the gig last season. After posting ERAs in the mid-2s from 2010 to 2013, his first year with the Rays saw his ERA skyrocket to 4.91 while he posted a horrid 1.44 WHIP. He’s only a season removed from being an All-Star but, at 37, it’s hard to count on him rebounding.
Kevin Jepsen had a promising season last year after a down year in 2013, posting a 2.63 ERA and 1.05 WHIP while striking out 75 to 23 walks. If we’re taking bets, Jepsen should be the closer until McGee returns.
Ernesto Frieri thinks he’s in contention for the closer job but really he’s just fighting for his baseball life. He was great from 2010 to 2012, had an okay season in 2013, and completely blew up last season as he posted a 7.34 ERA and 1.46 WHIP in 41.2 innings between the Angels and Pirates. He’s still on the right side of 30 but we’ve seen relievers disappear very quickly, no matter how good their track record.
Brad Boxberger has posted a 2.49 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, and 13.3 K/9 over the last two seasons between the Padres and Rays and is blossoming into a top notch reliever.
Kirby Yates looked decent in his first stint in the Bigs but showed incredible potential in Triple-A where he posted ERAs of 1.90 and 0.36 over the last two seasons.
Jeff Beliveau also looked like a strong middle reliever last season, posting a 2.63 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 24 innings after posting consistently great numbers in the minors.
Defense: B- to B
Starting Pitching: B to B+
Bullpen: C+ to B-