Tampa Bay Rays
Home Ballpark: Tropicana Field
2014 Finish: 77 – 85 · 4th AL East
Over/Under Wins in 2015: 77.5 · Over
What We Love:
- Evan Longoria: What’s not to love about Longo? The guy is arguably the best 3B in the game today and his defense is worth the price of admission alone. Even with his power numbers dropping last season, he still managed to hit 22 HR and drive in 91 runs, for a Tampa team that struggled to put up runs all season. The real impressive thing about Longo’s 2014 was the fact that he was able to avoid spending time on the DL and played on a career high 162 games. The Rays will need Longo in the everyday lineup as often as possible, as he may be one of the only Rays driving in runs this season. The only downside to being Longoria, is that his talent is (almost) wasted on the fans of Tampa Bay… you know the ones who flock to the Trop in droves. Here’s hoping that (when) the Rays relocate, they do so to a city with a thriving fan base that can FULLY APPRECIATE what a stud they have…. calling Montreal.
- Pitch to the Postseason: It wouldn’t be a season preview unless we discussed the depth of the Rays starting rotation. Even though they no longer have David Price and are missing Matt Moore until after the All Star break, this is still a rotation that could make some noise in the AL. The rotation is anchored by righties, Alex Cobb and Chris Archer, and is rounded out by a trio of (former) highly touted, high ceiling pitching prospects; Jake Odorizzi, Alex Colome and Drew Smyly. Cobb has been garnering a lot of preseason buzz about being a potential contender for the Cy Young, but he’ll have to manage to stay healthy and pitch 200+ innings in order for that to happen. Archer, on the other hand, might have the best stuff and highest ceiling of the entire rotation. Entering both his 27th year and 3rd full season, Archer is a prime candidate to have a breakout year. Both he and Cobb will be heavily relied upon, especially with a trio of unproven arms rounding out the back end of the rotation. If both Cobb and Archer can pitch to their potential, followed by a little help from the rest of the staff, then the Rays could get to the post season on the strength of their pitching staff alone.
- Cash is King: Hard to say that it won’t be strange to look into the Rays dugout and not see the bespectacled face of Joe Maddon. With Maddon becoming the new bench boss for the Cubs, the Rays hired former big league catcher, Kevin Cash. In Cash, the Rays are hoping they have found a manager who will find similar success like other catchers turned managers such as Mike Scioscia, Mike Matheny and Brad Ausmus to name a few. Cash, who will be the league’s youngest manager at 37, gets praise for his high baseball IQ and natural leadership ability. He’ll need both as he attempts to turn the Rays back into a contender.
- Mid-season return of Matt Moore to the starting rotation.
- Rays-Red Sox being the new “MUST WATCH” rivalry.
- Alex Cobb’s splitter-changeup hybrid known as “the thing.”
- The makings of a sneaky good bullpen.
- The potential for a Grant Balfour freak out.
What We Hate:
- The Wil Myers trade: Nothing against Steven Souza, who will probably be a decent little ballplayer, or Burch Smith, who may stick in the bigs as a reliever or spot starter, but the two of them don’t even come close to adding up to the player that Wil Myers is. Myers, who won the AL Rookie of the Year in 2013, was shipped off to San Diego as part of a three way deal that saw the Rays land the aforementioned Souza and Smith. The trade came on the heels of Myers abysmal sophomore season (.222/6/35 in 325 AB compared to .293/13/53 in 335 AB in 2013); one in which he was hampered by a wrist injury. Two years removed from being the “winners” in the James Shields/Wil Myers trade, the Rays have flipped Myers for a return that is (almost) significantly less than what the Royals got for Myers in the first place. Isn’t it just a little odd that the Rays were so willing to give up on a 24 year old with what seems like an unlimited ceiling, just because he had one bad season; perhaps even the first bad stretch of baseball he has ever played in his life? At least Myers was able to see the humour in it all as he tweeted out, “Probably safe to say Padres are the final winner in the Shields trade. Should be an exciting year in San Diego!” this of course coming after the Padres inked the free agent Shields to a 4 yr/$75 million dollar deal.
- Everything to do with the Trop: If baseball is a religion, then baseball parks are its cathedral(s). They are meant to be warm, inviting and intimate. There is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING warm, inviting or intimate about Tropicana Field. In all honesty, it has the intimacy of a World War II bunker (Skydome/Rogers Centre isn’t much better). The Trop takes you back to the days of Astroturf, concrete soulless stadiums and V-Neck jerseys, aka the 70’s. Amazingly, despite having a roof to prevent delays from weather, the Trop still suffers from power outage delays related to the weather per year. Oh, and then there are the infamous catwalks that hang from the ceiling and play God with fly balls and tall HR’s. There hasn’t been a roof that turns more fly ball outs into misplayed adventures since the old Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis. Even televised games from the Trop look dingy and faded, similar to televised hockey games from the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island.
- Seriously, where are the runs going to come from?
- Potential contender to finish at the bottom of every power category.
- Depleted farm system, especially in the starting pitching category.
- The loss of one of baseball’s brightest minds, Andrew Friedman, from the front office.
Player to Watch: SP Chris Archer. As mentioned above, Archer is entering both his 27th year and his 3rd full MLB season. He is also blessed with an exceptional arsenal of pitches and no shortage of confidence, as demonstrated by his dustup with Big Papi last season. Last season, Archer went 10-9 with a 3.33 ERA in 32 starts; he also struck out 100 (173) more batters than he walked (73) over 194.2 innings. There is no reason not to think that Archer will not only match, but pass his numbers from last season. A 15+ win is definitely not out of the question. Honourable Mention(s): Drew Smyly and Steven Souza Jr.
Top Pitching Prospect: Brent Honeywell · RHP · MLB ETA: 2017
Top Positional Prospect: Justin O’Connor · C · MLB ETA: 2016
Top 30 Prospects (MLB.com): http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2015?list=tb
Final Prediction: 5th AL East