Tuesday, March 28, 2017

2017 Pre-Season Profile: Tampa Bay Rays


The Tampa Bay Rays, who normally run a strict course of mediocrity, really struggled in 2016, hitting the cellar in the division for the first time since 2007, when they were still the Devil Rays.  Will 2017 bring about more of the same or open them back up to the middle of the pack?

My 2016 Predictions
3rd in AL East
Chris Archer will start the 2016 All Star Game.

2016 Results
68-94, 5th in AL East
The Tampa Bay Rays took a trip down to the cellar in 2016, Kevin Cash's second season as manager.  They continued to ride their fine line of competing while rebuilding, trading away guys like Matt Moore mid-season for prospects.  They are hoping that they can work their way back up the division in 2017.

Additions / Subtractions
The Rays traded away several key pieces to their team this offseason, including Logan Forsythe and Drew Smyly.  They also made some very interesting free agency pick-ups in catcher Wilson Ramos and outfielder Colby Rasmus.  These will definitely upgrade an offense that always tends to struggle.

Most Important Hitter
Brad Miller
Through a rough 2016 season, one of the bright spots was Brad Miller, who finally found his stroke at the big league level.  He hit 30 home runs with 81 RBI's.  However, he had a .243 average at the same time.  The Rays are moving him full-time to second base with the departure of Forsythe and arrival of Matt Duffy in the Moore trade.  If the Rays' offense is going to improve this season, they need Brad Miller to take another step forward instead of regress back and prove last year was a fluke.

Most Important Pitcher
Chris Archer
My Fearless Prediction for the Rays last year may have been one of the worst beats I had in 2016.  Chris Archer was set up to become a superstar last year.  Instead, he struggled to a 9-19 record, sporting a 4.02 ERA.  His 1.8 WAR was the worst of his career.  If the current incarnation of the Rays have any chance of succeeding, Chris Archer needs to become the ace they have been expecting him to be.  This will either give them the frontline starter they need or another piece to trade away and build for the future (which they almost did this offseason even after that abysmal season).

Player to Watch
Jose De Leon
I don't understand how the Rays do it.  They are constantly reinventing themselves, trading away pieces they can't afford anymore for the next generation of Rays stars.  The Logan Forsythe trade this offseason is a perfect example.  Forsythe worked his way up to being one of the best second basemen in the game.  When they traded him to the Dodgers, he required a high asking price.  The centerpiece of the package brought back was Jose De Leon, a 24 year old pitcher ready to burst on the scene.  Watch for him to take his place among the long list of All Star pitchers that first made a name of themselves on the Rays.

2017 Prediction
4th in AL East
You can't keep the Rays down for long.  I'm not saying they are going to compete in the AL East, but they will find their way out of the cellar.  What makes the Rays different than so many other teams is their pitching.  Even with Matt Moore traded and Chris Archer falling apart, the Rays sported one of the deepest starting rotations in the league.  This year is no different.  Guys like Jake Odorizzi and Alex Cobb could be aces for any other team (and might soon be that).  Blake Snell is a phenom ready to be a star.  If their offense can do anything, they should be able to carry a .500 record.  If they don't, Kevin Cash will be looking for another job as early as June.

Fearless Prediction
Jake Odorizzi and Alex Cobb will be traded mid-season.
Like I said, the great thing about the Rays is their ability to re-invent themselves.  Along with De Leon, they have several other pitchers ready to burst on the scene either this year or next (4 of their top 10 prospects).  They need to clear some roster space for this to happen.  Look for Odorizzi, Cobb, and maybe even Chris Archer to be moved this season to make room for the next set of young guys.  Instead of Archer, Cobb, and Odorizzi, you will be hearing about De Leon, Honeywell, and Hu by the end of the year.

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