Tampa Bay Rays 2017 Team Preview

2016 Recap:  68-94, Last in the AL East. It was a rough 2016 for the Rays as they finished with their worst record since 2007. The Rays normally dominant pitching staff was their downfall as they allowed the fourth most home runs in the AL and finished league average or worst in team ERA, WHIP, and walk rate. The Rays did some more Rays-ish things this offseason dealing Logan Forsythe to the Dodgers for pitching prospect Jose De Leon and taking chances on some players whose value was low due to injuries or poor 2016 performance. In any other division, the Rays would be a strong bounce back candidate, but in the brutal AL East you have to wonder if they will be able to keep pace all season with what is clearly the worst of the five lineups in their division.

Offseason Moves:

Significant Additions: OF Colby Rasmus, C Derek Norris, C Wilson Ramos, RHP Jose De Leon, OF Mallex Smith, OF Peter Bourjos, INF Rickie Weeks, RHP Tommy Hunter, RHP Jumbo Diaz

Significant Subtractions: 2B Logan Forsythe, OF Desmond Jennings, OF Mikie Mahtook, LHP Drew Smyly

Projected Lineup and Breakdown:

  1. LF Corey Dickerson
  2. CF Kevin Kiermaier
  3. 3B Evan Longoria
  4. 2B Brad Miller
  5. RF Steven Souza
  6. 1B Logan Morrison
  7. SS Tim Beckham
  8. DH Nick Franklin
  9. C Derek Norris

The Rays joined in on the homer spike around baseball in 2016 as they finished with the fourth most home runs in the AL. The problem was those homers did not translate to more runs scored as the Rays still managed to finish with the second least runs scored in the league. The Rays will continue to mix and match and platoon almost everyone outside of Longoria, Miller, and Kiermaier. If the Rays offense is going to take a jump, they will likely need outfielder Corey Dickerson to regain his 2014-15 form with Colorado. Dickerson still hit the ball hard more than 30% of the time as he has through most of his career, but Dickerson also struck out more than he has at any point in his young career which never really let him get going. Another answer for the Rays lineup woes could also be currently sitting in the minors. Shortstop Willy Adames could find himself in the big leagues sooner rather than later as the Rays do not have a real answer at shortstop and Brad Miller has enough versatility that he could move off a second base for Adames also. Adames power numbers aren’t eye popping, but a 13% walk rate and an .802 OPS shows there is more to the 21 year old that the back of his baseball card indicates.

Projected Rotation, Bullpen, and Breakdown:

Rotation –

  • RHP Chris Archer
  • RHP Jake Odorizzi
  • RHP Alex Cobb
  • LHP Blake Snell
  • RHP Matt Andriese

Bullpen –

  • RHP Alex Colome – Closer
  • RHP Tommy Hunter
  • RHP Danny Farquhar
  • LHP Xavier Cedeno
  • RHP Erasmo Ramirez

Every year the Rays have one of the more enticing pitching staffs in the AL and that is no different in 2017. Ace Chris Archer had a bad year last season, but a lot of that was built into an obscenely high 16.2% homer to fly ball rate. Archer had been around 10% for his career entering 2016 and some positive regression might be all Archer needs to bounce back in 2017. Speaking of a spike in home run rate, Jake Odorizzi ‘s 2016 peripheral numbers are almost identical to his previous two seasons except for his home run to fly ball rate jumped over 3% from his career average. Are you catching a theme here? Home runs were up around baseball, but it appears to have hit the Rays staff the hardest of anyone. Alex Cobb threw 22 pretty bad innings (8.59 ERA) at the end of last season after recovering from Tommy John surgery, but with almost two full year of recovery under his belt we could see big things from Cobb in 2017. There is a lot of hype around Blake Snell and rightfully so, his stuff is sick. However if Snell is ever going to sniff his potential he needs to stop walking people, it was a problem in the minors and Snell walked 12% of the batters he faced his rookie season. The young lefty needs to fix that quick or he could be headed to the bullpen. The Rays bullpen could also be a cause for concern as there just isn’t a lot in front of closer Alex Colome, the injuries to Brad Boxberger have pretty much killed the potential 1-2 punch the Rays were hoping for in the back of their pen.

Fantasy Analysis:

Stud: 3B Evan Longoria. After a pair of down seasons in 2014 and 2015, Evan Longoria went back to mashing the baseball in 2016, launching 36 jacks and getting his batting average up back around his career mark of .271. Longoria started lifting the ball more than he ever has in 2016 with a flyball rate of 46.8%, that contributes a lot to his power spike and assuming that continues Longoria is still one of the better third baseman in all of baseball.

Sleeper: OF Corey Dickerson. I touched on Dickerson earlier and how he could be the potential key to a Rays turn around, but he could also be a huge late round steal for you in fantasy. After a bad and injury plagued first half, Dickerson went back to his slugging ways in the second half. Fueled by a nine homer August/September, Dickerson looked like his old self late in the season giving fantasy owners reason for optimism heading into 2017 and as the 65th outfielder off the board at pick 290, I’ve already found myself with a couple Dickerson shares this draft season.

Bust: SS/1B/2B Brad Miller. I don’t think anyone in their right mind expects Miller to hit 30 home runs again in 2017, but as a player who hit just 29 in his first 343 career games I question whether Miller will even sniff that number again. Miller is currently going at pick 169 which isn’t terrible, but Miller was someone who wasn’t even drafted in most league that last couple of seasons. That is always a dangerous game to play. Miller does offer nice position flexibility as he will have eligibility at three positions this season, but I’ll pass on him until he proves he can slug like that again.

2017 Record Prediction: I always enjoy watching the Rays for some reason. I love a lot of their pitchers and who doesn’t like Evan Longoria? Having said that I do not expect to see them win much more than they did last year. The AL East is the best division in baseball and the Rays just do not have the first power to keep up over the course of a 162 game season. 70-92. Last in the AL East.

-Randy Haines

Check out our other 2017 team previews here.

Photo credit: John Sleezer/TNS

Statistics are courtesy of Baseball reference and Fangraphs

Projected rosters are courtesy of rosterresource.com and accurate as of 3/30

Fantasy ADP data courtesy of STATS.com and The NFBC

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