Tampa Bay Rays
Overview (Present Rank: 26th | Future Rank: 16th)
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays opened as an expansion franchise in 1998 and avoided a last-place finish in the division only one single time (fourth place in 2004). Rebranding themselves as the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008 has led to much better results. Since shortening their name to the Rays, they haven’t finished in last once, and have reached the playoffs on four occasions since making the transformation eight years ago. However, Tampa Bay has missed the playoffs in each of the last two seasons. With the strictest payroll limitations in the league, the Rays haven’t been able to make up the ground between them and the wealthy powerhouses in the crowded AL East. With a farm system loaded with depth, but lacking elite prospects, another run of perennial contention might be out of reach for the small market Rays unless they transform that depth into a few All-Star caliber players.
*Detailed analysis conducted April 2, 2016; rankings and charts updated throughout the season.
The most productive season at the plate for a catcher in franchise history was in 2008 when Dioner Navarro batted .295/.349/.407 on the season for the American League champions. So when Curt Casali posted a .898 OPS in 101 AB’s after getting called up last year, GM Matthew Silverman didn’t hesitate to award him the starting job for 2016. However, Casali’s minor league track record and overall lack of advanced tools at the plate makes that small sample size appear fluky. As pitchers adjust to Casali’s weaknesses, he’ll have a hard time replicating that kind of production.
Hank Conger might never be more than a backup, but the Rays are perfectly okay with that as they test to see if Casali can develop into a regular behind the dish. Still, the .759 OPS Conger posted last year is about as good as it gets for a backup catcher, not to mention the elite framing skills he provides as well. With all the question marks surrounding Casali, bringing Conger aboard could prove to be a great move at a low cost (1yr/$1.5MM).
Justin O’Conner might have the strongest arm of any catcher in baseball. He’s got a true cannon that he uses to throw out an outstanding 55% of baserunners last year in the minors. The problem is O’Conner doesn’t have the contact abilities to project a batting average above .200 in the Bigs. His arm and raw power give him a shot at cracking a big league roster, but he’ll need to make serious improvements in the batter’s box to become anything more than a low-end backup.
The Rays’ second round pick in 2015, Chris Betts, has a chance to become a productive Major Leaguer. However, he’s still recovering from Tommy John surgery making his future outlook cloudier than most. If he can fully recover and put up solid numbers in the minors, his outlook will become much clearer. Nick Ciuffo and David Rodriguez could also make the major league team at some point, but both have a lot of developing to go through still.
Future Outlook: Casali and O'Conner have potential, but not that much
The Rays are banking on Casali to take the ball and run with it. With question marks surrounding his offensive and defensive potential, the Rays might need to look at other alternatives. In 2017 and beyond, O’Conner will likely be ready to face Major League pitching. While he might be ready, it’s unlikely he’ll ever have much offensive success in the show. Tampa Bay could really benefit from an upgrade at the position if Casali can’t establish himself behind the plate.
The Rays acquired Logan Morrison from the Mariners over the offseason in a six-player trade that also involved SS Brad Miller and SU Danny Farquhar. Morrison was surrounded by hype when he entered the league in 2010 as a top-20 prospect for two years running by Baseball America. He hasn’t translated that potential into production as he’s only registered a career 1.1 WAR in six seasons. At this point, Morrison is nothing more than a platoon hitter against righties while being a defensive liability at first base. On a contract year, Morrison has the opportunity to secure a multi-year commitment as he approaches his 29th birthday. More likely though, he’ll continue to be the mediocre player he has been thus far in his MLB career.
After a breakout 2014 campaign, Steve Pearce really came back down to earth in 2015. With a reputation as a lefty masher, Pearce surprised many by hitting righties well in 2014 and becoming an all-around player. However, in 2015 he couldn’t hit righties or lefties. Even considering the fact a low BABIP hindered his offensive production last season, don’t expect Pearce to ever go back to the .930 OPS he posted in 2014. He’ll fill the platoon role against lefties at first base with an ability to play either of the corner outfield positions as well.
(EDIT: Tampa Bay has traded Steve Pearce to AL East rival Baltimore Orioles for C Jonah Heim. Heim doesn't project to make much of an impact at the major league level, but Pearce could benefit the Orioles down the stretch. Click here to see how he fits on the Orioles' roster [8/1/16]).
The Rays have two first base prospects lurking in the minor leagues. Jake Bauers is rated the highest of the two with Baseball America ranking him fourth among Tampa Bay’s prospects. He combines an excellent hit tool with developing power to go along with above-average fielding abilities at first base. Bauers even spent time in left field to increase his positional versatility. If Bauers can build the strength necessary to hit 15-20 HR’s a year, he’ll be an above average first baseman in the big leagues as he already has the rest of the package.
The other promising first base prospect in Tampa Bay’s system is Casey Gillaspie. His stock dropped after he struggled in High-A ball as a 22 year-old last year before breaking his hand five games after getting called up. If he can get healthy, the 2014 20th overall pick still has the potential to be a starting caliber first baseman.
Future Outlook: Stability is coming
For years, the Rays relied on Carlos Pena’s power to carry the load at first base despite his insanely high strikeout percentage. Then James Loney came along and while he only struck out half as much as Pena, he only surpassed double digits in home runs once in his three years playing for Tampa Bay. After this year, the Rays will have a trio of youngsters including Richie Shaffer, Jake Bauers, and Casey Gillaspie that all have an ability to play first base, and should be upgrades over whomever is taking the reps in 2016.
Logan Forsythe had a breakout 2015 campaign anyway you look at it with a .281/.359/.444 batting line. The peripherals showed that Forsythe didn’t hit the ball any harder, he didn’t hit more line drives, and he didn’t alter his spray chart. He just benefitted from a higher BABIP. It’s reasonable to expect some regression from the 29 year-old, but he’ll still be a solid contributor.
While Nick Franklin’s prospect status has plummeted thanks to a .203/.275/.348 slash line in 611 MLB plate appearances, Ryan Brett’s status is still alive and well. Shoulder injuries slowed down Brett’s 2015 campaign, but he posted a stellar .303/.346/.448 slash line in Double-A as a 22 year-old in 2014. Now 24, he’ll start the season in Triple-A anxiously awaiting a call up to the show. With an ability to play the outfield as well, Brett could settle in as a super utility guy. If he can hit like he has in the minors, a second coming of Ben Zobrist may be brewing in St. Petersburg.
Kean Wong doesn’t have any single tool that makes him stand out. His quick bat speed and sound defensive skills will make him a quality backup, but until he can develop some power, that’s the most he’ll become.
With great speed and a solid glove, Riley Unroe will look to win one of the middle infield spots in the future. As a 20 year-old starting in High-A, he still has a ways to go, but if he can show his bat isn’t a glaring weakness anymore, Unroe’s outlook will look much brighter.
Future Outlook: Forsythe is a solid player, but the Rays have other options
People could make the argument that Logan Forsythe was the Rays’ all-around Most Valuable Player in 2015. While some regression can be expected at the plate, he’ll still be one of the better players on Tampa Bay’s roster. With Ryan Brent looking ready for the Major Leagues, don’t be surprised if Silverman pulls a Rays-like move and ships Forsythe off for more prospects to give Brent regular playing time in the near future. If Brent doesn’t work out, the Rays still have Kean Wong, Riley Unroe, and 2015 third round pick Brandon Lowe in the system. At the very least, the Rays will have a lot of depth at the position, and at most a collection of talent they can utilize in a blockbuster trade for a primetime player.
When the Rays acquired Brad Miller over the offseason, it was clear the team had no faith in Nick Franklin becoming the Rays everyday shortstop. They once imagined Tim Beckham taking over the role when they selected him first overall in the 2008 MLB draft, but after his struggles, the Rays are forced to settle with Miller. Beckham is now on the verge of losing his spot on the bench after failing to impress in his first extended appearance in the bigs. Miller on the other hand proved to be a somewhat productive shortstop in 2015 for Seattle as a 25 year-old. With an exceptional minor league track record that includes a career .334/.409/.516 batting line in 999 plate appearances spread throughout every level between Single-A and Triple-A. Miller’s career trajectory is trending upwards.
The position player with the most potential in the Rays’ system is Willy Adames. Acquired in the 2014 David Price trade, Adames is unanimously ranked inside the 2016 top-100 prospects list among prospect evaluators with Baseball America granting him the 46th spot. Adames’ bat speed, potential power, and defensive prowess make executives believe he could eventually be a middle-of-the-order bat while providing sensational defense at a defensive premium position. If he can improve his approach at the plate and cut down on the strikeouts, Adames will be in Tampa Bay before we know it.
Another upward trending shortstop in Tampa Bay’s system is the infielder they acquired in the Ben Zobrist deal before the 2015 season. Daniel Robertson’s ability to get on base combined with a glove that can play up at any position on the infield may elevate him into a lesser version of Zobrist. His lack of power and speed limit his overall potential, but with the capability of playing anywhere in the infield, Robertson is poised to claim a role on the big league roster sooner or later.
Adrian Rondon has massive potential, but is only 17 years old, and likely won’t reach the big leagues until at least 2020. Taylor Motter had a great season in Triple-A as a 25 year-old, but it’s hard to imagine him being anything more than a utility player. Jake Hager needs to fully recover from his knee surgery before anyone thinks of him as a permanent solution at shortstop in the majors.
Future Outlook: The Rays can’t go wrong
The best problem a Major League baseball executive can have is too many players worthy of regular playing time at the same positon. That’s exactly what the Rays have at shortstop. Presently, the Rays have many options for the primary shortstop position: Brad Miller, Tim Beckham, and Taylor Motter. Plus they have Willy Adames, Daniel Robertson, Jake Hager, and Adrian Rondon all in the minors. The Rays are loaded with depth at shortstop, and will likely unload some of it in trades over the next few years. Either way, the Rays can’t go wrong with whoever ends up being their starting shortstop out of the bunch.
Once one of the game’s most promising young players, Evan Longoria has settled in as a top-10 third baseman as opposed to the top-10 overall player many envisioned him becoming at the beginning of his career. After capturing a Rookie of the Year award, three all-star appearances, two gold gloves, a silver slugger, and MVP consideration in each of his first three seasons, expectations were high. While a .270/.328/.435 batting line in 2015 is nothing to look past, Longoria might never reach the pinnacle of success he reached in his early-20’s. He just turned 30 years old, and finish his career in Tampa Bay as he’s under contract until 2022 with a team option for 2023.
Richie Shaffer was mentioned before because of his ability to play first base, but his natural position is at the hot corner. Because of Longoria’s presence, Shaffer’s only chance at a starting job might be at first base. Of course, with Bauers and Gillaspie quickly rising through the minors, he might be blocked off there as well. Shaffer got his first taste of Major League pitching in 2015, and responded by hitting a disappointing .189/.307/.392 over 88 plate appearances. His inability to handle right-handed pitching might limit him to a platoon or a bench role going forward.
Patrick Leonard is an interesting prospect with the power to be a top-10 minor leaguer in the Rays system, but poor pitch recognition skills could prevent him from ever reaching the majors. He can see pitches much better from southpaws making him a likely platoon hitter as well.
Kevin Padlo was included in the Corey Dickerson-Jake McGee swap with Colorado over the offseason. Padlo has the tools to be an everyday third baseman, but he’s still a long way from getting there. He’ll have to prove he can hit at the higher levels in the minors before given serious consideration at a full-time Major League gig.
Future Outlook: Evan Longoria isn’t going anywhere
The Rays are developing some solid third base prospects like Shaffer, Leonard, Padlo, etc. However, none of them are going to be the Rays everyday third baseman. That title belongs to Evan Longoria, and it’s not going to change anytime soon. Longoria is arguably the face of the franchise and has showed no signs of slowing down. His excellent defense and productive bat make it a long shot anyone in the minors takes his spot anytime soon.
Tropicana Field's spacious gaps are covered by Kevin Kiermaier's unanimous Gold Glove. His record-breaking 42 Defensive Runs Saved benefitted every single pitcher on the roster from Chris Archer's Cy Young-caliber season to Andrew Bellatti's stellar rookie debut. Kiermaier also became the first person in MLB history to post a WAR above 5.0 with an OBP below .300 highlighting his defensive value. With a strong defensive reputation, Kiermaier even heard his name in the MVP conversation because of his outstanding ability to make plays in center field. He wasn’t atrocious at the plate either with 12 triples, 10 homers, and 18 stolen bases over 151 games in 2015. He’ll be 26 years old for most of this season, so he could still get better at the plate while being one of the best defensive players the game has ever seen.
While Kiermaier was able to avoid the injury bug, Desmond Jennings can’t say the same. The 29 year-old was limited to 28 games in 2015 because of knee problems. Jennings has been in the majors for six years and has never played more than 140 games in a season. Injuries have certainly derailed his career, but when healthy, he’s a 20-20 threat with production similar to his career .249/.327/.398 batting line, and provides above-average defense.
Wil Myers was a former top-five prospect in the game. This is relevant because after the Rays gave up James Shields and Wade Davis in a package to acquire him, they shipped Myers off to San Diego two years later. In addition to first base prospect Jake Bauers, the Rays received OF Steven Souza as compensation for giving up on one of the league’s most promising players. Souza didn’t disappoint in his rookie season with 16 bombs, 12 stolen bases, and a .717 OPS. His strong arm helps in right field, but his lack of range makes him an average defender at best. With five more years of team control, Souza is good enough to start, but not good enough to hit anywhere near the top of the lineup.
Known as a lefty killer, Brandon Guyer began to hit righties at a much better clip in 2015. Considering Jennings is guaranteed to hit the disabled list at least once, and Souza is still going through minor growing pains, Guyer will get his fair share of playing time in 2016 despite being relegated to bench duty at first. If he can take advantage of the opportunity, he could set himself up nicely for a more permanent role before he hits the free agent market in 2018. With plenty of minor league outfielders close to being MLB-ready, Guyer could be on his way out if he can’t impress in 2016.
The Rays were awarded 10 draft picks in the first round (including the compensation round) of the 2011 MLB draft meaning 16% of the first 60 picks were owned by Tampa Bay. Despite the abundance of draft picks, only Mikie Mahtook, the second Rays player selected (31st overall) has reached the big leagues thus far. Mahtook took the league by storm batting .295/.351/.619 in the 105 at-bats Manager Kevin Cash gave him last year. Mahtook’s minor league production signals he’ll regress from that explosion, but with an ability to play every outfield position, he’ll find his place on the roster sooner than later.
The Rays only had one first round pick in this past year’s draft which they used on high school outfielder Garrett Whitley. With plus speed, Rays executives have no doubt Whitley will have the range to man center field with ease. He also has a lot of pop in his bat that could translate into 20-25 homers a year. Whitley has all the makings of a Major League outfielder. If he can use the next four years to improve his approach at the plate and figure out the nuances of the game, the Rays could have found something special with their 13th overall pick.
While Johnny Field doesn’t have tools that jump off the page like Whitley does, he has the makeup that enhances each one. It’s hard to project Field as a future starting player due to his lack of speed or power. However, if he keeps on producing in the minors like he did by winning the Tampa Bay Rays minor league player of the year in 2014. Field would be a solid option off the bench though.
One of the youngest players in the 2013 MLB Draft, Justin Williams didn’t show his age when he exploded for a .351/.397/.452 batting line in his professional debut. Now 20 years old, Williams has the arm, hitting abilities, and raw power to become an everyday Major Leaguer. He’s shown an aptitude for identifying his weaknesses and improving them. He’s become a much better fielder in left field and improved on deciphering offspeed pitches. With a crowded outfield in Tampa Bay’s minor league system, Williams could develop into the best of the bunch if he keeps making the right adjustments.
Joe McCarthy is another young gun in the Rays’ system, whom they drafted in the fifth round pick in 2015. He’s seen as a high OBP guy that can also provide double digits in home runs and stolen bases with 20-20 potential. Finishing the year in Low-A, McCarthy still has a ways to go before reaching the show.
Future Outlook: Plenty of depth, but nothing that really stands out
The Rays have a lot of outfielders in the minor leagues that would provide great depth. Kevin Kiermaier is the best defender in baseball and is locked up until at least 2021, but if he keeps making plays like he has been, he might stick around for longer. Steven Souza hasn’t impressed enough to be seen as irreplaceable. Desmond Jennings is a solid contributor, but injuries are catching up to him. Mikie Mahtook looked good in his MLB debut, but it’s unlikely he’ll keep that up.
Guys like Justin Williams, Joe McCarthy, Johnny Field, and Brandon Guyer don’t look like future MLB starters, but they could always exceed expectations. Corey Dickerson should regress now that he’s away from Coors Field, but is still a solid Designated Hitter who can play in the outfield if guys hit the shelf or need rest. It’ll be interesting to see if Matt Silverman can transform the exorbitant amount of depth into a superstar player or two he can pencil into a corner outfield spot while Kiermaier continues to catch any ball that falls in between the two.
Adding Logan Morrison and Brad Miller to the team were decent upgrades, but the biggest splash Silverman made this offseason was acquiring Corey Dickerson from Colorado for Jake McGee. While McGee is a terrific reliever, he was two years away from hitting the open market while Dickerson is under team control until 2020. Dickerson has an excellent career .299/.345/.534 slash line in 265 games over his first three seasons. However, that batting line sinks to .249/.286/.410 when he doesn’t play in the thin atmosphere of Coors Field. Playing in the pitcher-friendly Tropicana Field for half of his games will certainly reduce Dickerson’s production, but he still has potential to knock 25-30 balls out of the ballpark regardless of what stadium it is.
Future Outlook: What can Dickerson do outside of Coors Field?
The Rays are eager to see what Dickerson can do in a less hitter-friendly stadium after giving up two years of Jake McGee’s services (and the promising German Marquez) despite the extreme home/road splits on his resume. Dickerson has been an above-average hitter in all three of his big league seasons, but his home/road splits are dramatic enough to question his abilities outside of the Rocky Mountains. If Dickerson can still manage a productive slash line, the Rays will be fine with him in the lineup as he’ll be in his prime for the next four years. If not, Tampa Bay may need to go outside the organization to find fillers at the position until an alternative long-term solution comes along.
Tampa Bay arguably had the best lefty in the game before they shipped David Price off to Detroit. The deal made sense as Price was less than two years from reaching free agency where the Rays surely couldn’t afford the $217MM contract he just inked with Boston. While Nick Franklin hasn’t exactly worked out, Willy Adames is emerging into one of the Rays’ best prospects, and Drew Smyly has been as productive as Price thus far in his short time in Tampa Bay. Shoulder injuries prevented him from starting more than 12 games last year, but he performed well with a 5-2 record, 3.11 ERA, 1.170 WHIP, 10.4 SO/9, and a 2.7 BB/9 in those games. With three years left until he hits the market, he could be the next frontline starter the Rays acquire to only trade away a few years later for more younger players in the never ending cycle.
Another dominant lefty that has been derailed by injuries is Matt Moore. The former No. 3 prospect (behind Bryce Harper and Mike Trout) has shown flashes of being an elite starter like 2013 when he received the ninth most Cy Young award votes in the American League. Thanks to Tommy John surgery, Moore has only pitched 73 innings since that terrific season, but has produced a horrendous 5.05 ERA in those 14 starts. He still has the velocity and stuff to go back to his ace-caliber ways, but it remains to be seen if he’ll put it all back together post-surgery.
With a strong track record of developing young, talented, projectable lefties, Blake Snell is the next name on the list. After witnessing the developments of David Price and Matt Moore, Snell looks to become the next southpaw ace pitching in west Florida. Snell really upped his game last year going 15-4, with a 1.41 ERA, 1.022 WHIP, 10.9 SO/9, and 3.6 BB/9 in 134 Innings over A+/AA/AAA. Starting the year in Triple-A, it shouldn’t be long until Snell brings his mid-90’s fastball, wipeout slider, and developing changeup to the show.
Future Outlook: If healthy, Smyly, Moore, and Snell would be an elite trio
Drew Smyly has already showcased his excellent pitching repertoire, but has been slowed down by injuries. Matt Moore has some of the best stuff in the league, but hasn’t been able to show it thanks to injuries. Blake Snell has been able to avoid the injury bug for the most part thus far in his professional career, but won’t make his debut until this season. If Smyly can get over the shoulder problems, Moore can keep taking progressive steps since undergoing Tommy John, and Snell can keep a clean bill of health, the Rays could rock the best lefty trio in baseball. Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Carlos Rodon in Chicago might say otherwise, but these three guys have the talent to top them.
The Rays have a track record of locking up their young talent before they’ve really established themselves. Chris Archer was just another example as the Rays dished out $25.5MM to the then 25 year-old after he placed third in Rookie of the Year voting in 2013. Two years later, Archer has elevated his game to Cy Young award worthy. People started to take notice of Archer’s improvement voting him to his first All-Star appearance in 2015 after he posted a 3.23 ERA, 2.90 FIP, 1.137 WHIP, and 252 SO’s in 212 IP. Under team control through 2021, Tampa Bay will have Archer locked in as their Opening Day starter for the next six years.
In addition to Wil Myers, another premier player the Rays received for James Shields and Wade Davis was Jake Odorizzi. After years of being a notable, yet unspectacular prospect, Odorizzi is emerging as a frontline starter in Tampa Bay’s rotation. His well commanded fastball along with his rare split-finger changeup keeps hitters off balance. If he can develop a third plus pitch, Odorizzi could take that next step into the ace category.
Erasmo Ramirez is hard pitcher to figure out. He didn’t have much hype surrounding him in the minor leagues, which made it unsurprising when he struggled throughout his first three seasons in the big leagues. After being shipped to Tampa Bay for struggling prospect Mike Montgomery, Ramirez had a breakthrough year in 2015. He started using his slider as a strike-stealing pitch in the right counts which significantly improved his results. He’ll start the season in the bullpen, but if he can keep doing what he did in 2015, he could be a great asset as he’s only getting better at just 25 years of age.
If all pitchers stay healthy, the Rays have one of the best rotations in all of baseball. They haven’t been too lucky in that department in recent years though. They currently have Alex Cobb and Chase Whitley on their roster with both starting the year on the DL after undergoing Tommy John surgery early last season.
Cobb was an ace caliber pitcher before going down. Whitley had proved nothing before his surgery, but had an intriguing changeup that kept him around. With so many other starters close to being Major League ready, Whitley could be on his way out if he can’t perform well when he comes off the disabled list, while Cobb will be given a much longer leash.
Many experts are undecided over Jacob Faria’s future with the franchise. Some believe his inability to command his fastball or sharpen his curveball will lead him to the bullpen in a sixth or seventh inning role. Others believe his mid-90’s fastball and deceptive changeup can elevate him as a mid-rotation starter once he develops a more impressive curveball. His fastball command and curveball effectiveness is the key to his development.
While Faria gets some love from MLB Prospect rankings, their “Big 3” typically consists of Blake Snell, Taylor Guerrieri, and Brent Honeywell. Since being taken in the first round of the 2011 MLB Draft, Guerrieri’s name was continuously ranked within the top-100 prospects of baseball until Tommy John surgery caused him to miss almost all of the 2014 season. Guerrieri returned in dominant fashion with a 1.50 ERA, 1.000 WHIP, and 2.0 BB/9 in eight starts after getting called up to Double-A as a 22 year-old. Guerrieri still possesses the excellent command of his fastball that received praise pre-surgery. We’re still waiting on Guerrieri to throw more than 78 innings in a season, but when he does he could do it as a future mid-rotation starter.
Honeywell has a very polished repertoire that scouts could see playing up at the top of a Major League rotation. His screwball gets most of the attention unsurprisingly as it keeps batters off balance. His mid-90’s fastball and high-70’s changeup does a good job of that as well. Honeywell has the stuff of an ace, the durability of an ace, and the confidence of an ace. Honeywell should be another young arm in the Rays rotation that has the ability of anchoring a Major League rotation.
Behind the “Big 3,” the Rays also have Chih-Wei Hu and Greg Harris. Hu’s fastball doesn’t hit high-90’s, but he gets batters out with his fantastic control and command. At 22 years old, he’s already seen as a polished product, and could reach the big leagues sooner than later. Hu could develop into a very good pitcher at the back of Tampa Bay’s rotation.
Greg Harris arguably has the most smooth delivery and composure in the Rays farm system. He might never be a strikeout king, but he could end up as a quality starter in the middle of the rotation if he keeps developing a third pitch to go with his advanced fastball and plus changeup.
Future Outlook: Archer and Odorizzi are established, more are coming
After coming in fifth in the Cy Young Award race, Chris Archer is one of the best pitchers in baseball. Entering his age-27 season, Archer is in his prime and could post even better numbers going forward this year. Odorizzi is a great No. 2 starter with ace potential as well. Brent Honeywell and Taylor Guerrieri could also develop into frontline starters, but shouldn’t be counted on to lock a rotation spot down until 2018. Greg Harris, Chih Wei-Hu, and Jacob Faria all have some intrigue to them and could fill out the back end of Tampa’s future rotation. Yet again, the Rays are stacked with young, controllable right-handed arms.
The Rays’ ongoing injury problems to their pitching staff continues in the bullpen. Brad Boxberger will begin the 2016 season on the DL after undergoing groin surgery. He took over the closer role last year leading the American League in Saves (41) on his way to earning his first All-Star appearance. Despite racking up the high number of saves, Boxberger’s 2015 was actually a down season with a 3.71 ERA, 4.26 WHIP, 1.365 WHIP, and a 4.6 BB/9. He’ll need to get more consistent going forward if he wants to stay in the ninth inning role with Alex Colome and others lurking.
Colome wasn’t the most likely candidate to take over for Boxberger as he split his time between the rotation and the bullpen. However, his results in the bullpen (.637 OPS against vs. a .704 OPS against) were much better. Colome has the stamina to be a long reliever pitching multiple innings at a time, but due to Boxberger’s injury, he’ll have the opportunity to begin the season in the closer role.
Danny Farquhar was one of the best relievers in the game in 2013 and 2014 for Seattle. He regressed in 2015 due to a dip in velocity. Farquhar still has the stuff to be an effective reliever, and the Rays have a track record at getting the most out of their relief pitchers. Coming over in the Brad Miller/Logan Morrison trade, Farquhar still has four years of team control despite already being 29 years old.
Kevin Cash has additional flexibility when it comes to the bullpen thanks to the presence of Steve Geltz. Geltz has pitched in low and high leverage situations, for single innings or multiple innings, against lefties or righties. Geltz can do it all in the ‘pen, but his results were only mediocre in his first full season in 2015.
Xavier Cedeno finally pitched over 13 innings for the first time since 2012. Through 43 innings in a Rays jersey, Cedeno had superb numbers across the board with a 2.09 ERA, 2.95 FIP, 1.140 WHIP, 9.0 SO/9, and a 2.5 BB/9 as a 28 year-old. Cedeno carries most of his value when facing lefties, and he’ll continue to be a lefty specialist until he’s no longer under team control after the 2019 season.
With a deep bullpen, the Rays will need some guys pitching in high leverage situations and some guys to pitch in low leverage situations (games before seventh inning or not within three runs). When Cash needs to call on someone in low leverage situations, Ryan Webb can be his guy. Webb doesn’t strike many batters out, but he’s great at limiting walks, keeping the ball on the ground, and not letting leads get too out of hand.
Making his debut in 2013, Enny Romero still hasn’t broken his rookie eligibility. With 34.2 career MLB innings to his name, Romero is more potential than production at this point. But Romero has a lot of potential with his fastball that touched 100 MPH in 2015 that he combines with a promising mix of offspeed pitches including a slider and cutter. At 25 years old, Romero will get his first shot at a full-time role in the big league bullpen this season.
Tampa Bay invested in relief pitching early in the 2015 MLB draft selecting Brandon Koch with their fourth round pick. Koch has all the traits of a future closer with a fastball that can touch the upper-90’s and a slider that can be his out pitch. Koch could fly through the Rays’ farm system as a 22 year-old starting the season in Low-A. The Rays got Koch with all the intentions of making him their closer of the future.
The Rays also have Kyle Bird, Ryne Stanek, Mike Franco, and Matt Andriese that could make an impact in the bullpen some day. None of them have much potential, but could be productive middle or long relief options after some needed development.
Future Outlook: More resources needed to upgrade the bullpen
Tampa Bay has maintained a quality bullpen since being rebranded as the Rays. However, they don’t have household names like Fernando Rodney, Jake McGee, or Joel Peralta anymore. Boxberger is the only guy with a proven track record to handle high leverage situations, and even he is coming off of a down year. The Rays took Brandon Koch in the fourth round of last year’s draft which was a good start, but Tampa Bay needs to put more resources into improving the state of the bullpen. Matt Silverman will need to find a way to upgrade the bullpen currently with free agent signings and for the future with good draft picks and amateur signings.
OVERALL OUTLOOK: Plenty of depth, but nothing extraordinary
The Rays are an average team with holes they can’t afford to fix because of their status as a small market team. Former GM Andrew Friedman elevated Tampa Bay into contention on an annual basis because of his exceptional ability to flip quality MLB players for multiple minor league prospects that would develop into key pieces of Tampa Bay’s big league roster. He also innovated the idea of extending good, young players at an early age to get a discount during their free agent seasons and keeping them in Tampa Bay for a longer period of their prime. Now, the only way the Rays can get back to their championship contending ways is if they use the exorbitant amount of depth they possess in the minor leagues to acquire impact major leaguers that can make a difference at a low cost. If not, the Rays are stuck in their own mediocrity.
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