Tampa Bay Rays: Team Preview

Matt Bishop | February 21st, 2019

TAMPA BAY RAYS, 90-72 (3rd in AL East)

The Tampa Bay Rays are trending upward. After finishing 3rd in the AL East at 90-72 and Kevin Cash finishing 3rd in voting for Manager of the Year, the Rays are trying to show the world they are for real.  But playing in one of the toughest divisions in baseball and having to face the Red Sox and the Yankees on a regular basis will keep this team humble and force them to be patient. But no matter the division, the Rays are putting together the pieces to be competitive for years to come.

KEY ACQUISITIONS:

 

KEY DEPARTURES:

PROJECTED BATTING ORDER:

#POSPLAYERBAT
1CFKevin KiermaierL
2LFTommy PhamR
32BJoey WendleL
4DHAvisail GarciaR
51BJi-Man ChoiL
6SSWilly AdamesR
7RFAustin MeadowsL
8CMike ZuninoR
93BMatt DuffyR
P

PROJECTED OPENING DAY INFIELD:

  • C Mike Zunino
  • 1B Ji-Man Choi / Yandy Diaz
  • 2B Joey Wendle
  • 3B Matt Duffy / Yandy Diaz
  • SS Willy Adames

Joey Wendle broke out in his first taste of everyday playing time, slashing .300/.354/.435 (.789 OPS) with 7 HR 62 R 61 RBI chipping in 16 stolen bases in 545 plate appearances. This performance was good for a .338 wOBA and 116 wRC+, placing him 4th in the voting for American League Rookie of the Year. Wendle is 28 but has shown poise and patience in the big leagues with a 17.6% strikeout rate. He could be a sleeper candidate for added value and production.

Willy Adames (218 ADP) has been the #1 prospect in the Rays organization since 2015 and finally received the call on May 22, 2018. While he floated around as a part-time player over the summer, he really caught fire in August hitting .318/.384/.523 (.907 OPS) adding 5 HR 17 R 14 RBI and 5 stolen bases. This put him in the Top 30 in the league in wOBA (.385), wRC+ (148), Batting Average (.318) and OPS (.907) while maintaining a 9% walk rate and a 40.0% hard contact rate in the month of August as a 22-year-old.

Adames projects to have an above average hit tool and has shown flashes of a 13% BB rate in the minors, with the ability to steal 10+ bases and hit 20+ home runs when he develops. He may not hit .300 every year but could fill the box score and electrify this Rays offense for years to come.

Matt Duffy is currently manning 3B but didn’t do much offensively in 2018 hitting .294/.361/.366 (.727 OPS) with a 106 wRC+. His offensive production was slightly above average, but he really wore down in the second half with a .635 OPS. Duffy is only on a 1 year / $2.675 million deal, so the Rays are in a position to sit him if he doesn’t hit or use him as a trade chip if he does.

Yandy Diaz is projected to be the starting first baseman on opening day and may hold the position until Nate Lowe is ready from Triple A. If Duffy struggles, this could lead to more playing time for Yandy Diaz, who came over in the Jake Bauers trade.

Diaz is a Statcast darling, with his 44.4% hard contact rate (40th in MLB) and his 92.1 mph exit velocity (22nd in MLB) among players with at least 120 plate appearances. The real concern is his 4.4-degree launch angle, which is well below the league average of 10.9 degrees and is like hitting the ball straight into the dirt.

He still managed to hit .312 last season by putting more than half of his batted balls on the ground and less than a quarter of them in the air. The Rays are confident that there is untapped potential for Diaz with a simple swing change and a launch angle adjustment. After all, he hit .311/.413/.414 (.827 OPS) in his minor league career, while never hitting more than 9 home runs in a season. If the Rays could fix his swing, he could be a .300 hitter with 30+ home run pop.    

PROJECTED OPENING DAY OUTFIELD:

  • CF Kevin Kiermaier
  • LF Tommy Pham
  • RF Austin Meadows

After breaking out in 2017 to the tune of .306/.411/.520 (.931 OPS) with 23 HR 95 R 73 RBI, Tommy Pham disappointed in the first half of 2018 hitting only .248/.331/.399 (.730 OPS). After a few lingering injuries and built up animosity for the organization who kept him in the minors too long, Pham was traded on July 31 to the Tampa Bay Rays for pennies on the dollar. He returned the favor by going on an absolute tear and becoming one of the most productive hitters in baseball for the last 2 months of the season:

AUGUST 1 to SEPTEMBER (174 PA):

.343/.448/.622 (1.071 OPS) 7 HR 35 R 22 RBI

14.4% BB 24.7% K .447 wOBA 191 wRC+

When healthy, Pham is a Top 20 Outfielder who can fill up the stat sheet and put a team on his back. If he can provide numbers similar to last season’s second half, he can solidify himself as a Top 10 option by season’s end, while bringing a veteran’s presence to this locker room. Never underestimate a redemption narrative.

Austin Meadows came over from Pittsburgh in 2018 in the Chris Archer trade and was the Pirates #2 ranked prospect. He was called up to the majors on May 18 and immediately made an impact, slashing .409/.426/.795 (1.221 OPS) in his 46 plate appearances.  He was unable to sustain this pace and regressed for the last 4 months of the season, hitting .246/.292/.351 (.642 OPS) the rest of the way.

Meadows is a big specimen (6’3” 210 lbs) with a plus hit tool and above average power. He also possessed plus speed and was active on the bases in his minor league career. He projects to be a consistent 20/20 threat in his prime and could be another steal for this ball club.

PITCHING ROTATION:

This Rays pitching staff is led by the 2018 AL Cy Young Blake Snell, who was electric last year finishing 21-5 with a 1.89 ERA 0.97 WHIP 11.01 K/9 3.19 BB/9 across 180.2 innings. He finished 2nd in the majors in ERA (1.89), 7th in K/9 (11.01) and 5th in K % (31.6). He should continue to be the ace of this rotation in 2019 and for years to come.  

Don’t sleep on Charlie Morton. The veteran hurler and former Astro inked a 2 year / $30 million deal with the Rays this offseason and is projected to be their #2 starter.  While the 35-year-old doesn’t have a track record of continued success, he had his best season in 2018 pitching to a career-best 3.13 ERA and 10.83 K/9 over 167.0 innings.

He was absolutely spectacular in the first half with a 2.96 ERA 1.15 WHIP and 11.72 K/9 with a 13% swinging strike rate. But he would tire down the stretch as old people tend to do, pitching to a 3.46 ERA 1.20 WHIP and 9.13 K/9 with a 10% swinging strike rate.  Really not bad, but not what he is capable of.

Morton should be pretty solid throughout the course of the season and should be able to keep this club competitor through the summer. If he can pitch like he did in 2018, the Rays have another bargain on their hands.

Tyler Glasnow came over late in the season in the Chris Archer trade and did not disappoint.  In his last 10 starts of the season, he was lights out:

4.30 ERA 1.11 WHIP 52.1 IP 59 SO 10.1 K/9 3.1 BB/9 12% SwSt

With the exception of a 7 run 0.2 inning outing, Tyler Glasnow was pretty exceptional after being traded to the Tampa Bay. While this outing drastically inflated his ERA, he pitched to a 4.35 FIP and 3.59 xFIP, which clearly indicates that he got a bit unlucky. He also allowed 9 HRs in 10 games, yielding a hefty 1.5 HR/9 (8th) and 19.1% HR/FB (7th). Glasnow’s ceiling was capped in Pittsburgh by only allowing him to pitch minimal innings and never designated him a starter. The Rays should unleash him in 2019, with no innings limits and keep him as a starter where he wants to be. If Glasnow can limit the home runs, he may be in for a solid season and finish as a Top 35 pitcher.

IMPACT PROSPECTS:

WANDER FRANCO, SS 5’10” 189 lb Age 17

ETA: 2021

Wander Franco was the Top International Prospect in 2017 and signed with the Tampa Bay Rays as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic.  He would debut with the Princeton Rays in the Appalachian league in 2018, where he saw 273 plate appearances:

.351/.418/.587 (1.004 OPS) 11 HR 46 R 57 RBI

.446 wOBA 159 wRC+

This would earn him MVP Honors and the attention of every major league scout on the planet. He was later ranked the #13 Prospect on MLB’s Top 100 Prospect List as a 17-year-old. Franco is a player who knows how to take a walk and never strikes out. He has elite bat speed and power to all fields from both sides of the plate, with a knack for barreling the ball. He will be a consistent .300 hitter in his prime with 30 home run potential. But he’s only 17, so waiting is the hardest part.

BRENT HONEYWELL, RHP 6’2” 180 lb Age 24

ETA: 2019

Brent Honeywell was drafted 72nd overall in 2014 by the Tampa Bay Rays after attending Walters State Community College for only 1 year. In his first full season in professional baseball in 2015, Honeywell would establish himself, going 9-6 with a 3.18 ERA 1.05 WHIP 8.92 K/9 1.86 BB/9.  He moved quickly through the lower ranks of the Rays system and was called up to AAA in 2017, where he represented the United States in the All-Star Futures Game. He would earn MVP Honors, striking out 4 batters in 2 innings. He would dominate his competition in AAA, finishing 12-8 with a 3.64 ERA 1.30 WHIP 11.10 K/9 2.26 BB/9.

Honeywell would miss the entire 2018 season after having Tommy John surgery, but is slated to be healthy in Spring Training and should start the season in AAA. However, with a solid performance to start the season, he could push the Rays hand and be up as early as May. Honeywell has 5 pitches that all project as above average offerings that he can throw in the zone for strikes. Honeywell should be a middle of the rotation starter when he gets the call to the majors with the potential for so much more.

2019 OUTLOOK:

The Tampa Bay Rays have really done quite well in the trade market last season. They have some explosive offensive talent, along with a pitching rotation that should turn heads this season. They are still a relatively young squad and really do not have a lot of money on the books.  Playing in the dreaded AL East, it will be difficult for this team to consistently make the playoffs with the Yankees and Red Sox playing in their backyard, but they definitely have the tools and the talent to make a postseason run. This should be a fun team to watch for years to come.  

Check out our other Team Previews | Colorado Rockies | Toronto Blue Jays | Minnesota Twins | Atlanta Braves | Chicago Cubs

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Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images

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