Joel Dorcas | March 20th, 2020
Hey, fine people of Tampa! You have a really good Major League Baseball Team! Of course with the worldwide pandemic going on right now, baseball and sports are completely on the back-burner for the foreseeable future. This doesn’t mean we can’t take a closer look at what’s in store when and if the 2020 Season is played out. Here’s what we can expect from the 2020 Tampa Bay Rays.
With a team payroll of just $65 million in 2019, one would think that this would be a club that wouldn’t be able to compete. On the contrary. The Rays were right in the thick of everything as they managed to go 96-66, seven games behind AL East Champions, the New York Yankees.
During the Postseason, the Rays were narrowly defeated by eventual American League Champions, Houston Astros three games to two in the Division Series. This was after they had dismantled the Oakland Athletics 5-1 in the single knockout Wild Card game.
The off-season went well, as minor tweaks were made to the lineup. The pitching core is still firmly in place, which makes this team very dangerous. They are dark horses to surpass the Bronx Bombers for the Division crown in 2020.
Make sure to check out our other Team Previews here.
This is an average-at-best group of players. Catching will be handled by career .202 hitter Mike Zunino who offers home run pop and good defense. Zunino had eight defensive runs saved in 2019 and 11 in 2018.
Ji-Man Choi and Jose Martinez will likely share first base duties. Neither of them will “wow” you offensively. Choi hit 19 HR in 127 games in 2019 while Martinez is a career .298 hitter. He had a career-high 17 big flies with the Cardinals in 2018.
Brendon Lowe is somewhat of an exciting player at second base. In 475 plate appearances over his first two seasons, Lowe has 23 HRs with a .348 wOBA. His K rate of 31.8% will need to be improved upon, however.
Willy Adames, who is keeping number one overall prospect Wander Franco‘s spot warm (ETA 2021), played 152 games at short in just his second big-league season. He showed some pop with 20 taters and was good in the field with 12 DRS.
Yandy Diaz isn’t all that exciting, he will man the hot corner. He can get on base at a decent clip without punching out all that frequently. He had a walk/strikeout ratio of 0.57 in 2019.
Of/ DH Projections
- LF Austin Meadows
- RF Hunter Renfroe/ Joey Wendle
- CF Kevin Kiermaier/ Manuel Margot
- DH Yoshitomo Tsutsugo
Meadows broke out in 2019 with a .922 OPS and 33 taters. His game lacks some polish in the outfield as he finished with a -4 DRS despite making just two errors. The Rays used Meadows as the DH 44 times last season.
Hunter Renfroe and Japanese import Yoshitomo Tsutsugo are the new kids in town. Renfroe has been brought in to ignite some power into the lineup. He can do some damage against left-handed pitching. Renfroe is a career .269 hitter against lefties. He hits .221 for his career versus right-handers. FanGraphs has the left-handed-hitting Tsutsugo projected to hit 22 HRs with a .251/.341/.469 slash line. He is slotted into the DH role and can play the outfield.
Kevin Kiermaier had just a 5.4% walk rate and a .284 wOBA in 2019 but the Rays are paying him $8.92M a season mostly for his defensive abilities. Kiermaier continued his excellence in center with 13 Defensive Runs Saved in 2019.
The speedy Manuel Margot plays a stellar outfield and can spell off any of the outfielders, especially when the matchup suggests more right-handed hitters.
Starting Rotation Projections
- Charlie Morton
- Blake Snell
- Tyler Glasnow
- Yonny Chirinos
- Ryan Yarbrough
- Brendan McKay
- Brent Honeywell Jr.
- Trevor Richards
- Jalen Beeks
Some serious depth and talent on this pitching staff that ranked in the top five in ERA, WHIP, BB/9, and HR/9. 36-year-old Charlie Morton leads the rotation after having a career season in 2019. 16 wins, 194.2 IP, 11.10 K/9 2.64 BB/9 and a 3.05 ERA in his inaugural season with the Rays. Morton seems to be aging like a fine wine. Since 2017 he has been putting up front-of-the-rotation type numbers.
2018 Cy Young award winner Blake Snell wasn’t himself in 2019, the result was a shortened season and a trip to the injured reserve in July to remove loose bodies in his pitching elbow. It will be interesting how Snell adapts and if he can regain his Cy Young form. The Rays at least have lots of capable arms in AAA should there be a setback. Snell, if all is right, is an elite pitcher that could put the Rays on another level.
Tyler Glasnow missed a good portion of 2019 as well with a strained forearm. The 6’8″ right-hander showed plenty of promise going 6-1 with a 1.78 ERA over 60.2 innings. He struck out 76 batters over 12 starts. Health and durability will be in question as Glasnow hasn’t pitched more than 111.2 innings in any of his four big-league seasons.
Yonny Chirinos and Ryan Yarbrough round out the starting five. Chirinos started 18 games and pitched in 26 and finished with nine victories with an ERA of 3.85. Yarbrough is versatile as he can be used both as a starter and out of the pen. He started a career-high 14 games in 2019. During the 2018 season, Yarbrough had 16 wins despite 32 appearances in relief. Over the two seasons with the Rays, he has put together a 27-12 record as a hybrid starter/reliever.
- Nick Anderson
- Diego Castillo
- Jose Alvarado
- Chaz Roe
- Colin Poche
- Oliver Drake
- Peter Fairbanks
- Anthony Banda
- Andrew Kittredge
The outstanding pitching flows right into the bullpen. The Rays are blessed with one of baseball’s best group of relievers. They ranked number one in ERA, three in WHIP, and fifth in H/9 during the 2019 campaign. They will have the luxury of dipping into the depth chart if they need to mix and match guys in and out of the rotation.
Players to Watch For
Yoshitomo Tsutsugo is a much-needed addition to the lineup (If he pans out of course). The Rays ranked 21st in HRs and 14th in OPS last season. A 25-30 HR type year from the Japanese import would go a long way in improving this very mediocre lineup.
2017 Number four overall draft pick, Brendan McKay made his debut in 2019 pitching 13 games, 11 of which were starts. He will perhaps need more seasoning in AAA as he pitched to a 5.14 ERA in 49 innings of work. Mckay can also swing the bat a bit as well. He managed 11 plate appearances, resulting in a couple hits, one of them being his first major league HR. It will be interesting to see how the Rays utilize the multi-talented McKay in 2020.
The Rays are easily one of the league’s most fascinating teams. They have an incredibly deep pool of pitching talent that matches up against any other team. If the offense sputters a bit their pitching will be good enough to pick up the slack and carry them as far as they can go.
Tsutsugo and Hunter Renfroe will be called upon to spark the offense which may be too much to ask for to surpass the New York Yankees for the Divison crown.
The unique circumstances of the shorten season could be helpful as it will limit the workloads for the likes of Snell and Glasnow, at the same time though, the Yankees get healthier as well.
If we are betting on how it all plays out, the Rays fall just short of the pennant but easily nab a Wild Card birth. Once the playoffs start you’ve got to give them just as good of a chance as any other to capture the World Series.
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images