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Rays' Team Preview: Typical Situation

Nick Falk

Nick Falk

Nick began at RotoWire in the spring of 2012 and is a proud graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He serves as the Tampa Bay Rays beat writer and assisted with content and editing for the baseball and football magazines. He is an avid enthusiast of baseball statistics and scouting evaluations.

Despite playing much of the season without their star third baseman Evan Longoria, the Rays managed to win 90 games for the fourth time in five years, and only missed the playoffs by three games. They were able to overcome a mostly lackluster offense by leaning on their tremendous pitching staff that produced the AL Cy Young award winner in David Price, and a record-setting reliever in Fernando Rodney. The team continues to find success in their winning formula of developing players from within their system and acquiring players undervalued on the market to plug into their lineup. The AL East will again be loaded in 2013, but the Rays still hold one of the best pitching staffs in the league to go along with some new offensive pieces that will keep them in the thick of the playoff race.

Offseason Moves

Re-signed RP Joel Peralta.

Injuries to the Rays' bullpen put Peralta in a setup role last season. His ERA rose to 3.63 from 2.93 in 2011, but he pitched in a career-high 76 games, logging 37 holds. He will be 37 in 2013, but still throws an effective splitter that opponents only hit .162 against. He signed a two-year deal in the offseason and will likely return to the same setup role for the Rays. His value will be limited in fantasy, but being the setup man could mean that he would be next in line to close should that opportunity open up during the season.

Acquired SS Yunel Escobar from Miami for 2B Derek Dietrich.

Escobar has never offered much power or speed, but his ability to get on base in front of a powerful lineup gave him value to fantasy owners. In 2012, his batting average dropped (.253) and his walk rate plummeted (5.8 percent). Without an uptick in other counting stats, his value to fantasy owners virtually disappeared. After fracturing his relationship with Toronto, Escobar was included in the blockbuster trade to Miami, and subsequently moved in another trade to Tampa Bay. With the Rays, Escobar should serve as the everyday shortstop and enable Ben Zobrist to settle in at second base and right field. Dietrich is a solid middle-infield prospect that should now be able to see a faster path to the majors in the Marlins' system.

Signed 1B James Loney.

Loney finished out the 2012 season in Boston after Los Angeles included him in the package to land Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford. He hit less for the Red Sox than he did for the Dodgers and experienced career lows in average, on-base percentage and OPS. Loney never hit for enough power nor got on base enough to be even an average first baseman. However, he's quietly amassed a .287/.344/.415 line against right-handed pitching while grading out as one of the league's best defenders at first base over the past three seasons, so it's possible that Tampa Bay could revive his career much like they did with Casey Kotchman.

Acquired RF Wil Myers, RP Mike Montgomery, SP Jake Odorizzi, and 3B Patrick Leonard from Kansas City for SP James Shields, SP Wade Davis, and a player to be named later.

Myers is a potential franchise cornerstone to hit in the heart of the order next to Evan Longoria. The Rays desperately needed offense and Myers is one of the most talented hitting prospects in baseball.

Montgomery was once a top pitching prospect for the Royals before experiecing big struggles the past two seasons at the high minor league levels. The Rays will hope the still young lefty can tap into his potential and turn into a solid long-term addition.

Odorizzi is a very promising young pitcher who put together an outstanding season in 2012 between Double-A and Triple-A before making two starts with the Royals. With a loaded pitching rotation, it is likely he will return to Triple-A in 2013 until a spot opens at the major league level.

Leonard was a fifth-round pick in 2011 for the Royals and put together a solid season at rookie-level Burlington in 2012, hitting .251 with 14 home runs. He provides solid depth as a prospect and likely is still a few years away from making contributions at the major league level.

In this trade, the Rays gave up an All-Star ace and a solid starter in Shields and Davis. The deal addressed their need for offense in the short-term and the long-term through adding Myers, while also netting some promising pitching prospects.

Signed SP Roberto Hernandez.

After being arrested and suspended for faking his identity, Hernandez (formerly Fausto Carmona) finally returned in August and made three starts before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. The form he flashed way back in 2007 is a distant memory and while his groundball tendencies could play well given the right environment and infield defense, it's hard to envision him being much of a fantasy contributor. The Rays are attempting to make Hernandez their latest rebuilding project after signing him to a $3.25 million deal in December, and he'll likely be called upon in relief with the flexibility to make a spot start on short notice if needed.

Re-signed DH Luke Scott.

Scott was brought to the Rays to be the primary designated hitter. He had a hot start to the season before hitting a long slump from May through July, which was followed by an oblique injury that held him out of the lineup until late August. He ended up hitting .229/.285/.439 with 14 home runs and 55 RBI over 96 games. At age 34, his injury history has started to become a hindrance to his performance. He still has solid power and at this point in his career he will probably find himself in the designated hitter spot most often.

Signed 2B Kelly Johnson.

Johnson fired out of the gates, holding a .383 OBP with seven home runs on May 8. Hamstring tightness cropped up later in May, which may have affected him all year, but his season went off track as he limped to the finish (.225/.313/.365). Johnson finished with 16 home runs and 14 stolen bases, which likely helped him find a new home this offseason, but his ISO (.140 in 2012) has fallen in each of the last two seasons in hitter-friendly environments while his strikeout rate has swelled to a career-high 27.4 percent during that span. The Rays will likely use him as part of a platoon and continue to take advantage of Ben Zobrist's defensive versatility.

Projected Lineup (vs. RH/LH)

1. Desmond Jennings, CF
2. Yunel Escobar, SS
3. Ben Zobrist, RF
4. Evan Longoria, 3B
5. Matt Joyce, LF/Kelly Johnson, 2B
6. Luke Scott, DH
7. James Loney, 1B
8. Kelly Johnson, 2B/Matt Joyce, LF
9. Jose Molina, C/Jose Lobaton, C

The Rays are a team known for constantly tinkering with the lineup over the course of the season. One big factor here hinges on when the team decides to bring Wil Myers to the majors. When that does happen, he should slide right into the third spot in the batting order and a corner outfield position. Jennings and Escobar should be steady atop the order with Zobrist and Longoria hitting behind them. The addition of Johnson really brings into question where Zobrist will play in the field since he is capable of playing in many spots, including second base and right field. Johnson actually has better career statistics against lefties, which will make it interesting to see how the Rays deploy him. Molina primarily will be on the field for his defensive skills and management of the pitching staff, but Lobaton's advantage against lefties could earn him a similar number of starts again in 2013.

Projected Rotation

1. David Price
2. Jeremy Hellickson
3. Matt Moore
4. Alex Cobb
5. Jeff Niemann

Even with the big trade of James Shields and Wade Davis, the Rays are stocked with pitching depth that will involve some battles in spring training for the final two spots. The first three spots locked up with the reigning-Cy Young winner Price, Hellickson, and Moore. Cobb and Niemann have significant experience and should be able to round out the rotation. Players that could push those two at spring training are youngsters Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi, and new acquisition Roberto Hernandez.

Closer: Fernando Rodney - An injury to incumbent closer Kyle Farnsworth at the start of the season gave Rodney the chance to close again, and he responded with one of the best single-season performances for a closer in MLB history. He notched 48 saves in 50 opportunities and 76 strikeouts to go along with a 0.60 ERA, the lowest total for a pitcher throwing at least 50 innings in a season. He received the MLB Delivery Man of the Year and AL Comeback Player of the Year awards for his efforts in 2012. He throws with a mid-90s fastball that is mixed with an excellent changeup that averages a 14 mph difference. He will be a top-tier closer on draft day in 2013, but as his situation showed, the closer position can be quite unstable in Tampa Bay, which is a reason to be wary.

Key Bullpen Members: Joel Peralta should return to his setup spot that he performed so well in last season. Kyle Farnsworth is a familiar arm that was the closer in 2011 and will hopefully provide consistency in the seventh or eighth innings. Jake McGee is a big-armed lefty with a potential future as a closer, and he'll remain a factor in the late innings for the Rays.

Notes of Import, Fantasy, and Otherwise:

Will the Rays be able to (once again) overcome the losses of key players in free agency and trades?

The Rays have repeatedly found success with their model of building teams by trusting their development system and signing undervalued players that produce improved results. They lost long-time center fielder B.J. Upton in free agency and frontline innings-eater James Shields in the aforementioned deal with the Royals. The AL East is as tough as ever, but the Rays will rely on their strong pitching and excellent management led by Joe Maddon to keep them in the thick of the playoff race.

Can Evan Longoria stay healthy for a full season?

Longoria is the key piece to the Rays' offense, so much that they signed him to a six-year, $100 million extension in November to keep him in a Rays uniform through at least the 2022 season. He suffered a hamstring injury at the end of April that kept him out of the lineup until early August. In the 74 games he played on the season, the team had a record of 47-27 and in the games without him they went 43-45. His leadership on both sides of the ball are a huge presence and when he is healthy, he is capable of a 30-homer, 100 RBI, .880 OPS type season.

When is the right time to call up Wil Myers?

This is a tricky question for the Rays. His bat is undoubtedly ready for the big leagues, though he could work on cutting down his strikeout rate - 140 strikeouts in 134 minor league games in 2012. There is also the issue of his age and the fact that there could be an advantage keeping him at the minor leagues to delay his arbitration clock and free-agent eligibility down the road. With how the Rays have deployed past star position prospects like Longoria, it would not be surprising for Myers to be in the majors very early in the season and for him to sign a long contract extension early in his major league career.

Can the Rays improve offensively?

They re-tooled the offense by adding Wil Myers, Yunel Escobar, James Loney, Kelly Johnson, and bringing back Luke Scott. The team's 697 runs scored in 2012 is not a number typically associated with a playoff-caliber team. Having a healthy and stable lineup will be one key to finding offensive consistency in 2013. Johnson and Ben Zobrist offer versatility in the field that will help in keeping the team solid offensively on a day-to-day basis.

Strengths

The biggest strength for the Rays is their pitching rotation and bullpen. The depth of their rotation, though young, contains several arms capable of posting well above average performances. The bullpen returns four players at the back-end that are all capable of being closers. The team also has one of the league's top players at the hot corner in Evan Longoria.

Weaknesses

The Rays lack offensive consistency and as a result juggle the lineup with frequency to play matchups and hot hands. They are also looking to improve defensively as they led the American League last season with 114 errors.

Rising: Matt Moore - Many expected Moore to be a Rookie of the Year candidate after his late-season heroics for Tampa Bay in 2011 included a spot in the postseason rotation. Tampa Bay was so confident in his future that they signed him to a five-year, $15 million contract extension to buy out his arbitration years before the season began. Moore struggled with a 4.76 ERA and 4.5 BB/9 in his first 10 starts which ended most of his rookie hoopla. However, he made adjustments and improved his slider, which led him to post a 3.36 ERA and 117:53 K:BB ratio in 120.2 innings after May 28. The lefty's big fastball hovers in the mid-90s and is mixed with a solid slider and changeup that give him big potential to be a future strikeout champ. If he can build on his second half and avoid the free passes that plagued his first half, Moore has a chance to live up to last year's preseason hype and become one of the top starters in the AL.

Declining: Luke Scott - At age 34, Scott has shown proneness to injury the past two seasons. When healthy in 2012, he found himself in a few long slumps. His walk rate has declined over five percent the past three seasons while his strikeout rate has risen over four percent and the end result led to him only creating 4.0 runs per game, a career-low. He did hit for a higher batting average and OPS at Tropicana Field, but his overall trends lead to believe that a career year is not in store for him in 2013.

Sleeper: Desmond Jennings - There were plenty of ups and downs for Jennings in 2012 during his first full season at the major league level. He was having a steady start to the season before a sprained knee led to him missing a month into early June. After struggling through the mid-summer, Jennings put together a strong August hitting .291/.354/.524 with four of his 13 home runs on the season coming in that month. He is a speedy, efficient baserunner as evidenced by his 31 stolen bases in 33 attempts. His problem was getting on base at the top of the order to have the opportunity (.314 OBP), and he will need to improve that to retain his spot leading off. With the departure of B.J. Upton via free agency, there is a possibility, given his strong defensive skills, he could shift over to center from left field. Jennings is a key part to the future of the Rays. From a fantasy standpoint, his speed is very valuable and he does have the potential to develop some power and improve his hitting atop the order.

Supersleeper: Jake Odorizzi - Though not originally considered one of the Royals' top pitching prospects, Odorizzi put together an incredible 2012 that vaulted him up the ladder within the Kansas City organization. The 6-foot-2 right-hander has a solid four-pitch arsenal, good command of the strike zone and a fastball that tops out around 94 mph. He cruised through Double-A to open the season, posting a 4-2 record with a 3.32 ERA over seven starts and had a 47:10 K:BB over 38 innings while holding the opposition to a .191 average. Both his walk and strikeout rates came back down to earth when he moved up a level, but through 19 starts for Triple-A Omaha, he finished with an 11-3 record and a 2.93 ERA. Traded to the Rays in December, Odorizzi could be limited to a partial season in the Rays' rotation given the team's starting pitching depth.

Top Prospects

Wil Myers, OF - With a number of 2012 Minor League Player of the Year trophies on his mantle, Myers enters this season with enormous expectations. The 22-year-old left-handed slugger opened the year at Double-A Northwest Arkansas, but found himself quickly promoted after opening the year with a .351/.421/.739 line, 11 doubles, 13 home runs and an eye-popping .388 ISO over 135 at-bats. His move to Triple-A produced similar results as he went on to hit .304 with another 24 home runs all while maintaining a walk rate above 10 percent. His aggressiveness at the plate still causes him to strikeout a little too often (140 times in 134 games), but it is also that type of drive that allows him to hit with such power. Traded to Tampa Bay in a blockbuster deal in December, it's only a matter of time before he's given a chance to lock down a place in the heart of the Rays' batting order as the team's everyday right fielder.

Chris Archer, SP - Still a top pitching prospect for the Rays, Archer posted a solid season in 2012 between Triple-A Durham and the majors. At Triple-A, Archer he posted a 3.66 ERA in 25 starts and struck out 139 batters. He is very good at preventing the long ball, only allowing 0.4 HR/9. This is likely due to a solid fastball and hard slider he keeps down in the zone to prevent extra-base hits. Archer made two starts for the Rays in June before returning as a September callup and saw mixed success, but plenty of promise. He will be in the competition for a spot in the major league rotation in spring training and will be a key part in the future.

Taylor Guerrieri, SP - Just 21 years old, Guerrieri may have the highest ceiling in the Rays' large stable of talented pitching prospects. His professional debut was limited to 52 innings at Hudson Valley of the New York-Penn League, but Guerrieri delivered a dominant 45:5 K:BB while holding the opposition without a home run over 52 innings. Already 6-foot-3, Guerrieri has little difficulty pushing his four-seam fastball to 95 mph on occasion, while also working in a two-seamer, curveball and changeup. All four of his current offerings grade out as plus pitches, and Guerrieri possesses the ability to command his arsenal exceptionally well. The Rays' track record of developing young pitching paired with his enormous potential could make the long-term investment a worthwhile one in dynasty leagues, even with the organization's tendency to promote prospects very gradually. Look for Guerrieri to begin his ascent to full-season ball with a debut at Low-A Bowling Green in 2013.

Hak-Ju Lee, SS - Lee is widely regarded as one of the Rays' top prospects, though he did not have an excellent year in 2012 at Double-A Montgomery. After a strong 2011, Lee hit .259/.334/.358 with four home runs and 37 RBI, but he did total 37 stolen bases in 2012. He increased his steal efficiency, getting caught nine times compared to 16 the previous season. He will need to improve his on-base percentage and polish up defensively (24 errors in 2012), but the Rays still believe his speed and ability will lead him to the big leagues. With Tampa Bay trading for Yunel Escobar, Lee will probably spend most of the season in the minor leagues. Although, if the Rays need to shift around the middle infield, Lee could still have his number called as soon as 2013.

Jake Odorizzi, SP - (see above)

Alexander Colome, SP - Colome missed about a month in the early part of the season with an oblique injury before returning strong for Double-A Montgomery. In 14 starts he posted an 8-3 record with a 3.48 ERA and averaged 9.0 K/9. He earned a promotion to Triple-A Durham in August, where made three starts before a shoulder injury shut him down early. He is still a very intriguing prospect for the Rays given his electric fastball paired with a solid curveball. Since he's currently a starter on a team stocked with pitching talent, he will likely be stuck at Triple-A in 2013 for the whole season, but could be used to help the Rays' bullpen in September or earlier if there are injuries on the pitching staff.

Richie Shaffer, 3B - Shaffer, the Rays' 2012 first-round pick at No. 25 overall, started strong in his professional debut at Low-A Hudson Valley. In 33 games, he hit .308 with an .893 OPS, and slugged four home runs with 26 RBI. He was known for his power and strong arm in college and projects to move through the system as quickly as his bat carries him. He can play both corner infield spots and may eventually shift to first base. He will likely begin the season at High-A Port Charlotte after being a participant in the Arizona Fall League in the offseason. He still is a ways from being in the major leagues but very well could eventually find himself in the middle of the order in the future.

Enny Romero, SP - Romero spent the 2012 season at High-A Port Charlotte and is rising up the ranks of top prospects in the Rays' farm system. On the season, Romero went 5-7 with a 3.93 ERA and 107 strikeouts over 25 appearances (23 starts). He is a lefty with a big fastball and is developing his curveball and changeup. He continued to struggle with control in 2012, as he walked 5.4 BB/9. Romero is still a few years from the majors and will need to improve his control and location to continue moving up the ranks. He will likely begin 2013 at Double-A Montgomery.