Projected Win Total: 82
Under the tutelage of Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon, the Rays developed a knack for getting the most out of their players. The old regime is gone, but there is reason to expect a continuation of past practices. GM Matt Silverman made a flurry of moves this offseason, and the acquired players who fit the old Tampa profile.
Preseason injuries have left the rotation banged up. The club has depth, but it’s being tested before the season even starts. The lineup should provide a lot of relative value for fantasy owners. A guy like Kevin Kiermaier isn’t a world beater, but he’s available well after the 300th pick in most drafts. He projects to offer slightly below average production in all five categories. He’s not the only Ray whose projection outstrips their ADP.
Alex Cobb (forearm)
Drew Smyly (shoulder)
Matt Moore (elbow)
Injuries have decimated the Rays rotation, but everybody should be back in action before long. Cobb, Smyly, and Moore are recovering from various arm issues with return estimates ranging from April to June. One of the backup options, Alex Colome, is recovering from pneumonia.
Archer and Odorizzi are the nominal aces while the rest of the group recovers. Archer is coming off his best season with a 3.33 ERA, 8.00 K/9, and 3.33 BB/9. His fastball and sinker run 95 mph, but it’s his wipeout slider that really drove his success. He’ll also mix a changeup in against opposite-handed hitters. Unless he discovers a new pitch, he’s right around his ceiling.
Odorizzi may have more upside, but he still has some learning to do. He used five pitches last year, although only his fastball and splitter were used over 250 times. Every pitch was good but not great. The sheer volume of options likely helps Odorizzi, but he’ll have to develop a standout offering to reach the next level. A fly ball pitcher, he allowed a 4.13 ERA with 9.13 K/9 and 3.16 BB/9. The strikeout rate hints at growth potential.
The NFBC crew is selecting Archer 46th and Odorizzi 58th among pitchers. Archer is up with guys like Mat Latos, Anibal Sanchez, and Collin McHugh. I would take them over him. Odorizzi is more reasonably priced, but I’m more intrigued by pitchers like Danny Salazar, James Paxton, and Brandon McCarthy.
With three-fifths of the rotation sidelined, there is an opportunity for Colome, Nate Karns, and Matt Andriese. They’re all candidates for a spot start, but I wouldn’t rush to the waiver wire. Let them prove they can survive in the majors first.
Jake McGee (elbow)
McGee sidelined for about a month. It’s hard to guess how the Rays will handle the ninth inning in his absence. The old regime probably would have tried to use Balfour despite a shaky 2014 season. As a small market club, Tampa has to deal with how usage affects player cost. If Balfour earns the early season saves, that means they’ll pay less for McGee and Boxberger in arbitration.
Boxberger is clearly the better option. He’s mostly a fastball-changeup pitcher, although he’ll also mix in a slider with some frequency. All of his pitches are fantastic based upon his PITCHf/x peripherals. The fastball has an elite whiff rate of nearly 14 percent. The change draws nearly 16 percent whiffs. His whifftastic stuff resulted in a 2.37 ERA, 14.47 K/9, and 2.78 BB/9. He’s been homer prone throughout his brief major league career, which obviously isn’t ideal in the ninth inning.
Balfour’s dreadful season can be pinned upon an uncharacteristic 5.92 BB/9. He usually walks closer to 3.50 BB/9. His velocity was down two mph, so there’s reason to suspect that he pitched through injury. He got a late start to spring training due to his father’s death. I suspect Boxberger will get the first stab at the April saves.
McGee will start the season on the disabled list after December surgery to remove a loose body in his left elbow. There have been no setbacks for the southpaw thus far. When healthy, he’s a good bet to perform similarly to the 11.36 K/9, 2.02 BB/9, and 1.89 ERA he posted in 2014. He did struggle in 2013, so he’s not a fool-proof option.
One way to test a lineup’s viability is to ask “Did they outscore the Phillies.” Despite the presence of the designated hitter, the Rays did not outscore Philadelphia last season. While the lineup has changed, the components are largely familiar. Tampa needs breakout performances if they want adequate run production.
Evan Longoria has never been more affordable. He’s currently the 59th player off the board, one spot ahead of Kyle Seager. His power suddenly declined last season for reasons unknown. The 29-year-old might no longer possess the upside that made him a first round pick for years. Or he might be in line for comeback player of the year. It’s hard to say.
After Longoria, the Rays have a bushel of players who offer some degree of value. Kevin Kiermaier is interesting. He’s already ousted Desmond Jennings as the starting center fielder. He has enough pop and speed to hit 10 home runs and steal 10 bases with room for more production. His role in the lineup is unknown, but he’s unlikely to bat near the top of the order. As the 88th outfielder, he’s a forgotten man in fantasy drafts. He’ll outperform at least 20 of the players ranked ahead of him.
Fantasy owners haven’t missed Steven Souza after the Rays acquired him from the Nationals over the offseason. In 407 plate appearances in Triple-A, Souza hit 18 home runs with 26 stolen bases. That’s fantasy gold. It’s unclear if he can translate the power and speed to the majors.
He struggled in a brief, 26 plate appearance demo. Entering his age-26 season, he should get a shot to play regularly for the Rays. A forearm injury could push down his draft cost in the coming weeks. Presently, he’s being selected as the 54 outfielder – a few picks ahead of Oswaldo Arcia.
Last season, rather than invest in catchers, some fantasy owners used A’s backstops Derek Norris and John Jaso. If you’re looking to try the strategy again, Jaso can be platooned with Rene Rivera. Both are going undrafted and hit about as well as the average catcher.
Rank and Outlook
The Rays are 20th in our power rankings. Injuries have strained the rotation depth, and the lineup might be average at best. The club is poorly positioned in the AL East, but their rivals have not delivered a killing blow. They all have flaws of some sort, which could give the Rays enough time to sneak into the playoff picture. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely to work. Even if the division crown is probably out of reach, the new look front office did enough to keep the club afloat.
Fangraphs Depth Charts and Projections – http://www.fangraphs.com/depthcharts.aspx?position=Standings
BrooksBaseball – http://www.brooksbaseball.net/
NFBC ranks – http://stats.nesn.com/mlb/adp.asp?pos=SP