By: Adam Pasternak
After an incredibly eventful offseason, Spring Training is finally here! The players have all reported to their respective Spring Training facilities and the 2016 MLB season is only a month and a half away. Over the next couple of weeks we will cover all 30 MLB teams and talk about what’s in store for the coming season. Today, we talk about the Tampa Bay Rays!
Last season we saw the Tampa Bay Rays finish second last in the AL East, and going into this year’s Spring Training, I personally think they will finish towards the bottom again this season. They entered full rebuild mode when they lost GM, Andrew Friedman. to the Dodgers and manager, Joe Madden, to the Cubs two offseason’s ago. Evan Longoria is essentially the last remaining player from the team that went to the World Series when David Price was just a rookie. They have some nice pieces for the future in Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, Desmond Jennings, Steven Souza Jr., Kevin Kiermaier, and the recently acquired Corey Dickerson – but for now, they are still building and are a few years away from doing any damage.
The one thing the Rays are known for is good development of pitchers, and this year will be no different. Their rotation is young and promising, with more prospects on the way. Chris Archer is, in my opinion, one of the best young pitchers in the game today. Usually, behind Archer would be Alex Cobb, but after suffering a gruesome head injury last season, it is not quite known when he will return. If he returns early, and can return to the level he was at before his injury, then the Tampa rotation will be able to do some damage. Behind them is Drew Smyly. Acquired from the Tigers in a mid-season trade, Smyly now see’s himself in a perfect position to have success. The one of two lefty’s in the starting rotation will get his chance to put his name on the map. In Detroit, he would have been the fourth or fifth pitcher in the rotation, but in Tampa he has an opportunity to become a second or third starter. The second lefty in the rotation is Tyler Moore, who after coming back from injury in the middle of last season, is looking to have a bounce back year. If the Rays want to try and be competitive this year, they need their pitchers to be healthy and to produce. After Moore, there is Jake Odorizzi – a young and promising right hander who is looking to finally emerge as one of the better young pitchers in the AL this season. And rounding out the rotation (at least until Cobb returns) is journeyman, Erasmo Ramirez. Overall, the rotation is pretty deep and as long as these young arms keep developing and continue to improve, the future will be bright in Tampa.
The Tampa Bay bullpen is not quite at the level they need to be to compete in the AL East, especially after trading arguably their best arm in Jake McGee. They did get Corey Dickerson in return, a great, young outfielder who should benefit from his new home. Danny Farquhar, Matt Andriese and Alex Colome are all returning this year, and hope to continue to develop. All three guys are still relatively young and if they can keep improving, they could be the core guys in the bullpen later on down the road. The bullpen, overall, is fairly average with the exception of Brad Boxberger – the breakout closer for the Rays last season. It will be imperative that he have a productive Spring Training, as he needs to come out and prove that his breakout season last year was no fluke. If he can produce like he did last year, he gives the Rays a great (and cheap) option at the end of every game for years to come.
Evan Longoria, like always, will man the hot corner at third and James Loney will be starting across the diamond at first base. These two players are both great defensively, and at earlier times in their career’s, were extremely dangerous at the plate as well. Longoria is still a great hitter, but his last two seasons have not been comparable to his earlier days. It will be interesting to see if the Rays decide to try and trade their homegrown star later on down the road or keep him along for the rebuild. For now, Tampa is going to go with what they’ve got and just hope that by the end of this season, that they have improved and that their development has gone in the right direction. As pathetic as that sounds, I just don’t see the Rays being anywhere near good enough to compete with the Jays, Yankees, Red Sox, and even the Orioles. It’s going to take a lot of patience, and smart moves to get the Rays where they need to be. I believe that in a few years, the Rays will be a force in the AL East – just not yet.
This Spring Training is huge for everyone in Rays camp. It gives each prospect and unknown players the opportunity to put their names in the minds of the front office. It’s the perfect chance for them to prove to the organization why they should be a part of the future. I expect a lot of competition at every position within the organization, which should make for an entertaining Spring Training.
What do you think of the moves the Rays made (or didn’t make) this offseason? Are they going in the right direction with their rebuild? Should they trade Longoria? Comment below!
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