The Rays returned to the bottom of the standing in the AL East, which was their third straight losing season after averaging almost 92 wins over the previous six seasons. Their regression was tied to a step back in pitching (4.20 ERA – 8th in the AL) and a subpar offense (672 runs – 14th in the American League) despite success in HRs (216 – 4th). Their batting average (.243) was the worst in the league. They also struggled to get outs at the end of games (4.09 bullpen ERA with 20 wins, 33 losses, and 42 saves.
1B Logan Morrison became a free agent. Their big offseason signing was C Wilson Ramos. In mid-January, Tampa added Colby Rasmus to compete for platoon at bats.
The Rays have been very active in the trade market in January. They fleeced the Dodgers by sending 2B Logan Forsythe for upside starting pitcher Jose De Leon. SP Drew Smyly was sent to the Mariners for OF Mallex Smith, SP Ryan Yarbrough and IF Carlos Vargas.
The starting rotation is expected to be the strength of the team while the 7th and 8th innings still have plenty of question marks.
Evan Longoria is the only proven major league bat with a winning resume.
1. OF KEVIN KIERMAIER
Kevin didn’t player well in April and May (.236 with five HRs, 16 RBI, and six SBs) while failing to secure a starting job (123 at bats). He landed on the DL for 6+ weeks late in May with a left-hand injury that required surgery. When Kevin returned to action in July, he gave the Rays 145 empty at bats (.221 with two HRs, 10 RBI, and seven SBs). In September, Kiermaier proved to be a nice waiver wire pickup (.296 with five HRs, 11 RBI, and eight SBs). His swing had more success against lefties (.262 with two HRs and nine RBI in 84 at bats). Kevin improved his approach at the plate (9.7 walk rate – career high) with a league average K rate (17.9). His swing path was stronger leading to a career low ground balls (41.8 percent) and a career high FB rate (37.6). His HR/FB rate (11.1) came in just above his major-league average (10.5). Over the second half of the 2016 season, he did battle multiple minor injuries – wrist, knee, leg, and hip. I like his growth in steals (21 in 366 at bats), which was supported by his minor-league resume (86 in 1453 at bats). Kiermaier has a viable skill set to bat leadoff for Tampa, but I can’t trust that they’ll give him full time at bats. Possible 15/30 skill set with a chance to offer a slight edge in batting average as a bench flier.
2. 1B BRAD MILLER
Based on the early team structure for Tampa, Miller is slated to start at first base. This seems strange based on his skill set and career path. A move to second base would make more sense where his stats may offer an edge in the Fantasy market. Brad had a huge change in his swing path and approach in 2016 leading to a career high in homeruns (30). His HR/FB rate (20.4) nearly doubled from 2015 (10.3) with a slight uptick in fly balls (36.8 percent – 31.4 in 2015). His desire for power led to a high K rate (24.8) and a downtick in his walk rate (7.8). Miller had a career high in AVH (1.985), which was in an area with big power bats in the game. His CTBA (.333) was almost identical to his 2015 season (.335). Almost all of his power came against RH pitching (.247 with 27 HRs and 67 RBI in 438 at bats). With continued struggles against lefties (.227 with three HRs and 14 RBI in 110 at bats), Brad may become a platoon hitter. His best success in 2016 came in June, July, and August (.268 with 20 HRs, 50 RBI, and two SBs over 295 at bats). His success in HRs may not be repeatable, but Miller has talent. He hit .334 in his minor-league career with a much lower K rate (16.2) with one season with 23 SBs. His swing has 20+ HR power and his batting average may finish in a much stronger area in 2017 with growth his approach. I’ll lower his bar to 20 HRs and 10 SBs with a .260 BA. In the early draft season, Brad has a lower ADP (151) than Troy Tulowitzki (158).
3. 3B EVAN LONGORIA
Longoria regained his power stroke in 2016 leading to a career high in HRs (36) while doing a nice job with runners on base (17 percent RBI rate). Even with improvement, his approach at the plate is moving in the wrong direction. His walk rate (6.1) was his lowest of his career while declining in each of the last five seasons. Early in his career, Evan offered a solid edge in walks (five years with a walk rate over 10.0). At the same time, his K rate (21.0) regressed for the second year in a row. He played his best ball against RH pitching (.280 with 32 HRs and 81 RBI). From May until the end of August, Longoria hit .297 with 27 HRs and 73 RBI while struggling in April (.232) and September (.225). His surge in power was created by opening up his swing path to create more fly balls (46.8 percent – career high) leading to sharp decline in his GB rate (31.9 – 37.2 in his career). His HR/FB rate (15.5) was much better than his previous two seasons (10.8) while falling just above his career average (14.9). Tampa doesn’t have a ton of talent around him and his swing may revert its previous from. Plenty of power, but I view him more as 25 HR hitter with a neutral batting average at this point of his career.
4. OF COREY DICKERSON
The shift out of Colorado was a huge negative for Dickerson’s batting average. His K rate (24.5) faded for the third year in a row with continued struggles to take walks (6.0). Corey struggled against both RH (.246 with 22 HR and 59 RBI over 402 at bats) and LH (.241 with two HRs and 11 RBI in 108 at bats) pitching. Over four of the first five months, he had a short batting average (April - .214, May - .195, June - .236, and August - .220), which led to many nights on the bench. His low slugging percentage against lefties (.315) paints him as a platoon hitter if his bat doesn’t make a step forward in 2017. Just like Longoria, he has a huge change in his swing path – 45.0 percent fly balls (under 37.0 in his other three seasons in the majors). His HR/FB rate (14.1) was shorter than his two previous years (2014 – 19.5 and 2015 – 18.5). In addition, his slide in batting average was tied to huge step back in his LD rate (17.5 – 29.8 in 2015 and 23.7 in his career). Dickerson a needs a rebound in his CTBA (.333) for his batting average to move into a favorable area. His AVH (1.912) does give him 30 HRs with 550+ at bats. In 2017, his BA should at least be neutral (.270) with a 25/80 skill set.
5. OF STEVE SOUZA
Over two years in the AL, Souza has a K rate over 33.0 percent (2015 – 33.8 and 2016 – 34.0) with a huge step back in his walk rate (6.6). Steve landed on the DL in June with a hip injury that eventually ended his season in September. He had surgery in mid-September and the offseason reports have been positive on his recovery. Over the first two months prior to his injury, Souza hit .269 with nine HRs and 20 RBI over 171 at bats. During this period, he did still have a high K rate (35.8). Steve hit .208 with four HRs and 23 RBI in 207 at bats over the next three months. His HR/FB rate (18.5) remains in favorable area. Swing and miss type player with a possible 20/20 skill set with a full time starting job. The hip was clearly an issue in 2016 and his minor-league resume points to some correction in his K rate (23.4). Not a lock to get full time at bats so proceed with caution.
6. C WILSON RAMOS
Ramos has his best mental approach at the plate in his career in 2016 leading to his best season by a wide margin in batting average (.307). His CTBA (.367) was well above his previous three years (2013 - .318, 2014 - .320, and 2015 - .291) while his AVH (1.615) fell in line with his career path. Wilson is still a high-volume GB hitter (54.3 percent). His HR/FB rate (21.4) was an improvement over his 2014 (16.7) and 2015 (15.8) seasons. Ramos took a few more walks (6.7 percent) while lowing his K rate (15.1). He had success against both RH (.301) and LH (.330) pitching with his best power coming against lefties (nine HRs in 103 at bats - .631 SLG). Over the first four months of 2016, Wilson hit .327 with 15 HRs and 54 RBI. His season ended in September with a torn ACL in his right knee. He’s expected to back in the majors in May. Ramos is a slow-footed ground ball hitter with pop when he gets the ball in the air. He overachieved his skill set in 2016 and his recovery from his knee injury will curtail his success this year. Maybe a 12/50 guy with a neutral batting average if he proceeds as expected.
7. OF COLBY RASMUS
Rasmus appeared to be on his way for a plus season in 2016 after his fast start in April (.263 with seven HRs and 19 RBI. He had a massive walk rate (18.9) with some risk in his K rate (23.2) during this span. His swing lost value in May (.194 with one HR and 12 RBI over 98 at bats). Even with a bump in batting average in June (.313), Colby failed to work his way into a better situation for playing time. Over the last three months of the season, he hit 0.098 (11 hits in 112 at bats) leading to five HRs and 15 RBI. His swing had no value against lefties (.136) with losing stats against RH pitchers (.226) as well. He finished the year with the best walk rate (10.3) of his career with all gains coming in April. His K rate (29.0) has been above his career average (26.4) in each of the last four seasons. Rasmus is a swing for the fences type of hitter (45.8 percent fly ball rate) with a reasonable HR/FB rate (14.2 in 2016 and 13.7 in his career). This year he’ll earn platoon at bats in Tampa. Colby needs to be loved to be in the right place at the plate. He has 20+ HR power even with 450 at bats, but it does come with batting average risk. More of an injury replacement type bat if he’s driving the ball out of the ball park.
8. 2B MATT DUFFY
Health was the downfall of Duffy in 2016. He landed on the DL in mid-June with an Achilles injury. The Giants traded him to the Rays at the trade deadline. Matt struggled in April and May (.242 with two HRs, 13 RBI, and seven SBs in 198 at bats). When he returned to health in August with Tampa, Duffy hit .276 over 76 at bats with minimal production (one HR and seven RBI). His season ended in September when he had surgery on his left Achilles. Over four years in the minors, Matt hit .304 with 13 HRs, 137 RBI, and 55 SBs in 965 at bats. His swing produces a ton of groundballs (51.1 percent in the majors) with a questionable HR/FB rate (7.7). It appears Duffy will play at shortstop in 2017. He projects as a .280 hitter with a 10/20 skill set. The key to his upside with be his ability to hit homeruns.
9. 1B Logan Morrison
Morrison never developed into the player that Fantasy owners thought he would have after his 2011 season (.247 with 23 HRs and 72 RBI over 462 at bats). His AVH (1.738) was a career-high and it supports a 25+ home run season if he ever had over 550 at bats. Logan continues to have a low CTBA (.318) thus lowering the ceiling of his batting average. His walk rate (9.3) remains in a favorable area while having a career-high K rate (22.4). In his limited at bats (62) against lefties, he hit .258 with one HR and seven RBI. Morrison needs to improve against RH pitching (.234 with 13 HRs over 291 at bats). He finished with his second-highest HR/FB rate (15.2) of his career. A left wrist injury (torn sheath) cut short his September leading to surgery. The Rays signed him for $2.5 million in February so his contract doesn’t point at the starting job. Platoon type player with 15/60 skill set with 450 at bats.
BN: OF Mallex Smith
The Braves called up Smith about a week into the 2016 season. He struggled over part time at bats in April (.188 with seven RBI and two SBs over 48 at bats). Mallex flashed surprising power in May (.267 with three HRs, 11 RBI, and four SB) while findings his base stealing wheels in June (eight SBs over 46 at bats). He landed on the DL with a broken thumb leading to almost three missed months. His swing had value against righties (.295 with three HRs, 19 RBI, and 15 SBs over 139 at bats). Smith looks to be a platoon player early in his career based on his struggles vs. RH pitching (.080 over 50 at bats). Mallex is a high-volume ground ball hitter (61 percent). Over five seasons in the minors, he hit .296 with 12 HRs, 112 RBI, and 229 SBs over 1539 at bats. He stole 88 bases in 2014 over 477 at bats. Smith has a high walk rate (10.8) in the minors while striking out 17.0 percent of the time. More power than his resume suggests with chance to offer impact speed. Mallex may need more time to develop so he’s not a slam dunk to keep a major-league job.
BN: OF Nick Franklin
Franklin has jockeyed between AAA and the majors way too many times over the last four years. He’s a career .280 hitter in the minors with 73 HRs, 288 RBI, and 88 SBs over 2360 at bats. Nick spent part of five seasons at AAA (.267 with 38 HRs, 163 RBI, and 35 SBs in 1220 at bats). His best chance in the major came in 2013 with Seattle (.225 with 12 HRs, 45 RBI, and six SBs in 369 at bats), but he struggled to make contact (27.24 K rate – 19.8 in his minor-league career). This same issue troubled him in 2014 (35.6) and 2015 (33.9), but Franklin seemed to make some strides in limited at bats with Tampa in 2016 (22.3 K rate) while taking a low volume of walks (6.3 percent). Nick had success vs. righties (.285 with six HRs, 21 RBI, and six SBs in 137 at bats) with risk against LH pitching (.216 with no HRs and five RBI in 37 at bats). His bat played well in August (.311 with four HRs and 11 RBI in 61 at bats) before fading in September with a similar opportunity (.206 with one HR and two RBI in 63 at bats). Franklin is a FB hitter (42.3 percent in his career) with mediocre HR/FB rate (10.5). Once an upside prospect with a chance at offering a 20/20 skill set. His game should have more overall upside than Logan Forsythe. This season he’ll see time at multiple position with a higher chance at bats if Tampa doesn’t add another bat.
C Mike McKenry – Tampa signed McKenry to a minor-league contract in December to compete for the backup catching job. Last year he failed to find a job in the majors leading to 200 at bats at AAA (.285 with seven HRs, 38 RBI, and two SBs). Michael is a .238 hitter in the majors with 29 HRs, 103 RBI, and two SBs in 839 at bats.
C Curt Casali – Curt whiffed his way through the 2016 (32.0 percent K rate) leading to a poor season (.186 with eight HRs and 25 RBI in 226 at bats). Over 399 at bats in the majors, Casali has 18 HRs and 46 RBI. His inability to make contact will hurt his chances of making the major-league roster in 2017. He did hit .268 over 1134 at bats in the minors with 32 HRs and 168 RBI with better success making contact (16.2 K rate).
IF Tim Beckham – The Rays gave Beckham a similar opportunity in the majors in 2016 (198 at bats) as they did in 2015 (203 at bats). His K rate (31.2) remained in a losing area with a below par walk rate (6.5). Even with more success in batting average (.247 - .222 in 2015), his swing was more less productive in HRs (5 – 9 in 2015) and RBI (16 – 37 in 2015). Over six years in the minors, this former first round draft pick hit .267 with 35 HRs, 295 RBI, and 84 SBs in 2573 at bats. His skill set isn’t strong enough to earn a starting job in the majors.
1B Casey Gillaspie – Casey may work his way into an option at first base for the Rays in 2017 if they don’t add an upgrade in free agency. Between AA and AAA in 2016, Gillaspie hit .284 with 18 HRs, 64 RBI, and five SBs in 472 at bats. His K rate (20.9 in 2016) could use some with while showing the ability to take a walk (13.3 in 2016). Over two and half seasons in the minors, he hit .270 with 42 HRs, 154 RBI, and 11 SBs in 1016 at bats. Possible flier, but he may need more experience at AAA (.307 over 179 at bats with seven HRs and 23 RBI). Tampa selected him in the first round in the 2014 MLB June Amateur Draft.
1B Jake Bauers – Over four seasons in the minors, Jake hit .280 with 34 HRs, 241 RBI, and 25 SBs in 1536 at bats. His K rate (15.5) is above the league average with upside in his walk rate (10.6) as well. His bat did stall at AA over the last two years (.275 with 19 HRs, 114 RBI, and 16 SBs in 750 at bats). He’ll start the year at AAA at age 21. Player to follow as he may be an option at first base as well.
1. SP CHRIS ARCHER
I must admit I was a bit surprised to see Archer as the 15th starter drafted in the early 2017 draft season in 15 team leagues. In 2016, Chris struggled over the first three months of the season (4-11 with a 5.40 ERA and 1.454 WHIP) while battling his command (43 walks in 98.1 innings – 3.9 walks per nine innings). His game came together over the second half of the year (3.32 ERA with only 24 walks and 116 Ks in 103 innings). This improvement was tied to his rebound in his walk rate (2.1). HRs were a problem most of the year (30 in 201.1 innings – 1.3 per nine innings). In the end, his K rate (10.4) and walk rate (3.0) were only slightly off his success in 2015 (2.8 and 10.7). Chris tends to keep the ball on the ground (47.8 percent in 2016 – career high). His AFB (95.2) was a step back from his previous success (2015 – 96.1). Batters struggle to his slider (.200 BAA) while his changeup did losing some value (.271 BAA - .241 in 2015). Archer throws a ton of sliders (40.2 percent in 2016 and 35.2 in 2015). The rise of HRs could be an underlying sign of a future elbow injury. His resume and rebound suggest 2016 was the outlier in ERA and WHIP with hints of more upside if he repeats his second half command. Bright kid with talent if his arm holds up. Sub 3.50 ERA with 225+ Ks with wins not offering an edge.
2. SP JAKE ODORIZZI
Odorizzi set a career in innings pitched (187.2) with almost the same success in his command (2.6 walk rate and 8.0 K rate). He struggled with HRs (1.4 per nine innings). His stuff is dominating against lefties (.190) while being below the league average vs. RH batters (.277 with 19 HRs allowed over 411 at bats). In 2015, Jake had more success getting righties out (.234) with weaker success controlling the strike zone (1.86 walk to strikeout ratio – 2.50 in 2016). His two down months came in June (4.96 ERA and 1.439 WHIP) and September (4.50 ERA). He finished the second half of the year with a 2.71 with a 7-1 record thanks to a dominating August (4-0 with a 2.48 ERA). His approach against batters leads to a high FB rate (44.4) while his HR/FB rate (12.0) has risen in each of the last four years. Odorizzi had the best fastball of his career (92.5). In 2016, he added a cutter (.245 BAA) while his split finger fastball did lose some value (.263 BAA - .229 in 2015). Batters have a tough time with his four-seam fastball (.240 BAA), slider - .231 BAA, and curveball - .245). All the making of an arm ready to make a nice step forward. Next step: 200+ innings with 200+ Ks with outside chance at a sub 3.00 if he regains his form against righties with improved command.
3. SP ALEX COBB
Cobb was worth the wait for Fantasy owners in 2016. His slow recovery from TJ surgery ended up costing him five months. Alex struggled his way through 21.2 innings in the minors (6.65 ERA and 1.933 WHIP). He threw the ball reasonably well over his first three starts back in the majors (3.06 ERA with 12 Ks in 17.2 innings) before getting lit up in his last two outings of the year (15 runs and 21 base runners in 4.1 innings). His AFB (91.3) was a step down from 2014 (93.0 – career best). Over 81 starts in the majors, he has a 35-23 record with a 3.21 ERA and 426 Ks in 498.2 innings. Cobb throws a split-finger fastball as his best out pitch (.219 BAA in 2016 and .207 in his career). A full offseason of recovery should do him well. Alex has two seasons on his resume with an ERA under 3.00 (2013 – 2.76 and 2014 – 2.87) so a sharp Fantasy owner will be following his spring training results closely. His key will be more life on his fastball with an uptick in command.
4. SP BLAKE SNELL
Snell finished with mixed results in his first season in the majors. His ability to strikeout batters (9.9 per nine innings) helped him post a respectable ERA (3.54), but his high walk rate (5.2 per nine) led to a big ugly number in WHIP (1.618). Blake didn’t have an edge over either RH (.270) or LH (.264) batters. His only value in the majors came in five starts in July (2.76 ERA with 33 Ks in 29.1 innings). At AAA in 2016, Snell was more productive (3.29 ERA with 90 Ks in 63.0 innings) while walking 4.0 batters per nine. Over six seasons in the minors, Blake has a 2.82 ERA with 557 Ks in 485 innings. Batters in the majors struggled with his off-speed stuff (changeup - .205 and curveball – 0.044). His AFB (94.4) offers an edge in velocity, but not in success (.344 BAA). Special arm with high upside when he gets his walks under control. I’ve chased Matt Moore around for too many years so I know the downside of his disaster outings. I’ll leave you with one parting note: Oliver Perez in 2013 – 5.47 ERA with a 5.5 walks rate became a stud for one season in 2014 (2.98 ERA with 239 Ks in 196 innings – 3.7 walks per nine). Price point is key for Snell. If you must and he has more talent than Perez J.
5. SP Jose De Leon
I still can’t believe the Rays were able to trade Logan Forsythe for De Leon. Tampa already had replacement value on their major-league roster to play at 2B while Jose could be an impact arm. Over four seasons in the minors, he has a 3.35 ERA with 446 Ks over 330.2 innings. His walk rate (2.7) is starting off in a good place with an electric K rate (12.1). De Leon even turned in a high value half season at AAA (7-1 with a 2.61 ERA with 111 Ks over 86.1 innings). His arm struggled with the long ball in the majors (five HRs over 17 innings) with fade in his walk rate (3.7). His AFB (92.4) came in below the league average with his changeup (.222 BAA), slider (.200 BAA), and curveball (.000 BAA) grading well. Intriguing arm in 2017. In 2016, Fantasy owner saw a couple similar prospects fail so it will be hard to be move him up to far on draft. This is the type of backend arm that puts a Fantasy pitching staff over the top.
6. SP Brent Honeywell
Over three seasons in the minors, Honeywell is 18-10 with a 2.58 ERA and 286 Ks in 279.1 innings. His command is excellent (1.9 walk rate) with solid Ks (9.2 per nine innings). Brent looks to be on the fast track to the majors, but Tampa tends to be slow promoting their top prospects. The Rays selected him in the second round in the 2014 MLB June Amateur Draft. Honeywell has very good command of his two and four seam fastballs, which range from the low 90s to the upper 90s. His changeup has a chance to be a plus pitch. Brent's best pitch is a screwball while his curveball is still a work in progress. I expect him to start the year at AAA with a reasonable chance of reaching the majors early in the summer.
7. Chih-Wei Hu
Hu has a successful season at AA in 2016 (2.59 ERA with 107 Ks in 142.2 innings). His walk rate (2.3) remained in line with his minor-league resume while his K rate (7.0) was the lowest of career. In his only start at AAA, Chih-Wei allowed four runs and nine base runners in 4.2 innings. Over four years in the minors, he has a 2.74 ERA with 316 Ks in 364 innings. Hu has a mid-90s fastball with a changeup with plus upside. His slider could be an above average offering as well. He’ll start the year at AAA with opportunity possibly created by a mid-summer trade.
CL Alex Colome
Alex did a nice job in his first stint as being a closer (1.91 ERA while converting 37 of 40 save chances), but he did miss a couple of weeks in June with a biceps issue. His K rate (11.3) made a nice step forward in the bullpen with a career low walk rate (2.4). Alex dominated both RH (.221) and LH (.184) batters. Over the last three months of the season, Colome allowed only four walks in 26 innings. His only month with mixed results came in June (3.12 ERA, 1.962 WHIP, and seven walks in 8.2 innings). His AFB (95.5) was in line with his previous three years in the majors. His best edge comes from his cutter (.143 BAA). Alex did a better job keeping the ball on the ground (47.1 GB rate – career high) while his HR/FB rate (14.6) was much higher than his career resume (8.8). Looks the part with command and K ability. I just don’t want to see any news this spring tied to his right forearm.
Boxberger started the year on the DL with an abdomen injury. He worked his way back to the majors on the last day of May, but he had a setback leading to two months on the DL with an oblique issue. Brad threw the ball well in August (2-0 with a 1.64 ERA and 11 Ks in 11 innings). Unfortunately, he issued nine walks setting up his disaster September (6.94 ERA, 1.714 WHIP, and nine walks in 11.2 innings). His AFB (92.9) was a step back from his two previous years (2014 – 94.1 and 2015 – 93.7). Boxberger had success with his fastball (.200 BAA) while both of his secondary pitches had no value (changeup – .290 BAA and slider - .333 BAA). Closing experience with command issues leading to too many longballs.
RP Jacob Faria
Of the top arms in the Rays’ system, Faria is the closest to the majors. Last season he threw 67.2 innings at AAA with a 3.72 ERA and 64 Ks. His command was much weaker at AA (3.7) and AAA (4.3) over the last two seasons. Over six years in the minors, Jacob had a 3.13 ERA with 542 Ks in 540.1 innings. Tampa has weakness in their bullpen so Faria may work his way into a reasonable role in 2017. His fastball sits in the mid-90s with a developing changeup. His curveball still needs to make a step forward. Over the last two years, Jacob is negative 87.3 hits to innings pitched. His best season in the minors came in 2015 (17-4 with 1.92 ERA with 159 Ks in 149.2 innings). Player to follow this spring while offering growing pains in his first trip to the majors.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Baseball-Reference. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.baseball-reference.com/
Brooksbaseball.net. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.brooksbaseball.net/
Fangraphs. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.fangraphs.com/
Roster Resource. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.rosterresource.com/mlb
Rotowire. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.rotowire.com/
RotoWorld. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.rotoworld.com/