Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit: Tampa Bay Rays Team Preview

Photo credit: Keith Allison
Photo credit: Keith Allison

Offseason Overview

 The Tampa Bay Rays said goodbye to many familiar faces this offseason, but they’re hoping that the makeover has a positive impact on the club’s performance in 2015 and beyond. In early October, General Manager Andrew Friedman announced that he would be leaving the team and joining the Los Angeles Dodgers to become their new President of Baseball Operations, moving from one of the smallest payrolls in the game to the largest. Shortly thereafter, The Rays said goodbye to longtime skipper and fan favorite Joe Maddon, after he somewhat surprisingly opted out of his contract and signed a deal to manage the Chicago Cubs. Along with these changes, the Rays decided that Wil Myers was no longer a part of their future plans, sending him to the San Diego Padres in a three-way deal that netted them outfielder Steven Souza from the Washington Nationals, along with multiple prospects. Myers was the 2013 American League Rookie of the Year, but took a big step back in 2014 thanks in large part to injuries and some issues with his swing. Before the season began the Rays were already dealing with their share of injuries; especially to the starting rotation. It’s hard to starting well with starters Alex Cobb and Drew Smyly sidelined, but they may struggle to simply be competitive if they can get them both healthy at the same time. The good news is we are going to see Matt Moore back on the bump this season when he and the Rays decide he’s healthy; presumably sometime in mid-to-late June. The former top prospect has as more upside as anyone in the rotation.

 Top Draft Picks

 Evan Longoria (3B): When healthy, Longoria has cemented himself as one of the most reliable third baseman in baseball, having hit over 20 home runs in six of his seven major league seasons thus far. Like the majority of the Rays, Longoria saw his 2014 offensive numbers dip a bit, however, he was able to increase his RBI total from 2013 despite hitting 10 fewer long balls. There has always been uncertainty as to whether Longoria would be able to stay healthy enough each year to put up all-star numbers. Those doubts appear to be behind us as he’s only missed two games the last two seasons, so Longo remains one of the top five third baseman taken off the board. For 2105, I prefer him over top rated third base option, Adrian Beltre. At 29, Longoria is in the prime of his career and we can expect big numbers from him in St. Pete this season. Fangraphs’ fan projections have Longoria clubbing 26 home runs and driving in 90 runs with a .271/.347/.461 slash line.

High Upside (Sleepers)

 Chris Archer (SP): Chris Archer is one of the middle tier pitchers who simply doesn’t get enough love. He wll begin the season leading the staff in Tampa Bay as long as Cobb (forearm) and Smyly (shoulder) remain sidelined. Archer posted a strong 3.33 ERA last season across 194.2 innings with 177 strikeouts. A deeper look into his FIP (3.39) shows that his ERA was right around where it should have been, with his BABIP (against) right around league average as well. The Rays are going to run out one of the better defenses in baseball behind Archer every fifth day, with the only real defensive liability being Asdrubal Cabrera at shortstop. Archer may hang around in your draft until the top 30 options are on the board, and you should find him available along with pitchers like Mat Latos and Andrew Cashner. He will be a solid pick at that point.

Desmond Jennings (OF): Is this the year? Jennings was the heir to the outfield throne when the Rays let Melvin Upton Jr. sign with the Atlanta Braves prior to the 2013 season. He has yet to live up to the hype he created in his first (partial) season. Jennings has stolen at least 15 bases over the last four seasons, and hit 10 or more home runs as well. However, the breakout that we’ve all been (not so) patiently waiting for, still hasn’t happened. In 2012, Jennings’ age 25 season, he hit 13 home runs, stole 31 bases and scored 85 runs. It looked as if he would become a solid and a consistent 20-20 outfielder with close to 100 runs annually hitting atop the Rays lineup. Now, at 28 years old, Jennings is looking to regain his footing following a disappointing 2014 season that ended in late August due to a knee injury. The knee was a lingering problem for Jennings, before he and the Rays decided to shut it down. He was well on his way to a season resembling his 2012 prior to the injury, with 8 home runs and 12 stolen bases across 391 plate appearances. At this point, there is a good chance that Desmond Jennings is who he is, and that his production may never live up to expectations. There is very little risk in stashing him on the bench or keeping him as one of your last outfielders with confidence that at the very least he will provide you help in the stolen base category.

High Downside (Busts)

 Alex Cobb (SP): Alex Cobb was looking to make a case this season for being the best pitcher in the AL East, and if it weren’t for his forearm injury, I wouldn’t be deeming Alex Cobb as a potential “bust” candidate. Manager Kevin Cash already indicted that Cobb is going to be sidelined until at least May, barring any setbacks in his rehab. Despite the injury, Cobb is still getting drafted in front of pitchers who offer more upside with less risk; including Alex Wood and one of my sleepers, teammate Chris Archer. Although Cobb’s numbers have been great over the past two seasons, his FIP indicates that he’s the beneficiary of some good luck (-0.60 in 2013, -0.36 in 2014). Additionally, he’s never topped 170 innings in a season, and it’s already near certain that 2015 wont be the year that he does so.

Closer Situation

 Jake McGee is still recovering from offseason elbow surgery that’s going to keep him on the shelf for at least the first month of the season. Manager Kevin Cash has already stated that he’s going to go with a closer by committee approach in McGee’s absence, with Brad Boxberger looking like the candidate to get the most save opportunities. Boxberger is sure to rack up the strikeouts in McGee’s place, as he struck out 104 batters in 64.2 innings last season. McGee’s role when he returns from injury seems to depend on how the bullpen performs while he’s sidelined. McGee saved 19 games in 23 opportunities in 2014, while posting a 1.89ERA (1.73 FIP).

Minor League Impact

 Steven Souza, the main piece back in the Wil Myers trade, is taking over in right field now that Myers is in San Diego. Souza is an older prospect, who will turn 26 at the end of April. He posted strong numbers last year in Triple-A, hitting 18 home runs with 75 RBIs coupled along with a .345 batting average. The Rays seem higher on Souza that other teams, and unlike Washington, Tampa Bay had the outfield room to make sure that he gets a full years worth of at bats in the majors. Nathan Karns started Tuesday against the orioles and let up six runs, walked four and struck out four. He got tagged early by Baltimore’s offense, giving up all six runs within the first two innings, but Karns was able to get it together and stay in the game until he was relieved with two outs in the sixth. Karns has showed flashes before of what he’s capable of before, particularly September 12th in Toronto, when he held the Blue Jays to no runs on two hits to go along with 8 strikeouts. An interesting tidbit: at 27 years old, Karns is currently the oldest member of the Rays’ rotation, and Tuesday’s start was only the sixth of his career.

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