The American League team with one of the better looking farm systems is the Rays, but what that translates into is a wait for success: a wait that will not end this season, nor next season. Despite the upgrades of the off-season (and the trading of All-Star players), the 2015 Tampa Bay Rays will have to make due with what they have and wait for their young talent in the minor leagues to develop into the team of the future. Many familiar faces, including Ben Zobrist and Wil Myers, are on their way out, and a new wave of players looks to lead the Rays in the coming seasons.
Team Overview: 2015 Tampa Bay Rays
In the 2014 off-season, the Rays parted ways with their starting catcher, second baseman, shortstop, two outfielders and a reliable utility man. They also traded a starting pitcher, a reliever and let another reliever walk. The replacements they brought in for these positions weren’t top of the line players, but have the potential in the future to be All-Stars.
The leadership of manager Joe Maddon is now gone, after general manager Andrew Friedman went to the Dodgers and Maddon moved north to the Cubs in Chicago. The Rays only proven star that remains is third baseman Evan Longoria, who needs a healthy season in order for the Rays to be able to succeed. Breakout story Kevin Kiermaier looks to man right field for a full season this year, and his power and hitting shouldn’t decline too greatly now that he has experience with Major League pitching.
The Rays rotation is projected to be young with some consistency problems, especially now that Opening Day starter Alex Cobb has elbow tendinitis and won’t be available for that start, as well as Drew Smyly, out with shoulder tendinitis, and rotation hopeful Alex Colome, who has been hospitalized with pneumonia. The only guarantees at this point in the rotation are Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi.
He’s Here: 2B Asdrubal Cabrera, Manager Kevin Cash, P Ernesto Frieri, C John Jaso, P Kevin Jepsen, C Rene Rivera, OF Steven Souza Jr.
Non-Roster Invitees with chance to make roster: OF Corey Brown, 2B Alexi Casilla, SS Jake Elmore, 3B Juan Francisco
He’s Gone: P Erik Bedard, SS Yunel Escobar, C Ryan Hanigan, P Jeremy Hellickson, OF Matt Joyce, Manager Joe Maddon, OF Wil Myers, P Juan Carlos Oviedo, P Joel Peralta, P Cesar Ramos, UT Sean Rodriguez, C Ali Solis, 2B-OF Ben Zobrist
Battle of the Stingers
The Rays rotation is the most questionable part of their team at this point in time, despite the fact it was supposed to be the strongest part of their team. The rotation just kept taking new turns, and as Rays beat reporter Marc Topkin explained, the Rays were looking to Archer, Odorizzi, Cobb and Smyly to keep the Rays at least a respectable team for the first month or two. Now, new manager Kevin Cash is rushing to find pitchers to take up the spots in the rotation, not knowing what Cobb’s, Smyly’s, or Colome’s timetable is for a return. Meanwhile, Matt Moore, a great surprise as a pitcher first coming up, is still recovering from Tommy John surgery and probably will not return until June or July. That leaves Nathan Karns, Matt Andriese, Burch Smith, Mike Montgomery, Enny Romero, Brandon Gomes and Jordan Norberto as favorites to take the remaining spots. The Rays could also try and go out and pick up a veteran starter like Paul Maholm or Wandy Rodriguez, but only if they don’t work out for the teams they are currently trying to get on. The trade of Jeremy Hellickson to the Diamondbacks is suddenly looking very questionable on the Rays part. The rotation will be what determines how the Rays progress through the season.
The Rays made two reasonable pick ups for their bullpen in acquiring Kevin Jepsen (for Matt Joyce) and signing Ernesto Frieri to be the closer, and the two of them will surround Grant Balfour in as the big three at the back of the bullpen. The bullpen will have some work to do due to the lack of starters going long innings, while Brad Boxberger and Jake McGee (recovering from arm injury) will provide assistance to the bullpen.
The Rays line-up improves a little with the addition of speed in the form of Steven Souza Jr., getting a chance to start for the first time, and the signing of Asdrubal Cabrera gives the Rays a shortstop to replace Yunel Escobar. Rene Rivera replaces Ryan Hanigan, with John Jaso on the bench, and Logan Forsythe slipping into second base off the bench after Zobrist’s trade.
(Red indicates a new acquisition)
C: Rene Rivera
1B: James Loney
2B: Logan Forsythe
3B: Evan Longoria
SS: Asdrubal Cabrera
LF: Steven Souza Jr.
CF: Desmond Jennings
RF: Kevin Kiermaier
DH: David DeJesus
The return of lefties James Loney and David DeJesus, entering their 10th and 13th seasons, respectively, provide the Rays with veteran bats that need to perform in order for the Rays line-up to produce. A healthy, productive return from center fielder Desmond Jennings will benefit Evan Longoria in the line-up for hard hitting right-handed hitters.
1. Chris Archer
2. Jake Odorizzi
3. Nate Karns
4. Mike Montgomery
5. Enny Romero
*Matt Moore recovering from Tommy John surgery
*Alex Cobb with elbow tendinitis
*Drew Smyly with shoulder tendinitis
*Alex Colome out with pneumonia
With the recent rash of injuries to a good portion of the Rays rotation, it is going to be difficult for the Rays to even stay in a reasonable place in April, playing American League East rivals in 25 of their first 28 games. It will be tough for the line-up to try and produce runs every game and leave the rest to the rotation, while the bullpen needs to hold up to supplement the pitching of the rotation. Spring Training is over soon and it’s a matter of time to see who takes the remaining rotation spots. I see the Rays in last place in the AL East with around 63-68 wins.