Tampa Bay Rays Rotation Outlook for 2021

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The Tampa Bay Rays success always begins with their pitching. After letting Charlie Morton move on, and trading away Blake Snell, there are definite questions heading into the 2021 season regarding the Rays rotation. So what exactly can we expect to see when the season rolls around? Let’s start right at the top.

Opening Day Nod

Unless the Rays find $150 million to pay Trevor Bauer, the ball will go to Tyler Glasnow on Opening Day. The tall right-handed pitcher is more than capable of being the rotational leader and pitching in big spots. His stuff in unquestionably a top of the rotation arm, and as with most power pitchers, it’s his command that makes or breaks his outings.

His triple-digit fastball and sharp curveball are well above average, but the Rays would love to see his changeup make for an average third pitch. Maybe the veteran arm that the Rays brought in can help him out with that. Rays fan shouldn’t be too worried if Glasnow is limited in the spring. Rest and innings are two good reasons behind this.

Veteran Added

The Rays are always great at buying low and selling high and they are hoping to hit another great value with the addition of Michael Wacha. Wacha was signed to a one year, $3 million contract and will be a veteran leader in the rotation.

Wacha is a fastball/changeup starting pitcher who can go deep in the game. His changeup is one the best in the game when talking about right-handed starters. He throws it to both lefties and righties and gets ugly swings and weak contact with it. He has recently developed a decent cutter which can keep hitters off balance and miss barrels.

Help Wanted For Cheap

Ryan Yarbrough figures to grab a rotation spot but after him, it’s all prospects. The front office has made it clear that they are on the lookout for veteran help. Just like the Wacha move, a low-priced rebound candidate will be the likely target, but who is available?

Rays Reunion

Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi are two veterans who are very familiar with how the Rays do things.

Before going off and say ‘please, no’ on Archer, think about what the Rays would get him at, and his 2o21 role. Archer is known for the trade but again, he did nothing wrong for Tampa. He would slide into the third spot in the rotation, be on a mound he’s comfortable with, and look to bounce back. Not a terrible spot at a good price.

Jake Odorizzi could be a bit more expensive as he is both younger and in better form than Archer. Perhaps he and the club could work out a cost-effective multi-year deal, but it is probably wishful thinking.

Yankee Hand-Me-Downs

James Paxton came to the Yankees with the aspirations for a championship and a Cy Young but came up well short. He recently threw a pitching expo with more than 20 teams there to watch, and it would be surprising if the Rays weren’t one of them. Paxton would be an electric lefty that the Rays would love to have.

Another potential former Yankee is Masahiro Tanaka. He has also been rumored to possibly return to Japan if he doesn’t get the deal he wants in the states.

Bottom Half in House

General manager Erik Neander said “the rotation could be in for a transitional year” and that doesn’t have to be bad. With the young arms the Rays have, that can actually be really fun.

Brendan McKay won’t be ready for Opening Day but he will contribute in a big way when he is ready. Joe Ryan is another name to look out for in Spring Training. Ryan has been a top pitching prospect in the Rays system and will be ready when his name is called. He is on the outside looking in at the current outlook.

In the driver’s seat should be Josh Fleming. The southpaw who went 5-0 with a 2.78 ERA in 2020. He didn’t overpower anyone, but he keeps the ball down with his sinking fastball and above average changeup.

Another lefty who will get a chance in Spring Training is Shane McClanahan. McClanahan figures to be on the Opening Day roster but could be in the starting rotation or in the bullpen. With the recent trade of Jose Alvarado, McClanahan or Yarbrough figure to be in a more prominent role as the left-hander late in the game.

All Eyes on These Two

Luis Patino is the big piece in the recent Blake Snell trade. The 21-year old right-handed pitcher is one of the best pitching prospects in all of baseball, and he continues to raise his ceiling. He will have a great opportunity to make the Opening Day rotation or at least be in line for a bulk role following an opener. He may be the most “transitional starter” for the Rays as he may start at the end of the rotation in 2021, yet be the number two starter heading into 2022.

The most exciting question mark heading into 2021 is Brent Honeywell. Honeywell entered 2018 with a real shot at a prominent role only to have his season end with Tommy John surgery in spring training. He just recently had a fourth surgery to clean up his arm and is scheduled to be ready for spring this year. If he is half as good as he was supposed to be, then the Rays have a fun one. Of all the names listed, he may be the biggest wildcard for the Rays pitching success.

Bottom Line

As the calendar flips, the countdown to Spring Training begins. The best guess as to the Rays rotation right now, assuming the roster is set for 26 players with 13 pitchers, is as follows:

  1. Glasnow
  2. Wacha
  3. Yarbrough
  4. Possible veteran addition
  5. Fleming

Honeywell and Patino can come out of the bullpen as long/middle relievers.

No matter what way the Rays go, the surplus of arms is always fun to think about and how the rotation could shape up.

Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images