When a team makes it to the World Series, only one question can really be asked for the following season. Can they get back to the Fall Classic? The Tampa Bay Rays will try to answer that in 2021 with a fun group of veterans and prospects. Let’s take a look at what the team and season will look like when opening day arrives on April 1st.
Addition By Subtraction
The Rays received a lot of attention this off-season for losing two of its top starting arms. Charlie Morton chose a new direction in free agency, while Blake Snell was sold high to the San Diego Padres. On the surface, this looks like a tough hurdle to get over, but the Rays have plenty of arms waiting in the wings. To fill the holes, they brought in three veterans in Michael Wacha, Chris Archer, and Rich Hill.
The trade of Snell figures to be a tough pill to swallow for Rays fans but it did bring back major players and prospects to help now and in the future. Luis Patino was the centerpiece, but Francisco Mejia will get the first impression. He gets the opportunity to be the backup catcher and will get a strong look at being the catcher of the future.
Chaz Roe and Oliver Drake (injured) were also brought back to solidify the bullpen.
Besides the early, and hopefully, quick injury to Ji-Man Choi, the Rays lineup remains intact. The top story out of spring training has to be Austin Meadows with his health and power back on display. With Covid behind him, he looks to be in great shape and the sweet left-handed swing is a thing of beauty to Rays fans. Yandy Diaz also came to camp in great shape and could be leaned on early for the middle of the lineup production in Choi’s absence.
Randy Arozarena and Brandon Lowe will be featured early in the lineup and rightfully so. Brandon Lowe has high barrel contact and can drive the ball with power to all parts of the field. He has a tendency to get a bit streaky but consistency should continue to go in the right direction. Arozarena is the one who will be in the spotlight. All fans, not just Rays fans remember what an October he had. The question will be what to expect in 2021. His bat speed allows him to produce hard contact and his legs will cause chaos on the basepaths.
Pitching and Bullpen
The Rays are never short on pitchers. In 2021, things are no different. The veteran trio mentioned above will get the ball in games three through five to start the season. The game one starter is Tyler Glasnow. Glasnow is one of the hottest picks to win the American League Cy Young behind the early favorites. In his last tune-up start, he went five full innings, striking out 10 Minnesota Twins hitters. Ryan Yarbrough will follow him up. Yarbrough specializes in creating weak contact by moving the ball all over the zone. Opposing hitters shake their heads when they can’t figure out the crafty southpaw.
The bullpen just received a major blow with the Nick Anderson injury. He will likely be out until the all-star break, even if he avoids surgery. That leaves Pete Fairbanks and Diego Castillo to hold down the late innings. As usual, the Rays will do things the unorthodox way, especially when talking about preserving a win.
Wander Franco will be the talk throughout the minor leagues for the Rays but several other prospects should make a significant impact in 2021. Franco just needs seasoning down in the minors. It’s hard to imagine not seeing him make his major league debut at some point this season. Other hitters like Vidal Brujan and Josh Lowe could provide depth and energy if needed.
As exciting as Franco is, the young arms the Rays have will likely have a more significant impact in the 2021 season. Shane McClanahan is primed and ready to be a star but the Rays want to stretch him out a little more as a starter. He made his debut in the playoffs last season. The tall lefty can really bring it and maybe used more in a bullpen/bulk role this season when he comes up.
Luis Patino could also follow that same path. The newly acquired flame thrower will probably start in the bullpen but his long-term future is as a starter. Let’s hope Brent Honeywell Jr gets his long-awaited debut this season. Brendan McKay is a forgotten one who should be ready to contribute around the all-star break.
With the season going back to 162 games, longevity will be the talk early and often. Depth and health will be of utmost importance. The season goes back to a marathon over a sprint, but getting off to a nice start still matters.
The Rays see their division rival New York Yankees six times in the first month. The Rays went 8-2 in the regular season last year against the Yankees before beating them in five in the division series. The Yankees will certainly remember that and will come out strong to try and reset the tone. The two teams wrap up their season matches by the end of July.
September is where playoff dreams can become nightmares. The good news for the Rays is that they have six games against Detroit Tigers who are expected to be eliminated from the playoffs by then and three versus the Miami Marlins as well. If things get close, the last series of the season will be in Houston against the playoff-hopeful Houston Astros. Buckle your seatbelts.
The Rays are projected to contend for one of the American League Wild Card spots with a win total in the mid 80’s. Their strengths are definitely their pitching and their overall depth. With a great blend of veterans and youth, the Rays are in store for another above .500 season and a potential playoff birth.
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Luis Patino, Brent Honeywell Jr, Brendan McKay, Wander Franco, Vidal Brujan, Josh Lowe, Shane McClanahan, Tyler Glasnow, Cy Young, Ryan Yarbrough, Nick Anderson, Pete Fairbanks, Diego Castillo, Ji-Man Choi, Austin Meadows, Yandy Diaz, Randy Arozarena, Brandon Lowe, Charlie Morton, Blake Snell, Michael Wacha, Chris Archer, Rich Hill. Luis Patino, Francisco Mejia, Chaz Roe, and Oliver Drake