The Tampa Bay Rays are coming off a season where they made the postseason on the final day of the regular season, capping off the greatest final day in baseball history. Offensively they were one of the best teams in the league, Matt Joyce and Evan Longoria were both big parts to the teams’ success. The pitching was middle of the pack, but it could be one of the best in the league this season.Evan Longoria continued to show why he’s one of the games best third baseman. Longoria’s .244/.355/.495 (134) was right in line with his career averages. The only thing that was low was his .244 average. He had an abnormally low .239 BABIP, something that was for sure a factor. There’s not much to be worried about going into the season. He showed be a 5+ WAR player yet again. At first base Carlos Pena will return after a one year stint with the Chicago Cubs. Pena had a nice bounce back year, he increased his ISO numbers by a good margin, and saw his WAR rise from 1.1 to 2.6. Pena’s main strength is power, and that’s something the Rays severely lacked last season.
Ben Zobrist has quietly established himself as a top 15 player in baseball. This season he tries to have another steller season while playing second base. Zobrists’ .269/.353/.469 (131) may have been one of the most under-looked season outside of the sabermetric community. While he’s expected to regress in 2012, a 4-5 WAR season is in the realm of possibilty. Sean Rodriguez is coming off of another okay season himself. He only had 2.3 WAR, but that’s still above league average. He isn’t great offensively, but he can play solid defense.
Catcher figures to be a weak spot for the Rays this season. Currently Jose Molina is slated to start. He won’t bring much to the table offensively, but has a plus arm behind the plate.
After posting 2.4 WAR his rookie season Desmond Jennings should improve even more. He showed solid power by posting a .190 ISO, and an ability to walk, posting a 10% BB%. It was a small sample, but he also showed he can be a positive contributor on defense. Matt Joyce finally showed his potential last season, in his first full season of playing time he showed plus power, while getting on base at a good clip. If he doesn’t regress too much he should manage 2-3 WAR next season. Amid off-season trade rumors, B.J. Upton is back for another season as the Rays center fielder. Besides his 2009 season Upton has consistently been a 4 WAR player. If everything goes right he should continue to post good numbers. Depending on the Rays mid-season situation he could find himself on a new team come the end of July.
The rotation is led by James Shields who’s coming off a career year. His 2.82 ERA was a career best, and 3.25 xFIP says that he will probably regress, but he’ll still be a dominant pitcher. He saw his K% increae three percent, and his walk rate stayed relatively the same. His LOB% was slightly high though, which could have been a contributor to his low BABIP. Even though David Price’s ERA wasn’t as good as last year he still had a good 3.7 rWAR season. Like Shields he also saw an increase in his K%. Next season his ERA should be slightly lower, but he’s still a really good pitcher. For now Jeremy Hellickson is penciled in as the third starter, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him move down a spot as the year goes on. Hellickson really struggled last year, he had a 4.72 xFIP, and really struggled with his command. He was only a rookie so things could change, but it wasn’t the most encouraging season.
Lefty phenom Matt Moore has the fourth spot locked up, but if he proves to be a stud he should move up in the rotation. He pitched in a few games last season, but we’ll take a look at his minor league data. Throughout his time in the minors he’s struck out at least 30% of the batters he’s faced. Walks were a problem, but as he moved up he began to get them under control. If he can put it together he should be the future ace of the Rays. The fifth spot is an open competition between Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis. Neither really offer much, but with the first four pitchers neither have to be great.
Kyle Farnsworth is expected to be the closer, and overall he isn’t bad. His FIP should be in the low to mid 3s, and he can strike out over 20% of the batters he faces. Joel Peralta is another name to keep an eye on this season. Other then that the Rays bullpen could be a struggle for this team.
Overall the Rays should easily be fighting for a playoff spot. Their offense should be one of the best in the league yet again, and if Matt Moore is as good as advertised their pitching should be a lot better as well. They do play in the best division in baseball though so it won’t be easy.