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Thursday, February 13, 2014

MLB 2014 Team Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

Wild on Sports
MLB 2014 Team Preview: Tampa Bay Rays
By Wild on Sports MLB Analyst Aaron Dorman

2013 Overview:
Ho Hum. Another year shedding some marquee names for prospects. Another successful 90-odd win season. Another early exit from the playoffs. Rinse and repeat. The best management team in baseball continues to turn over the roster, which has made the playoffs in 5 of the past 6 years. Even though the Athletics are good again, Tampa Bay is the new “moneyball” model, winning despite major payroll constraints brought on by a bad ballpark, in a bad location, in a small media market. The failure in the playoffs has to be increasingly frustrating, even if only because each game has such an impact on their bottom line.

Winter Grade:   B
Coming: Ryan Hanigan, Grant Balfour, Logan Forsythe, Heath Bell.
Going: Kelly Johnson, Alex Torres, Fernando Rodney, Roberto Hernandez, Luke Scott.
Did Tampa miss an opportunity? This was supposed to be the winter they traded David Price for more young talent, and there were plenty of winter meetings rumors that Tampa was looking at guys like Jurickson Profar (Rangers) or Tijuan Walker (Mariners). But they never pulled the trigger and with Jeremey Hellickson out for a while, it is more likely than ever that Price will spend another year with Tampa, considering how likely they are to contend. Unlike recent winters, where Tampa stockpiled prospects and pitching depth in exchange for their “aging” stars, this year they made fairly quiet moves, shoring up the holes in their roster in fairly unremarkable ways. Perhaps most surprising is their decision to give out a record free agent contract to James Loney, a scrap heap pickup whose surprise success is a tribute to Tampa’s coaching staff. In the past Tampa has seemed to content to let such feel-good stories go and sift through the trash for more hidden gems (Carlos Pena, Casey Kotchman), but obviously they feel like Loney’s adequacy is sustainable.

Wild Card(s):
Desmond Jennings is 27 years old this year, and has some extra breakout potential. His first two full seasons have been solid but failed to live up to the promise of his more potent rookie season. Maybe he’ll tap into more power or get luckier with BABIP (batting average on balls in play)? He showed better contact ability in the minors than what he’s displayed so far.

Key contract years:
Nobody! Yunel Escobar and Ben Zobrist are technically free agents after this year but they have insanely team-friendly team options.

Jake Odorizzi is likely to make the rotation now that Jeremy Hellickson is hurt for a while. He has less pure stuff than AAA team-mate Alex Colome but more polish and command. Shortstop Hak-Ju Lee missed almost all of last season, but he hit .422 in 15 games last year in AAA and could offer speed and defense. He’ll play if/when Yunel Escobar combusts (or is traded).

Key Questions:
Can Wil Myers and Chris Archer build on strong rookie seasons?
Who is their DH? Will the David Price ‘situation’ be a distraction?
Will they finally be forced to make mid-season reinforcements?
Will any of their toolsy teenagers actually turn into prospects down on the farm (see below)?

Farm System Overview: YELLOW (average)
It took a long time, but years of actually being good (which leads to later draft picks), coupled with the new rules limiting amateur spending, have trimmed the top off their once-elite farm system. All the blue-chip prospects from years past—Jennings, Matt Moore, Wil Myers—are producing in the big leagues now. What’s left are some useable but decidedly second-tier reinforcements, and an odd collection of underperforming or injured players in the lower minors. In fact, the only player the Rays have produced since 2007 who’s passed rookie status in the majors is Marlins second basemen Derek Dietrich…part of this is because Tampa has preferred high school talent in the early rounds of the draft, but those have also yielded a high amount of busts and some bizarrely sad misfires, such as first-round OFer Josh Sale, whose prospect status has tumbled on a wave of drug and behavior-related suspensions. None of their ten first round (!!!) picks from 2011 look like regulars at this point, other than maybe Taylor Guerreri…who will miss the entire 2014 season.

2014 Prognosis: Likely Contenders.
There are no saviors coming up from below this time around, but if everyone in the rotation stays healthy and lives up to their potential, there won’t need to be.


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