2018 finish: 90-72, third in AL East
SI's 2019 Prediction: 90-72, third in AL East
Key additions: SP Charlie Morton, OF Avisaíl Garcia, C Mike Zunino, INF Yandy Díaz
Key Departures: OF Carlos Gómez, RP Sergio Romo
1. CF Kevin Kiermaier
2. LF Tommy Pham
3. 3B Joey Wendle
4. DH Avisaíl Garcia
5. 1B Ji-Man Choi
6. SS Willy Adames
7. RF Austin Meadows
8. C Mike Zunino
9. 2B Brandon Lowe
C Michael Pérez
3B Yandy Díaz
IF/OF Daniel Robertson
OF Guillermo Heredia
1. LHP Blake Snell
2. RHP Charlie Morton
3. RHP Tyler Glasnow
4. LHP Ryan Yarbrough
5. RHP Yonny Chirinos
LHP José Alvarado (closer)
RHP Diego Castillo
RHP Ryne Stanek
RHP Chaz Roe
RHP Emilio Pagan
RHP Hunter Wood
RHP Wilmer Font
Injured list: 3B Matt Duffy, RHP José De León
Movin’ On Up! Willy Adames finished a mostly successful rookie season with a 109 OPS+, 10 HRs and six stolen bases to complement his reliable defense over 85 games. His 2019 can be even better. If he can make some adjustments at the plate for his first full season in the big leagues—lifting the ball more after last year’s groundball rate of 52% and cutting down on strikeouts—Adames’s complete skill set can make him a dynamic threat.
Sell!: Despite some trouble with injuries, Daniel Robertson jumped out last season with a 122 OPS+, showcasing some prowess at the plate in addition to his defensive flexibility. (The 24-year-old came up as a shortstop, but he also played first, second, third, and left in 2018. And DH’d. And pitched.) But it could be tricky for him to sustain that level of production in 2019. Robertson flashed some uncharacteristic power last year; if that doesn’t stick for this season, then his outlook might not be quite so hot. Manager Kevin Cash has said that he’ll get playing time, but this roster has several backup infielders, and Robertson is unlikely repeat what he did in 2018.
Appreciate This Man! Charlie Morton is the Rays’ biggest signing in years. At two years and $30 million, that says more about the team than it does about Morton. But it still says something about Morton! The 35-year-old reinvigorated his career two years ago by emphasizing his curveball, and last season, he threw the pitch more than any other for the first time, per Brooks Baseball. Morton’s curve has one of the highest spin rates in baseball, and almost half of swings on it become misses. Plus, he’s one of very few veterans on a remarkably young team. Who doesn’t like a guy who has a full eight years on his next-oldest rotation-mate?
A Modest Proposal From Joe Sheehan: The highest compliment the Rays can pay a pitcher is that they consider him a starter, as opposed to someone who needs an opening act. Tyler Glasnow, the prize in last summer’s Chris Archer trade, is getting that treatment and will be used as a traditional starting pitcher this year along with Blake Snell and Charlie Morton. Glasnow, 25, could take the step forward that Snell did a season ago. The 6’ 5” righty struck out 29% of the batters he faced in 11 starts for the Rays last year and sharply reduced his walk rate from 13% to 8% after arriving from Pittsburgh. The key will be finding a second pitch. Glasnow has thrown 2/3 fastballs in his three MLB seasons, and even working at 96-97 mph—just three pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched had a harder fastball last year—he’ll need more than that to be a starting pitcher.
MLB.TV Rating: 6.8
The projected rotation and bullpen is technically correct, but it’s missing a little something: Tampa Bay’s signature pitching strategy, the opener. Remember the one that involves uses a reliever to pitch the first inning instead of a starter? It’s effective, but aesthetically, it’s not for everyone. For some people, it might be seen as a jolt of excitement for the start of the game. For others, it’s just taking away a game’s natural narrative arc and most natural protagonist. At the very least, it’s something that you can only get from the Rays. (Well, for now, at least.) Other than that ... you’ve got the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner in Snell, an established outfield presence in Kiermaier, and not a whole lot else in the way of name brand talent.
Keep an Eye Out for… Brent Honeywell, one of baseball’s top pitching prospects, should be ready to make his debut by mid-season after sitting out last year while recovering from Tommy John surgery. His arsenal is deep and his upside is high, but the most exciting feature here is that he has the opportunity to become baseball’s first screwball pitcher in a generation. Then there’s Brandon Lowe and Nate Lowe, both sharp young talents, though with different pronunciations for their shared last name. Brandon (Lowe like cow) is a second baseman with power potential who made his debut in 2018 and the Rays inked to a six-year contract on March 20. Meanwhile, Nate (Lowe like slow) broke out last year, torching High-A and Double-A before moving handling himself well in Triple-A and making himself into a bona fide prospect at first base. There should also a chance to see Brendan McKay in 2019: a two-way prospect, à la Shohei Ohtani, although his pitching is currently ahead of his hitting and he might not pop up until 2020.
A rival scout analyzes the 2019 Tampa Bay Rays
What is the key question surrounding this team in 2019?
Can their pitching staff do it again? They’ve got three starters. One of them (Blake Snell) won the Cy Young and Charlie Morton has pitched great this spring. It’s a no-pressure environment in Tampa—they play in front of 5,000 people—so he’ll be great. Tyler Glasnow has a lot of ability but has yet to pitch up to his potential in the big leagues. They have no fourth and fifth starters, so they’re gonna do that bullpen crap again. A lot of the guys are going to have to repeat what they did last year.
Who is the most overrated player on the team?
Mike Zunino. All I read about is what a great hitter he is, but he doesn’t hit. He’s easy to beat: Just pitch him away. He wants to launch it out of the ballpark. And he’s gone backwards defensively.
Who is the most underrated player on the team?
Tommy Pham. He hit a ton better with Tampa than he did with St. Louis. People want to see him do it again. I think he’s going to continue to get better because his approach is so good.
What young player(s) is/are on the cusp of stardom?
Willy Adames is a good player. He’s got a lot more power than a typical middle infielder. He’s a lot like Wade Boggs, who could have hit 30 home runs but just wanted to hit singles.
What young player(s) is/are the biggest bust candidate(s)?
Mike Zunino. They expect him to be a lot more than he is. He hit .201 last year playing regularly.
Who gets the most out of his talent?
Joey Wendle. He’s a scrapper. He hit .300 last year and people said, ‘how the hell did he do that?’ Well, he worked at it! He makes good contact. He can hit the ball in gaps. He uses the whole field. He’s a fastball hitter. Between him and Adames, that’s a vastly underrated double-play combo.
Who gets the least out of his talent?
Zunino. He doesn’t hit.
Who has the nastiest stuff on the team?
Snell. He’s aggressive. He uses all his pitches. He’s got all four pitches—good fastball, good changeup, good slider, good curveball— and he goes after hitters. He has fastball velocity and command. He’s the real deal and he deserved his Cy Young win last season.
Who has the best baseball instincts/IQ?
Kevin Kiermaier is a Gold Glove centerfielder who hasn’t gotten the recognition he should have because of where he plays. There are 13 people at every game. His instincts are so good. You watch him and he’s breaking to the ball right off the bat.
Whose batting practice makes your jaw drop?
Avísail Garcia. He can be their rightfielder. He’s got big power. He’s an average outfielder. He’s a fun guy to watch. He can hit the ball a long way, but it doesn’t translate to games.
Name two guys on this team that you would immediately trade for.
Kiermaier and Adames.
Name the guy (or guys)on this teams that you would never want in your clubhouse.
Zunino. His head’s a little on the big side.
Who do you want at-bat or on the mound in a season-defining moment?
I want Snell on the mound, because he’s that good. He’s their All-Star.
Who don’t you want in that situation?
I think Glasnow is soft. He’s got a lot of ability, he just hasn’t produced with it. He makes mistakes in the zone. That’s the way he was in Pittsburgh, too.
Which under-the-radar prospect/non-roster invitee could make a splash this season?
Austin Meadows has played well. He had a good year with Pittsburgh. When they brought him over, he didn’t get much of a chance, but he’s had a pretty good spring. He’s gonna be okay offensively. He’s driving the ball better. He’s not feeling to the ball, just trying to put it in play.
Is the current manager one that you would hire to run your club?
Kevin Cash is very adaptive. He has a good feel for his team. I like him more than most of the managers in the big leagues.
What is the ceiling for the team this year? What about the next three years?
If everything breaks right with that opener crap, they can win in the 80s, maybe be an outside contender for the wild card. The problem with them is the division is a bear. You’re guaranteed a lot of losses against New York and Boston, so they have to do a better job of beating bad clubs. For the next three years, I think it’s pretty good, because they’ve got some kids like José De León and Brent Honeywell who have had Tommy John and haven’t played. The biggest problem that this club has is whether they can they repeat what they did pitching-wise. They’re gonna wear down those bullpen guys if they keep throwing them out there as much as they do.
Emptying the notebook:
Matt Duffy still hasn’t played this spring. He came from San Francisco, and I know he’s dying to get back so he can make that trip, but it’s getting a little late. … I’d like to get Ryne Stanek and put him in the back end of my bullpen instead of that opener crap. He’s a big, strong guy who throws hard. He has a great hits-to-innings ratio.