2020 Fantasy Baseball: Tampa Bay Rays Team Preview

Full fantasy baseball stat projections for Rays hitters and pitchers. What to expect from Austin Meadows, Blake Snell and more.
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The game of baseball has changed in many ways in recent years, and the Rays are a primary example of a team that gains edges in very different ways. They’ve ranked in the top four in defensive shifts since 2016. Last year, Tampa Bay featured an opener pitcher in more than 25 percent of their games, which led to a league high in bullpen wins (56) and innings pitched (772.0).

Their pitching success (3.65 ERA, second in MLB) helped the Rays win 96 games and clinch their first playoff appearance since 2013. They’ve improved in each of the past three years. Tampa Bay finished 18th in runs (769), 21st in HRs (217) and 19th in RBI (730).

In the offseason, the Rays traded OF Tommy Pham to the Padres for OF Hunter Renfroe and 2B Xavier Edwards. They signed Japanese import OF Yoshi Tsutsugo to a two-year contract. Tampa moved on from 1B Jesus Aguilar and IF Matt Duffy. They also made a late deal to acquire OF Jose Martinez. In early February, the Rays shipped expected closer Emilio Pagan to San Diego for OF Manuel Margot and C Logan Driscoll.

Tampa’s 2020 success is largely contingent on healthy seasons from their top two arms – Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow – and better definitions in the structure of their bullpen roles. Tampa has two upside arms (Brendan McKay and Brent Honeywell) on the verge of making an impact with other options developing in the lower levels of the minors.

Seven of Tampa Bay’s top hitters expected to start in 2020 came via trade or signed as a free agent. Austin Meadows has the feeling of a star, while the rest of their offense lacks an impactful upside.

Starting Lineup

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1. 2B Brandon Lowe

Over four seasons in the minors, Lowe hit .279 with 38 HRs, 178 RBI, and 21 SBs over 1,186 at-bats. His time in the minors was highlighted by his success at AA and AAA in 2018 (.297 with 22 HRs, 76 RBI, and eight SBs over 380 at-bats). Lowe showed the ability to take a walk (12.1 percent) while his strikeout rate (19.8) came in better than the league average (21.5). In about a half of a season of action with Tampa, Lowe flashed power (17 HRs) while showing he can provide an edge in runs (42) and RBI (51) when considering his 296 at-bats. 

Both his CTBA (.437) and average hit rate (1.900) plays well for his position, but he did struggle to make contact in the majors (34.6 percent strikeout rate), just as he struggled to remain patient at the plate (7.7 percent walk rate). Lowe played much better vs. righties (.278 with 14 HRs and 14 RBI over 230 at-bats), pointing to platoon downside based on his play against left-handed pitching (.242 with three HRs and nine RBI with 36 Ks over 66 at-bats). A quad injury cost him most of the final three months of the year. Lowe flashed a high HR/FB rate (21.8) with plenty of loft on his swing (42.9 percent). 

In the early draft season, he has an ADP of 194 as the 18th second basemen off the board. I can’t trust Tampa to play him every day, but his ability to make contact should rebound. A borderline stud in power with a range in at-bats between 450 and 600. If he locks up a top-of-the-order opportunity, think .275 with 70/25/75/5 as his floor.

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2. SS Willy Adames

The Rays desperately need someone to step up to hit first or second in the batting order. Adames isn’t quite ready to make a move to this type of situation based on his weak RBI rate (10) and a high strikeout rate (26.2). Over his first 907 plate appearances in the majors, his walk rate (8.5) falls into a neutral area. Adames had a tough time vs. lefties last season (.181 with eight HRs and 15 RBI over 182 at-bats). He played better over the final two months (.289 with seven HRs and 20 RBI over 166 at-bats). His contact batting average (.357) came in lower than expected with growth in his average hit rate (1.644). 

Adames does hit a low number of fly balls (30.3 percent) while holding value in his HR/FB rate (17.5). In 2019, he played the best when hitting ninth in the batting order (.329 with 11 HRs and 27 RBI over 161 at-bats). Breakout player if he indeed hits higher in the batting order. An outside chance at a 90/20/70/10 season.

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3. OF Austin Meadows

For the fantasy owners looking for a leadoff hitter with a chance at 30 steals in 2019, they were rewarded with a great season from Meadows based on his draft value. He finished with only 12 steals while posting a breakthrough year in power (33 HRs and 89 RBI). 

Meadows delivered a middle-of-the-order RBI rate (18) with strength in both his AVH (1.922) and CTBA (.386). Those were both career-high numbers. Meadows was a career .294 hitter in the minors with 46 HRs, 229 RBI, and 66 SBs over 1,761 at-bats. He had a better approach at the plate in the minors (strikeout rate – 16.3 and walk rate – 8.6) than he did in 2019 (strikeout rate – 22.2 and walk rate – 9.1). His bat had two great runs (first 47 games – .346 with 12 HRs, 38 RBI, and eight SBs over 182 at-bats and final 54 games – .297 with 18 HRs, 42 RBI, and three SBs over 212 at-bats), but he lost his way in the middle of the season (.204 with three HRs and eight RBI over 137 at-bats). 

His success in 2019 pushes Meadows to the 11th OF being taken off the board. He has an ADP of 36 despite finishing 31st in SIscore rankings. He played well enough vs. lefties (.275 with nine HRs and 32 RBI over 167 at-bats) to be in the lineup every day. Tempting for sure, but he does have some injury history, and Tampa doesn’t have an elite supporting cast of hitters. Expect a .300 hitter with a high floor (90/30/90/15) and more upside if he has follow-through.

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4. OF Yoshi Tsutsugo

Tsutsugo should be an excellent fit in the Rays’ starting lineup after hitting 22 home runs or more in each of his previous seven seasons in Japan. His highlight year came in 2016 (.322 with 44 HRs and 110 RBI over 469 at-bats). Over a decade-long career in Japan, which spanned 3,460 at-bats, he hit .284 with 205 HRs and 615 RBI. Tsutsugo has a high walk rate (13.2) with a league average strikeout rate (20.8). He has an early, hip-clearing swing that allows him to pull the ball for power while keeping his hands back. This approach helps when asked to turn quickly on fastballs inside. Tsutsugo can also deliver home runs the opposite way. Fantasy owners priced him with an ADP of 344 in early January. Pretty much a neutral hitter with a chance at 90 runs, 30 HRs, and 90 RBI so long as he bats in the middle of the order as expected.

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5. 1B Ji-Man Choi

Choi gave Tampa good at-bats vs. right-handed pitching (.274 with 17 HRs and 57 RBI over 329 at-bats). He’ll have a minimal chance against lefties (.210 with two HRs and six RBI over 81 at-bats). His strikeout rate (22.2) is just over the league average with strength in his walk rate (13.1). Choi spent most of the previous six seasons at AAA, where he hit .291 over 1,018 at-bats with 35 HRs, 189 RBI, and 10 SBs. He has still never recorded over 425 at-bats at any level. Choi’s AVH rate (1.757) improved over his last two years in the majors, but Choi finished with fade in his CTBA (.354). At best, 450 at-bats with 60 runs, 20 HRs, and 70 RBI.

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READ MORE: 2020 Tampa Bay Rays Team Outlook

Pitching Staff

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SP1 Blake Snell

Many fantasy owners were burned if they drafted Snell in 2019 as their ace. His arm was electric and elite in 2018 thanks to his win total (21), ERA (1.89), and Ks (211). Snell battled greatness and disaster over his first 13 starts last season (3.50 ERA and 98 Ks over 72 innings). Over this stretch, he allowed 18 of his 28 runs in three starts (13.1 innings). Snell crushed fantasy teams over his next three starts (16 runs and 27 baserunners over seven innings) when batters hit .486 against him with nine walks. Somehow he found his 2018 stride over his next four games (1.64 ERA and 31 Ks over 22 innings).

Tampa placed him on the injured list for two months after surgery on his left elbow to remove some debris. Snell made six appearances in late September and the playoffs (3.18 ERA and 1.235 WHIP with 18 Ks over 11.1 innings). His strikeout rate (12.4) improved from his great season (2018 – 11.0), however, he had regression in both his walk rate (3.4 – 3.2 in 2018) and his HR/9 rate (1.2 – 0.8 in 2018). Snell had a strong fastball (95.9), but his best success last year came via the changeup (.222 BAA) and curveball (.148 BAA).

In 2020, Snell has an ADP of 37 in early January. Hidden in his down year was a huge step forward in his first-pitch strike rate (67.6) and the second year of progression in his overall strike rate (64.1). A great arm, but he can’t match proven aces in volume of innings. I fully expect a sub 2.50 ERA with 15 wins and 225-plus strikeouts.

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SP2 Tyler Glasnow

It took Glasnow multiple years to figure out how to get major league batters out. He dominated over seven years in the minors (45-21 with a 2.01 ERA and 788 Ks over 595.2 innings) with no problems at AAA (19-6 with a 1.93 ERA and 324 Ks over 27.1 innings). From 2016 to 2018 over 67 games in the majors, Glasnow went 4-16 with 216 Ks over 197 innings. His failure came from a massive walk rate (5.0) and risk in home runs allowed (1.4 per nine).

In 2019, he figured out how to throw more strikes (walk rate – 2.1), but his first-pitch rate (57.8) remains a liability. Glasnow did throw the most overall strikes (64.9 percent) of his major league career. Over his first seven starts, he went 6-0 with a 1.47 ERA and 46 Ks over 43 innings with only seven walks. After a poor start on May 10th (three runs and seven baserunners over 5.1 innings with nine Ks), Tampa lost him for four months with a right forearm issue. In four games in September, Glasnow had a 1.46 ERA over 12.1 innings with five walks and 21 Ks, but he did struggle in the playoffs (six runs and 12 baserunners over seven innings with eight Ks). His average fast ball (97.6) is special and was tough to hit in 2019 (.200 BAA). Both his curveball (.198 BAA) and changeup (.125 BAA) were strong.

Glasnow is gaining momentum and he has a reasonable price on draft day (ADP – 61). If his arm issue doesn’t develop into an elbow injury, he could be a steal. Fantasy owners can never predict when a player gets hurt, so bet on his success in 2019. His upside should equate to 250-plus Ks with an edge in wins and ERA. 

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RP/CL Nick Anderson

Anderson was a late-bloomer who worked his way through the minors as a semi-closer. His climb to the big leagues came in 2015 in the Independent League (0.65 ERA and 35 Ks over 27.2 innings). Over four seasons in the minors, he posted a 2.25 ERA and 232 Ks over 183.2 innings while converting 32 saves. After pitching well in April for Miami (2.08 ERA with two walks and 27 Ks over 13 innings), Anderson battled some confidence issues over his next 27 games (5.68 ERA). Tampa saw enough in his arm to make a move for him at the trade deadline in late July. After the All-Star break, his stuff looked closer-worthy (1.69 ERA and 51 Ks over 26.2 innings). Anderson had more of an advantage against righties (.183 BAA) than lefties (.250 BAA). His AFB (96.4) plays well in velocity, but batters did hit .265 against his heater (.224 after the All-Star break). He gets batters out with a plus slider (.137 BAA). His ADP (209) has him priced as a closing option for fantasy teams. Lots to like here and Tampa cleared the 9th inning for him to close in 2020 if Anderson can handle the job. Possible 40-plus saves with over 100 strikeouts.

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Use coupon code EDGE25 to receive 25% off your monthly season-long subscription. Shawn Childs is a 5-time high-stakes fantasy baseball national champ. Gain a cash-winning edge with FullTime Fantasy.

READ MORE: 2020 Tampa Bay Rays Team Outlook

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