The Tampa Rays have some good starting pitching on their 40 man roster. Some experts rate the Rays rotation as a top 3 staff in the AL after Seattle and Cleveland. After spending the past four weeks thoroughly analyzing the Red Sox, Orioles, Yankees and Blue Jays I found there is not a clear cut favorite to win the division, let alone a Wild Card spot. The question in Tampa is just how far that young hard throwing rotation can take them. The Rays won over 90 games in five of the six seasons prior to falling to 77-85 in 2014. I find it hard to believe that a team can be improved after subtracting David Price, Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce and James Shields the year prior, as well as Joe Maddon who is widely thought of as one of the best managers in MLB. I think 81-81 is the best they’ll be able to do and it won’t be enough to get them into the post season. If the injured pitchers have setbacks or Evan Longoria cannot anchor the offense I could see the Rays having trouble making it to 77 wins again.
The offense is seriously lacking thump and direction outside of Longo, and the same can be said for the bullpen where as many as 6 relievers could be closing games in April. Of bigger concern is that three of their top starting pitchers will not even be on the opening day 25 man roster. Matt Moore, arguably the best pitcher on the staff, is coming back from major surgery and is not going to be ready until June. Alex Cobb and Drew Smyly are also battling elbow and shoulder tendinitis respectively and will not be ready for Opening Day. The projected 5th starter Alex Colome was delayed with Visa problems and arrived at camp with pneumonia leaving him likely to start on the DL as well. All four of these pitchers are throwing off mounds as of this weekend so I’d expect we’ll see all of them fairly soon, other than Moore, barring a setback. This leaves Chris Archer to start Opening Day followed by rookie Nathan Karns, Jake Odorizzi and newly acquired Erasmo Ramirez until a 5th starter is needed in mid April.
Alex Cobb, SP: Cobb is 27 this season and I believe he has the makeup of an Ace. He is not going to be a lights out 200k SP, though I can see him delivering great ratios and a decent enough strikeout total once he gets up to 200 innings. The 200 innings may be the hard part as he has averaged about 140 IP in both the majors and minors, topping out at nearly 170 last season. He has elbow tendinitis which is never a good thing, though he is throwing off a mound and expected back in April. He sported a sub 3.00 ERA in each of the last two seasons. Health permitting I see a 15-10 win, 180k season, with a sub 3.00 ERA and sub 1.20 WHIP. Not bad for the AL East. He’ll go fairly early in drafts.
Chris Archer, SP: This 26 year old finally started delivering on the promise he showed as a 17 year old when the Rays first signed him. He’ll get you strikeouts and a decent ERA. Until he stops giving away nearly four BB9 he’ll struggle to deliver a good WHIP or go deep enough into games to gather a lot of W’s. I think he is higher on many people’s draft lists than he is on mine. With neither Cobb or Moore ready to start the season Archer will draw the Opening Day start.
Jake Odorizzi, SP: It is not often that a top prospect is traded twice before reaching the majors. Odorizzi has been in trades for Zack Greinke & James Shields in his career and may be close to realizing that potential. He is only 25 and is already putting up elite K-Rates. Like many young pitchers he needs to get the walks down and show he can throw 200 innings before he can be ranked higher than a middle of the pack Major League pitcher. I’m not afraid to own him if my SPs are not set by the time his name comes up. Oh, and he is healthy.
Drew Smyly, SP: Smyly will miss the beginning of the season suffering from shoulder tendinitis. He’s throwing off a mound and due back in late April or early May. I’ve always liked Smyly as a good breakout candidate with high strikeout potential. Like the other pitchers on this list he has never pitched more than 150 innings. He had a great stretch of seven games after last season’s Price trade and is only 25. He just needs to get healthy. Draft him late, but don’t reach.
Erasmo Ramirez, SP: The Rays traded for him from the Mariners because of all the late starts this staff will have. I don’t see anything fantasy worthy here other than a match-up play.
Matt Moore, SP: Moore has already pitched like an Ace going 17-4 with a 3.29 ERA in 2013 after winning 11 games in his rookie season. In the minors he twice struck out over 200 batters in just 150 innings. The problem is that he has never pitched a lot of innings, averaging about 150 innings for his major and minor league career. Now he’s had his “Right of Passage” Tommy John Surgery, which cost him the 2014 season. The Rays will probably not see him until the middle of this season. He’s a great stash in keeper leagues or leagues with large benches. It is hard to gauge where to draft him in re-draft and shallower leagues. You’ll probably not be able to wait and get him off the wire as someone will surely draft him or grab him early off waivers.
Nathan Karns, SP: Karns was named to the Opening Day rotation and will finally get his chance in the Bigs after a cup of coffee each of the past two seasons. He is a high strikeout pitcher averaging at least a K per inning and like many young pitchers needs to cut his walk rate by at least a third. He’s had a quality ERA every year but 2014, his first above AA, when he sported an ERA over 5.00 and a 1.41 WHIP. He’s 27 and worth watching. I just can’t imagine him being a draft day target.
Alex Colome, SP: Alex was the likely #5 starter and still may be once the Rays need one. He was delayed by visa problems and then showed up with pneumonia. He is throwing off a mound now, but he is behind the other healthy pitchers in camp. He should not be on anyone’s draft radar.
Burch Smith, SP: One of the prizes from the Myers trade, Smith has a lot of potential. He’s also caught the tendinitis bug that seems to be going around Tampa’s camp and missed most of 2014 with a forearm strain. He will likely spend 2015 in AAA, though he could get the call if things change. The Rays want to be careful with him and would rather he start every 5 days in AAA than pitch out of the Rays pen. Keep an eye on him in standard leagues. He should already be owned in Dynasties.
Jake Mcgee, Grant Balfour, Brad Boxberger, Kevin Jepsen, Ernesto Frieri, Jeff Beliveau, etc : This is a quality group of relievers who have all had some measure of success in the major leagues, many of them as closers. McGee is not due back until May or June after elbow surgery. First year manager Kevin Cash has not, and will not, name a closer and that is smart at this point. The strategy I would employ on this group is to draft as many of them late as possible and see what happens. I’m not looking for saves out of this bunch because I don’t want to waste one of my closer slots on any of them. In leagues that count holds all of these pitchers have value, I’ll grab a few hoping to catch some saves along the way. If I had to predict save totals for this bunch I’d say 12, 12, 12, 2, 6, 0 in the order listed above unless one grabs the role and runs with it, which is always possible. Don’t think you know the closer because you don’t.
Offense: Other than Even Longoria and Desmond Jennings there is not a lot of known fantasy value in this lineup unless you are in deep leagues or like to play platoon matchups.
1. John Jaso, DH: This would not be the first time that a concussion prone ex-catcher who is now a DH and doesn’t hit lefties very well bats leadoff. Is it? I’m skeptical, of course. But,if this experiment works Jaso’s catcher eligibility may give him value. He is watch list material.
2. Steven Souza, RF: He quietly had a good season in AAA for the Nats prior to becoming part of the Rays haul from the Myers trade. He’s got five plus tools and reminds me of a young Shane Victorino or possibly Jason Werth. He turns 26 right after the season starts so the next two seasons should go a long way toward defining his career. I’ve seen him go very early in drafts and I’ll probably regret not researching him more this off season.
3. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS: I thought his days of being a top of the order force were long over. I still do. He’d make for a good end game MI if you still need one late in your draft.
4. Evan Longoria, 3b: I think Longoria is undervalued in fantasy this season after the worst season of his career. I hope I am right. He is only 29 and had an OPS greater than .850 every season prior to 2014. I don’t think he forgot how to hit or lost his power and I look for a big rebound back to being a 30 HR, 100 RBI and an .850 OPS. There are not many 3b who can post those numbers, nor are there many hotter baseball wives than NFL Cheerleader & Mrs Longoria, Jamie Edmonson.
5. James Loney, 1b: He is nothing more than a safe batting average place holder if you lose a corner infielder, though he plays every day.
6. Desmond Jennings, LF: The Rays need a big rebound from Jennings and have eased his load by pulling him from the leadoff spot and CF. He does not get on base or steal enough to be an ideal leadoff hitter anyway. He is only 28 and still has a chance to be the Carl Crawford type hitter the Rays envisioned when they traded Crawford.
7. Kevin Kiermaier, CF: I’m not sure what to expect from a guy who seemed to burst out of no where last season. He had a good hitting stretch when he first came up before tailing off as the season went on. He did not flash brilliant stats in the minors, although his stellar defense should keep him in the lineup so we can see what this 24 year old can do. Watch list material.
8. Rene Rivera, C: This could be where one can find some value in this lineup as Rivera may go undrafted or go very late. He may be capable of better than average hitting stats for a catcher and give you double digit HRs, some RBIs and a decent BA if he moves up in the order. I’d certainly use him in two catcher leagues or see him as the first injury replacement off the wire if he is not drafted.
9. Logan Forsythe, Nick Franklin, Tim Beckham, 2b: Not much to talk about here, though anything can happen.
Prospects: This was already a young team and it got even younger with the trades of Myers, Price and Zobrist. Here is some more of that haul.
Daniel Robertson, SS: Already considered a top ten SS prospect, Robertson came from the A’s in the Zobrist trade. He’s got power to all fields and jacked a few homers this spring before being sent down. He may not have the range for SS and with the big hole at 2b he could move there.
Willy Adames, SS: Adames is only 19 and came in the David Price trade. Though he is not nearly MLB ready, he has drawn praise for his fielding and has the tools to hit. He is one to keep an eye on.
Justin O’Connor, C: O’connor is a top five catching prospect with big raw power, a selective eye at the plate, and has a reputation for being tremendous defensively. We should see him soon and then all the comparisons can start.
Next week I’ll start talking about news and current events from the teams in the AL East from both a MLB and fantasy perspective. It should be fun and I hope to see you then.
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Major League Fantasy Sports Radio Show: Join Ej Garr and Corey D Roberts on Sunday April 12th from 7-8:30pm EST for this week’s episode of Major League Fantasy Sports radio sponsored by the Sports Palooza Radio network. We will take live callers at 646.915.8596