2020 MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL PREVIEW: TAMPA BAY RAYS
2019 RECORD: 96-66
MANAGER: ERIK NEANDER
FIVE YEAR WINNING TREND:
Somehow the Tampa Bay Rays always find a way to produce winning baseball teams. They could not have been more pleased with how the 2019 season turned out with 96 wins and making it to the playoffs for the first time in six seasons with a core of young players. The organization was able to shed players from their previous roster and developed new players that became impact players immediately.
The 2020 Tampa Bay baseball team may not look like the 2019 team because the organization continues to tinker with the roster each season. They continually look at ways they can make their team better by looking at the younger players in their organization. They weren’t afraid to allow catcher Travis d’Arnaud and outfielder Avisail Garcia to sign elsewhere in the off-season. They also traded their best offense of player in Tommy Pham to San Diego. They feel confident enough to sign Japan power hitter Yoshitomo Tsutsugo to a $12 million deal.
Despite all the deals Tampa Bay believes they have enough depth and flexibility to put another winning product on the field in 2020.
Tampa Bay believes their starters, when healthy, are as good as anyone in the American League. They are excited and optimistic about Charlie Morton, Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, Ryan Yarbrough and Yanny Chirinos. Morton made a career-high 33 starts, working 194.2 innings and won 16 games. His ERA was a career – low 3.05. Getting anything close to those numbers in 2020 will keep Tampa Bay near the top of the American League East. Snell missed time in April because of a broken toe, then missed two months to have loose bodies removed from his elbow before returning in September. Glasnow got off to a great start last season before a right forearm strain in mid – May sent him to the injured list until early September. Yarbrough and Chinrinos won 11 and nine games respectively last season. Others who will get a look include Jalen Beeks, Brendan McKay and Trevor Richards.
Many in baseball thought that Tampa Bay’s bullpen was a huge weakness going into the 2019 season. That turned out to be completely false. The Rays got impressive performances from Emilio Pagan, who emerged as the closer, Diego Castillo, who was dominant in the second half of the season, and Nick Anderson who was acquired from Miami in late July. Anderson was perhaps the most dominant pitcher out of the bullpen in August and September. Tampa Bay is counting on all three again this season. Rounding out the bullpen will include Oliver Drake, Chaz Roe, Peter Fairbanks and Colin Poche. Tampa Bay had the major league best 3.66 bullpen ERA from August 1 to the end of the season.
Willy Adames emerged as a top, front line shortstop after making vast improvements on his defense. He ranked first among shortstops in defensive runs saved. Adames was also productive at the plate with 20 home runs. Brandon Lowe was impressive enough in the first half of the season to earn an American League All-Star berth, then missed the next three months due to a leg injury. Tampa Bay is hoping he will be healthy enough to regain his solid performance early last season. They will also count on Joey Wendle and Daniel Robertson as platoon options.
After Adames, Ji-Man Choi made the biggest impact last season. He hit 261, 19 homeruns, 63 RBI and had a .822 OPS in his first full major league season. He was very solid in the field as well. Yandy Diaz appears to be Tampa Bay’s third baseman of the future with Tsutsugo getting a look as a possible backup. Robertson along with Mike Brosseau will be expected to get time at third base as well.
Garcia and Pham are gone and that leaves a huge question mark in the Tampa Bay outfield. Austin Meadows had a breakout season, but had only 86 starts in the 2019 season. Meadows has the potential to be very solid as a left-handed hitter. Centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier won his third Gold Glove but started only 117 games because of an injury. This is the fourth straight season he has missed time. Tampa Bay acquired Hunter Renfro in the deal for Pham. Renfro will be more of a platoon player than a starter every day. Needless to say, this is an area of concern going into the 2020 season.
The Rays re—signed Mike Zunino after losing d’Arnaud to free agency. Zunino must improve his offense after hitting just .165 in 2019. Michael Perez was expected to be the starter in 2019 until he was sidelined by injuries. Tampa Bay doesn’t have a solid third option going into the season.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
34….. Strikeouts by reliever Nick Anderson before allowing his first walk.
10…… Consecutive seasons Tampa Bay has had a pitcher named to the All-Star team.
8…… Wins by Tampa Bay at Fenway Park, the most by visiting team since 1966.
3…… Players who remained on the active roster the entire 2019 season.
.165….. Career – low batting average by Mike Zunino, the third lowest in the majors with at least 200 at – bats.
0……. Pictures in Tampa Bay’s history prior to Ryan Yarbrough in 2018 – 19 to post double – digit wins in their first two years in the majors.
.164….. Opponents had only a .164 wOBA against Tyler Glasnow’s curveball, the second lowest of any starter in the majors.
.345….. Mike Brosseau’s BABIP, major-league baseball’s largest difference between batting average and expected batting average.
WHAT THE SCOUTS ARE SAYING:
Never count out Tampa Bay. They are a well – run organization and they get there players to buy into the system. Trading Tommy Pham was a huge surprise, but they may have gotten a future star in Xavier Edwards. They seem to get the best out of players that aren’t expected to make a major impact. They are hoping they can do the same for Hunter Renfro. If Glasnow is healthy, Tampa Bay has a top three in their rotation that can stay with anybody in the American League. Look for Brendan McKay to have a breakout season. Emilio Pagan was a great find as the closer. Nick Anderson will be used more in late inning ball games if Pagan falters. Keep an eye on Wander Franco, who is only 19, but is a special talent.
If major-league baseball is played this season, keep an eye on Tampa Bay. They unexpectedly 196 games last season, and if healthy they could be well on their way to challenging the Yankees in the American League East. They may not have enough to win the division, but a wildcard spot is definitely a possibility.
SS Wander Franco
LHP/DH Brendan McKay
LHP Matt Liberatore
2B/SS Vidal Brujan
2B/SS Xavier Edwards
RHP Shane Baz
RHP Brent Honeywell
C Ronaldo Hernandez
RHP Joe Ryan
OF Josh Lowe