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2015 Tampa Bay Rays Team Preview: Fantasy 30 For 30

The 2014 Tampa Bay Rays were an offensive black hole, but offered Fantasy owners a bounty of pitching options. Have the Rays big changes affected the Fantasy outlook?

Tampa Bay Rays Preview

The Tampa Bay Rays have become one of baseball’s most respected organizations through their reliance on pitching and defense. I just hope Fantasy owners remembered this, as their offense was a black hole with little to offer.

Jose Molina and Ryan Hanigan combined to hit .197. James Loney hit .290, but with little power. Ben Zobrist may be the king of WAR, but his overall line continued a slide toward mediocrity. Yunel Escobar was barely usable. The offensive woes were evn felt by Evan Longoria, whose 22 HRs and 91 RBIs were accompanied by a .253 average. Longoria was a Fantasy starter, but hardly earned his draft day cost. The outfield was just as desolate. Desmond Jennings looked an awful lot like the 2013 version and 2013 Rookie of the Year, Wil Myers was injured for much of the year and ineffective for the rest.

There was better news on the pitching front. Despite some early struggles David Price put up a career high in strikeouts and finished the year in Detroit. Alex Cobb was an ace when healthy and Chris Archer took another step forward. Jake Odorizzi was a bit inconsistent, but struck out over a batter an inning, and took away some of the hurt of losing Matt Moore to Tommy John surgery. Whatever the other Rays starters had, it must have been catching, as Drew Smyly put up a 1.70 ERA with 8.31 K/9 after joining the Rays.

The bullpen was a mixed bag with closer Grant Balfour and top setup man Joel Peralta completely disintegrating early in the season. Jake McGee seized the closing gig and dominated with 1.70 ERA and 90 Ks in 71.1 innings. Brad Boxberger came over from San Diego in a January trade, and after some early time in the minors completely dominated Major League hitters, with a K/9 of 14.47.

All that pitching helped Fantasy owners, but it didn’t get the Rays anywhere near the postseason, and they’ve spent the offseason going through some major changes.

2015 Tampa Bay Rays Team Preview

Projected “Go-To” Lineup

  1. CF Desmond Jennings
  2. DH John Jaso
  3. 3B Evan Longoria
  4. 1B James Loney
  5. LF Steven Souza
  6. RF Kevin Kiermaeir
  7. SS Asdrubal Cabrera
  8. C Rene Rivera
  9. 2B Nick Franklin

Projected Pitchers

Starting Rotation
  1. RHP Alex Cobb
  2. LHP Drew Smyly
  3. RHP Chris Archer
  4. RHP Jake Odorizzi
  5. RHP Alex Colome
  • LHP Matt Moore
  • RHP Nate Karns
  • RHP Kevin Jepsen (closer)
  • RHP Brad Boxberger (setup)
  • RHP Grant Balfour (setup)
  • RHP Ernesto Frieri (setup)
  • LHP Jake McGee (closer/DL)

2015 Tampa Bay Rays Fantasy Studs

Evan Longoria has had two disappointing seasons in a row, but it’s all relative. He still represents one of the better third basemen in Fantasy and he should be entering his prime. He’s slipping into the fourth and fifth rounds in early drafts and for the first time in a few years may be a value. Third base is deeper than some realize, but Longoria is young enough to still offer first round upside.

Alex Cobb the Ace?

Cobb doesn’t get a lot of hype in Fantasy circles, but his numbers the last two seasons are very solid. In each of those seasons he’s suffered a fluke injury unrelated to his arm or shoulder that limited his end of season numbers. If he can take the mound 33 times and get just a bit of run support we’ll be talking about Cobb as a Top-20 starter heading into 2016.

Breakout Candidate

The initial reaction to the David Price trade was largely negative, but it’s hard to argue with what Drew Smyly did once he arrived in Tampa. Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey has a way with pitchers and Smyly looks like the next in line. The kid gloves should be off for Smyly in 2015 and with 200 innings, he could be a very important member of Fantasy staffs in 2015.

Sleeper Candidate

2015 Team Previews: AL East
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A lot of baseball people see Steven Souza as a Quad-A player, but he offers a combination of power and speed that would look nice out of your fifth outfielder. His strikeout issues could limit the batting average, but Steamer has him projected for 18 HRs and 20 SBs.

The Rays should have him in left field to start the season and he should have some leash as there’s not really any competition for the left field job.

Bust Candidate

Fantasy-30-for-30-300x300Kevin Kiermaier got his big league start off to a bang and many Fantasy owners will be extrapolating his 2014 numbers out to a full season. You’re gonna have to pump the brakes a little though. Seven of his 10 homers came in his first 109 at-bats, with just two in the next 218. His high in the minor leagues was just six HRs in any one season. He also hit just .203 against left-handed pitching, which could force a platoon in 2015. Kiermaier has plus-plus speed, but really didn’t put it to use on the bases upon joining the Rays. Kiermaier makes a nice fourth outfield for Tampa Bay, but the Fantasy owners looking for more than that are going to be thoroughly disappointed.

Top Rookies: Steven Souza, Alex Colome

The Rays run of success has taken a toll on their once elite farm system. Just like Wil Myers before him, Souza was acquired from outside the organization. Souza may be the key to the Rays offense and is a decent late gamble in mixed leagues. Colome has plenty of stuff, and betting on a Tampa Bay pitcher to break through is not a bad idea. Save him for the reserve rounds, but do pay attention to his early results.

What Should We Know About the 2015 Tampa Bay Rays?

While it’s been billed as a fire sale, the Rays offseason moves may have improved the offense. If so that means better things from Longoria. Still the main draw for Fantasy owners is the pitching staff. The Rays are one of the few teams in baseball that can offer five Fantasy relevant starting pitchers and several elite options in the bullpen. If Matt Moore comes back strong in May, there’s even more Fantasy help.

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