Evaluating the Tampa Bay Rays

As a fan of the Tampa Bay Rays, you know that many faces will come and go. You realize your team is special and they work magic out of the resources that they have. This 2013 season will be no different, and the new faces (as well as a few returning faces) got me thinking–if what has happened in the past with having talented players play multiple positions has allowed this team to be one of the best out there…. what in the world is going to happen when they have made a few signings to include an actual shortstop and have one of the the best prospects in MLB? The answer is, as always, magic.

Luke Scott – After the team said goodbye to Johnny Damon–one of my all-time favorite players–following the 2011 season, Luke Scott was signed to handle the DH role. To say his 2012 season was a disappointment, not because of performance but because of injuries, is an understatement. Yet, even though Scott missed signifant playing time due to his injuries, he still managed to smack in 14 HRs. I was excited to see Scott re-sign with the team for 2013 because I know what he is capable of–he was on the Orioles for four seasons and played us enough! This spring, it has also been reported that Scott is doing drills in Left Field, which shows us that his right shoulder is good-to-go after undergoing surgery in 2011. I am confident that his bat will be hot this season and that he will again be cranking in twenty-plus HRs.

Wil Myers – Starting in Right Field for the team’s first ST game?! Yes. Wil Myers has all of us Rays fans excited. While we did have to trade away two of our beloved players–Shields and Davis–we got in return some great young talent; Myers included. People keep questioning if he is ready to be on the Opening Day roster, and while some say no, there are just as many that say yes. Myers has over a .300 batting average over his first four seasons in the minors. Compared to other players on the Rays, this batting average is significantly higher. Now I know, I know, I know… numbers change when you get in the Big Leagues, but he has shown consistency over these four seasons with his hitting and that is a much needed attribute. When compared to Mike Trout’s minor league numbers over four seasons, Myers’ batting average is only slightly less. However, Mike Trout made only three errors in the minors whereas Wil Myers has made over eighteen. With the loss of BJ Upton after the 2012 season, the Rays can’t afford little mistakes. I, personally, would send Myers to Durham, see what happens over the first month and evaluate if there is a desperate need for his bat in Tampa Bay. Lots of potential with this kid, and I can’t wait to watch!

Roberto Hernandez – Many are saying that after watching Hernandez, they believe he will fill the 4th of 5th spot in the rotation this season. Now do you understand what that means? That means losing either Jeff Niemann or Alex Cobb as a starter. Niemann only started eight games last season due to an injury, but posted a 3.08 ERA and was having a pretty good start. Alex Cobb was added to the rotation to fill the slot and posted a 4.03 ERA with 23 games pitched. Then you have Roberto Hernandez, a player who pitched three games last year for the Indians with a very ugly 7.53 ERA. Nonetheless, we trust in our coaches and know that we have the BEST pitching staff in all of baseball–so if they say Hernandez is ready… we know he is ready. When asked about Hernandez’s projected role, Maddon said: “We will treat him as a starter right now.” It should also be noted that Hernandez is slated to start one of the first games for the team during ST.

Fernando Rodney – 2012’s feel good story. Major League Baseball’s Delivery Man of the Year and Comeback Player of the Year. Rodney even earned one first place vote for the American League Cy Young–which went to teammate David Price. 48 saves, 0.60 ERA, played in 76 games… these stats will be almost impossible to replicate. Mind you, HE HAS THE LOWEST ERA IN BASEBALL HISTORY. Rodney made the 2012 team what it was, and he will be one of the most important pitching pieces for the 2013 season as well.

Yunel Escobar – There’s no way to put a blinder over everyone and shield them from Escobar’s past. We all know what happened. Yet, the Rays are very confident that with the relaxed and friendly atmosphere in Tampa Bay, Escobar will thrive. He is a decent hitter, and plays in a lot of games–his numbers give hope to both the Rays’ offense and defense. It is also refreshing to think that the team has an official shortstop–something we haven’t had in a few seasons since Jason Bartlett departed. “Personally, I’m looking forward to this a lot, not a little bit,” Maddon said. “This guy can really be the linchpin to our success. To get a shortstop of that caliber is not easy to do. I think he’s capable of being the All-Star shortstop. I think he’s capable of a Gold Glove. So from Day One, I want him to start thinking in that direction. And for all those different reasons we like him.” (quote credit: MLB.com)

Kelly Johnson – There will be no time for fans to get over seeing the number 2 associated with BJ Upton, as Kelly Johnson will be wearing the number in 2013. This is the first time since 2006–that’s the span of seven seasons–that someone else will be adorned with the number. Johnson is also only the fifth player in franchise history to wear the number 2. Aside from this jersey-wearing talk, Johnson has played in an average of 147.6 games each season since 2010, so having a reliable second baseball could be quite the difference maker for Tampa Bay. This is not to say that Ryan Roberts won’t share time on the bag. Both players have very similar stats–and Roberts was used in multiple positions as an infielder last season. Would you start Roberts or Johnson if you were Joe Maddon?

James Loney – A Los Angeles Dodger traded to the Boston Red Sox during the epic trade that sent Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Nick Punto and Adrian Gonzalez to LA. While James Loney may not have the relationship with fans that Carlos Pena had–I personally witnessed ‘Los traveling in elevators at the field with fans to surprise them–he comes with a lot less strikeouts. Should the Rays make the postseason, Loney can lend the team some valuable experience (appeared in the postseason 2006, 2008, 2009). Loney has stated that he felt that his timing was off and affected his swing last season, while former manager Joe Torre praised Loney’s defense and added that Loney’s bat is somewhat of a mystery. I personally think Tampa Bay will provide a positive environment to help Loney increase his batting stats.

Of coarse, the Rays’ first Spring Training game takes place tomorrow–so this is a very early prediction–but for the starting rotation, I feel like it could go down as follows:

1. David Price
2. Jeremy Hellickson
3. Matt Moore
— (This is where things could flip a little)
4. Jeff Niemann
5. Roberto Hernandez

This rotation is really anyones guess for the last two slots–as I have it now, this would eliminate Alex Cobb from the starting rotation which I don’t feel is a good thing. The kid proved to be a workhorse last season, even pitching two complete games. He’s got great stuff. It also notably leaves out Chris Archer who is a very talented young pitcher in the organization. After being called up last season, Archer was also used as a pinch runner because of his speed. The Rays do not have a shortage of starting pitchers. As we learned last season, every player is capable of still having their best season to date when they land in Tampa Bay because of the special coaches and environment the team provides them with. Fernando Rodney became the new version of Cinderella in 2012, so who is to say that the same cannot happen for Roberto Hernandez? The end of ST will show us all of the answers we’re looking for now with this starting rotation.