Tampa Bay Bay RaysThe #8 World Ranked High Stakes Fantasy Baseball Player, Shawn Childs, breaks down every team to help you prep for your big draft!
Tampa Bay Bay Rays Team Projection
Tampa won 90 games or more for the 5th time in 6 years in 2013, but they failed to make it to the World Series. The Rays have made it to the playoffs four times in the last 6 years mainly due to a plus pitching staff.
1. OF Desmond Jennings
Last season, Jennings didn't turn into an impact player. His K rate (19.1%) improved slightly, but it is still below the major league average. He had a career high walk rate (10.6%). Last year, Desmond broke the middle finger on his left hand in early August, which cost him about 2 weeks of the season. Jennings went 22/63 (.349) in the first 15 games in July with 15 runs, 2 HR's, 10 RBI, and 6 SB's to push his average to a season high .271. He went into the All-Star break hitting .267 with 11 HR's with 38 RBI and 15 SB's in 88 games. Desmond was on a pace for a 20/71/27 season if he played 162 games. He just about died over the last 10 days in July and continued to struggle when he returned to the lineup in last August. Over a 30 game stretch, he hit under .200 with only 3 RBI's, which led to him being dropped in the batting order late in the year. Jennings showed growth against LH pitching (.299), but really struggled against righties (.231). Over the last couple of seasons, major league pitchers have thrown him less fastballs as they have had success getting him out with breaking pitches. Last year, he saw the most curveballs of his career (11.1%), so it looks like his weakness has been exposed. Jennings has the skill set to bat lead off with the exception of his high K rate. He has more upside in speed than power. Desmond has played 2 full seasons in the majors. His batting average will discount him slightly. Interesting skill set if he gets his batting average in line. Possible 15/25 season.
2. 2B Ben Zobrist
Overall, Zobrist's stats have declined in each of his last 2 seasons. Last year, he had a career high 168 hits, but had less doubles, triples, and HR's. Ben finished the year with 11 steals, which was his lowest total since 2008. He was only caught 3 times and Tampa stopped running last year, so it may have been just a change in team philosophy. His K rate (13.0%) was a career best, but his walk rate (10.3%) was a career low. His decline in power was a result of less success against LH pitching. Last year, he only hit 1 HR in 204 at bats against lefties. This led to him having his HR/FB rate (6.1%) drop by more than 50% from the 2 previous seasons. Zobrist was totally different batting 2nd (.332 in 214 at bats) and 3rd (.239 in 272 at bats). His lack of success hitting 3rd was the reason he had a career low RBI rate (14%). His average hit (AVH) dropped by more than a quarter of a hit. Ben gets a slight bump in value by qualifying at short. While he isn't an elite player and his upside is limited in both power and speed, he does have a 15/15 skill set with a slight edge in runs and RBI's for a middle infielder.
3. 3B Evan Longoria
After 2 injury plagued seasons, Longoria was finally able to put in a full season. His results were less than expected. He did deliver on his 30 HR potential, but was brutal with runners on base (13% RBI rate). His K rate (23.4%) was a career high and his walk rate (10.1%) was a career low. It almost looks like he was trying to do too much at the plate. Maybe he felt more pressure to hit HR's, which ended up hurting his upside. Tampa doesn't have great options hitting in front of him, but Jennings and Zobrist are capable of making a step forward. Just like Zobrist, he struggled when batting 3rd (.212 in 212 at bats - .303 in 380 at bats hitting 4th). Longoria has seen less fastballs in each of his last 3 seasons. Longoria is a very good major league hitter, but he hasn't developed into the elite bat I thought he would. He has three 30 HR season on his resume and has 40 HR upside if he was ever locked in for the whole year. For him to have upside in batting average, he needs to control the strike zone better. 2014 will be his best season ever in the majors.
4. OF Wil Myers
Myers made the step to the majors in June and handled himself pretty well. Wil hit the ground running in his first 142 at bats (.331 with 7 HR's and 27 RBI in 142 at bats). The league seemed to catch up with him in August (.209), but he was able to bounce back for a strong September (.308 with 4 HR's and 14 RBI). His K rate (24.4%) was higher than his minor league resume (21.2%). Myers was about the league average in walks (8.9%), but showed more upside in this area in the minors (12.2%). Wil had equal success against RH (.292) and LH (.294) pitching, although he was a little more selective against lefties. Last year, major league pitchers only threw him 49.6% fastballs, so they respect his ability to hit the heat. Myers is an exciting young power hitter with some underlying speed. His low contact rate may lead to some batting average risk. He will need to prove he can handle batting in the middle of the Rays lineup. High upside player if his approach at the plate improves. 30 HR upside, but his batting average will most likely fall under .270 in 2014.
5. 1B James Loney
After 2 months of 2013, it appeared Loney was ready to make a step forward in power. He hit .331 in April and May with 7 HR's and 28 RBI. James was on his way to a 80/20/80 season.Over the last 4 months, he only scored 27 runs with 6 HR's and 47 RBI in 374 at bats. His batting average looks nice, but his stats were a huge negative for a first baseman. Loney hit exactly the same against lefties and righties. Tampa decided to sign him to a 3 year, $21 million contract in December. He is a lock to get full time at bats. His lack of power was driven by a career low FB rate (29.4%) and a career high GB rate (45.8%). His low HR total was in line with his career resume. Loney did have a spike in his HR/FB rate (9.8% - highest since 2007). James has enough size where a spike in HR's is possible, but he may need a shot of OJ. The backend of the Rays lineup is pretty weak, so his run total will be weak again. His batting average will draw interest and he could have value as a fill in over the short term if you catch him when he is hitting for power. Without a change in his skill set, he will only have value in deep leagues as a possible DH.
6. OF Matt Joyce
Joyce played in 140 games last year, but only started 109 games. Last year, he had no value against LH pitching (.164). For his career, Matt is only hitting .194 against lefties. His walk rate (12.3%) remains in a good area and his K rate (18.1%) did make a step forward to league average. Joyce's batting average has been short in back to back seasons, but his skill set is high enough where he could be neutral in this area if his exposure to LH pitching is limited. Matt has power and will have some value in weeks when Tampa is facing a string of RH pitchers. His RBI rate (11%) was weak last season, but the entire Tampa team struggled with runners on base. You can expect about 15 HR's with 60 RBI in a 2/3 role for the Rays.
7. SS Yunel Escobar
The Braves were right on their evaluation of Escobar. He just isn't that good. His power has never taken a step forward and he has no speed. Yunel is tough to strikeout (11.3% K rate in his career - 12.6% in 2013), plus he is willing to take a walk (9.9%). His high GB rate (54.9%) is the main reason for his lack of upside in power. It has declined slightly over the past 2 seasons, but his FB rate is still below 30% (27.1% in 2013). Escobar has decent on base skills, so his batting average could become an asset. He won't hit for more power unless he changes his swing path.
8. C Ryan Hanigan
Tampa signed Hanigan to a 3 year, $10.75 million dollar contract in early December. Hanigan struggled with various injuries last season, but his time was numbered in Cinci with Mesoraco as their future catcher. Ryan has a very low K rate (10.1%) with a solid walk rate (12.0%). He has never had over 317 at bats in any season. Hanigan has low upside in power. His solid on base skills could lead to 400 at bats.
9. OF David DeJesus
Tampa signed DeJesus to a 2 year, $10.5 million contract in November. He will be the Rays starting left fielder only against RH pitching. Just like Joyce, he is brutal against lefties (.153 in 150 at bats in 2012 and 2013 with only 3 extra base hits). His K rate (18.0%) was a career high and he is only around the league average in terms of taking walks. David has never hit over 13 HR's in any season and his career high in steals is 11. His batting average has been a negative in 3 straight seasons. I expect him to hit 9th for Tampa this season, but he has no fantasy value.
10. C Jose Molina
His bat never showed up in the regular season (.233 with 2 HR's and 18 RBI in 283 at bats), so Tampa added Hanigan in the offseason. Molina is very good defensive catcher, but he will be lucky to get 200 at bats this year. He re-signed with Tampa in November.
11. MI Sean Rodriguez
He is slowly fading off into the sunset. His value has declined in each of the past 3 seasons. His next stop will be taking the trash out for Jon Deming at scoutPRO. Last year, his K rate (26.6%) was a career high. At best, he will see at bats in the OF against LH pitching and add depth in the infield.
12. 3B James Darnell
Tampa signed him to a minor league contract in the offseason. He has struggled with shoulder injuries over the past 2 seasons in the minors. In the low minors, he showed solid on base skills with upside power. Possible RH power option against lefties in the OF.
13. OF Jerry Sands
After showing upside in power at AAA in 2011 and 2012 (55 HR's and 195 RBI), Jerry was a no show in the minors in 2013 (.212 with 9 HR's and 37 RBI in 354 at bats). His skill set may work well with the structure of the Rays. He has a very good chance of being a starter against LH pitching. If he plays well, he may work his way into more at bats. The Rays released him from their 40 man roster in early January, but he should land back on the team with a minor league contact.