There has been a lot of Rays baseball activity already this offseason, but none has been player related. The general manager and manager (a title that somehow seems even more general than general manager) have left. Not much changes for us fantasy baseball folk besides potentially more day-to-day lineup consistency. Will these changes impact player performance? There is no way that we can tell; thus, there is nothing to additionally factor into our valuations.
As far as the roster, the Rays have again traded away an expiring, expensive-via-arbitration ace in David Price for cheaper, more controllable assets. The always cash strapped Rays could also be looking to trade Matt Joyce and Jeremy Hellickson for cheaper, more controllable assets this offseason.
Beyond pitching turnover, the Rays saw some changes in reliever usage and the offense as whole took a step back, but what does all this mean for 2015?
A note for our readers. While informative, since we are still months away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, these previews are far from definitive or complete. Free agent signings, trades, and other offseason news will change the landscape for most if not all teams. For any moves that take place after a team preview is written, please look to our Transaction Analysis coverage for instant reactions, and then check back on the Team Previews for more detailed updates (including lineups, rotations, bullpens, etc.) as we get closer to Opening Day.
Another note for our readers. The characterizations below (for example, “stud”) are designed to be taken in context for each team. Not every team has a Mike Trout or Giancarlo Stanton, so the “stud” category represents the best player or players on each team, not necessarily in comparison to the league.
Evan Longoria – 3B
In 2014, Longoria performed below expectations. However, besides Josh Donaldson, so too did the other top third basemen. The good news is that Longoria is not as old as he seems (just turned 29) and he played in 160 games in 2013 and 162 games in 2014. Put differently, Longoria has stomped out the injury prone label. The bad news is that Longoria swung a lot more in 2014 at both pitches inside and outside the strike zone. This is bad news because it resulted in more contact, which led to fewer walks, strikeouts, fly balls, and home runs.
Given all this, Longoria still hit 22 home runs to go along with 83 runs and 91 runs batted in. While we have probably already seen his peak, I would not be surprised to see a bounce back in 2015 via reversion to his 2011-2013 approach at the plate.
Alex Cobb – SP
Over the past two seasons, when Cobb has played, he has been great. The only flaw in his sub-3.00 ERAs, 55 percent-or-higher ground-ball rates, and 2.97-plus K:BB ratios, is that they only spanned the 143 1/3 and 166 1/3 innings Cobb pitched in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Relatedly, Cobb’s stuff is filthy. It is my opinion that his concussion via a line drive to the head in 2013 and an oblique strain in 2014 do not raise any additional injury flags for 2015. I would be ecstatic to acquire Cobb anywhere that he is being discounted for durability concerns or, really, any other concerns.
Jeremy Hellickson – SP
Poor Jeremy. First, loose bodies in his elbow required surgery, and then he is deemed a dud by somebody on the internet. I do not think anyone expects much of anything from Hellickson in 2015, but many will take a late round flyer or spend a couple auction dollars on him. If it were my draft slot or my auction dollars, my guess is that there will be many other options that I would rather take a chance on than Hellickson. Why? Because taking a risk on a player with the hopes that he returns to form with that form being a state where he significantly outperforms his peripherals just does not do it for me.
Up and Coming
Wil Myers – OF
2014 was not a good season for Wil Myers. He missed 70 games because of a fractured wrist and played poorly prior to and after the injury. Still, Myers remains an exciting talent who only turns 24 in December. If we want to look at his past statistics, then we can pretty much see whatever indications for the future we want to see – good, bad, and in between. This is where I have learned to defer to scouting reports and the last I can find, the tools are still there for Myers. Throw in his past successes at making adjustments during his ascent to the majors and my belief is that Myers’s 2015 season better resembles his 2013 than his 2014 season.
Chris Archer – SP
I love Chris Archer, so instead of giving my probably biased take, I asked BP's Rays expert, R.J. Anderson, for his take on Archer. Specifically I asked if, "what we've seen is who [Archer] will be or do you think he takes another step forward (improved command, improved changeup, etc.)?" Anderson’s response:
"I do think Archer has room to grow. There were stretches last season where he showed improved command and looked on the verge of emerging. Alas, he'd then cancel those gains with a shaky few starts, causing him to start all over again. It wouldn't surprise me if he progresses in 2015. Remember, last season was his first full year in the majors, so he's still a baby in many ways. He's absolutely got the stuff, athleticism, and intelligence to be a very good starter; better than last year's numbers suggest."
What You See is What You Get
Ben Zobrist – 2B/SS/OF
Pitchers attacked Zobrist with hard stuff more frequently in 2014 than in any season since 2008. The result: Zobrist posted the highest ground ball rate on hard stuff of his career. The result of this result: unless Zobrist can speed his bat back up, I think he is destined to be in 10-15 home-run range in 2015 as he is simply not hitting enough fly balls to be around 20 home runs. I think he will still be the useful, five category contributor in 2015 that he has been in the past, but I am not going to pay a premium to take a chance on home run upside that probably is not there.
James Loney – 1B
When the Rays signed Loney, they somewhat famously let him be the hitter he is (as opposed to the Dodgers, who allegedly tried to get him to be a power hitter). Consequently, Loney has been who he is. He definitely is not relevant in some shallower formats, but he can be a satisfactory fill in when needed. In deeper formats, he can contribute a little bit everywhere, while providing a plus in batting average.
Desmond Jennings – OF
Jennings almost made the duds category, but I do not think anyone is still dreaming on the prospects of the once enticing prospect. While the power never came to fruition due to low fly ball rates (and a lack of power), the decline of his base -tealing tool has been the biggest disappointment. After posting a fantastic 31 stolen bases and two caught stealings in 2012, Jennings went 20-for-28 and 15-for-21 in 2013 and 2014, respectively. All in all, Jennings is “what we see,” not the fantasy star we hoped for, but a useful role player.
Jake McGee – CL/RP
McGee is one of the top relievers in baseball and 2014 was arguably his best year yet. Consequently, if McGee breaks camp as the closer he is a stud (or if you are in a holds leagues he is a stud regardless), but the chances of the Rays bringing in a veteran to hold down the ninth and, more importantly, decrease McGee’s arbitration case make him an X-factor. If McGee is not the closer when camp breaks, then he will only be AL-only and deep mixed league relevant.
Drew Smyly – SP
One of, if not the, headlining return in the David Price trade, Smyly did not disappoint in his seven starts for the Rays. After putting up a 3.93 ERA with the Tigers, Smyly put up a 1.70 ERA with the Rays. The results jibed with reports that the Rays had made some changes to Smyly’s pitch usage. Do I think that Tampa Bay with its home run suppressing environment makes Smyly a no. 3 fantasy starter? No, but I do think it makes him a four or five with some upside.
Jake Odorizzi – SP
Odorizzi’s 168 innings of stellar walk and strikeout rates make him an X-Factor. The strikeouts largely come from his split-change that he just began throwing last year. While the control has always been good, Odorizzi’s effectiveness really comes down to his ability to command his fastball. When he does command it, he gets ahead in counts and is able to put hitters away with the split-change. When he does not command his pretty hittable four-seam fastball, it gets hit. He is certainly a player to watch in spring training, because if he demonstrates improved command, then we are going to want to grab him (which means he will be deemed a sleeper, which means he will not be a sleeper because the market will adjust, but still, he is a player to be excited about).
Matt Joyce – OF
After three straight high years of high-teens home runs, Joyce only managed nine in 140 games last year. On top of that, Joyce was down to two stolen bases (and five caught stealing). He is almost certain to be traded, so where he ends up and what his role will be will dictate his value. I do think that he is more likely to give us 15 home runs in 2015 than single digit output of 2014.
Kevin Kiermaier – OF
Kiermaier ended up being a very nice pick up for owners that grabbed off the waiver wire last season. That said, I do not think he carries his 13 percent HR:FB rate from 2014 into 2015. This makes him a high-single-digit steals play if the playing time is there for him. If it is, he still probably is only a $1-$5 player.
Yunel Escobar – SS
I’ll say this, “it ain’t optimal.” But if you have ever played in an AL-only, you are going to occasionally need to use players like Escobar and have probably even been in situations where you wish you had a player like Escobar. He is another “what you see is what you get” player, that being a batting average that will not hurt you and below average, albeit non-zero, production everywhere else.
Nick Franklin – 2B
While freed from being stuck behind Robinson Cano and being unable to play shortstop, Franklin has not shown enough during his time in the big leagues that he is anything more than an AL-only play. Yes, he mashes when in the minors, but strikeouts have been trouble for him in the majors. While he certainly has the pedigree to be mixed league relevant, I am probably not going to be the one betting on it in 2015.
Brad Boxberger – RP
Boxberger was an under the radar (more specifically, under some radars) relief ace in 2014. A 94-mph fastball is nothing special from a right-handed reliever, but Boxberger’s is very difficult to pick up and, when paired with his devastating changeup, becomes a true swing and miss generator. He racked up 104 strikeouts in 64.2 innings with a 2.37 ERA.
Prospects for 2015
Nathan Karns – SP
Karns has a mid-90s fastball and a power curve that touches 87 mph. If his changeup can be average and if he can hone is command and control, then he has a chance to be starter. While he could seemingly be an impact arm out of the bullpen, he currently seems to be the next man up for some starts—ahead of the two more reliever-like starting pitching prospects that follow. On top of that, if he does stick as starter, it means something is working and likely makes him fantasy relevant.
Alex Colome – P
He has plus stuff, below-average command, and a tuft of chin hair, which makes a future as a reliever likely for Colome. That said, he could certainly be an impact arm out of the bullpen.
Enny Romero – P
We got more of the same from Enny Romero in 2014, where he deployed, and stop me if you have heard this before, plus stuff and below average command. Jeff Moore noted in September 9th Minor League Update that while Romero has made some strides with his command, he did not “miss enough barrels” to stick as starter. With McGee potentially closing and Cesar Ramos being traded to the Angels, Romero could end up being Tampa’s top lefty out of the pen at some point in 2015.