MADISON, March 21, 2014 — Over the next few weeks this column will unveil MLB Power Rankings starting with the weakest team and working towards the strongest. Today the process continues by looking at number 7, the Tampa Bay Rays.
2013 Record: 92-71 with a +54 run differential.
Key Additions: C Ryan Hanigan, RHP Heath Bell, OF Jerry Sands and RHP Grant Balfour
Key Losses: RHP Juan Oviedo, OF Sam Fuld, LHP Wesley Wright, RHP Justin Choate, RHP Fernando Rodney, IF Kelly Johnson and RHP Kyle Farnsworth
Projected 2014 Lineup:
OF David DeJesus
2B Ben Zobrist
3B Evan Longoria
OF Wil Myers
DH Matt Joyce
1B James Loney
OF Desmond Jennings
SS Yunel Escobar
C Ryan Hanigan
Projected 2014 Rotation:
Chris Archer/Erik Bedard
Best Case: The Rays jump out to an early lead in the AL East and stay there through the trade deadline so the team keeps LHP David Price for one more run at the postseason. Evan Longoria posts the career year everyone has been waiting for with great defense and a .295/.385/.545 slash line, and the writers vote him AL MVP over a more deserving Mike Trout. Wil Myers makes Royals fans cry as he posts a .290/.360/.500 slash line with 35 HR’s.
Jeremy Hellickson bounces back and sees his BABIP allowed drop back into the .260 allowing him to go back to being an above average starter. Matt Moore makes a leap forward logging 200 innings while seeing his strikeout percentage climb to 28% and walk rate drop to 7.5%. Grant Balfour steps in as closer and does provides stability at the back of the bullpen after an up and down year from the departed Fernando Rodney in 2013. The Rays lead the AL East wire to wire clinching the division a week early allowing them to set their rotation for the playoffs.
Worst Case: The Rays open the season cold and fall behind the Red Sox, Yankees and Orioles leading GM Andrew Friedman to trade David Price in May to try and maximize the return. Evan Longoria produces some of the best rate stats of his career, but is limited by injury to just 76 games.
Jeremy Hellickson again struggles as his line drive rate and hits per nine innings are similar to last year. Erik Bedard is injured early and Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi fail to step up leaving the back end of the rotation ineffective. The Rays win 82 games and finish fourth in the AL East.
Prospect Watch: The Rays do not seem to currently have a top-flight prospect along the lines of David Price, Wil Myers or Matt Moore, but the cupboard is far from bare. Taylor Guerrieri, a right-handed starter, spent last year in A ball throwing 67 innings with 51 K’s and a 2.01 ERA is typically the highest ranked on prospect lists but is a couple years away. The Rays have LHP Enny Romero and RHP Jake Odorizzi, who are much closer to the majors and could help the big club this year, while last year’s first round pick, RHP Ryne Stanek, could potentially move quickly through the system.
Shortstop Hak Ju Lee missed most of last season with torn ligaments in his left knee, but should start the year at AAA and could help the club if needed. Catcher Nick Ciuffo, the Rays other 2013 first rounder, is considered the top hitting prospect in the system posting a .258/.296/.308 line in 43 games after being drafted. High school catchers typically take a long time to develop, so Ciuffo will not likely make it to Tampa before 2017.