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Scouting the opponents: Tampa Bay Rays

A look at the darkhorse in the AL East.

Tampa Bay Rays Summer Workouts Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

As we get closer to the start of the season, we are going to spend some time focusing on the opponents on the Red Sox schedule for 2020. In this strange season, Boston will be playing only nine teams, so we will go one by one and look at each individually. Today, we look at the Tampa Bay Rays.

Overall

The Rays are, in some ways, set up as well as any other team in baseball for this unprecedented 60-game season. With the possibility of positive COVID tests around the game along with the expanded rosters for the first month, having depth is going to be key. Tampa Bay is pretty much the exact definition of a “sum of the parts greater than the whole” kind of team. Their offense is lacking star power, but they can make up for that by mixing and matching with platoons and playing matchups better than anyone else in the league. Then, on the mound they have a strong trio at the top of their rotation along with a deep and talented bullpen. The Yankees are favored in the division, but Tampa is certainly expected to make the postseason, and it wouldn’t be a total shock if they beat out New York.

Best Hitter

Ji-Man Choi

As I said above, the Rays are a “sum of the parts are greater than the whole” kind of team, and that is particularly true on offense. For a team with such high expectations, they kind of have a shocking lack of elite talent at the plate. To be fair, Austin Meadows would normally be in this spot and he is coming off a huge year that ended with a 142 wRC+. Unfortunately for him and the Rays, he is on the IL after testing positive for COVID. With him out, Choi takes the top spot here sort of by default. There are other similarly-talented hitters here, but I give Choi the edge thanks to his combination of power and patience. That he cut down his strikeout rate to a respectable 22 percent last year was a big development as well, and he’ll be in the middle of Tampa’s lineup more often than not.

Tampa Bay Rays Summer Workouts Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Best Starter

Blake Snell

This was an extremely tough call as well, although for entirely different reasons than the decision that was made for the hitters. With the hitters, there was a large cluster of good-not-great bats. Here, there are three outstanding starting pitchers who could feasibly be not only the best Rays pitcher this season but legitimate Cy Young contenders. I’m going with the guy who has actually won the award. Snell is coming off a down year in which he dealt with some injuries, but even with the relative struggles he still missed a ton of bats. He may not post a sub-2.00 ERA like he did in 2018, but the lefty still has the stuff to be dominant as long as he’s healthy. If you would pick Charlie Morton or Tyler Glasnow here instead, I wouldn’t argue too much, especially with Morton. It was neck and neck for me between the veteran righty and Snell.

Best Reliever

Nick Anderson

The Rays rotation is outstanding, but it’s their bullpen that could take their team to the next level. They should get six strong innings more often than not from their rotation, and then they have a plethora of relievers that they can use to get through three shutdown innings, which means they really won’t need that much from their offense this year. Tampa Bay has a tendency to find impact relievers out of nowhere so it’s hard to really predict who will be their best in any given year, particularly when that given year consists of only 60 games, but for now we have to go with the guy who was best last year. Anderson was acquired from the Marlins for next to nothing, and all he did last year was strike out over 15 batters per nine innings, walk fewer than three per nine, and finish with a 3.32 ERA that was actually more than a full run worse than his FIP. Reliever performance can always be fluky year-to-year, but nothing specific from Anderson’s 2019 looked unsustainable.

X-Factor

Brandon Lowe

If the Rays are truly going to make a run to take down the Yankees and maybe even win a pennant in October, they are going to need some breakout performances at the plate. If they are to have that kind of star performance outside of Meadows, Lowe would be they guy on whom my eyes will be. The infielder only played half the year last season, but in those 82 games he hit .270/.336/.514 for a 125 wRC+. If he can replicate that performance while playing solid defense up the middle again, the Rays lineup suddenly looks all that much more complete. Projections, though, peg him for a slightly above-average performance with the bat.

Prospects

Wander Franco, Brendan McKay, Vidal Brujan, Josh Lowe, Randy Arozarena, Shane Baz, Taylor Walls

The Rays have probably the best farm system in all of baseball this year, and a whole lot of hte prospects that make the system so loaded are featured in their player pool. None of the prospects listed here are projected to start the year in the majors, but expect to see some of them as the year goes on. McKay is one of the top pitching prospects in the game and also happens to be a two-way player. Arozarena just came over from the Cardinals organization and is a speed-and-contact-oriented outfielder. Franco, though, is the star on this list. Probably the top prospect in all of baseball, the shortstop can do it all and if the Rays feel they need a boost in the infield at the end of the year, he could be that late-season acquisition that puts them over the top. That said, he has yet to play above High-A so it’s far from a sure thing that he’ll be in the majors at all this year.

Old Friends

Manuel Margot

The Rays just acquired the former Red Sox prospect this past winter and he is expected to play most days in the Rays outfield. After getting traded to San Diego for Craig Kimbrel, Margot has settled in as a slightly below-average bat who makes up for it with speed and defense.

Jalen Beeks

Beeks was sent to the Rays in exchange for Nathan Eovaldi in 2018, and that trade has worked out for both sides. Beeks is far from a star level pitcher, but he’s settled in as a nice bulk arm for the Rays after an opener or as a lefty who can come out of the bullpen and give the team three innings if they need it.

Esteban Quiroz

Quiroz was a signing by the Red Sox out of the Mexican League, and he is still waiting for his major-league debut. He spent last season in San Diego’s organization, though, and feasted on PCL pitching, finishing with a .271/.384/.539 line in the hitter-friendly league.

Ryan LaMarre

LaMarre was with the Red Sox very briefly in 2016 and has spent his career bouncing around from organization to organization as outfield depth. That will be his role here as well.