Results tagged ‘ Brandon Gomes ’

Tampa Bay Rays First Quarter Grades

20130517-145006.jpg

It hasn’t been an ideal start to the year for the Tampa Bay Rays. With one quarter of the season already behind us, the Rays currently stand at an even 20-20.

The’ve really underachieved overall as a team, as things simply aren’t falling into place for them just yet.

With a strong offense and a struggling bullpen, it’s looked like 2009 all over again so far for Tampa Bay. They missed the playoffs and finished the season with just 84 wins that year, so Rays fans hope their team is not going down a similar path.

After the first 40 games of the 2013 season, here’s a graded evaluation of the Rays’ offense, starting rotation, bullpen and defense.

The Offense

The Rays currently have the third best offense in Major League Baseball with a wRC+ of 108.

Evan Longoria and James Loney have both enjoyed red-hot starts to the season. Longoria has posted a .417 wOBA and Loney is leading the league in batting at .367.

Kelly Johnson and Sean Rodriguez have both been pleasant surprises. Johnson’s posted a 119 wRC+ and Rodriguez has looked like a much-improved hitter, putting up a .326 wOBA in 60 plate appearances.

Below’s a chart of every player’ wOBA compared to their preseason projections (Fangraphs’ ZIPS projections):

Overall Grade: A-

With statistically one of the league’s best offenses, I thought the Rays deserved a high grade here. The difference between an A- and an A+ for me was the first two weeks of the season where the offense was anemic. Since late April, however, the lineup has been scorching hot.

The Rotation

“Disappointing” is the best word to describe the Rays’ starting rotation at the first quarter mark. Tampa’s starters have posted a collective 4.05 ERA (16th in MLB) and a 4.22 FIP (18th in MLB).

Shockingly, the starting pitching struggles have stemmed from the rotation’s front two: David Price and Jeremy Hellickson. Price—who’s now on the 15-day DL—is 1-4 with a 5.24 ERA through nine starts and Hellickson is 1-2 with a 5.25 ERA through eight.

There has been two bright spots in the rotation, however, as youngsters Matt Moore and Alex Cobb have both shined. Moore is an impressive 7-0 with a 2.44 ERA and a 9.56 K/9, while Cobb is 4-2 with a 2.89 ERA and a rotation-leading WAR of 0.9.

Roberto Hernandez has been nothing more than decent in his first seven starts. He’s 2-4 with a 4.43 ERA, but he’s actually looked pretty encouraging. His career-high 8.65 K/9 rate, 3.43 SIERA and 3.45 xFIP are possibly signs of a comeback year for Hernandez.

Overall Grade: C-

The Bullpen

What was expected to be one of the better bullpens in baseball as turned out to be somewhat of a disaster. Tampa’s ‘pen ranks fourth worst in the league in ERA (4.67) and sixth worst in FIP (4.04).

Closer Fernando Rodney has been suprisingly lousy so far, blowing three saves in 10 opportunities to go along with a 5.28 ERA and a pair of losses. Jake McGee (8.80 ERA), Kyle Farnsworth (6.52 ERA), Jamey Wright (4.24 ERA) and Brandon Gomes (5.40 ERA) have all struggled as well.

The Rays have held leads in 34 of their 40 games this season, and have blown countless leads late in games. The bullpen is simply going to have to improve if the Rays want a shot at competing in October.

Overall Grade: D

The Defense

As expected, the Rays are one of baseballs’ strongest fielding teams. They’re tied sixth in the league in UZR at 8.6. Other notable numbers include Tampa’s 9.7 RngR, -0.3 ErrR and -1 DRS.

They have the best defensive corner-infield combo in the game with Evan Longoria and James Loney, Longoria, as usual, has been nothing short of amazing this season, leading the team with a 3.8 UZR as he continues to play like a Gold Glove caliber third baseman.

In the outfield, Desmond Jennings has done a fine job adjusting to centerfield, posting a 3.2 UZR. Sam Fuld and Matt Joyce haven’t done a very good job in the corners, but Fuld still covers plenty of ground and Kelly Johnson has bolstered the outfield defense a bit.

Johnson’s also played very well at second base thus far, owning a 0.8 UZR at the position.

At shortstop, Yunel Escobar has proven to be the defensive upgrade he was signed for. He gives the Rays the adequate-fielding everyday shortstop they haven’t had since Jason Bartlett in 2010.

As for the Rays’ catching tandem, both Jose Molina and Jose Lobaton have been below average in terms of throwing out runners and blocking pitching. It’s obviously a big minus for the overall defense, but it doesn’t erase the fact that Molina is the best framing catcher in the game.

Overall Grade: B

Rays Pummeled 10-1 by Phillies, Opening Day Roster Set

The Rays evened their Grapefruit League record to 15-15 Tuesday, losing to Philadelphia in Clearwater.

Roberto Hernandez, who was making his final start in the tight battle for the fifth spot in the starting rotation with Jeff Niemann, had a rough outing. Hernandez started the day with four great innings to start off, but then collapsed in both the fifth and sixth innings.

He was scoreless in those first four innings, and was doing a very nice job enticing groundballs. He gave up nine runs in his final two innings, finishing the day this ugly line: 6 IP, 11 H, 9 ER, BB, 0 K.

Tuesday’s lineup, which featured just two Opening Day players, was very quiet throughout the ballgame. The offense compiled just three hits, the only run coming from Sean Rodriguez’s RBI double in the third inning.

Click here for a full boxscore.

♦♦♦

The Rays pretty much set their Opening Day roster Tuesday. They optioned down Brandon Gomes, leaving the final two bullpen spots to Jamey Wright and Niemann/Hernandez.

Here’s a look at the 25-man roster to start the regular season and roster moves from yesterday over at TampaBay.com.

Rays News and Notes:

  • The battle for the fifth spot in the rotation will be coming to a conclusion either today or tomorrow, as Jeff Niemann makes his final start of the spring this afternoon against the Blue Jays in Port Charlotte.
  • The Rays beat the Pirates 6-2 Monday. Matt Moore had another shaky start in that one.
  • Luke Scott could be sidelined a few days with a tightness in his right calf. It’s nice to hear that it’s not the same left hamstring issue that’s been bothering him, but it’s also upsetting to see that he hasn’t been able to stay healthy with the Rays yet for an extended period of time. As of now it looks like missing Opening Day isn’t a concern.
  • Rays senior advisor Don Zimmer will throw out the first pitch for Opening Day.
  • David Price is seen on the cover of one of six Sports Illustrated regional baseball preview issues. The issue features the Rays, and SI writers seem to really like them this year in their pre-season predictions.

Rays Topple Tigers 11-5, D.R. Wins WBC

The Rays improved their Grapefruit League record to 14-9, routing Detroit 11-5 Tuesday afternoon in Lakeland.

Bats were on fire all day long for Tampa Bay, as the Rays compiled 11 runs on 12 hits.

Luke Scott had the most impressive game, going 2-4 with a grand slam, a double and a walk. He also played four innings in right field, and fared well there.

Other notable performances offensively included Shelley Duncan (two-run homer) and Chris Gimenez (2-3 with RBI).

Jeremy Hellickson took the mound for the Rays against what was a preview of Detroit’s Opening Day lineup. Helly had a strong outing—definitely the strongest one of the spring. He gave up 3 runs on 8 hits and no walks in 6 innings pitched (83 pitches). All three runs came in the first two innings, but then Hellickson found his groove and settled in.

Brandon Gomes also made an appearance in this ballgame. Gomes allowed his first two runs of the spring after giving up a two-run blast during his one inning of work.

Here’s a full boxscore of Tuesday’s game.

The Rays travel to Fort Myers Wednesday to take on the Twins.

Rays News and Notes:

  • The World Baseball Classic is over, and the Dominican Republic have been crowned champions, beating Puerto Rico by a score of 3-0. D.R. finished the tournament 8-0 (first team ever to finish the WBC undefeated), Fernando Rodney saving seven of the eight victories. With the help of his lucky plantain, which he had in both the semifinal and final in San Francisco, Rodney was able to close out what was a scoreless tournament for him last night. The conclusion of the Classic is a relief for Rays fans. Tampa’s star closer didn’t get much rest and pitched a lot (most for any reliever in WBC history) in such an early point in the year, which concerned Joe Maddon. It’s just nice that it’s finally over.
  • David Price made his scheduled minor-league start Monday, but had the outing cut short due to bad conditions. He ended up throwing just 37 pitches and then 34 more in an indoor cage. Price was frustrated by the weather, claiming that the conditions were dangerous for pitching.
  • DRaysBay.com has a great piece explaining why Wil Myers likely won’t be called up before July.
  • The Rays have a new ad campaign to get fans to the ballpark in 2013 built around the slogan ‘Welcome Home.’

Cobb Impressive as Rays Beat Orioles 4-1

The Rays got back to their winning ways Saturday afternoon, defeating the O’s 4-1 in Port Charlotte to improve their Grapefruit League record to 6-3.

Alex Cobb started for Tampa Bay, and looked very sharp in his outing. He allowed just one hit while striking out five batters without a walk through his three scoreless innings.

Fernando Rodney and Brandon Gomes followed up with one scoreless inning each. Gomes found himself in a bit of trouble after allowing two hits, but escaped the jam with the help of two big strikeouts.

Prospect Alex Torres also contributed to the bullpen’s effort, tossing two scoreless innings late in the game.

On the offensive side of things, Rays fans enjoyed their share of power in this ballgame. All four runs were scored on long balls; Yunel Escobar with a two-run blast and Ryan Roberts and Sean Rodriguez with the solo shots.

Evan Longoria returned to the lineup, making his second start of the spring. He finished the day 0-2 with a walk and a run.

Click here for a full boxscore of yesterday’s game. And here’s a boxscore of the Rays’ 5-4 loss to Toronto on Friday and of their 11-2 loss on Thursday to the Tigers.

Rays News and Notes:

  • The Rays made their first round of cuts this spring.
  • Evan Longoria’s baby has been released from the hospital.
  • Rays prospect Leonardo Reginatto is making noise in the World Baseball Classic with Team Brazil. The 22-year-old, who has spent the past two seasons with Class A- Hudson Valley, is 4-7 with two RBI and two doubles after his first two games of the tournament.

Projections for the Rays’ Opening Day Roster

20130221-151301.jpg

With spring training now in full swing and the first games nearing, the Rays’ 2013 roster appears to be coming together.

Tampa Bay has made their share of roster moves and put their final touches on signings this month. Now all that remains are spring training battles that will take place next month before Opening Day.

If one thing’s for sure, skipper Joe Maddon will likely have some tough choices to make when deciding who makes the cut.

Without further delay, here’s my prediction of what the Rays’ Opening Day roster will look like.

Starting Lineup

C: Jose Molina
1B: James Loney
2B: Kelly Johnson
3B: Evan Longoria
SS: Yunel Escobar
LF: Matt Joyce
CF: Desmond Jennings
RF: Ben Zobrist
DH: Luke Scott

Barring any injuries, this will more than likely be the Rays’ starting nine for Opening Day. There aren’t really any battles for starting spots in the lineup.

The 2013 lineup will feature a few changes. James Loney will be replacing Carlos Pena at first, and recently-signed Kelly Johnson will take over second instead of Ben Zobrist who will start in right field. Also, the Rays will finally have an everyday shortstop with Yunel Escobar in lineup.

Another thing worth noting is key loss of B.J. Upton, who will be replaced in centerfield by Desmond Jennings.

Bench

C Jose Lobaton
INF Sean Rodriguez
UTIL Ryan Roberts
OF Sam Fuld

Ryan Roberts, Sean Rodriguez and Jose Lobaton making the roster seem to be sure locks for the Opening Day lineup, but it will be interesting to see who wins the battle for the backup outfielder spot.

Sam Fuld, prospect Brandon Guyer and veteran slugger Shelley Duncan will all vie for the job this spring.

I predict Fuld edges out Guyer and Duncan, and there are a couple reasons. He has the most experience with the Rays out of the three, and Maddon likes the plus speed and defense he brings to the team—two things Guyer and Duncan can’t offer.

Starting Rotation

1. LHP David Price
2. RHP Jeremy Hellickson
3. LHP Matt Moore
4. RHP Alex Cobb
5. RHP Jeff Niemann

Joe Maddon has already made it clear that David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb will all be in the rotation to start the season.

The battle for the fifth spot in the rotation will without a doubt be the fiercest spring training competition in Port Charlotte. Jeff Niemann, Roberto Hernandez, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi will all fight for the spot.

It’ll be a difficult decision for Maddon, and it’s really going to come down to spring training performance.

Bullpen

Closer: RHP Fernando Rodney
Set-Up Man: RHP Joel Peralta
Middle Relief: LHP Jake McGee
Middle Relief: RHP Kyle Farnsworth
Long/Middle Reliever: RHP Roberto Hernandez
Lefty Specialist: LHP Cesar Ramos
Groundball Specialist: RHP Jamey Wright

Besides for Jamey Wright, we can expect to see all the names above in the ‘pen for Opening Day.

With right-handers Josh Lueke and Brandon Gomes also looking for a spot on the roster, Wright will likely have to pitch pretty well this spring to make the cut.

Another notable name in my bullpen projection is Roberto Hernadez. The 32-year-old veteran, formerly known as Fausto Carmona, would serve as a long/middle reliever if he were to lose the battle for the fifth spot in the rotation.

Rays Update: Upton to the DL, Rotation Order Set

The latest Rays news and notes:

  • The Rays defeated the Pirates last night 6-4. David Price got the start and looked sharp, allowing two runs through seven strong innings. Luke Scott and Elliot Johnson did most of the damage offensively. Scott went 2-4 with three RBI and a two-run homer, while Johnson went 2-4 with two RBI and two doubles. Click here for the full boxscore.
  • Next up for the Rays is Philadelphia today at 1:05 ET in Clearwater. The game will be televised on ESPN.
  • Bad news in terms of injury updates; B.J. Upton will start the season on the disabled list. Upton, who was in an outfield collision with Desmond Jennings two weeks ago, says his back is still tight. As for Jennings, he looks ready to go for Opening Day. It looks like wrist surgery is very likely for Sam Fuld next week, which would mean he could miss the first half of the season. Reid Brignac right foot injury is apparently healing, as he said he’ll fight through the pain and return to spring training action today.
  • Joe Maddon announced the order of the Rays’ starting rotation yesterday, and it was exactly what most of us expected. Shields will pitch Opening Day, following by Price, Hellickson, Moore, and then Niemann.
  • The Rays made their next round of cuts yesterday. Brandon Gomes, Marquis Fleming, Ryan Reid, and Chris Gimenez all were assigned to minor league camp. With Giminez off the big-league roster, that means Jose Lobaton will get the backup catcher gig.
  • Bill Chastain of MLB.com previews the Rays’ farm system in 2012.

Rays Update: Rays Fall To Boston, Injuries Healing

The latest Rays news and notes:

  • The Rays have won two of their last five games, which also included a tie. Yesterday, the Rays lost to the Red Sox 5-0 in another frustrating offensive effort. Wade Davis had a rough start, allowing two earned runs and walking four batters in 2 2/3 innings of work. Offensively, the Rays collected seven hits and left 22 men on base. The Rays now fall to a 2-6 spring training record. Click here for a full boxscore.
  • The Rays’ injuries continue to make forward progress. Evan Longoria (bruised hand) will likely play his first game today against the Pirates. David Price suffered a bizarre injury during Thursday’s game, hurting his neck while toweling off. Price will probably pitch his next scheduled start, but his between-starts bullpen session was pushed back to today. Yesterday he said he felt “almost normal.” Matt Moore (mild abdominal strain) seems to have fully healed, and is scheduled to start Tuesday. Brandon Gomes (offseason back surgery) is set to play today’s game, possibly along with Luke Scott (offseason shoulder surgery). Kyle Farnsworth, who’s being handled cautiously after elbow soreness last year, will make his debut Monday. The most concerning injury for the Rays is probably Sean Rodriguez’s sprained left index finger. Rodriguez will most likely return in the next few days, but he’ll have to play with pain for at least three more weeks.
  • Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reported Friday that James Shields will be the Rays’ Opening Day starter.
  • Reid Brignac now has a son, Reid Michael, who was born yesterday. The birth came less than a month after many found out that Brignac was dating Playboy model Lauren Anderson.
  • Skipper Joe Maddon will shave his head for charity. Maddon will do the shaving publicly at Charlotte Sports Park before an upcoming game against the Phillies.

2012 Season Preview

20120305-152438.jpgAnother exciting year of Tampa Bay Rays baseball is right around the corner. The Rays seem confident and ready for a successful 2012 season, and it’s easy to see why. After a memorable 2011 season, the Rays return to Tampa with another very talented group. The front office got the job done this offseason, reeling in three key pieces while only losing two big names from last year. The Rays replaced their 2011 first-baseman/DH combo — Johnny Damon and Casey Kotchman — with the big bats of Carlos Pena and Luke Scott. They also filled in the huge catcher hole in the roster, picking up veteran backstop Jose Molina. As the Rays return with filled gaps and arguably the best rotation in baseball, they are definitely serious contenders for a title. They hope to finally get over the hump in 2012, after being defeated by the Texas Rangers two straight years in the ALDS. Here’s an outlook of what to except from the Rays this year.

The Rotation

If one thing’s for sure, the Rays have one of the most talented starting rotations in all of baseball. Last season, the Rays had arguably the best rotation in the league, and this year it’s expected to get even better. Phenom rookie Matt Moore is the newest addition to Tampa’s pitching staff, and will likely find a spot in the Opening Day rotation. However, the Matt Moore hype is not the biggest topic amongst the Rays’ starters this spring. All eyes will be watching the battle between Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis for the fifth spot in the rotation. Having a rotation that’s six starters deep is a great problem to have for any team, and will provide the Rays will security throughout the season. The winner of the battle between Niemann and Davis will probably come down to whoever preforms better during spring training. Although exhibition games have not yet started, my early prediction goes to Niemann here. Both hurlers are qualified for the job, but better numbers and more experience will likely give Niemann the edge in this competition. Also, Davis may suit the long reliever role better than Niemann. Davis doesn’t eat up inning like Niemann does, and Niemann hasn’t had much success throwing out of the bullpen in the past.

Now let’s take a look at the guys in front of the fifth starter. It may just be the best starting quartet in the MLB, as the Rays feature a lineup of four All Star caliber pitchers. James Shields, who had a career year last season, will likely be the Opening Day starter. It’s hard not to award him with the #1 spot after the ridiculous numbers he put up in 2011. “Big Game James” finished third in the Cy Young voting after posting a 2.82 ERA with 16 wins and 11 complete games. It’s hard to except those kind of numbers out of Shields in 2012, but you can still count on him to have another good season. Fellow All Star David Price will likely follow Shields in the rotation. The 26-year-old southpaw had an off-year last season, finishing with a below .500 record and a 3.49 ERA. Price has already proved he’s an ace-type pitcher, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he explodes with a huge season in 2012. We can expect to see Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson in the #3 hole to start the season, which really shows just how scary the Rays’ rotation actually is. Hellickson quickly established himself as one of the top pitchers in the league in just his first full big league season, posting a 2.95 ERA through 189 innings pitched. This season’s ROY winner could very possibly pitching right after him, as Matt Moore seems like a likely fit for the fourth spot. Of course, we all remember Moore’s big league success during his brief stint in the majors last year.

Starting Pitching in the Organization

The Rays are stacked with arms down in their farm system. There are three starters that could make a big league splash this season; Alex Cobb, Alex Torres, and Chris Archer. Cobb already proved he can be an effective starter at the Major League level, when he started nine games replacing the injured Jeff Niemann. Cobb went 3-2 with a 3.42 ERA in his rookie year. He’s never been considered a top prospect, but I think he’s a bit underrated by scouts. Alex Torres, on the other hand, is a pretty high ranked prospect, as he’s a member of the Rays’ top 10 prospect list. 20120305-151621.jpgWith the crowded rotation, Torres hasn’t really got his chance with the Rays yet, but he does have eight innings pitched out of the bullpen under his belt. There isn’t any good chances that Torres will start games in 2012, but he’ll probably contribute to the ‘pen during the season. Chris Archer, the organization’s #3 prospect (according to MLB.com), could also pitch out the bullpen by the end of the 2012 season. Archer is still developing in the minors, in hopes to become a frontline starter type pitcher in the majors. However, it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen in the near future, as the Rays simply don’t have a spot for him in the rotation. Still, his excellent fastball-slider combo could make him an effective reliever, and give the Rays a huge boost in the late innings.

The Bullpen

Here’s how I predict the bullpen will look like at Opening Day:20120305-152852.jpg*Correction: For the middle relief role, I intended to put Jake McGee rather than Josh Lueke. 

As you can see, the bullpen will look a little different than it did last season. The 8-9 inning combo will probably be the same, with Kyle Farnsworth as the closer and Joel Peralta as the setup man. The front end of the bullpen will definitely look different, though, as some of the Rays’ new acquisitions will likely find some spots in the ‘pen. The long relief role will obviously go to whoever loses the battle for the fifth spot in the rotation; I’m assuming either Davis or Niemann. I’m also predicting there will be two lefties in the ‘pen, considering how Maddon seems to like having at least two left-handed arms in contrast to just one. J.P. Howell will likely get the ‘lefty specialist’ role, and Jake McGee may take over the middle relief spot. Burke Badenhop, another new face, will probably end up as the bullpen’s groundball guy. With Adam Russell no longer with the Rays, it’s important to have a reliever in the ‘pen to go to when you’re looking specifically for a double play. As for the ‘right-handed specialist’ or the ‘one-out right-hander guy’, Fernando Rodney seems like the best fit for that spot.

But of course, there will be some spring competitions within the bullpen. Brandon Gomes, Josh Lueke, Dane De La Rosa, Matt Bush, Alex Torres and Cesar Ramos all have shots at a bullpen spot throughout the season. Keep your eyes peeled for Gomes and Lueke, as a good enough spring training performance might earn them a spot on the roster.

The Infield

20120305-151614.jpgThe Corners:

First Base- Carlos Pena will be manning first base for the Rays this season, just as he did from 2007-2010. There is some depth at the position, as utility infielders Ben Zobrist and Sean Rodriguez can both fill in at first. Zobrist, who can play every position outside the battery, actually fields the position decently. That’s definitely good to have in mind in case of an injury. Outfielder Matt Joyce can also be added to the depth chart. Joyce has started his first base practice this offseason, and may continue to work on it throughout spring training.

Third Base- Evan Longoria will be the Opening Day third baseman for the fourth straight year. The Rays do have some depth at third, with Sean Rodriguez and Elliot Johnson. Zobrist also has the ability to play the hot corner, but it’s really the last role he has to worry about.

Up The Middle:

Second Base- “Zorilla” will be the Opening Day second baseman, continuing to provide the Rays with great defense at the position. Sean Rodriguez, Jeff Keppinger and Elliot Johnson will all backup Zobrist at second throughout the year.

Shortstop- The shortstop position is the biggest question mark for Opening Day. Sean Rodriguez, Jeff Keppinger and Reid Brignac will have a three-way battle this spring for the starting role. The early favorite seems to be Rodriguez, but Keppinger and Brignac will definitely give him a run for his money this spring. Both Brignac and Rodriguez are good defensively, but Rodriguez gets the edge because he’s the better offensive player overall. Keppinger is a bit below average defensively at second base, but he’s probably a better contact hitter than the other two. His lifetime batting average of .281 is a lot higher than both Brignac’s and Rodriguez’s career averages. Still, my prediction is that Rodriguez will get the Opening Day shortstop gig.

The Catchers

The Rays filled in a big roster hole this offseason when they signed veteran backstop Jose Molina. Molina will be Opening Day catcher, but he’s not able to play more than 80-90 games this season.. Unfortunately, the Rays are pretty weak catching wise behind Molina. Rookie catchers Jose Lobaton and Robinson Chirinos, along with veteran Chris Gimenez, will battle this month for the Opening Day backup role. All three have little offensive ability, as well as little experience (especially Lobaton and Chirinos). It’s hard to say who gets the early edge here, but I think it goes to Gimenez. The thing that stands out with Gimenez is versatility. His ability to play the corner outfield and the corner infield is what may separate him from Lobaton and Chirinos in the end. When it’s all said and done, Gimenez is going to have to perform well enough during spring training to earn himself the backup job.

The Outfield

Left Field- Rookie Desmond Jennings will most likely be the Opening Day starter in left field. Sam Fuld will be backing him up all season long, as playing left field is what he does best.

Center Field- Luckily for the Rays, they will enjoy another season of B.J. Upton playing centerfield every day. Sean Rodriguez, Ben Zobrist, Desmond Jennings, and Matt Joyce could all potentially fill in at center if needed.

Right Field- Matt Joyce will be the Rays’ starting right-fielder, and will be backed up by a pair of talented outfielders throughout the season. Both Ben Zobrist and Sam Fuld will fill in at right when needed.

The DH

Luke Scott will be the Opening Day designated hitter, which is a change from his usual starting outfield role. Sam Fuld is technically the backup DH, but if Scott were to be injured Maddon would probably put Fuld in right field and let Matt Joyce play DH.

The Bench

The Rays will have four bench players to round out their Opening Day 25-man roster. One of the bench spots will obviously be a backup catcher, so that narrows it down to Lobaton, Chirinos and Gimenez. Again, my prediction is that Gimenez will win the backup spot. There will be to infield bench players on the Opening Day roster, making a competition between Reid Brignac, Elliot Johnson and Jeff Keppinger (assuming Sean Rodriguez gets the starting job). My prediction is that Elliot Johnson will be just edged out here, meaning Brignac and Keppinger will start the season off the bench. That leaves one outfield bench spot, which will most likely go to Fuld.

The Minors

20120305-151627.jpgThe Rays don’t have a big list of position player prospects that could arrive in 2012, but there are two names that immediately jump out. Outfielder Brandon Guyer made his MLB debut last season, during his short 15-game stint. Guyer hopes to get more playing time this year, and probably will if he continues to put up offensive numbers in the minors. Guyer hit .312 with 61 RBI and 16 stolen bases for AAA Durham in 2011, which was the season after he hit .344 with 58 RBI and 30 stolen bases in Class-AA ball. Still, the Rays’ crowded outfield is what’s getting in the way of significant playing time for Guyer.

Shortstop Tim Beckham could also get some playing time this year as a September call-up. The former #1 overall draft-pick has slowly progressed in the minor leagues, and could get his first MLB stint if he continues to improve this year. Beckham hit .271 with 12 homers and 70 RBI through his 131 games with both AA Montgomery and AAA Durham.

Season Predictions

Team MVP: Evan Longoria

Team Ace: David Price

Rays players in MLB Awards (Regular Season): Matt Moore (ROY), Evan Longoria (Gold Glove), Joe Maddon (Manager of the Year), and Evan Longoria (Silver Slugger).

Rays’ 2012 Record: 97-65

Rays’ 2012 AL East Finish: 1st place; tied with the New York Yankees’ record but will win the division by head-to-head record.

Rays’ 2012 Postseason Finish: Win World Series

I truly believe this is the season the Rays are finally going to pull it off. I look at it this way: the Rays had a great team last year, and they clearly have a better roster coming into 2012. With the full-season addition of Desmond Jennings, the outfield has improved. With the addition of Carlos Pena and more depth in the infield, it’s safe to say that a great infield has got even better. With the 2012 return of Matt Moore, an unbelievable starting rotation should be even more incredible. Barring any key injuries, the Rays flat-out have a better ball club in 2012. I see the Rays getting over that ALDS hump this year as inevitable.

As for the player predictions, you may be a bit surprised by my choice for team ace. Price has already proved he can be one of the top pitchers in the league, and I believe he just had an off-year last season. Whoever will be the Rays’ top pitcher in 2012 will likely not be the best starter by much at all. James Shields, Matt Moore, and Jeremy Hellickson all have the potential for huge seasons this year.

The Five Main Questions Heading Into Spring Training

20120222-204157.jpgThe wait is finally over; Spring Training is officially underway! The long offseason has finally come to an end, which means baseball will soon return to Tampa Bay. As the Rays prepare for another successful season in 2012, there are some questions yet to be answered. Take a look at the five biggest questions coming into Spring Training.

Who will take over the the fifth spot in the rotation?

Having an overcrowded rotation is probably the best problem a team can have. With the addition of phenom rookie Matt Moore, the Rays’ position in the MLB arms race is higher than ever. The front four in the rotation is pretty predictable. Expect to see James Shields in the number one spot, followed by Price, Hellickson, and Moore. Of course, all eyes will be on who wins the last spot in the rotation. Although there is really four candidates for the fifth spot (Jeff Niemann, Alex Cobb, Wade Davis, and Alex Torres), the decision is likely going to come down to two players. It appears as if Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis, who were both part of the Rays starting rotation last season, will battle it out for the job this spring. It should be fun to watch, as Joe Maddon’s decision will most likely be heavily based off their Spring Training performances. Niemann pitched nearly 50 less innings than Davis last season, but there statistics were still pretty similar. Niemann finished the year with a 4.06 ERA and an 11-7 record, while Davis posted a 4.45 ERA with an 11-10 record. The numbers show that Niemann has been the more effective pitcher in the past, but that’s something he’ll have to prove this March. It’s hard to predict who will get the No. 5 role, but I think the early edge probably goes to Niemann. Again, we’ll just have to wait and see how they fare during Spring Training. As for the three pitchers who will be kept out of the starting rotation, they’re still valuable reserves on the roster. Almost never does a team go through a whole season without an injury to one of their starters, which means that they’ll have their chance to step in and contribute during the season. While the starting five are healthy, the reserve starters will likely help strengthen the bullpen. Whoever is edged out out of the rotation — Niemann or Davis — will become the team’s long reliever this season.

Who will win the battle at short?

The shortstop position is one of the big topics for the Rays this season, and it’s a big question of how much production can come from there in 2012. The competition for the shortstop job features three candidates: Sean Rodriguez, Reid Brignac, and the newly-acquired Jeff Keppinger. Like the rotation battle, the candidates are going to have to prove themselves during Spring Training. Rodriguez, who can play pretty much every position besides pitcher and catcher, seems to be the early favorite entering Sprig Training. Rodriguez put up the best offensive production out of all the Rays’ shortstops last year, batting .223 with eight home runs and 36 RBI’s. He also has good speed on the bases, collecting 11 thefts in 2011. His defense is maybe a bit above average, and he has proven to be a consistent fielder at short. 20120222-204202.jpgBrignac also has similar plus sides to Rodriguez. His defense is at least as good as Rodriguez’s, and he’s probably just as much as a threat on the basepads. Besides his speed, Brignac has pretty much no offensive value. That’s main reason why his odds don’t look good for the shortstop job. Brignac finished the season with a low .193 average and just 15 RBI’s. As for Jeff Keppinger, he could earn himself a starting role with a strong Spring Training performance. He’s going to have to hit well for average, as his defense, power, and speed are not going to cut it. Keppinger is less than average defensively at shortstop, and plays a lot more games at second. A lifetime .281 hitter, Keppinger mostly adds offensive value to the roster. The Rays have a defense-oriented infield, but I believe Keppinger could possibly get the shortstop gig if he can convince the Rays that he is offensively stable enough. Still, Rodriguez seems to be the best fit for the job at the moment, and is probably the best prediction to play shortstop on Opening Day.

Who Will Be a Part of the Bullpen?

The battles for the rotation and shortstop spots may be the biggest storylines for the Rays this spring, but there will also be a heated competition for the bullpen. The Rays made multiple moves to reinforce their bullpen this season, now we will have to see how Maddon will piece them together. The closer role and setup man role are pretty predictable for 2012, as Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta look like they will return to their respectable spots in the bullpen. That leaves five more spots in the bullpen, with at least eight serious candidates. New right-handed additions Burke Badenhop and Fernando Rodney will likely find themselves a spot in the bullpen. The long reliever of the ‘pen would be however loses the Davis-Niemann battle for the fifth spot in the rotation. So, that leaves just two spots left in the bullpen. I’m assuming Maddon will want two lefties in his bullpen, bringing multiple names into the picture. The Rays showed a lot of confidence in J.P. Howell this offseason, which makes me predict that he’ll become the team’s left-handed specialist in the ‘pen. That leaves two main names who will likely fight it out for the middle relief role; Jake McGee and Josh Lueke. Even though McGee had a better statistical season last year, I think Lueke will be the one on the Opening Day roster. McGee is younger, and the Rays may prefer that he continues to develop in AAA Durham. However, McGee could be one among a handful of players who will be called up to contribute in the bullpen throughout the season. Brandon Gomes, Dane De La Rosa, Alex Torres, and Cesar Ramos could all potentially find themselves just outside the bullpen as well. Here’s how I predict the bullpen will look at the start of the regular season:

Can Matt Joyce Develop into a First Baseman?

Matt Joyce did not conduct his usual offseason workouts this winter. For the first time in his big league career, the 27 year-old Tampa-native is trying out the first base position. The All-Star outfielder is possibly considering becoming a first baseman. Even though Carlos Pena will be manning first base for the whole season, it’s always good to have the idea in mind. Offensively, Joyce is an adequate hitter for the position, and he’s still developing. In just his first big league season, Joyce batted .277 with 75 RBI’s and 19 home runs. Joyce’s power is something that will help him fit in at first, if he were to continue to pursue the position. Obviously, the biggest adjustment for Joyce would be defensively. Being an outfielder for his whole MLB career, Joyce would have a lot to learn in order to master the position. Joyce is one of many outfielders who have tried the move to first, and it hasn’t been much of a success story. Knowing Joyce, though, I believe he can complete the transition if he’s truly determined. Last offseason, Joyce worked to improve his baserunning and defense, and the results were great and very noticeable throughout the 2011 season. Joyce has terrific work ethic, and he’s one of those players who will do what it takes to achieve his goals. Joe Maddon may make team orders, but at the end of the day it really depends on whether Joyce is willing to put in the hard work or not.

Which Prospects Will Stand Out This March?

Besides Matt Moore, there are a handful of Rays prospects who have a lot to prove this Spring. Shortstop Tim Beckham is one of those names. Beckham, who’s ranked the Rays’ fourth-best prospect (by MLB.com), has a crucial year coming up ahead of him. The former first-overall draft pick has disappointed a bit so far in his minor league career, considering the extremely high expectations put on him since the beginning. Beckham compiled a .271 average with 70 RBI’s and 17 stolen bases through his 131 games last season, during his time with AA Montgomery and his brief stint with AAA Durham. It may not be the big numbers that stand out among scouts, but he was only 21 in 2011. He made a lot of progress last year, specifically improving in his defensive game. Many scouts say he may not have a big league future at the shortstop position, but Beckham is making efforts to prove them wrong. Even if Beckham won’t be an MLB shortstop, I still believe he has the potential to be a solid big league player. Any way you look at it, this is a very important Spring Training for Beckham, and I doubt he’ll disappoint.

20120222-204210.jpgHak-Ju Lee is another top prospect who received a Spring Training invitation. The Rays are hopeful the 21-year-old Korean-native is there future shortstop. Lee, who was acquired in the Matt Garza trade two offseasons ago, ended his 2011 season in AA Montgomery after spending most of the year at the Class-A+ level. He finished the year with a .292 average along with 30 RBI’s and 17 stolen bases. Lee features great speed as well as plus defense, and is expected to make major progress in the minors this season. Although Lee will most likely not be joining the Rays in 2012, he should be a fun player to watch at Spring Training. It will be interesting to see if Lee and Beckham will have themselves a bit of a private battle throughout the spring.

Brandon Guyer, another youngster acquired in the Matt Garza trade, may have the most important Spring Training out of all the Rays prospects. The 26-year-old will have to play some quality baseball if he wants to break into the Rays’ crowded outfield. Guyer batted .312 with 14 homers and 16 stolen bases through his 107 at-bats with AAA Durham last season, displaying his power-speed combination. Even with the good numbers, it will be hard for him to find a decent amount of MLB playing time this season. With B.J. Upton, Desmond Jennings, Matt Joyce, and Sam Fuld taking over the outfield, he’s going to have to impress this March if he wants the big league shot he deserves.

With the exception of Matt Moore, there will be three main prospect pitchers to keep an eye on during Spring Training. Alex Cobb, Alex Torres, and Chris Archer will all have a lot of work to do this spring in order to prove they have what it takes to join the Rays’ talented rotation in the future. Cobb has the most MLB experience out of the three, going 3-2 with a 3.42 ERA in his nine starts last season. He has also been successful in his minor league career, and has improved year by year. Alex Torres will need to follow Cobb’s path and improve his numbers if he wants a future as a Rays starter. Torres’ stats weren’t bad last year, as he went 9-7 with a 3.08 ERA through his 27 starts at AAA Durham. Still, some things have to be fixed, and I’m pretty confident Torres will make progress doing so during Spring Training. As for Chris Archer, the Rays hope he can start the spring where he finished off. Archer, who is ranked the third best prospect (by MLB.com), ended his minor league season strong after having some struggles earlier in the year. It’ll be a big season for the 23-year-old hurler in 2012, and it should be interesting to see how he starts along side the rest of the Rays’ pitching talent. I think this may be the year Archer really shines and shows off his high potential.

“Madd Scientist”: Joe Maddon’s Experiment

     Joe Maddon is once again experimenting with his young players this year, just has he’s done every year in the past. He seems to know what he’s doing, because it has always led to good things in the future. Maddon is the kind of person who always thinks ahead. He makes sure he knows every player and their qualities before next year’s spring training even begins. So far this year, the experiment hasn’t helped the team win more games. The young relief pitchers from Durham have struggled in the past month. This is giving me the feeling that Maddon is focused more on the 2012 season than now. A strategy that not many can argue with, considering how hot the Yanks and Sox are. 

    Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Joe has given up on the 2011 Rays by any means. Neither has the team. The hard work of the new rookies really shows how bright the Rays future is. Desmond Jennings, Robinson Chirinos, Brandon Gomes, are examples of players have shown that they are MLB quality. The exciting part is that phenom prospect Matt Moore hasn’t even been called up yet. 

Farm grown players like these are the trademark of the Tampa Bay Rays franchise. The Yanks have their ‘Core 4′ and the Cardinals have Albert Pujols, and etc. The Rays are always going to have a young team like this; it is the key to success for a small market team. New faces every year is what makes the Rays so fun to watch, and also what makes them good. 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 459 other followers