Coming off of a 92-win season and post-season appearances in four out of the last six years, the Tampa Bay Rays have their hopes set on even bigger accomplishments. The club retained ace David Price as well as James Loney, and they even got Price some help by landing free agent closer Grant Balfour to put the clamps down at the end of games. The Rays have the second best record in all of baseball over the last six years, and this year they are simply repeating the formula that has been so favorable to them in the past.
Grant Balfour – RHP
Ryan Hannigan – C
Jaime Wright – RHP
Roberto Hernandez – RHP
Luke Scott – DH
Manager: Joel Maddon
In nine years with the Rays, Maddon has compiles a 677-630 record. Of course that includes two rebuilding seasons when he first began. Since those two years, Maddon has led the Rays to a 550-423 record and a new image in Major League Baseball’s landscape.
Hanigan was acquired from Cincinnati this offseason after putting up some putrid offensive numbers last year for the Reds. He hit just .198 and played just 75 games in an injury-plagued season. The career .262 hitter will have to return to form if he does not want to lose playing time to Molina. The 38-year-old journeyman catcher only hit .233 last year himself, but he is still an asset behind the plate defensively.Catcher: Ryan Hanigan/Jose Molina
First Base: James Loney
Loney, a career .285 hitter nearly cracked the .300 mark last season with 13 home runs and 75 runs batted in. The Rays rewarded his efforts with a new contract worth $21 million over three years, as he looks primed to build on his 2013 accomplishments.
Second Base: Ben Zobrist
Zobrist, the eight-year Tampa Bay veteran, made just five errors all season splitting time between second base and shortstop. A career .263 hitter, Zobrist’s offensive production increased slightly last year as he hit .275, but his home run total plummeted from 20 to 12.
Shortstop: Yunel Escobar
Escobar, a gold glove candidate last season, had a .989 fielding percentage, but somewhat slumped at the plate. The .278 career hitter averaged just .256 with nine home runs and 56 runs batted in.
Third Base: Evan Longoria
Longoria, the heart and soul of the Rays franchise, is a career .275 hitter and a perennial gold glove nominee. He flirted with career highs in both home runs (32) and runs batted in (88) last season after being sidelined most of 2012 with an injury. The former rookie of the year did strike out a whopping 162 times last season, but if he can become more patient at the plate he will be a bear for opposing pitchers to deal with.
Outfield: David DeJesus, Wil Myers, Desmond Jennings
DeJesus, who played for the Cubs and Nationals last season before joining the Rays before the trading deadline saw his offensive number dip slightly as he hit just .251, but so far this spring he is batting close to .600.
Myers broke in with the Rays last season with great success. In just 88 games the rookie cracked 13 home runs and 53 runs batted in en route to a .293 average. Look for the up and coming right fielder to compete for an all-star spot this season.
Jennings is a career .250 hitter, but for a center field speedster he has some pop. The fourth year pro hit 14 home runs and drove in 54 last season in addition to his 20 stolen bases.
Projected Batting Order:
Starting Rotation: David Price, Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi
To the shock of just about everyone, David Price is still with the Rays for the 2014 campaign. The ace left-hander signed a one-year deal with the Rays rather than exploring options elsewhere. The 2012 Cy Young award winner regressed last year, going just 10-8 with a 3.33 earned run average.
Cobb, a three-year veteran, is coming off the best season of his career last season when he posted an 11-3 record with a 2.76 earned run average. The right hander looks to fill the no. 2 spot in the rotation and take an even bigger step forward.
Moore, coming off of his first career All-Star selection last season, posted a 17-4 record while holding opposing batters to a .216 batting average. Moore will need to work on his control, however, to continue to dominate. He led the American League with 17 wild pitches last season, and he already has thrown three more this spring.
Archer, who was a finalist for the Rookie of the Year award last season, posted a 9-7 record in 23 starts last season, including two complete game shutouts. He looks to take the next step as he begins his first full year with the club.
Odorizzi made four spot starts last season and posted an 0-1 record with a 3.94 earned run average and one save. The rookie right-hander has developed a split-change up this spring that he plans to use as a go-to pitch that he can throw consistently.
Projected Starting Rotation:
Bullpen: Grant Balfour, Joel Peralta, Jake McGee, Heath Bell, Brandon Gomes, Josh Luke, Cesar Ramos
With the addition of Balfour, who was with the Rays for their World Series run in 2008, the Rays bullpen will be very tough for opposing offenses this season. Balfour had 41 saves and a 2.59 earned run average last season with Oakland. He will be set up by Peralta and McGee, who appeared in 80 and 71 games respectively for the Rays last season.
Outlook: The Rays will be very competitive again this season. By holding on to their core and locking down Balfour and Hannigan, the Rays will definitely be in the wild card hunt. With the Red Sox and Yankees both reloading and the young Orioles still looking strong, however, the Rays do not appear to have the firepower to win the division.
Tampa Bay Rays Spring Training Preview Expected Finish: Third Place
Commentary by Jeremy Mika