Before we delve into the 2014 Tampa Bay Rays, let’s discuss last year’s club. Another year with a Bottom-Five payroll and another year with a Top-10 finish in the standings. Yaaaaawn. This whole “small market” thing has to be getting boring for Rays GM Andrew Friedman.
By focusing on building his organization through the draft and signing largely unwanted free agents, Friedman has figured out how to work the system to his advantage unlike most other small market teams (ahem … Miami). With one of the more talented young rosters and one of the best managers in all of baseball, 2014 is shaping up to look no different for the Rays faithful (good news, Gonos!).
The Devil Rays enter this season with a super star (Evan Longoria), an up-and-coming superstar (Wil Myers), and one of the best rotations in the Majors (David Price, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Jeremy Hellickson).
Price is hopefully renting in the Tampa Bay area, but the rest of the rotation are under 27 years old and have the Rays set up to be a perennial small-market contender as long as Friedman sticks around.
Fantasy-wise, the Rays don’t have an El Guapo-sized plethora of elite talent to draft early (outside of Longoria and Price), but there are some solid players who could end up being difference makers towards the middle/end of Fantasy drafts.
Projected 2014 Tampa Bay Rays “Go-To” Lineup
- David DeJesus, LF
- Ben Zobrist, 2B
- Evan Longoria, 3B
- Wil Myers, RF
- Matt Joyce, DH
- James Loney, 1B
- Desmond Jennings, CF
- Yunel Escobar, SS
- Ryan Hanigan, C
- SP1: David Price, LHP
- SP2: Alex Cobb, RHP
- SP3: Matt Moore, LHP
- SP4: Chris Archer, RHP
- SP5: Jake Odorizzi, RHP
- Setup: Joel Peralta, RHP, Jake McGee, LHP
- Closer: Grant Balfour, RHP
Other pitchers to know: Jeremy Hellickson (injured), Alex Colome, Enny Romero, Mike Montgomery
Fantasy Studs: Evan Longoria, David Price
After two injury plagued seasons, Evan Longoria finally finished a season with more than 600 at-bats last year (only his third season with more than 140 games played). With the increase in at-bats, Longoria rewarded his Fantasy owners with the second-highest home run total of his career the third-highest run total of his career.Longoria enters 2014 in the prime of his career at 28 years old, but there are a few red flags here (2013 saw the second-highest strikeout rate of his career, his second-lowest ISO, his second-lowest contact rate, and his lowest OPS and slugging percentages of his career). We’re not talking about severe drops, but these are still numbers Fantasy owners should be aware of if they expect Longoria to exceed his numbers from last year.
Outside of some of those red flags mentioned and the potential of injury, Longoria is still one of the only truly elite third base options out there (trust me, it gets U-G-L-Y after the top four third baseman). He’s currently being selected in the late second round of most mock drafts and is a must-target player (along with David Wright) for any Fantasy owner who is looking to shore up third base early and might have missed out on Miguel Cabrera or Adrian Beltre.
As I mentioned above, David Price may not be calling the Tampa Bay area home for long. With a $14 Million price tag next to his name this year and free agency around the corner next winter, it would be a Miracle on Ice-like shocker if Price wasn’t moved before the trade deadline.
Price has seen a bit of a dip in his fastball over the past few years (he was at 93.5 MPH last year as compared to 95.5 MPH in 2012), but he has become a much better pitcher. He was able to decrease his BB/9 to 1.30 last year (as compared to his career average of 2.65). Like Longoria, there are still a few worries for the 28-year-old (his strand rate and K/9 weren’t ideal last year), but I’m mostly just nitpicking on an elite talent.
All that said, Price is still one of the better starting pitching options available and could be an even more attractive Fantasy option if he is moved outside of the hard-thumping AL East. With 23-plus games started in each of his five full MLB seasons, Price provides owners with a durable option who can be penciled in for double-digit wins, a mid-3.00 ERA (at worst), a low WHIP, and close to 200 strikeouts (assuming health). He’s currently being selected in the eighth round of drafts according to MockDraftCentral and I think I might be doing cartwheels if I can somehow get Price in the eighth round of my draft (full disclosure: I don’t know how to do a cartwheel, but I’d at least try).
Breakout Candidate: Alex Cobb
If I told you that you could draft a pitcher in Round 12 (again, according to MDC) who would give you 12-15 wins, 150-plus strikeouts, a low-3.00 ERA, and a 1.20-ish WHIP, would you join me in attempting to do cartwheels?
I don’t know about you, but those numbers in the Round 12 sound pretty darn good to me and that’s a good estimation of what Fantasy owners will get out of the 25-year-old Alex Cobb this season.
After having what probably would have been his breakout season derailed by a concussion, Cobb finished last season strong by only allowing three runs over his last three starts (which helped him finish with a 2.57 ERA during the month of September).
With Price likely on his way out of town, there is a very good chance that Cobb (in addition to Matt Moore) will become the de facto ace of the Rays’ pitching staff and has a very good chance to end up being a bargain at his current ADP.
Sleeper Candidate: Jake Odorizzi
Chris Archer was my original pick to be a sleeper candidate, but I figured I might get called Captain Obvious on that one, so I’ll dig a little bit deeper here.
With the news that Jeremy Hellickson will miss the first six to eight weeks of the season after undergoing elbow surgery, Odorizzi will likely step into the Rays’ rotation as their fifth starter. It’s a little risky to name a 23-year-old who has pitched all of 37 MLB innings as a sleeper candidate, but Odorizzi posted a strong Triple-A season last year, going 9-6 with a 3.33 ERA and 9.0 K/9 rate.
We’re talking an extremely small sample size here, but in three late-season appearances last year, Odorizzi only allowed one run across 11 2/3 innings and flashed some of the skills that have him pegged as one of the Rays’ best MLB-ready prospects. Odorizzi can likely be had at the very end of drafts (or even on waiver wires afterwards) and has the potential to become a player who is worth keeping on rosters for as long as he’s in the rotation.
Bust Candidate: Matt Moore
Wil Myers is the obvious candidate, due to the fact that he’ll likely be overdrafted as Fantasy owners attempt to find the next Mike Trout. But I actually think Myers will be a good Fantasy option this season, so I’ll direct Sauron’s eye elsewhere.
Like Myers, I sort of like Moore too, but I also think some Fantasy owners are going to get too caught up in his potential and draft him as a Top 15-20 pitcher, when he’s probably safer being drafted as a Top 25-30 pitcher this season.
Moore’s above average strikeout rate last year (8.56 K/9) will likely blind a lot of Fantasy owners to the fact that he can be a WHIP killer. His 4.55 walks per nine innings last season is absolutely atrocious and led to a WHIP of 1.30. He also won 17 out of 27 starts and that’s just not a rate that is likely to be duplicated this year.
There is nothing wrong with Moore (again, I sort of like him), but Fantasy owners need to be aware of the 24-year-old’s blemishes before they go drafting him to be the ace of their staff.
Top Rookie: Enny Romero
There is a good chance we don’t see Romero until mid-to-late 2014, but there is a lot to like about the 23-year-old (starting with a 94 MPH fastball). Yet another lefty to add to the rotation (do they grow them on trees in Florida, Gonos?), Romero flashed his potential towards the end of the 2013 season with a 4 2/3-inning appearance against the Orioles in which he only allowed one hit. To be fair, he did walk four batters, but I’ll give him a pass since he was only 22 and that would also ruin my narrative here.
Romero has some work to do (like lowering his 4.69 BB/9 rate from Double-A last year), but he should have the chance to get some seasoning in Triple-A to start the year. He could end up being an interesting pickup toward the middle of the season if (when?) David Price is traded.
What We Should Know
Despite the fact that the 2014 Tampa Bay Rays are a small market team, there is a lot of Fantasy potential on this squad. They only have a couple “elite” Fantasy options in Longoria and Price, but there is no shortage of “upside” talent on the roster like Myers/Cobb/Archer/Moore and there can even be some value found in old faithfuls like Ben Zobrist and Desmond Jennings.
While I think there is a little more value to be found on the pitching side of things for the Rays, owners in 12-plus team leagues shouldn’t forget about players like David DeJesus, James Loney, and Matt Joyce. They’re not “sexy” names that will fetch a ton of Fantasy trade value, but they can all provide a positive return if they’re able to be snagged at the end of drafts (or even on waiver wires).
Nick Raducanu is the founder/owner of FantasyTrade411.com and can also be found covering Fantasy Basketball at Rotoworld and XNSports. His work in other Fantasy sports has been featured in the New York Times, Rotowire, Football.com, and he can be heard every Tuesday on the RotoExperts show on the SiriusXM Fantasy channel.
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