The Tampa Bay Rays have been a well-respected team for years, building their roster mainly from the ground up.
Yet again, the Rays prospect pool is eerily impressive, especially for a team that reached the World Series just last year.
The culture of Tampa Bay consists of winning now and saving prospects for the future. In 2021, 90+ wins is expected yet again.
Reaching the World Series for the first time since 2008, the 2020 Rays were among the most dominant teams in all of baseball.
The Rays ran away with the AL East in the COVID-19 condensed season, finishing first with a record of 40-20. The Yankees were seven games back in second.
Tampa entered the playoffs red-hot, going 8-2 over its last 10 regular-season games. The Rays made quick work of the Blue Jays in the Wild-Card round, then toppled the Yankees in five games in the ALDS.
The Rays nearly blew a 3-0 lead in the ALCS to the Houston Astros but prevailed in Game 7. In the World Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers beat out the Rays in six games for the Commissioner’sCommissioner’s trophy. Rays Manager Kevin Cash made a controversial call to remove Blake Snell in the middle of a fantastic outing in Game 6, ultimately leading to the Dodgers winning it all.
It will be a different pitching staff for the Rays. Chris Archer was the biggest acquisition, rejoining an organization where he had the most success. From 2012-2017, Archer had an ERA of 3.63, making the All-Star Game twice and finishing fifth in Cy Young voting in 2015.
The Rays also added veteran southpaw Rich Hill, as well as right-hander Michael Wacha. Wacha was named an All-Star in 2015 as a member of the St.Louis Cardinals, but last year held an ERA over 6.00 with the Mets.
The most significant loss by far is Snell, the ace since 2018, a year in which he won the AL Cy Young. Snell was dealt to the Padres in the offseason for prospects Luis Patino, Blake Hunt, Cole Wilson, and Francisco Mejia.
The right-handed slinger Patino is the 19th ranked prospect in the league according MLB Pipeline, and Mejia will start on the bench, backing up Mike Zunino at the catcher position.
Pitcher Charlie Morton’s player option was declined in the offseason, and the 37-year-old signed a one-year contract with the Atlanta Braves. Veteran reliever Aaron Loup signed with the Mets, and power-hitter Hunter Renfroe became a member of the Red Sox.
While Archer, Wacha, and Hill round out the back end of the pitching rotation, the Rays turn to Tyler Glasnow as their ace in place.
When his stuff is on command and located well, Glasnow is as good as it gets in the MLB. He will need to be much more consistent in 2021, however, with the pressure as the opening day starter. Behind Glasnow in the rotation is Ryan Yarborough, who posted an ERA+ of 116 last season in 55.2 innings pitched.
Collin McHugh provides a veteran arm from the bullpen who can transition to making spot starts here and there. Injuries are bound to happen throughout the season, so there is no doubt he’ll start on the bump at some point.
Tampa Bay Rays Offense
The defending American League champion’s offense centers around underrated names such as Brandon Lowe, Yandy Diaz, Randy Arozarena, and Austin Meadows.
Lowe finished the 2020 season with a team-best OPS+ of 154, while Diaz hit for a slash line of .307/.428/.386.
Randy Arozarena raked in the postseason, hitting ten home runs during the Rays’ run to the World Series. That set a rookie record for playoff homers, passing Evan Longoria. It will be super interesting to see if this was just a complete twist of fate or if the 28-year-old hailing from Cuba is legit.
Meadows struggled in 2020, hitting almost below the mendoza line. Look for the former top prospect to bounce back in 2021.
3 Key Players
One of the most prominent players looking to see a breakout this season is leadoff man Yoshi Tstutsugo.
Tsutsugo, who mashed in Japan, struggled to adjust to the MLB last season. In his first year in the show, the 28-year-old batted .199/.314/.395. Look for him to improve his numbers dramatically in 2021.
It would be nice to see Archer regain his All-Star self and stay healthy. Additionally, Willy Adams will need to play well at the shortstop position, or we could see Wander Franco take his place in the starting lineup. Franco is only 20 years old but is a switch hitter with insane bat speed for his age.
The Rays open the season in an All-Florida rivalry against the Miami Marlins. After that, they travel to Boston to take on the Red Sox at Fenway Park and then play their home opener on April 9 in a matinee against the Yankees in what should be an exciting ALDS rematch.
The BetUS World Series odds have the Rays at +1600. Tampa Bay’sBay’s BetUS over/under for regular-season wins is 87.5 and are listed at +375 to win the AL East.
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