Tampa Bay Rays 2020: Scouting, Projected Lineup, Season Prediction

How will things shape up in the AL East?

Rays officials couldn’t have been much more pleased with how the 2019 season turned out. They made it to the playoffs for the first time in six seasons as the core of young players they cleared room for in previous roster reshaping developed into impact players, and they boasted openly about how well set up they were for the future. “There’s so much to build on right now,” principal owner Stuart Sternberg said. “We’re coming right into the sweet spot.”

 

But being the Rays, they couldn’t help but tinker further, which means the 2020 team won’t really look all that much like the 2019 version. “It’s kind of in our DNA and our mode of preparation that we have an offseason with months to play with and think about things, and we can’t help ourselves but to think about how to make the team better,” GM Erik Neander said after the division series loss to Houston. “That’s our job, and we’ll do that. We’ll be open to things.”

 

Open enough to let two prominent free agents, catcher Travis d’Arnaud and outfielder Avisail Garcia, sign elsewhere, with no replacements on hand. Open enough to trade arguably their best offensive player, Tommy Pham, to San Diego. Open enough to gamble $12 million on a power hitter from Japan, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, while adding to their lineup imbalance, which leans left. And open enough to trade one of their top pitching prospects (LHP Matthew Liberatore) as part of a deal with St. Louis that brought back Jose Martinez, a right-handed power hitter who could see time in the outfield, at first base or DH, and outfield prospect Randy Arozarena. Less than a week before the start of spring training, Tampa Bay orchestrated another trade, sending reliever Emilio Pagan to San Diego for outfielder Manuel Margot and catcher/outfield prospect Logan Driscoll.

 

Even with these moves, the Rays believe they have enough depth, options, and flexibility to put together a lineup that will be functional and productive enough to complement one of the game’s elite pitching staffs.

 

Opposing Scouts Size Up the Rays

Tampa Bay Rays logo“I’ll never count them out again. They’re incredibly well-run and they get their guys to buy into their system. You hate to see them trade a guy like Tommy Pham, but they got a really intriguing prospect in Xavier Edwards, and I’m sure they see something they can unlock in Hunter Renfroe. They do it over and over again — look at guys like Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow and Ji-Man Choi last year. If Glasnow is healthy, they’ve got a top three that can hang with any team in the league in Charlie Morton, Blake Snell and him. Brendan McKay could also break out in that rotation; I’d love to see if he can be a true two-way player, but he’s so much more advanced as a pitcher that they need him in that rotation. Emilio Pagan was a great find as their closer; he ditched his changeup and used his slider more than ever — and if he falters, I’d love to see what Nick Anderson can do in that role. And it might be a year too early for Wander Franco; he’s only 19 and has never played above A-ball, but he’s a special talent, and you never know when he’ll break through.” [Editor's note: Scouting report was submitted before the Rays traded Emilio Pagan to San Diego on Feb. 8.]

 

Beyond the Box Score

 

Cash Money The Rays’ pitch to sign Japanese free agent Yoshitomo Tsutsugo included more than the two-year, $12 million contract, as the team was aggressive in reaching out, knowledgeable and personal in their pursuit and thorough with information — such as presenting him a 20-page book on the team and the area. Also, they had manager Kevin Cash as the closer. “Kevin’s passion for me was one of the biggest parts of me joining the Rays,” Tsutsugo said via an interpreter. “If I didn’t come to the Rays, Kevin would have haunted me in my nightmares.”

 

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Golden Touch Kevin Kiermaier may come across a wee bit cocky, but after winning his third Gold Glove in five seasons and being ineligible in the other two due to time missed as a result of injuries, he has a point in claiming to be the AL’s best defensive center fielder. “What I’ve said time and time again is there’s not anyone who can do what I can do out there from a total package standpoint,” he says. “There’s other guys who are faster than me, who have better arms than me, more accurate. But put all those things together with my instincts and my experience... I think it just lets you know if I stay healthy, I truly believe this is my award to lose.”

 

Uncle Charlie The 2019 season was Charlie Morton’s 12th in the majors, but it marked a series of career milestones for the now-36-year-old, including his first Cy Young Award votes. Morton was named on 29 of the 30 ballots and finished third behind former Houston teammates Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole.

 

Three Strikes The Rays had interest in retaining all three of their free agents but came up short. While catcher Travis d’Arnaud seemed the biggest loss in going to the Braves for $16 million over two years, they could miss outfielder Avisail Garcia more. Garcia got $20 million over two years from the Brewers, with a third-year option that could push the deal to $30 million. “He was awesome,’’ Cash says. “I appreciated his efforts on and off the field. He carried himself really, really well.’’ The third free agent, infielder Eric Sogard, also signed with the Brewers, getting $4.5 million with an option.

 

Share and Share Alike For the first time in the Rays’ 22 seasons, the team MVP award was shared. Morton and outfielder Austin Meadows finished tied in annual voting by members of the Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

 

Projected Lineup

 

LINEUP

LF    Austin Meadows (L)

3B    Yandy Diaz (R)

2B    Brandon Lowe (L)

RF    Hunter Renfroe (R)

DH   Yoshi Tsutsugo (L)

1B    Ji-Man Choi (L)

C      Mike Zunino (R)

CF    Kevin Kiermaier (L)

SS    Willy Adames (R)

 

BENCH

OF   Jose Martinez (R)

C     Michael Perez (L)

INF  Joey Wendle (L)

OF   Manuel Margot (R)

 

ROTATION

RHP    Charlie Morton

LHP    Blake Snell

RHP    Tyler Glasnow

LHP    Ryan Yarbrough

RHP    Yonny Chirinos

 

BULLPEN

RHP    Nick Anderson (C)

LHP    Jose Alvarado

RHP    Diego Castillo

RHP    Oliver Drake

LHP    Colin Poche

RHP    Chaz Roe

RHP    Andrew Kittredge

LHP    Jalen Beeks

 

2020 Prediction: 3rd in AL East

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