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Tampa Bay Rays 2022: Scouting, Projected Lineup, Season Prediction

Wander Franco, Tampa Bay Rays

With young phenom Wander Franco as new of the franchise, the Rays look to make it three straight AL East titles

The Rays have made the playoffs for three straight seasons, won two straight American League East titles, and are coming off a season in which they won a franchise-record 100 games. And, given a core of talented young players who are improving and more who are coming, they think they can do even better in 2022 and the years ahead given their promising trajectory.

"Up," manager Kevin Cash says. "Maybe straight up. I mean, it’s a pretty exciting time to be a Tampa Bay Ray."

The Rays won’t look the same in 2022 — they never do from year to year, seemingly challenging themselves to find ways to tweak and churn the roster with a dual focus on the present and future — but they can be as good, if not better. Before the lockout, they made three big deals, signing free-agent starter Corey Kluber and reliever Brooks Raley and trading All-Star infielder Joey Wendle to Miami, plus a series of small moves. And once a new labor agreement is in place, they are expected to be busy again, seeking a right-handed hitter (preferably proven and with some positional versatility) and bullpen depth.

But in any case, the Rays are confident they will continue their run as a playoff contender, further fueled by their 2021 first-round ouster, given the young talent and depth they possess. Consider that they had three players receive votes in the American League Rookie of the Year voting, and the roles they play. Outfielder Randy Arozarena, who won the award at 26, had a tremendous first full big-league season, joining the 20-20 club and earning Gold Glove finalist honors.

Shortstop Wander Franco, who finished third, lived up to the hype as the game’s best prospect with a spectacular debut performance after his late June promotion from Triple-A at age 20. And 24-year-old lefty Shane McClanahan, who finished seventh, established himself as a legit top starter in his first extended big-league duty and the frontman to a young and promising rotation.

Opposing Scouts Size Up the Rays

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"They’re very well suited for the marathon of the regular season, but the lack of star power and roster limits have hurt them in the playoffs. They’re the masters at shuffling guys up and down from the minors and moving them all over the field and the lineup to exploit every matchup advantage. That pays off over the long haul much more than it does in a small sample. They’ll contend again, for sure, because they’ve proven that their methods work, and they’ll continue to find (and churn through) undervalued arms for specific roles. The hope now is that they’ve developed actual superstars to get them over the hump — starters like Shane Baz and Shane McClanahan are going to be dominant for a long time, and while Luis Patiño might lack the deception to be an ace, he’s a valuable part of any rotation. And of course, Wander Franco is ridiculous: a switch-hitting force in the middle of the field who can beat you with speed, power and defense and plays with an edge. Locking him up was the best move of the offseason."

Beyond the Box Score

Getting paid The Rays saw Wander Franco play only 70 big-league games after his late June promotion, but that, along with his dazzling minor league showing, was enough for them to award him the largest contract in franchise history — by potentially more than double. In the deal agreed to shortly before the lockout, Franco, who turns 21 on March 1, was guaranteed $182 million over 11 years and up to $223 million with incentives, escalators and a 12th-year option. Their previous biggest contract was a $100 million, six-year extension for Evan Longoria.

Tampa Bay Rays Miami Marlins 2022 Baseball Cover

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A kid's game Outfielder Brett Phillips, who earned his moment of fame with his dramatic delivery of the game-winning run in Game 4 of the 2020 World Series followed by his "airplane run" though the outfield and his classic comment that "Baseball is fun," has since turned those three little words into a side business, launching a T-shirt and cap line built around that phrase, available at baseballisfun35.com.

Passed over Bench coach Matt Quatraro reached the final three for the Mets managerial job and was also one of six known candidates to interview in Oakland, though he didn’t get either job. Quatraro had
previously been a finalist for the Giants and Pirates jobs and also interviewed with the Tigers.

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Taylor made Though the Rays saved about $4 million in trading Joey Wendle to Miami, their primary purpose in making the deal was to create playing time for Taylor Walls, the slick-fielding prospect who made his debut in May 2021 and had an inconsistent showing, especially offensively.

Comedy team Wendle was a favorite of manager Kevin Cash, and they showed their mutual affection by constantly joking and jabbing each other. Even after being traded to the Marlins, Wendle kept up the needling, noting that in now being managed by Don Mattingly, a six-time All-Star and former AL MVP, he was "looking forward to somebody who can actually coach me." Wendle taunted Cash, saying, "Good luck winning the Citrus Series next year."

For openers The opener concept was dismissed as a gimmick when the Rays first employed the unorthodox pitching strategy in May 2018, but they have stuck with it to various degrees and have had considerable success, going 79–50 in regular-season and postseason games since then for a .612 winning percentage.

Projected Lineup

LINEUP

LF    Randy Arozarena (R)
SS    Wander Franco (S)
2B    Brandon Lowe (L)
3B    Yandy Díaz (R)
1B    Ji-Man Choi (L)
C     Mike Zunino (R)
DH   Josh Lowe (L)
RF    Manuel Margot
CF    Kevin Kiermaier (L)

BENCH

IF     Taylor Walls (S)
OF   Brett Phillips (L)
C     Francisco Mejía (S)
UT    Vidal Bruján (S)

ROTATION

LHP    Shane McClanahan
RHP    Corey Kluber
RHP    Drew Rasmussen
RHP    Shane Baz
RHP    Luis Patiño

BULLPEN

RHP    Andrew Kittredge (C)
LHP    Ryan Yarbrough
LHP    Brooks Raley
RHP    Pete Fairbanks
RHP    JT Chargois
RHP    J.P. Feyereisen
RHP    Matt Wisler
LHP    Jeffrey Springs

2022 Prediction: 2nd in AL East