The Rays sure do a good job of making the Blue Jays and Orioles look "excuse-less" in the AL East. Despite having almost zero room for payroll and playing in a division with the top two American League teams, Tampa has made two playoff appearances in the last three years.
Not only that, but they might be fielding their best team in franchise history this year and they still got more talent on the way.
The Rays won't score a TON of runs, but they'll score a few and they have some good-to-great fantasy options. Let's take a look, shall we?
Best Hitter: Evan Longoria
Might be slightly overlooked because of his .244 average last season, but Longoria had a .239 BABIP after posing .300+ BABIPS in each of his first three seasons. He won't hit .244 again unless he's really unlucky (and what an odd coincidence that would be!) and he's still one of the top players in the game. Not many hitters in history have accumulated 26.9 WAR over their first four years.
At this pace, Longo will be in the Hall of Fame discussion when he's about 30.
Evan should be good for .270/.370/.515, 30, 100, 100, at least.
Ben Zobrist should go for .250/.350/.450, 20 HR, 80 RBI, 90 R, 15 SB on the low-end of his projections.
Best Pitcher: James Shields
David Price has the advantage of being younger and left-handed, but Shields takes the edge on being the ever-so-slightly better pitcher and safer fantasy play. Strikeouts and walks are nearly even, Shields was a bit luckier, but threw more innings and racked up a few more wins (which doesn't indicate much) on an ERA that of 2.82 compared to 3.49 of Price.
Either way, neither might be better than Matt Moore this season. But I'm not ready to state that as fact. See: Jeremy Hellickson as an example of that.
Potential Breakout: Desmond Jennings
Jennings stole 20 bases in 63 games last year and displayed greater power (10 HR, .190 ISO) than he ever had in the minors. Over a full season, he could produce 50 stolen bases, 100+ runs and 10-20 home runs. A definite top tier outfielder if it all pans out.
Potential Disappointment: Hellickson
He posted a 2.95 ERA over 29 starts but what the heck happened to the rest of the game? 5.57 strikeouts per 9 and 3.43 walks per nine aren't "Top Pitching Prospect" numbers. He's not the strikeout machine that Moore is, so that's why I'm less worried about Moore, but Hellboy will need to do better than that because he won't see a .223 BABIP against or 82% LOB every season.
Prospect Watch: Per BA
We know about Moore, he struck out an absurd 210 batters in 155 innings last season over two levels.
Hak-Ju Lee is the SS of the future, which the Rays desperately could use at the moment. He'll start the year going back to AA, where he hit .190/.272/.310 in only 24 games but overall he had a very successful season at the plate. His ETA should be 2013.
Archer came over in the Matt Garza deal and struck out 130 batters in 147.1 innings but walked 86. He should start the year in AAA but could appear at some point in Tampa Bay this year.
Guerrieri and Mahtook are 2011 draft picks that won't contribute this year. Neither will Drew Vettleson or Enny Romero.
Colome and Torres should appear with the big club, but only as back-end starters or bullpen pieces.
Former #1 pick Tim Beckham is still just 22 and he had a "better" season in 2011, but he's got a long ways to go before he'll prove he's a regular major league shortstop. It's not too late and if the duo of Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez fail, Beckham might get a shot this year.
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