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2018 MLB Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

A look at the Tampa Bay Rays with fantasy baseball in mind

MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Basic Stats

Final Record: 80-82

Runs: 25th

Home Runs: 6th

Stolen Bases: T-15th

ERA: 8th

Saves: 2nd

Strikeouts: 11th

The Rays had a few first-half breakout seasons from Logan Morrison, Steven Souza Jr., and Corey Dickerson that led many fantasy owners feeling like they struck gold. However much like the team itself, that trio stumbled in the second half (34 HR) after mashing in the first (58 HR). It was a three true outcomes team, finishing 6th in HR, 26th in AVG, and second-most strikeouts in baseball.

On the pitching side, Archer was once again the ace that had frustrating starts that led to his 4.07 ERA. Alex Cobb was the opposite, using some good luck to will his way to a 3.66 ERA in just under 180 innings. And they had a rookie breakout that not many saw coming; Jake Faria burst onto the scene and while he faded at the end, he finished with a 3.43 ERA in 14 starts.

The Superstar: Chris Archer

Heading into 2018, Archer is still the most fantasy valuable member of this team. After ascending into stardom in 2015, the 29 year old has been good...but not quite as good. He still has elite strikeout potential (top five K totals in last two years) and has kept a BB% under 8.0. But he’s developed a severe case of gopheritis, ballooning from roughly a 0.7 HR/9 mark between 2014-15 to about a 1.27 mark in 2016-17.

Heading into 2018, you’d like to think that his 3.40 FIP points to a good buy opportunity, but with his home run issues and the current run environment, a HR/9 above 1.15 is almost guaranteed lest he significantly alters his approach. As such, I’d draft him with the understanding of a 3.50 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 230 Ks and hope that he catches a few breaks to lower his ratios. Is a sub-3.00 ERA within him? Definitely. We haven’t seen his best season yet, even though he’s approaching 30. I’d still draft him and rest easy knowing he’s started at least 32 games in each of the last four season.

The Sleeper: Mallex Smith

Right now, Smth is slated to be the team’s fourth outfielder, playing behind Dickerson, Kevin Kiermaier and Steven Souza Jr. Last year, he earned a full-time gig when Kiermaier went down with a fractured hip. Overall in 81 games he stole 16 bases in 21 attempts to go along with a .270/.329/.355 line. Souza and Dickerson were pretty healthy last year, but they’re not bastions of health either. If either of them go down (or if Dickerson is traded), Mallex could once again be a nice scoop, providing value in a category that’s drying up around baseball. I’d pencil him in for 250 PA with upside for much more with an injury. In deeper leagues and draft and holds, he’s certainly a good reserve player.

The Guy To Avoid: Corey Dickerson

When you’ve had about five to six months to forget about the intricacies of the 2017 season, you might take a look at a Dickerson’s 87/24/62/4 & .282/.325/.490 line and be tempted to pull the trigger on him again. I’d advise against that. In the second half, Dickerson struggled, hitting just 10 HR with a .690 OPS and a 28 K%. This wasn’t so much bad luck as it was regressing from his great .361 BABIP in the first half. He began pressing more, too, pulling 40 percent of balls in the second half as opposed to 30 percent. We’ve already seen his ceiling and I’d much rather someone like Souza or Aaron Altherr, both OF that are going around the same ADP.

The Prospect To Watch: Brent Honeywell

We all assumed Honeywell would make his debut at some point last season after he torched AAA with an 11 K/9, 2.2 BB/9 and a 3.64 ERA (2.84 FIP) in 123.2 IP. But we underestimated just how slow the Rays like to roast their prospects. Guys like Archer, Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore all had stops at AAA where they pitched a fair amount. The good news is that Honeywell should now be past that phase.

I expect the 22 year old to debut some time in May or June and stay up for good. I don’t think a potential Jake Odorizzi trade speeds his timeline up because Matt Andriese is the guy who’ll take over. But this is the Andriese who had a 4.50 ERA in 17 starts last year. Even if Odorizzi doesn’t get traded, depth charts have Jose De Leon as a starter. Given that he’s pitched fewer than 150 innings (in MLB or MiLB) since the start of 2016, I doubt they turn to him.

Long story short, 2018 is the year we get to enjoy Honeywell’s glorious screwball. I’d expect an Archer-lite season — at least 9+ K/9, 3 BB/9 and an ERA around 3.70 with upside for more.