A little help from Europe has got me jump started though, as my good friend Kyle who lives in Belgium volunteered to do a write up on the Rays. Kyle is an english teacher over there and a much better writer than myself. Without further ado here's a 2016 Preview of the Rays from a fan stuck in Belgium................
There's a lot of optimism rolling into the 16' campaign this year. Despite Longo being Longo, there's much improvement in the Rays lineup. Dare I say, a couple of people are long overdue for a breakout year (like Forsythe last year) there a couple of names that really need mentioning.
T. Bex and Souza are the two that immediately stand out in my mind. Souza has been a huge disappointment thus far and has a high ceiling that could really add to his value but has yet to be seen. He has flashed power at moments and is overall average left fielder (this is what you get for trading with the Nats).
Needless to say, there's also Nick Franklin who is inhabiting a roster spot that should be given to another person that has more potential. Franklin has simply not lived up to the “super utility” type that he was projected to be and should be left at a 7-11 in Boston.
Now that we've gotten the negativity out of the way...let's take a look at the outfield options. Desmond Jennings doesn't seem to be one built for the hard turf at The Trop and has paid for this. Needless to say, Desmond is a solid option (when healthy) and is a very good bat. In a perfect world, he would be our lead off man but that has now been taken over by Gold Glover Kevin Kiermaier. The outfield has many option including newly acquired Corey Dickerson. The others would include Brandon Guyer and Mikie Mahtook. I was surprised to see they didn't lock up Sizemore but our farm system continues to produce. Taylor Motter is another interesting option that could be added (depending on who gets injured).
It finally seems that we have depth in the catcher's position! I like the addition of Conger for multiple reasons, mainly, because he has that competitive fierceness about him (like he displayed against the Rangers) and hopefully can bring the noise during a Yankees or Red Sox game because they are the enemy. Casali is also a nice fit too, when healthy, he has flashed very good power and sub par defense. Then there's Rene Rivera. We acquired him from the Padres a year ago and has been equivalent to how Souza has performed. His first half was reasonably good (including one walk off against Boston) but his second half isn't even worth writing about. He simply fell off the face of the earth (thanks Hit Show). Luke Maile is a dark horse to me and we'll see how he pans out. All in all, I feel good here.
The infield has a bit of a jam. There's Loney who is lingering in purgatory (and will probably get traded at some point) then you have options with Lomo and Pearce too. Forsythe is locked in at second so this leaves a bit of a mystery in the field. Longo should be moved to 1B and letting Shaffer get some time at the hot spot (in order to spare the knees of our star). Still though, Longo has been proven durable despite his declining numbers. Now let's take a look at Brad Miller. I really like him and I think he fits the Rays mantra quite well in fact. High striped socks, solid defense man and good bat, I think he will thrive and ideally he will slot in at short stop, which leaves Tim Beckham and Nick Franklin in a do or die situation. I will skip Franklin entirely as I feel he has been a waste of a roster spot, so let's jump to Beckham. There's a lot of mystery surrounding him and his capabilities. It seems every time I watched him, he was striking out alongside his buddies Souza and Franklin. Despite this though, he has character that makes him fit our roster just the reality is, he hasn't lived up to the potential they thought he had. For him as well, it's do or die this year. What Kevin Cash will do with this logjam in the infield will be interesting. Pearce needs playing time at The Trop seeing his bat really goes a long way there but still needs to slot in Lomo, Shaffer and Loney...somehow. I will be sad to see Loney go (if he does) seeing he's really revamped his career with us but his numbers have declined and is simply too expensive for Sternberg's wallet. I forsee a David DeJesus situation like last year happen with Loney.
Now, the most important part of the Rays system...our pitching. Archer is our man, that goes without even saying actually. He is a guiding force that has taken the throne from our forefathers, Shield and Price. He embodies everything in which I love about the Rays. He is intelligent, doesn't have some Big Papi ego and goes out there and does his job. He inspires and makes every Rays fan a proud believer of why our philosophy is so great. Topkin recently reported that Smyly is highly contagious for the Tommy John bug and hopefully he is wrong. I really like Smyly (when he is healthy) but he has been pretty up and down with his stint with the Rays, so it'll be cool to see how his season pans out. Then we have the strong Matty Moore ready to slot in. He finished his seasons strong and was apparent his control was fully back. Can he regain that previous form and dominate? YES!
Then we have Jake Odorizzi. Why is he so great? Because he simply gets better and better. He acquired his split finger fast ball from a healing Alex Cobb and has utilized this pitch very effectively. Hopefully he can overcome Brian McCann this year, who has completely dominated him throughout his career. Erasmo Ramirez was a really pleasant surprise last year. I thought he would end up being like Erik Bedard (who was left at some coffee shop in Toronto) but really turned a lot of heads. He pitches strong and does it with a smile. It's refreshing. The last spots are a bit of a wild card, we have Blake Snell in the background but should not overlook top prospect Jaime Shultz. His numbers in Triple A were comparable with one Chris Archer. Very interesting...hopefully by this year, he will manage his command stronger while Blake Snell gets his feet wet with the first taste of Major League ball. What will be interesting with Snell is to see how he adapts to the major leagues. His numbers in Triple A were stupid (that's how good this kid is) and it'll be cool to see how he manages pitching to rival AL East teams.
The bullpen is my main concern (like every year). Boxy should be our closer and hopefully doesn't have a repeat of that disastrous second half. Alex Colome has also proven himself worthy and should be taken into consideration for a set up man slot or that could also belong to Xavier Cedeno and Steve Geltz. They both could be thrown into the mix, then we have the newly acquired Ryan Webb who is clearly hyped to be on the Rays. Enny Romero is in his do or die season, he simply hasn't found the control to handle major league pitching yet. One person I would like to bring up now would be Matt Andriese. Now, he has proven himself a solid starter and bullpen arm but I clearly prefer him as a starter. He usually gives a solid six innings and will probably give up a couple of runs but that is good for a fourth or fifth spot in my book. They need to use him more because he's clearly durable. More durable than former Ray, Nate Karns (who I was also sad to see leave).
All in all, this season is going to be great and the Rays pose quite a threat in the thick of a very thick AL East.
Thanks a bunch Kyle. I am going to a Rays game in Sarasota and will try to get some photos and autographs of the Rays and Orioles. I plan on doing those crazy Diamondbacks next. If anyone would like to help me out with this project I would appreciate it. Well thanks for reading and enjoy Spring Training guys!
I know I will!