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2011 Fantasy outlooks: Tampa Bay Rays

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For the second time in three years, the winner of the AL East wasn't the Yankees or Red Sox. It was the Rays, who have done their best to compete with that elite duo despite not having near the history or resources.

But it may have finally caught up to them.

Granted, they're still in good shape long-term. They still have a minor-league system brimming with prospects like Desmond Jennings and Matt Moore, and they still have a strong nucleus in place with Evan Longoria and David Price. But anytime a team loses players of the caliber of Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Jason Bartlett, Matt Garza and Rafael Soriano, you have to expect it to fall off a bit.

The Rays haven't completely waved the white flag, signing Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez late in the offseason just in case the Yankees' suspect pitching leaves the door open for the wild card. But other than having household names, the two aren't so different from the other castoffs littering the roster.

At least the exodus of talent creates new opportunities for players who might not get to contribute otherwise. Matt Joyce and Dan Johnson offer intriguing OPS potential, and new middle infielders Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac could provide some cheap pop. But the Rays will likely spend much of the year shuffling different players in and out of the lineup, looking for a perfect combination that isn't there.

If nothing else, you can still count on their pitching staff. Starters Price, James Shields, Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis and Jeremy Hellickson (who is, by all indications, the next great thing), all deserve roster spots in Fantasy. And eventually, hard-throwing left-hander Jake McGee should be able to fill Soriano's void at closer even if he has to split opportunities with Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta right out of the gate.

Bounce-back player ... Ben Zobrist, 2B/OF

Zobrist's performance last year prompted an "I told you so" from everyone who thought his 2009 season was a mirage -- and yeah, maybe it was too good to be true. But his 2010 was equally too bad to be true. He hit only .177 in the second half, which was clearly an anomaly for a player who hit .318 during his minor-league career. So what was his excuse? He had a sore back all year that no doubt affected his swing. With an offseason to recover and regroup, he should be able to continue his high-OPS ways, which actually began in 2008, well before anyone gave him any notice in Fantasy. True, he may never hit 27 homers again, but with his high walk rate and ability to steal 20 bases, he only needs to hit 15 or so to be a high-end Fantasy performer. The expected rebound in batting average should be enough to get him there.

Breakout ... Jeremy Hellickson, SP

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The Rays kind of took all the drama out of this pick by giving us a sneak peak at Hellickson last year. The results were impressive even for a prospect of his caliber. He posted a 2.05 ERA and 0.76 WHIP in four starts before Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis returned from injuries. His time in the bullpen, where he clearly doesn't belong, is the only reason his ERA finished as high as it did. His walk rate of 2.0 per nine innings is almost inconceivable for a rookie and would have ranked him in the top 10 if he had enough innings to qualify. By keeping his pitch count low, he should be able to pitch six and seven innings consistently, avoiding some of the usual pitfalls for rookies. Then again, he shouldn't have to do much on-the-job learning of any sort. Hellickson will slip into the middle rounds just because he's a rookie, but he has ace written all over him.

Sleeper ... Matt Joyce, OF

Yeah, the Rays kind of messed up Joyce's golden opportunity by signing Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez late in the offseason, but nobody really thinks they're going to meet the team's offensive needs, do they? Neither looked particularly good down the stretch, and neither is young enough to play every day. In other words, Joyce is still getting his chance, and if his trial run last year is any indication, he's ready to take advantage. If you're having trouble seeing the potential here, look beyond the .241 batting average. The guy is an OPS machine in the making. His walk rate is impressive, and he showed the power to hit 25-plus homers over a full season. The Rays have been waiting for this kind of performance from him since they acquired him for Edwin Jackson in 2008, so you can bet he's getting the nod at the lineup's first opening. If you can afford to stash him in a deeper league, you won't regret it.

Tampa Bay Rays Fantasy Outlook
Projected Lineup Pos. Projected Rotation
1 John Jaso C 1 David Price LH
2 Johnny Damon LF 2 James Shields RH
3 Ben Zobrist RF 3 Jeff Niemann RH
4 Evan Longoria 3B 4 Wade Davis RH
5 Manny Ramirez DH 5 Jeremy Hellickson RH
6 B.J. Upton CF Alt Andy Sonnanstine RH
7 Dan Johnson 1B
Bullpen Breakdown
8 Sean Rodriguez 2B CL Jake McGee LH
9 Reid Brignac SS SU Joel Peralta RH
Top bench options RP Kyle Farnsworth RH
R Matt Joyce OF RP Mike Ekstrom RH
R Kelly Shoppach C RP Adam Russell RH
Rookies/Prospects Age Pos. 2010 high Destination
1 Jeremy Hellickson 23 SP Majors Majors
Rays cleared spot for him by trading Garza to Cubs. Could challenge Price for title of staff ace.
2 Desmond Jennings 24 OF Majors Triple-A
Ramirez, Damon signings will delay him. Still considered long-term solution to Crawford's departure.
3 Jake McGee 24 RP Majors Majors
Former starting pitcher prospect was lights-out in 'pen. Will close eventually, if not right away.
4 Matt Moore 21 SP Class A Double-A
Overshadowed by Hellickson just like Hellickson was overshadowed by Price. An ace in his own right.
5 Chris Archer 22 SP Double-A Triple-A
Likely would reach majors this year if had stayed with Cubs. Still not far off after 2.34 ERA last year.
Best of the rest: Alexander Colome, SP; Alex Torres, SP; Josh Sale, OF; Jake Thompson, SP; Hak-Ju Lee, SS; Alex Cobb, SP; Brandon Guyer, OF; Cesar Ramos, RP; Justin O'Conner, C; Drew Vettleson, OF; Leslie Anderson, 1B; Tim Beckham, SS; Elliot Johnson, SS; Rob Delaney, RP; Justin Ruggiano, OF; Jose Lobaton, C; and Robinson Chirinos, C.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter . You can e-mail us your Fantasy Baseball questions to DMFantasyBaseball@cbs.com . Be sure to put Team outlooks in the subject field. Please include your full name, hometown and state.

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Player News
Ricky Nolasco saddled with the loss
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(11:17 pm ET) Twins pitcher Ricky Nolasco had a tough start Wednesday against the Indians.

Nolasco allowed four runs on eight hits over 6 2/3 innings. He struck out six and walked one during the outing. Nolasco found himself in trouble early, as Zach Walters hit a solo shot against him in the second inning. Cleveland struck again in the fourth. A run scored on two straight doubles to open the inning. Mike Aviles was able to drive in the second run of the inning with a single. Nolasco would pitch into the seventh, but was pulled after giving up a single. That run would come around to score, and was charged to Nolasco. 

With the loss, Nolasco dropped to 5-9. He’ll take on the Royals in his next start.


T.J. House picks up a win
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(11:16 pm ET) Indians pitcher T.J. House turned in a solid start Wednesday against the Twins.

House allowed four hits over 5 1/3 scoreless innings. He struck out five and walked three during the outing. House nearly got himself in trouble in the first inning. With two men on with just one out, House was able to induce an inning-ending double play. He again was able to work around two base-runners in the second inning. Two walks nearly put House in a bad position in the fifth, but, again, he was able to get out of it. 

With the win, House improved to 2-3. He’ll take on the White Sox if he gets another start.


Garrett Richards dealing with a 'significant injury'
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(11:15 pm ET) Angels pitcher Garrett Richards is dealing with a "significant injury," according to MLB.com.

Manager Mike Scioscia told reporters the injury is serious, though he would not elaborate. Richards will leave the team in order to be re-evaluated in Los Angeles Thursday. Richards left Wednesday night's game with a knee injury.


Jose Veras picks up his first save
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(11:12 pm ET) Astros pitcher Jose Veras saved his first game Wednesday against the Yankees. 

Veras entered with a three-run lead, but managed to make things interesting. With two outs, Veras gave up a single to Brett Gardner, and walked Derek Jeter. With the tying run at the plate, Veras was able to induce a fly out to end the game. Veras lowered his ERA to 2.84 with the outing. 


Zach Britton saves his 27th game Wednesday
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(11:08 pm ET) Orioles pitcher Zach Britton picked up his 27th save Wednesday against the White Sox.

Britton was called upon to close out a one-run game and didn't disappoint. He was able to induce two groundouts immediately. The White Sox brought in pinch-hitter Tyler Flowers with two outs in the inning, but Britton managed to strike him out for the victory. Britton threw 11 pitches during the outing, seven of which were strikes. 


Clay Buchholz struggles against Angels
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(11:01 pm ET) Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz struggled Wednesday against the Angels.

Buchholz allowed six runs on seven hits over six innings of work. He struck out five and walked two during the outing. Things started out well, as Buchholz tossed three scoreless innings to open the game, but he seemed to tire as things progressed. The Angels were able to scratch one run across in the fourth inning, but really broke things open in the fifth. Buchholz loaded the bases with no outs. He then proceeded to give up a run in each of the next five at-bats. Porcello walked in one run, gave up two run-scoring singles and allowed two sac flies. He came back out for the sixth, and was able to get through the inning without giving up any more runs.

With the loss, Buchholz dropped to 5-8. He’ll take on the Blue Jays in his next start. 


Wei-Yin Chen picks up a win
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:59 pm ET) Orioles pitcher Wei-Yin Chen picked up a win Wednesday against the White Sox.

Chen allowed three runs on six hits over 7 1/3 innings of work. He struck out seven and walked one during the outing. Chen was tagged for two runs early, but managed to settle in. In the first inning, he gave up a two-run blast to Avisail Garcia, giving him the early deficit. He managed to toss five scoreless innings before surrendering a third run in the sixth. 

The Orioles managed to battle back during the start, giving Chen the win. With the win, he improved to 13-4. He'll take on the Rays in his next start.


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by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10:57 pm ET) Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu is not expected to go on a rehab assignment before returning from the disabled list, MLB.com reports.

"He'll eventually get on a mound, but I haven't heard any talk about that," manager Don Mattingly said Wednesday. "He just started playing catch. He's got some time. We're not going to push him."

Ryu played catch for the second straight day Wednesday. He is working his way back from a strained right gluteus.


Home runs sink Hector Noesi
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:54 pm ET) White Sox pitcher Hector Noesi had a tough start Wednesday against the Orioles.

Noesi gave up four runs on seven hits over seven innings of work. He struck out eight and did not issue any walks. As usual, home runs played a big role in Noesi’s downfall. Both Steve Pearce and Nelson Cruz went deep in the fourth inning, driving in three runs. Adam Jones then struck in the sixth, picking up a solo homer. All four of the runs scored against Noesi came on home runs. Noesi threw 111 pitches during the outing.

With the loss, Noesi dropped to 7-9. He’ll take on the Indians in his next start. 


Scott Feldman turns in strong start Wednesday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:49 pm ET) Astros pitcher Scott Feldman turned in a strong start Wednesday against the Yankees.

Feldman allowed two runs on eight hits over 6 2/3 innings during the start. He struck out seven and walked two. The Yankees were able to get to Feldman in two consecutive innings. Stephen Drew started the scoring with a solo home run in the fourth. The team was able to string together a few hits against Feldman in the fifth. Ichiro Suzuki led off the inning with a single, and stole second. He scored on a single by Jacoby Ellsbury. Feldman was able to pitch into the eighth inning before he was replaced.

With the win, Feldman improved to 7-9. He’ll take on the Athletics in his next start. 


 
 
 
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