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2012 Fantasy outlooks: Tampa Bay Rays

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The Rays made the playoffs for the third time in four years by stealing the wild card on the last day of the 2011 season, putting them in the same class as the Red Sox and Yankees in the AL East.

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The key to their success? Pitching. In terms of depth and ceiling, no other organization compares.

And the best of the bunch from a pure talent standpoint made only one regular-season start last year. With Matt Moore expected to join probable Cy Young contenders James Shields and David Price at the top of the rotation, somebody has to go, and it won't be reigning AL Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson. So who, then? Wade Davis, the high-upside hurler who preceded Hellickson and Moore in the Rays' seemingly never-ending line of pitching prospects, or Jeff Niemann, the former fourth overall pick who has averaged 12 wins over the last four seasons? Does one shift to the bullpen? Does one get traded? Honestly, both could stand to go. As of now, up-and-comer Alex Cobb isn't even in the discussion, and he posted a 3.42 ERA in nine starts last year.

Throw in Alex Torres, Alex Colome, Chris Archer and Taylor Guerrieri, who are all working their way up the minor-league ladder, and the Rays won't have to worry about what derailed the Red Sox last year. They'll never have a hole in their starting rotation.

But what of their hitting? Not exactly their bread and butter, but they have their mainstays in Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist. By replacing Casey Kotchman and Johnny Damon with Carlos Pena and Luke Scott, they'll likely gain in on-base percentage whatever they lost in batting average. And with a full season of Desmond Jennings they'll be adding another potential All-Star to the mix.

And so the little team that could just keeps on keeping on, serving as a present-day version of the 1990s Braves with their factory of starting pitching.

If the formula is as true now as it was then, their winning ways are only beginning.

Breakout ... Matt Moore, RP

When a top prospect with almost zero major-league experience generates as much hype as Moore has, you're usually better off avoiding him in Fantasy. Any amount of on-the-job learning, and his numbers won't match the investment. But Moore showed what makes him different in only his second major-league start last year, which also happened to be Game 1 of the ALDS at Texas. With that pressure on that stage against that lineup, he allowed just two hits in seven shutout innings. That's poise. In those seven innings, he showed he's not scared, nervous, intimidated or otherwise in over his head and it's not like his stuff was ever in question. The Rays are clearly believers, actually pushing proven pitchers aside just to get Moore on their opening day roster. And because of his gradual increase in innings in the minors they're already counting on him for 200 innings, which should easily mean 200 strikeouts. If the other numbers fall in line, what's stopping him from being an ace (and one with RP eligibility at that)?

Bust ... Matt Joyce, OF

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Wait, this one is labeled wrong. Joyce was a long-awaited minor-leaguer who did nothing but live up to hype when he finally got to play regularly last year, even making the All-Star team. Surely he's more of a sleeper than a bust in waiting, right? Right? Sadly, no. Most of his production last year stemmed from an exceptionally hot May in which he hit .414 with seven homers and a 1.229 OPS. From June 1 to the end of September -- a full two-thirds of the season -- he hit only .226 with 10 homers and a .691 OPS. For the year, he hit only .217 against lefties, likely condemning him to a platoon role again. And because he's already 27 he has less room for improvement than you might think. Joyce's final numbers may look OK but he was by and large a disappointment last year. And if his struggles prevent him from getting full-time at-bats this year, he'll be a waste of a middle-round pick in Fantasy.

Sleeper ... Jeff Niemann, SP

Judging by his average draft position, a good number of Fantasy owners seem to think Niemann will be the odd man out in the battle for the fifth starter role. After all, he wasn't even on the playoff roster last year. Wade Davis was. But Niemann's absence was more injury-related than performance-related. Between his back issues, which plagued him both at the beginning and end of last season, he posted a 2.15 ERA in 10 starts, pitching beyond seven innings in four of those starts and recording about a strikeout per inning. Say what you want about Davis' upside, but he's clearly not that type of pitcher -- at least not yet. Even if the Rays go the upside route and give the job to Davis, they'll get enough calls about Niemann that he'll end up starting for someone. And provided he's able to take the mound, he'll pitch well enough to matter in mixed leagues. He's a perfect choice to fill out your rotation in the late rounds.

2012 Tampa Bay Rays Fantasy Outlook
Projected Lineup Pos. Projected Rotation
1 Desmond Jennings LF 1 James Shields RH
2 Ben Zobrist 2B 2 David Price LH
3 Evan Longoria 3B 3 Jeremy Hellickson RH
4 Carlos Pena 1B 4 Matt Moore LH
5 B.J. Upton CF 5 Jeff Niemann RH
6 Matt Joyce RF Alt Wade Davis RH
7 Luke Scott DH
Bullpen Breakdown
8 Jose Molina C CL Kyle Farnsworth RH
9 Sean Rodriguez SS SU Joel Peralta RH
Top bench options RP Fernando Rodney RH
R Jeff Keppinger IF RP J.P. Howell LH
R Sam Fuld OF RP Burke Badenhop RH
Rookies/Prospects Age Pos. 2011 high Destination
1 Matt Moore 22 SP Majors Majors
As much attention as Stephen Strasburg has gotten since his debut two years ago, some talent evaluators think Moore is even better. Hard to argue after his postseason start.
2 Hak-Ju Lee 21 SS Double-A Double-A
Lee doesn't profile as a 20-homer guy but his wide range of offensive skills makes him something like the Shane Victorino of shortstops. That's worth stashing long-term, right?
3 Brandon Guyer 26 OF Majors Triple-A
He's already 26, so Guyer probably isn't part of the Rays' long-term plans. But his numbers suggest he's a pure hitter, which they could use from the right side to pair with Joyce.
4 Alex Torres 24 RP Majors Triple-A
Torres debuted as a reliever last year but his future is in the rotation if he can overcome his command issues. He'll be one of the first up if a need arises midseason.
5 Chris Archer 23 SP Triple-A Triple-A
Command issues caused the former Cubs farmhand's stock to slip a little last year but he still has a high ceiling and will likely get a look at some point this season.
Best of the rest: Alex Colome, SP; Taylor Guerrieri, SP; Tim Beckham, SS; Drew Vettleson, OF; Josh Sale, OF; Jake Hager, SS; Dane De La Rosa, RP; Tyler Bortnick, SS; Marquis Fleming, RP; Kyeong Kang, OF; Matt Bush, RP; and Ty Morrison, OF.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite . You can also send our staff an e-mail at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Ryan Vogelsong twirls a gem vs. Brewers
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:35 am ET) Giants pitcher Ryan Vogelsong twirled a gem and received more than enough run support Friday night against the Brewers, scattering two runs on four hits over seven innings to improve to 8-9 on the season. He struck out seven and walked one in a 13-2 victory.

Over his last four starts covering 23 1/3 innings, Vogelsong has allowed nine earned runs. He owns a 3.73 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP over 27 starts (157 innings). His next start will come Wednesday against Colorado at Coors Field.

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Peralta gave up six runs on nine hits over three innings. He struck out one and walked two during the outing. Peralta got himself in trouble immediately. After recording one out in the first inning, Peralta allowed four straight singles. By the end of the inning, three runs had come across for the Giants. The issues continued in the second. San Francisco started the inning with a single and a double. Both runs would come around to score. Peralta would go on to give up his final run on a single the following inning.

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Haren gave up two runs, one earned, on five hits over six innings. He struck out three and walked one during the outing. Haren’s first run came as the result of an error. In the second inning, Haren walked the leadoff man. The second batter of the inning would reach on a throwing error by Dee Gordon, advancing the leadoff man to third. A sac fly would plate that run and give Haren the early deficit. The Dodgers would tie the game up the following inning, but Haren couldn’t hold on. With two outs in the fourth, Haren gave up three straight singles. The final hit wound up driving in a run.

Haren wasn't a factor into the decision. He’ll take on the Nationals in his next start.

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by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:08 am ET) Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez had a rough start Friday against the Nationals.

Hernandez allowed five runs on 10 hits over seven innings. He struck out one and walked one during the outing. Home runs were a major issue for Hernandez. For the first time in his career, Hernandez gave up four home runs in one game. Anthony Rendon got things started in the first inning, hitting a solo shot off Hernandez. Jason Werth would take Hernandez deep for a two-run shot in the third. In the fourth, two other Nationals got into the act. Both Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos clubbed solo shots, putting five runs on the board against Hernandez. Despite the rough start, he gave the Mariners seven innings.

With the loss, Hernandez fell to 13-5. He’ll take on the Athletics in his next start. 


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(12:41 am ET) Diamondbacks closer Addison Reed picked up his 31st save Friday against the Rockies.

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