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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
Astros RP Luke Gregerson earns save Monday
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:53 am ET) Astros pitcher Luke Gregerson picked up his third save of the season during Monday's 7-5 win over the Mariners.

Gregerson entered in the ninth inning with a two-run lead and only allowed one base runner before recording the save. In addition to walking one batter, Gregerson also struck out a batter.

Gregerson has yet to surrender a run in seven innings of work this season and is a perfect 3 for 3 in save opportunities.


Astros 3B Luis Valbuena hits two home runs Monday
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:48 am ET) Astros third baseman Luis Valbuena connected on two home runs to help lead the Astros to a 7-5 win over the Mariners on Monday.

Valbuena hit his fourth home run of the season when he connected on a solo home run off Hisashi Iwakuma during the first inning. During the eighth inning, Valbuena hit another solo shot off Danny Farquhar for his fifth homer of the season. He is now batting .244 on the season.


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by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:47 am ET) Mariners outfielder Nelson Cruz continued his hot start when he drove in two runs during Monday's 7-5 loss to the Astros.

Cruz was 2 of 5 during the game, including a double in the fifth inning, which drove in Robinson Cano. He also struck out once. Cruz is not batting .358 on the season.


Astros SP Asher Wojciechowski fails to go five innings Monday
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:45 am ET) Astros pitcher Asher Wojciechowski was only able to pitch four innings during Monday's win over the Mariners.

Wojciechowski surrendered four runs on eight hits over four innings of work Monday. He also struck out six batters, while walking two in his second start of the season. Wojciechowski also failed to go past the fourth inning in his first start of the season. His ERA now stands at 6.00.

His next start is expected to be Saturday at Oakland.


Mariners SP Hisashi Iwakuma gives up four runs Monday
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:44 am ET) Mariners pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma failed to get past the fifth inning of Monday's loss to the Astros and received a no-decision as a result.

Iwakuma surrendered four runs on five hits over 5 1/2 innings. He struck out three and walked three on 71 pitches. He has given up four runs in each of his three starts this season.

Iwakuma's troubles began in the first inning when he gave up a solo home run to Luis Valbuena. He also surrendered a solo shot to Colby Rasmus in the fifth inning and his ERA is now 6.61. Felix Hernandez remains the only Mariners starter with a win this season.

Iwakuma's next expected start will be Sunday against the Twins.


Athletics P Tyler Clippard earns first save of season Monday
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:24 am ET) After going the first 13 games without a save opportunity, Athletics pitcher Tyler Clippard converted his first save chance of the season during the A's 6-3 win over the Angels on Monday.

Clippard entered the game with a three-run lead in the ninth inning, but walked two batters before recording the final out. He also struck out one batter. 


Athletics C Stephen Vogt hits three-run home run Monday
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:19 am ET) Athletics catcher Stephen Vogt connected on a three-run home run to help lead the Athletics to a 6-3 win over the Angels on Monday.

Vogt hit the home run off starting pitcher Matt Shoemaker in the third inning of the game. The home run was his only hit for the game. He finished the game 1 for 3 with one walk.


Athletics SP Kendall Graveman only throws 3 innings Monday
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:15 am ET) Athletics pitcher Kendall Graveman started Monday's game against the Angels, but only pitched the first three innings.

Graveman started the fourth inning, but was pulled after walking the first two batters of the inning. Over three innings of work, Graveman surrendered four hits and two earned runs, while walking three batters and striking out two.

Despite only throwing three innings, Graveman was able to lower his ERA from 7.27 to 6.94, but he received a no-decision for his effort.

His next start is expected to be Saturday against the Astros.


Angels SP Matt Shoemaker struggles during Monday's loss
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:11 am ET) Angels pitcher Matt Shoemaker started to struggle during the first inning of Monday's loss to the Athletics and he never improved.

After giving up a run in the first, Shoemaker pitched a scoreless second, but ran into trouble in the third and fourth innings. Shoemaker gave up a three-run home run to Stephen Vogt in the third and failed to get out of the fourth inning after being replaced following a solo home run to Marcus Semien.

Shoemaker (2-1) surrendered five runs on seven hits over three innings. He struck out two and walked three, while taking the loss. It was the first time in his three starts this season that he failed to pitch at least six innings. His ERA rose from 4.38 to 6.46.

His next expected to start will be Saturday against the Rangers. 


Rockies' Nolan Arenado doesn't think wrist injury is serious
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(12:46 am ET) Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado thinks he'll be able to return to the diamond for Tuesday night's game against the Padres. 

According to The Denver Post, Arenado said he started feeling soreness in his wrist just before his final at-bat against the Dodgers on Sunday. That carried over to Monday, which is why he was a late scratch in the lineup. 

“This is nothing chronic, just some soreness,” he said. “I’ve never had this before. I think I’ll be fine.”

Arenado is hitting .311 with three home runs and 10 BRI. 


 
 
 
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