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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
Red Sox's Henry Owens impresses during camp
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:19 am ET) Red Sox pitcher Henry Owens impressed during batting practice recently, according to the Boston Herald

Owens hadn't faced big league hitters since last spring training, and had something to prove. While Owens didn't have great fastball command during the session, his changeup was spot on. 

"Great deception, hard to pick up," catcher Ryan Hanigan said. "He got me on the changeup today because you can’t see the spin. It looks just like his fastball. That’s a huge advantage."

Pitching coach Juan Nieves agreed, but said he wasn't sure whether Owens was ready for the majors just yet. "Is anybody ready to come to the big leagues?" Nieves said. "I don’t know. We don’t know until they get there and experience the competition."

The 22-year-old Owens enters the year as the team's second-best prospect according to Baseball America. He posted a 2.94 ERA over two minor-league levels last year. 


Brewers GM confident Jean Segura will bounce back
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/28/2015) Brewers general manager Doug Melvin expressed confidence Saturday that shortstop Jean Segura will bounce back after a subpar 2014 season, the Journal Sentinel reports.

"I'm pretty confident he's going to bounce back," Melvin said. "He had a very good September. He had a lot of stuff going on last year. But everybody says he's a much happier person and everything. He's a good, athletic player that we need."

After delivering a .294 average, smacking 12 home runs and stealing 44 bases in 2013, Segura hit just .246/.289/.326 with five home runs, 31 RBI and 20 stolen bases in 513 at-bats in 2014.


Brewers' Dontrelle Willis making a good impression in camp
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(2/28/2015) Brewers pitcher Dontrelle Willis has made a favorable impression during camp, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

In particular, Willis has impressed manager Ron Roenicke. "He's got a great attitude," Roenicke said. "The things he said are exactly what you want a player to say. He gets it." Willis has also made a strong impression on his new teammates.

Willis, 33, has not pitched in the majors since 2011. He's attempting to make a come back with the Brewers this spring. 


Blue Jays' Michael Saunders: 'No pain' day after surgery
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/28/2015) Blue Jays outfielder Michael Saunders said Saturday that he's feeling no pain one day after undergoing knee surgery, the Toronto Sun reports.

"I feel great," Saunders said. "I couldn’t believe it when I woke up this morning and I was walking around just fine. I walked out of surgery just fine. I actually started doing some exercises today and just got checked out by the doctor and he was pleasantly surprised with what he saw. There’s not as much swelling as he originally thought. Everything is checking out so far and everything is good news. No pain. It feels like I banged my knee on a pole and it’s a tiny bit swollen."

Saunders suffered a torn meniscus while tracking a foul ball Wednesday, tripping over a sprinkler head and hearing a popping sound. After initially being told he could need to have the meniscus repaired, a procedure that carries a recovery time of three-to-five months, Saunders had the torn portion of the meniscus removed, which places him on track to return to action within six weeks. While the outfielder is excited to be back on the field in a much shorter time, he indicated he'll be cautious with his rehab.

"I’m going to miss some spring training but it could be a lot worse," Saunders said. "My ligaments are intact. For me this is the best-case scenario. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure I’m ready to go. I’d love to say that I’ll be ready opening day. That’s my goal. But we’re targeting more mid-April, on the safe side. At the end of the day I have to listen to my knee. It’s a long season. I’m going to get this right the first time and not rush back."


Athletics' Doolittle hoping to throw in a week or two
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(2/28/2015) Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle is hoping to be cleared to throw in a week or two, according to the San Francisco Chronicle

Doolittle was able to participate in strength tests on Saturday, and the results were positive. He has not been cleared to throw just yet, but is hoping that will come shortly. Doolittle has been sidelined by a shoulder injury during the start of camp. 

The 28-year-old posted a 2.73 ERA over 62 2/3 innings last year. 


Rays release OF Josh Sale
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/28/2015) The Rays have released outfielder Josh Sale, Baseball America reports.

Sale was suspended for use of performance-enhancing drugs in 2013 as well as for conduct detrimental to the team that same season. He received a 50-game suspension last August for a second positive test for a drug of abuse. Before his most recent suspension, he hit .238/.313/.344 with four home runs and 46 RBI in 323 at-bats with high Class A Charlotte.


Yankees' Cashman downplays Bailey's chances of making team
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(2/28/2015) Yankees general manager Brian Cashman downplayed reliever Andrew Bailey's chances of making the 25-man roster, according to the Journal News.

Bailey, 30, is attempting to come back from a shoulder injury. He has not pitched in the majors since 2013 due to the issue. While Bailey has been able to participate in bullpen sessions this spring, Cashman took a more realistic view of the situation. "It’s one of those things where, non-roster situation, it’s a flyer, and the odds are against it," Cashman said. "And it didn’t work out for us last year. But because of who he is, his makeup, his work ethic, all those things, it made it easier to say, 'All right, let's keep trying,'" he added. 

Cashman stressed that while things look good now, the team wants to see how Bailey will respond in game situations. Bailey, meanwhile, has been optimistic during camp, saying he feels like he's finally over his injury.

Bailey posted a 3.77 ERA over 28 2/3 innings back in 2013. 


Hinch: Astros' Torreyes has 'earned every chance to get a look'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/28/2015) Astros infielder Ronald Torreyes checks in at about 5-foot-6 and 130 pounds, but his success at avoiding strikeouts has manager A.J. Hinch ready to give him a chance at showing what he can do this spring, the Houston Chronicle reports.

"You like to see these guys play," manager A.J. Hinch said. "He can look to our starting lineup at the top or hitting first or second and he’ll see a guy who is pretty successful who is not the biggest guy in the world. I see a unique size for this level, but the way he’s hit and the way he’s performed he’s earned every chance to get a look."

Torreyes was added to the team's 40-man roster in November after hitting .298/.345/.376 with two home runs, 46 RBI and 12 stolen bases in 460 at-bats with Triple-A Oklahoma City in 2014.

"He doesn’t look like a ballplayer because he’s little like me, but he’s a young bull," Astros second baseman Jose Altuve said. "He hits a lot and plays good defense. Last year they put him on the 40-man roster because he has a good chance to help us. There aren’t many players like him so skinny and little in the big leagues, so when you see him for the first time you say, 'You know he has to be good to be here.' Then when you see him hit you realize the organization has a good reason to give him this opportunity."

Torreyes will look for an opportunity to latch on as a utility player this spring. He's capable of seeing work at second base, shortstop and third base as well as in left field and center field.


Yoga has Twins' Trevor May 'much fresher than ever before'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/28/2015) Twins starting pitcher Trevor May has looked to improve flexibility coming into his competition for a rotation spot this spring by turning to yoga to help repeat his delivery, the Star Tribune reports.

"I’ve been doing yoga for 30 or 40 minutes every morning, and I’m much fresher than ever before," May said. "Every scouting report I’ve ever seen on myself says, 'Has trouble repeating his delivery.' Well, yoga is literally repeating moves, keeping your body under your control. I do the warrior pose, which is [the same as] striding and throwing a baseball. It has to help."

May initially struggled in his major-league debut last season, but he hopes the perseverance he showed and his improvements near the end of the season help set him apart in the battle for a rotation spot this spring.

"Obviously I don’t know exactly what the people who are making decisions are thinking, but showing I can be successful after having my face beat up for two months, showing I can work through it, it’s a trait you have to have," May said. "I take pride in the fact that I didn’t give up. I didn’t let it get me down."


Twins 1B Joe Mauer happy with 'normal' offseason
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/28/2015) Twins first baseman Joe Mauer was happy to have a "normal" offseason after dealing with concussion-like symptoms the previous year, MLB.com reports.

"I had a very productive offseason," Mauer said Saturday. "The last couple years I had a lot of things to deal with, especially last year with the concussion. I didn't really get a good base heading into the year. I feel great this year and I hope it stays that way."

Mauer believes that his vigorous stretching exercises this offseason will help keep him healthy in 2015.

"You have to pay attention to your body. I'm getting older," Mauer said. "I'm finding out what works and doesn't work. Trying to make adjustments."

Manager Paul Molitor indicated that he's noticed a difference in Mauer this spring.

"I think it means a lot for him," Molitor said. "I think coming back last year after what had happened the previous season, you always have those questions. He's got friends that have gone through it with Corey Koskie and Justin [Morneau]. We all know how validated our concern is over concussion issues. I'm sure there was a little hesitancy there. Like I said when I had a chance to visit with him this winter, he's excited to be back and not have to be concerned about those type of things."

Mauer endured a down offensive performance last season, hitting .277/.361/.371 with just four home runs in 455 at-bats.


 
 
 
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