With their usual combination of pitching and pixie dust, the Rays weaseled their way into the playoffs for the fourth time in six years in 2013.
They got a boost midseason with the promotion of Wil Myers, the hotly anticipated prospect who Fantasy owners had stashed on their benches since the outset of the season. In a rare example of the production meeting the hype, the 22-year-old hit .293 with 13 homers and an .831 OPS in 335 at-bats, giving the Rays another middle-of-the-order bat to go along with Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist.
Though the parts around them continually change, the Rays opted for continuity this offseason by bringing back first baseman James Loney, the prime beneficiary of their pixie dust last season. Though his lack of home run power buries him in the rankings, his high-contact bat could make him a sneaky source of RBI if he's the one batting behind Zobrist, Longoria and Myers. Outfielders Matt Joyce and David DeJesus are similarly flawed players who seem to have stretches of Fantasy relevance every year but won't generate much interest on Draft Day.
|A.L. East||N.L. East|
|A.L. Central||N.L. Central|
|A.L. West||N.L. West|
If the Rays have one hitter with the skills and role to improve his standing in Fantasy, it's Desmond Jennings, the fourth-year center fielder whose career so far has been defined by injuries and inconsistency. He finished 2013 on a high note, hitting .288 with three homers, two steals, a .404 on-base percentage and a .925 OPS in 73 September at-bats and is still just beginning his prime at age 27, so you never know. He's shown the potential for more in the past, though, only to revert to being the same .250-hitting, 15-homer, 25-steal, middle-round type as always.
Ultimately, the pitching staff will have the greatest say in the team's success, and for now at least, it still has its ace in David Price, who figures to remain on the market during his second-to-last-year of team control. The Rays showed last year they could survive without workhorse James Shields, developing Alex Cobb into a top-of-the-rotation type. Maybe Matt Moore gets his lights-out stuff under control in 2014, easing Price's potential departure. First-in-line Jake Odorizzi profiles as more of a middle-of-the-rotation option, but Chris Archer, who the Rays broke in last year, offers nothing but upside. Jeremy Hellickson has potential as well but has slumped his way out of mixed-league consideration for now.
The Rays have become renowned for manufacturing closers and looked like they may go that route again before signing Grant Balfour late in the winter. He thrived in the role for Oakland the last couple years and should continue to pile up saves for a team built for low-scoring games, especially with Joel Peralta and Jake McGee setting him up.
Breakout ... Wil Myers, outfield
Buyer beware ... Ben Zobrist, second base/shortstop/outfieldBased on nothing more than where he finished among shortstops, you might assume Zobrist was as good as ever in 2013. But tying with Elvis Andrus for the top spot at the position (at least in Head-to-Head leagues) had more to do with what happened to everyone else there than how Zobrist himself performed. Unlike Hanley Ramirez, Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Reyes, Everth Cabrera, Jean Segura and anyone else who might have bumped him down a peg, Zobrist managed to stay healthy and was steady from start to finish, but his home runs and stolen bases were his fewest since he first broke through as a Fantasy mainstay in 2009. OK, so he technically had fewer homers in 2010, but only because a neck injury destroyed his numbers in the second half that year. Nothing was physically wrong with Zobrist in 2013. He just wasn't as good. And this year he turns 33, an especially advanced age for a player who spends most of his time up the middle. Zobrist's superior plate discipline should help soften the blow in Head-to-Head leagues, but he only goes down from here.
Sleeper ... Chris Archer, starting pitcher
|5.||Juan Carlos Oviedo||RHP|
Prospects ReportIn addition to Odorizzi, the Rays could turn to Alex Colome, Enny Romero or Mike Montgomery in the starting rotation should a need rise midseason. All three have their warts, but all three are good enough to hold down a rotation spot someday, whether for the Rays or someone else. Colome is probably first in line, with Romero offering the most promise, but don't overlook Montgomery because of his numbers. The former top prospect in the Royals system showed signs of overcoming his control issues in the Arizona Fall League ... Hak-Ju Lee might already be pushing Yunel Escobar if he hadn't torn up his knee last April, costing him the rest of the season. Speed is an important element of his game, but if he's able to regain it, he has the potential to become a Shane Victorino of the middle infield, piling up extra-base hits and stolen bases. He could get his first taste of the majors in the second half ... Taylor Guerrieri offers top-of-the-rotation potential but has had trouble keeping clean, testing positive for a drug of abuse in September, and is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery. Think high-risk, high-reward for this 21-year-old.