When you think about the Tampa Bay Rays, you don't think about mass turnover and free agent acquisitions. You think about young, homegrown talent and that atrocious stadium. Well, the Rays will have a mix of new and old faces in 2017.
The biggest name acquired by the Rays was free agent catcher Wilson Ramos, who is coming off both a career year and a torn ACL. The very best case scenario sees him playing his first baseball in late May, but June seems far likelier. In a two-catcher league with multiple DL spots, I could see stashing Ramos, but outside of that he's likely a free agent pick up this summer.
The Rays also added Colby Rasmus to their outfield on a one year deal, which seems rather curious when you look at the depth of their outfield and the fact they also traded for Mallex Smith this offseason. Rasmus has two seasons in past six with an OPS over .730 and just as many with at least 130 games played. In other words, he's largely irrelevant standard mixed leagues.
Smith could be interesting at some point this season, but it would take multiple roster moves for that to happen. An outfield with both Smith and Kiermaier would be very beneficial to a Rays pitching staff that has plenty of question marks of its own.
It's not as if the Rays holdovers are any more reliable heading into the year. Between the power surge from Evan Longoria and Brad Miller, and the constant platooning of nearly everyone else, it's difficult to get a good read on who in this lineup could actually be a starter on your Fantasy roster. It's quote possible that in a standard points league, the answer is no one.
What should we expect from the Rays outfield?
This is an outfield that was full of question marks before the team signed Colby Rasmus and traded for Mallex Smith. Corey Dickerson struggled in his first season outside of Coors Field and was a major liability in the field. Kevin Kiermaier is one of the best defensive players in baseball at any position, but he has more than 1,300 plate appearances with a pedestrian OPS .738. Steven Souza has the most upside of the group, but we're still not sure if he can field or hit at this level.
Kiermaier is probably the most reliable. He'll be a middling hitter and a good source of steals in Rotisserie leagues. He'll be in the lineup more than anyone else assuming he can stay healthy, but his health is no guarantee with the way he plays defense. Everyone else is likely part of a convoluted platoon system.
The Rays only had two players reach 600 plate appearances last season, and I don't expect that strategy to change. I'll still look to Souza and Dickerson late in drafts for upside, but they're both players who could get dropped early in May if they start slowly.
Could Blake Snell or Alex Cobb give the Rays a second ace?
We talked in the intro about new faces in Tampa Bay. Snell and Cobb aren't new, but they also weren't with the team for a full season in 2016. Snell was a consensus top-20 prospect heading into 2016 and performed admirably in his 19 minor league starts, striking out 98 batters in 89 innings while posting a 3.54 ERA.
If you're looking for a breakout candidate on this Rays roster, it's Snell. If he could lower his BB/9 to something more reasonable than last season's 5.2, he could challenge Archer for the best Fantasy pitcher on the Rays.
Cobb has only thrown 22 innings in the major leagues since 2015, but there's still reason for optimism. He posted a 2.82 ERA in more than 300 innings from 2014-15. If he could be anywhere close to his old self, the Rays rotation could be really special. You should draft Cobb late as a flyer, knowing that even if he's good his innings will likely be limited.
Was Brad Miller's power surge for real?
For some of us, Brad Miller has been a perpetual breakout candidate and it would be hard to argue that he didn't finally fulfill that prophecy in 2016. Miller set career highs in every statistical category, but most notably by crushing 30 home runs. He carries those power numbers (along with 1B and SS eligibility) into the 2017 season.
The first thing I look for in a power explosion is the "why." Miller saw an increase in his fly ball rate (two percent above his career average) and hard-hit rate (more than a 10 percent improvement over his career mark), so it shouldn't be that surprising that his HR/FR rate increased. The fact that it more than doubled is, in fact, very surprising. It is also unsustainable.
A small power regression wouldn't be that big of a deal if the rest of Miller's profile wasn't so awful. His strikeout rate was a career-worst 24.8 percent and his .304 OBP was abysmal. In other words, a correction in home run rate could quite possibly land Miller on the bench.
Speaking of the bench, that's exactly where Miller should be against LHP this season. He had a .682 OPS against them in 2016 and sits at .603 for his career.