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Tampa Bay Rays
2022 Record: 86-76
3rd place, AL East
Team ERA: 3.41 (4th in MLB)
Team OPS: .686 (24th in MLB)
What Went Right
Shane McClanahan developed into a legitimate fantasy ace and if not for a shoulder impingement late in the year, he would have been a serious contender for the AL Cy Young award. Jeffery Springs went from the bullpen to the starting rotation and has the makings of being a reliable fantasy starter. Randy Arozarena improved on his 20-20 campaign by smacking another 20 homers while swiping 32 bags. An early season trade with the Tigers brought Isaac Paredes to Tampa Bay and he tied Arozarena for the team lead with 20 homers.
What Went Wrong
After being second in the league in runs scored last season, the Rays’ offense took a major step back and finished 20th in the league and fifth in the AL East. So what happened? One word. Injuries. The team finished fourth with 1,656 games missed by injured players. They finished second in the league with 40 pitchers used during the season. Brandon Lowe and Wander Franco spent significant time on the injured list and the bottom third of the lineup was a carousel of underperformance all year. Yandy Díaz returned to the 2020 version of himself and his .296/.401/.423 with a 60/78 K/BB ratio played well as the Rays leadoff hitter was huge but if there is no one to drive him home and turned into a bit of a one-category contributor.
**There was much debate on where to draft Wander Franco during this past draft season. Fantasy managers who were willing to pay a steep price felt justified after he hit four homers and swiped three bases while hitting .313/.333/.578 in the first month of the season. After April, Franco missed a few games due to hamstring soreness and then went on the 10-day injured list with a strained quad in late May. He returned a month later and played in just 13 games before landing on the injured list again, this time with a broken hamate bone in his wrist. He returned to the Rays lineup on September 9 and slashed .322/.381/.471 but only hit one homer. While some might be a bit skittish with the lower power output, the 21-year-old ranked in the 85th percentile in max exit velocity, and after an offseason to let the wrist heal more, all signs are pointing to a breakout season, just one season later than expected.
**After posting his first 20-20 season in 2021, Randy Arozarena ran like his hair was on fire and swiped 32 bags while putting 20 balls over the fence last year. With the rule changes next year, Arozarena is a threat to steal more as the Rays never seemed to give the 27-year-old a red light. That being said, there are so red flags in his game, his groundball rate crept over 50% for the first time since a 19-game sample when he was with the Cardinals in 2019. That paired with a career-high 19% infield flyball rate, is a recipe for a draft-day bust. However, with the larger bases, there could be an avenue where Arozarena brings positive value, even if his plate skills deteriorate.
**Oh what could have been? Brandon Lowe missed most of the season with a stress reaction in his lower back. He came back in September but only lasted a couple of weeks before landing on the 60-day injured list on September 28, which effectively ended his season. The biggest thing I wanted to see was to see if Lowe could improve against left-handed pitching. In 2021, he hit an abysmal .198 against southpaws. His .261 this year was a massive improvement but in just 33 games against LHP, is this an improvement or just a small sample size? Second base is one of the weakest positions so if Lowe can remain on the field, he will surely give you plenty of pop but it might be wise to quickly pick up another second-base-eligible player just in case.
**Shane McClanahan was contending for an AL Cy Young Award before a left shoulder impingement caused him to miss half a month. He returned in September and while his upper-nineties velocity was still there, understandably the ‘crispness’ of his pitches wasn’t. That being said, it was great to see the Rays take the training wheels off and threw a career-high 166 ⅓ innings while striking out 194 batters with a 2.54 ERA. His 34 CSW% (called strikes plus whiffs) was second in the league among qualified pitchers. The sky is the limit for the 25-year-old and he should be on the shortlist for the AL Cy Young Award next year.
**After it was expected for the Rays’ top two prospects to start the season in the majors, the team surprised many by optioning Josh Lowe and Vidal Bruján to Triple-A Durham before the season began. After a couple of injuries the Rays suffered this season, Lowe and Brujan were on the team by the end of April. Both players had an espresso-sized cup of coffee during the 2021 season but they showed the same warts during their time with the big league club this year. Lowe continues to strike out way too much and Brujan has never been able to put many balls over the fence. Vidal Bruján will surely make the team this year as the 24-year-old is out of options but it might be best to steer in another direction. The same goes for Lowe. When Kevin Kiermaier went down with a hip injury on July 16, the team did not call upon Lowe. Instead, they called Houston and traded for Jose Siri, a great defender but awful with the bat. If a team is in the playoff hunt and doesn’t call up their best internal option, that says a lot.
**With the Rays unlikely to pick up Ji-Man Choi’s 4.5 million club option, first base is a major black hole. Harold Ramirez could be a great internal option but don’t sleep on Kyle Manzardo. The 24-year-old slashed .329/.436/.636 with 17 homers across 275 plate appearances for High-A. He was promoted to Double-A in August and continued to punish minor league pitchers. Tampa has been starved for any type of offensive production at first and even though Manzardo does not need to be added to the 40-man roster until the winter of 2024, it might be in the best interests of the cost-cutting Rays to promote the lefty slugger.
**Tyler Glasnow was limited to just two starts this year after undergoing Tommy John Surgery in June 2021 and then off-season ankle surgery to remove some loose bodies in his right ankle. The season wasn’t lost as he was able to pitch in two games before throwing five shutout innings against Guardians in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. It is up in the air how Glasnow will look across a full season as a 14-month recovery time is typically what you see with starting pitchers but his blazing fastball returned but added two more ticks to his slider.
**The Rays bullpen has been a carousel since Fernando Rodney left town in 2013. However, these three guys seem to get the job done. Pete Fairbanks is easily the cream of the crop in the trio but dealt with numbness in his fingers during the Wild Card series against the Guardians. While it sounded like Raunauds Syndrome, he could be a risky draft pick as the Rays’ bullpen has dealt with injuries for years. Fantasy managers know the risks of drafting a Rays reliever, unless they change their ways, it is going to be split around a bunch of guys.
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Key Free Agents: Corey Kluber, David Peralta, Mike Zunino
Team Needs: Bats. The Rays have been looking for some type of consistent offensive punch for years and this winter is no different. The Rays are facing a Rule-5 crunch as top prospects (Curtis Mead and Taj Bradley) need to be added to the 40-man roster. Could that mean that Arb-eligible players Francisco Mejía or Jalen Beeks are on the move? Possibly. The Rays have always been able to fit the puzzle pieces together to be competitive but need to put a bit more resources to make the team a legit contender.