The Tampa Bay Rays begin the 2017 season at home tomorrow afternoon against the New York Yankees. Chris Archer will get the start and is hoping to improve on a very disappointing 2016 season.
The Rays have added some new pieces to this team. Will that translate into more wins? Yes it will, but the AL East will remain one of the toughest divisions in baseball as the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees all improved their clubs for 2017. The Toronto Blue Jays with one of the best starting rotations in the AL will again contend for the division crown.
The Rays rotation will again be anchored by Chris Archer and Jake Ordorizzi. Archer had a horrible start last year to the season, but pitched better in the second half of the season. Alex Cobb, Blake Snell and Matt Andriese will round out the 3-5 rotation spots. The Rays are counting on Alex Cobb to bounce back from his injuries and be a key performer in 2017.
The Rays Catching situation has been totally revamped and upgraded this season. Gone are Luke Maile, Curt Casali, and the great Bobby Wilson. The catching was so bad last year it was an embarrassment that they called themselves MLB catchers. Anyone would be an upgrade over those guys. Derek Norris cut loose by Washington will be the number one catcher to start the season. Jesus Sucre will be the back-up. Both Norris and Sucre will just be keeping the spot warm for Wilson Ramos. Ramos is expected to be ready to start catching mid-season after having off-season surgery.
Tim Beckham will be the starting SS Till Matt Duffy is ready to play. Beckham who was not offered a September call-up last season came to camp with a new attitude, was very focused, and made the team. Highly touted prospect Daniel Robertson also made the team. Robertson had a very good spring both offensively and defensively. Logan Morrison will start at first, Brad Miller at second, and the face of the franchise Evan Longoria at third. Rickie Weeks who came to camp as a spring training invitee made the club as a back-up utility infielder.
The Rays will have the best defensive outfield in baseball this season anchored in CF by fan favorite and 2 time gold glove winner Kevin Keirmaier. Just when you think you have seen it all, Keirmaier makes another unbelievable catch, or a great throw to gun down an opposing runner at home plate. Mallex Smith acquired from Seattle in the Drew Smyly trade will start in LF. Steven Souza Jr will be back in RF.
The only pitcher in the Rays bullpen that has a defined role will be closer Alex Colome. Brad Boxberger will be out till mid-May with a sore back. He will then assume the set-up role for Colome. The Rays have three new members in the pen. Jumbo Diaz, Austin Pruitt, and non-roster invitee Tommy Hunter all made the team and will be counted on to contribute immediately.
In addition to Boxberger, the Rays begin the season with OF Colby Rasmus, P Shawn Tolleson, SS Matt Duffy, and C Wilson Ramos all on the DL.
The Rays will improve on their 68 win total from 2016. I look for them to win 80-85 games and finish fourth in the division. But it won’t be enough to get a wildcard spot. This Rays team will be competitive and fun to watch, but just don’t have enough Talent yet to challenge in the tough AL East.