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30 in 30

The Turf’s 30 in 30: The Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa made some noise with a 90 win season last year… will they be just as competitive in 2019?

Tampa Bay Rays by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Turf’s 30 in 30: The Tampa Bay Rays


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Estimated Reading Time: 4 Minutes

2018 Record: 90 – 72

2018 Finish: 3rd in A.L. East, 6th in American League

Surprises in 2018

Blake Snell

We have to start here. The former first-round pick went from second-in-the-rotation-hopeful to league-wide ace in 2018. By season’s end, Snell led the majors in wins (21) and batting average against (.178), and led the A.L. in ERA (1.89) and WAR among pitchers (7.5). He also allowed 2 or fewer runs in 27 of 31 starts. His insane stat line and start-to-finish dominance earned him the A.L. Cy Young Award (17 of 30 first-place votes).

While Snell was projected to be a top of the rotation arm eventually, nobody expected this type of production so quickly. Snell will man the helm for this Rays club in 2019 and look to build off the momentum from last year, and newcomer Charlie Morton should make for a nice little one-two punch at the top of the order.

Joey Wendle

It’s criminal that Wendle finished fourth in last year’s Rookie of the Year voting. After being acquired in an offseason trade in 2018 and batting .327 in Spring Training, the former sixth round pick earned a spot on the Opening Day roster and the chance to platoon at second base with Daniel Robertson.

And did the 28 year-old rookie make the most of it.

Wendle finished the season leading all rookies in WAR (4.3), batting average (.300), triples (6), and OBP (.354) in 139 games. He certainly capitalized on the opportunity to lock down the starting job at second base following a season-ending injury to Robertson, and the job should be his to lose in 2019. And on a related note, if Tampa can find a spot for a healthy Robertson this season (he’s played all over the infield before), the Rays might have one of the sneaky good offensive infields in the game between guys like Wendle, Robertson, Willy Adames, and Matt Duffy. Let’s face it, the Rays will find a way to properly share the reps here. Kevin Cash has an unbelievable feel for this team.

Diego Castillo

Remember last sentence when I said Kevin Cash has an unbelievable feel for this team? Well, he does. And If you need another shining example of this, look no further than Diego Castillo.

The big right-handed reliever was called up in June to man a spot in the bullpen. But despite a decent start, things for the rookie began to dip in July. He struggled with control, and saw a dip in his fastball velocity, which had yet to consistently hit the 100 mph mark he was capable of.

Cue Kevin Cash.

Cash, who is at the forefront of a new trend to start games with a reliever on the mound, decided to let Castillo open against the Red Sox in August. Castillo threw a scoreless five-out performance, and never looked back from there. Castillo opened 11 of his last 14 appearances last season, consistently hitting 100 mph with his fastball and a lethal 90-plus mph with his slider. He finished the season with a 3.18 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 43 games, while posting an impressive 10.3 strikeouts per 9 innings.

Cash’s creativity and Castillo’s versatility is poised to be an effective combination in 2019. Castillo has proven to be an effective relief-opener, but with a few more games under his belt now it’s not out of the realm of possibility to see him blossom into an 8th inning guy. He certainly has the stuff to do so, and do it well.

Disappointments

We really can’t get through this section without mentioning fan attendance, can we? It’s nothing new, of course. It’s just disappointing that nobody is going to see such a quietly solid on-field product at the Trop. But we digress.

Kevin Kiermaier

On the field, a notable disappointment from last season would have to be Kevin Kiermaier. A thumb injury in back in April derailed the majority of his season. But in the 88 games in which he did appear, he looked like a shell of his former self offensively. His batting average dropped nearly 60 points from 2017 to a putrid .217. He hit half the amount of homers (7) than he did in 2017, in roughly the same number of games. Not good by any standards, let alone a lead-off hitter in the A.L.

Kiermaier has and always will provide the Rays with incredible defense. But the Rays need him to pitch in 15 to 20 homers and bat close to .270 out of the lead-off spot, while staying on the field. Because without Mallex Smith, there’s not really a clear-cut alternative to pick up the slack at the top of the order. A tall task, but Kiermaier certainly has the talent to do it.

Looking Ahead to 2019

The Rays came out of nowhere to win 90 games last year. Let’s be real, they had no business being that competitive. Evan Longoria was gone. They traded away veterans in Alex Colome, Nathan Eovaldi, Denard Span, and Chris Archer mid-season. They had the second-lowest payroll in the A.L. And still, the Rays played excellent baseball, particularly in the second half of the year.

I apologize for this piece essentially becoming a love letter to Kevin Cash. But he deserves the praise. The Rays have a mastermind at the helm, and have a solid core of young players at their disposal. Add in Charlie Morton to bolster the rotation behind Blake Snell, and in most divisions, the Rays are easily contending for a division title in 2019.

In most divisions.

The Rays are cursed to play alongside the Red Sox and Yankees in the A.L. East. And as good as the team projects to be, there’s just not firepower on the roster to usurp either Boston or New York. That said, there’s no reason why Tampa won’t be competitive. Expect their pitching staff to give A.L. batters fits as the Rays continually stay in contention for a Wild Card berth.

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