The Tampa Bay Rays underwent a few major changes this off-season, replacing mainstays with cheaper alternatives and prospects. That’s the unfortunate reality when you’re constantly among the lowest payrolls in baseball. Tampa Bay still has many of the pieces that have made them successful over the past five seasons but the AL East competition is on the rise. Their lineup is solid throughout but only a few are worthy of drafting in fantasy baseball.
Tampa Bay will begin the 2013 campaign with a slightly new look. B.J. Upton and James Shields had been on the Rays for almost a decade but both will be playing for new teams on opening day. Evan Longoria appears to be ready to for a healthy season which will do wonders for the Tampa Bay offense. In less than half a season, Longoria managed to hit 17 home runs and drive in 55 runs. He may be the best fantasy third baseman not named Miguel Cabrera.
New additions to the lineup include Yunel Escobar, James Loney, Kelly Johnson and Luke Scott. Those are some decent role players but they won’t factor into fantasy discussions this season.
A prime candidate for a breakout season is 26-year-old speedster, Desmond Jennings. Jennings showed that he has the wheels by stealing 31 bases but he has yet to reach his potential with the bat. In his first season as a starter, Jennings hit just .246. With Upton gone, Jennings will be pushed up into the lead-off spot where he will be expected to get on base at a better clip than .314. With patience and focus at the plate should come more results from a fantasy perspective as well. As a lead-off hitter, he may not drive in runs like other top fantasy outfielder but he will deliver as one of the top run scorers in the league.
The other noteworthy bat in the lineup is the utility man turned all-star, Ben Zobrist. He has been one of the most consistent hitters in baseball over the past four years. He figures to see an assortment of hittable pitches with Longoria lingering in the on-deck circle. Zobrist tends to be one of the most undervalued players in fantasy drafts every year and could be on the verge of his best offensive season.
A crowded rotation made Shields expendable this off-season. Tampa Bay was able to swap him for top prospect Wil Myers. Myers will open the season in triple-A but will spend most of the season in Tampa Bay which makes him an unknown but intriguing fantasy player.
The Rays pitching staff will be made up of familiar names, anchored by lights-out lefty David Price. Tampa Bay will need talented youngsters Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore to live up to expectations in order to compete in a tough division. Both pitchers were terrific down the stretch in 2012, indicating that this could be a dominant rotation.
Tampa Bay’s top five fantasy hitters: 1. Evan Longoria, 2. Ben Zobrist, 3. Desmond Jennings, 4. Matt Joyce, 5. Wil Myers
Tampa Bay’s top three fantasy pitchers: 1. David Price, 2. Matt Moore, 3. Jeremy Hellickson.
Tampa Bay projected record: 81-81
Stay tuned over the next month while I preview one team each day in preparation for the 2013 baseball season.