The Rays depth was tested throughout the 2015 season and when it was all said and done, twelve different players had roamed the outfield grass for Tampa Bay. Two of those players (Richie Shaffer and Jake Elmore), I have already covered in the infield portion of these projection reviews. Now, onto the outfielders.
The first five I'll be reviewing are Mikie Mahtook, Desmond Jennings, Grady Sizemore, Brandon Guyer, and John Jaso.
In 2014, Mahtook had his best season as a professional as he was finally able to obtain numerical success in the minor leagues. For his efforts, he was named the MVP of the Durham Bull and boosted his prospect ranking from 25th in the system by Baseball America to 6th. Mahtook was destined for a major league role at some point the following season, and heading into 2015, he would have the opportunity at least at some point to get some major league playing time in the outfield right out of the gate due to injuries.
His 2015 came sooner than might have been preferred and he struggled during his initial promotion, although he did achieve his first major league home run for his first career hit. He was up-and-down with the team for a few cups of coffee and finished the year with the team in September.
Heading into September 6th, Mahtook had hit just a .179 AVG in 17 games, but then finished out the season batting .364 over his final 24 games, belting six homers.
With his excellent finish to the 2015 season, and with Desmond Jennings's uncertain future, Mahtook has positioned himself to potentially be an everyday outfielder next year. Mahtook will turn 26 in November and is still under team control for years to come.
If you take his first 16 games and pace it for a 162 games, then ZiPS significantly over estimated Mahtook. But, if you take his last 24 games and do the same, then they significantly underestimated him. He showed surprising pop, but he also possesses solid speed. He does strikeout often, but hopefully with seasoning, that rate will come down. Mahtook is still a prospect, but his contributions were respectable.
Sizemore is just 32 years old, yet that still made him one of the oldest players on the Rays this season. By the time the season was over, he was the oldest. He started the year with the Phillies who tried to deploy him play in the outfield as an every day player, but that didn't work out that well, as evidenced by his release in late May.
The Rays then picked up the veteran outfielder and stashed in the minors for a month before promoting him late June. He was used mainly as a bench bat during his first two months with the team, but when September hit, his bat woke up.
From September 2nd to October 3rd, Sizemore played in 20 games and he had hits in 17 of them, and he only failed to reach base in one of those games, in a pinch-hit performance. Over that final month, he slashed .358/.424/.472 to close out the season among the Rays hottest hitters.
Following the World Series, Sizemore will become a free agent, but early reports suggest that the Rays will try to bring him back, which may not be surprising considering how heavily he was used over the final month of the season, and excellent audition for 2016. He'll likely receive a minor league deal, but could provide a veteran presence and a decent bat against right handed pitching, both something this team desperately needs.
Sizemore's time with the Rays helped salvage his season after his horrid start with Philadelphia. He actually out performed most of the numbers laid out for him by ZiPS with the exception of WAR which was somehow much worse. Although it should be noted, that negative WAR was mostly procured during his time with the Phillies.
2015 was a lost season for Jennings as he spent almost the entire season on the disabled list due to his recurring knee troubles.
Toward the end of 2014, he was shut down for the rest of the year with similar problems. Then he came into spring training and humbly accepted the starting left field position, knowing full well Kevin Kiermaier was much more adept for center. Jennings struggled at the plate in April, then hit the DL in May. After a month in recovery it was determined that he needed surgery. Jennings returned in August for about two weeks, then was shutdown again.
Jennings was working hard to make it back before the season ended, but of all things an infected tooth ended those hopes and he finished the season having only played in 28 games.
Jennings is arbitration eligible and is projected to make $3.1 million in 2016, which if he can go back to his former productivity, is a bargain. However, that's an unknown and the Rays might not be willing to hand Jennings that contract. It's within the realm of possibility that the Rays could non-tender him.
Jennings will turn 29 on October 30th, though, so there's still a chance he can finish out his prime with another team that doesn't subject their players to Astroturf.
An injury plagued year hampered Jennings' final numbers, it was a very slow start to the season, but added to his two week return in August pretty much matched what was expected of him. Jennings was supposed to provide a little pop to the top of the order, but managed just the one homer over 108 plate appearances. In limited appearances he did make more contact than what was expected, striking out 5% less than his rate-projections.
2015 was Guyer's fifth year in the Tampa Bay system, acquired back during the 2010-2011 offseason in the Matt Garza deal. He overcame injury struggles himself to serve as a consistent platoon bat and fourth outfielder for the Rays, and during the season he seemingly found a niche atop the Rays order, with a knack for getting on base through hit-by-pitches, a team record 24 times.
Guyer had excellent start to his season, hitting above .300 by the end of May. The next two months, however, he proceeded to hit just a .174 AVG over 37 games. Whatever his problem, Guyer figured it out, and over the last two months of season he hit .293. So, basically, he had an excellent start, horrid middle, and a solid finish.
In 2016, Guyer will be arbitration eligible for the first time in his career and after a solid season as a defender with some decent results at the plate, he is projected to make $1.3 million. Guyer will be turning 30 years old, and will be competing with Mikie Mahtook to possibly be an everyday outfielder for the Rays.
Guyer out performed each projection laid out for him by ZiPS, with lots of a room to spare. He had a lower K%, higher BB%, playing in more games and receiving more plate appearances than expected as well. All-in-all, this was Brandon Guyer's best year in the majors yet.
Acquired in the Ben Zobrist deal this past offseason, Jaso was expected to be a solid bat at the top of the Rays lineup, but things didn't quite go that way. A solid second half for Jaso gave him some value, but there was significant time lost.
Jaso got the season started on a good note for the Rays, immediately getting on base through a walk. Then, in a Major League (the movie) fashion, was retired and injured himself in the process advancing to second, effectively eliminating half of his season.
After a series of struggles to even grip the bat with an injured wrist, Jaso finally returned to the Rays in early July and was the effective right handed bat expected. The former catcher Jaso spent sometime in the outfield on rare occasion, but was mainly used as the designated hitter. He was used in the outfield a total of eight times in 2015, and never donned a catcher's mit.
Upon the season's conclusion, Jaso has become a free agent for the first time in his career and should receive a solid deal on the market, probably too expensive for the Rays' taste, but given his penchant for injury, his need to be platooned against left handed pitching, and with almost no defensive value there's a chance he may be back next year.
Jaso has been so injury prone throughout his career that ZiPS didn't expect him to pay in many games, so its projections actually came pretty close, with Jaso out performing them in pretty much all areas but K%, but that can be excused as he produced more power than what was projected.