With an off-season that saw a lot of turnover especially in the offense where the Rays have brought in Steve Pearce, Brad Miller, Logan Morrison, and Corey Dickerson to try to create offense. The season is full of hope and one can dream about the Rays future.
As we approach the day when pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training the wait for the baseball season to begin starts to intensify and the release of the 2016 Baseball Prospectus Annual lets me know we are getting close.
Here are 10 things I learned about the Rays in the 2016 Baseball Prospectus:
1. The Rays became more aggressive at the plate
The Rays seemingly overnight, after a team meeting between the players, coaches, and front office that probably occurred on July 24, switched gears at the plate and focused on swinging at their pitches instead of forcing pitch counts only to get to the bullpen earlier.
"As a team, the Rays increased their first-pitch swing rate from 30 percent before July 24th (ranked ninth in baseball during that span) to 33 percent after July 24th (third). Their swing rate when they were ahead in the count bumped up from 47 percent (10th) to 50 percent (second). After the meeting, no team in baseball swung at more fastballs than the Rays."
What is more interesting is the fact that players and coaches were openly talking about a complete turnaround in strategy with reporters where they have historically been very private with any strategic decisions from the front office.
If any information had been given to the public the Rays typically gave away information that was already public knowledge or used as a smoke screen.
2. Kevin Kiermaier is a beast defensively
Kiermaier posted a 31.1 run defensive performance in 2015 and PECOTA projects him to put up +29 runs patrolling center field at the Trop. This allow his .268/.314/.422 .262 TAv (True Average, where .260 is league average) line to be worth 5.6 WARP, and be the fourth most valuable player in the American League for 2016.
3. Evan Longoria is still good at baseball
Projected to post the second highest true average on the team at .284 and by playing well above average defense Longoria is projected to be worth 4.4 WARP. PECOTA projects for a .261/.336/.455 line and +8 runs defensively. It's never bad when one of your top comparables is a future Hall of Famer in Chipper Jones.
4. Brad Miller can hit AND play shortstop
After a year in which the Rays saw shortstop defense as one of their two biggest weaknesses on the defensive side of the ball, they acquired their man that could fill this hole for up to four seasons. After having a solid offense shortstop that cost runs with the glove Miller projects for league average defense while still putting up a better than league average bat backed by a .259/.327/.420 .268 TAv line. This leads Miller to project as the third most valuable position player putting up 3.1 WARP.
5. Corey Dickerson can hit the ball and might not be that bad in left field
While the PECOTA projection in the book have him still in Colorado, Dickerson is expected to be a big addition to the lineup with a .299/.345/.524 .285 TAv line that has him as a 3.0 WARP player over 582 PA. His number two comparable is Carlos Gonzalez, which for comparison PECOTA sees as a .278/.339/.514 hitter in Colorado and worth 2.1 WARP.
The questions surrounding Dickerson's arrival in St. Pete have been around his large home/road splits and will he be destined to be a designated hitter. Though the reports aren't glowing as to his defensive skills he is projected to cost his team one run in the field.
Photo credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
6. Steve Pearce has learned a new trick: how to hit a curveball
PECOTA likes Steve Pearce to bounce back after a disappointing 2015 season. Pearce projects as .254/.331/.452 .274 TAv hitter with 13 home runs in 319 PA in Baltimore. Although he should see his offensive line lower by playing in the Trop thanks to being an above average LF and 1B and be worth 1.7 WARP in a part-time role. If he approaches those numbers he could be steal of the free agent market.
Although he struggled at the plate and with injuries in 2015 it is noted that "...there was at least one subtle improvement in his game: He figured out the curveball. He hit six bombs off the bender last season, after failing to leave the yard against any of the 500-plus curves he had seen in his career."
7. PECOTA still likes Steven Souza, Jr. and you should too
Souza projects as the third highest TAv hitter on the team behind Dickerson and Longoria at .282. The projection system still likes Souza's bat as a .252/.337/.444 .282 TAv hitter with 25 HR and 22 SB worth 3.0 WARP.
PECOTA sees improvement in K-rate (28.5%), but believes the production will be worth the whiffs. Souza's 8% breakout chance represents the largest odds amongst position players on the Rays.
8. Hank Conger will make up for all those Stolen Bases Allowed
Last season even though Conger only threw out one would be base stealer the runs just aren't that valuable compared to the rest of the catcher's defensive package. The 1.7 runs he cost with his arm was offset by the 3.6 runs he earned by framing.
9. The Rays could field an All-Alex-Cobb starting rotation.
Of the starting pitchers for the Rays, Cobb appears as a top three comparable for Chris Archer, Matt Moore, Jake Odorizzi, Erasmo Ramirez, and even Taylor Guerrieri.
Outside of durability, this is not a bad thing as Cobb has been very good when he's been able to pitch posting DRA (Deserved Run Average) of 3.50 and 3.33 in 2013 and 2014 respectively. Cobb has also put up 2.4 and 3.0 WARP seasons despite never pitching more than 166.1 innings in a season.
10. The top-3 comparables for Rays 1B/OF prospect Jake Bauers include Freddie Freeman and Anthony Rizzo
First base might be the weakest component of the 2016 Rays, but with Bauers's continued development, he should be able to fill that hole just fine should the transition to outfielder not work out this season.
Bauers's ability to maintain his patient approach and bat control against lefties is seen as a major positive for a player of his handedness and age. It should be noted that, somehow, Bauers did not make the Rays' top ten prospects for Baseball Prospectus.
There you have it. Now go buy the Annual and share in the comments any other information you might have gleaned!