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Rays Season Preview: The Bounce Back Candidates

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This team has plenty of bounce back candidates after an injury-riddled 2015 season.

Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays 2015 was littered with player injuries. The good news is, that makes for a lengthy list of candidates primed for bounceback campaigns. While LHP Matt Moore and OF Desmond Jennings may have the most potential for big swings in production year over year, there are many others worthy of consideration.

Pitchers

LHP Matt Moore missed the first half of 2015 to Tommy John Surgery recovery and rehabilitation. His return did not go as smoothly as he would have liked. After an additional stint in AAA to continue his recovery, he was brought back up and ended the season with the Rays on a very strong note. Moore pitched 26.2 innings over his last 4 starts of 2015 to the tune of a 1.35 ERA, 2.68 FIP and 3.41 xFIP.

Those kind of numbers have continued into spring training where his command, stuff and velocity look as good as ever. We're seeing Moore consistently throw 94-95 mph for the first time since 2012, and we've never seen the kind of control he's shown us this spring. Matt Moore is my clear cut #1 bounce back candidate, capable of a 3+ WAR season.

Drew Smyly is another lefty starter who spent a lot of 2015 either injured or recovering from injury, but that didn't stop him from consistently pitching well when healthy. Smyly has always seemed capable of being a team's #2 starter, but he has not had the chance to post a full season.

A healthy Smyly would provide the rotation with another reliably effective left handed starter. Manager Kevin Cash may pull him early in games to help him build up strength after pitching only 66.2 major league innings due to injury last year, but he should still be able to give the team 2.5+ WAR if he sticks through the whole year.

Danny Farquhar was a piece the Rays acquired in the Karns/Miller trade early in the off season. He has the potential to be a shutdown reliever out of the bullpen, proven by his 2013 and '14 campaigns. 2015 was far more volatile, with 8 losses and 2 blown saves.

It looks like Farquhar's cutter got squared up a lot more often in 2015, so he tried to mix in more secondary pitches and it just didn't work. Look for him to work on getting a feel for that pitch again. If he can throw that and the curve for whiffs, he might be back and a huge asset to the Rays bullpen.

Other names for consideration would be currently rehabbing pitchers Alex Cobb, Chase Whitley, David Carpenter, Neil Wagner, and Jonny Venters.

Position Players

OF Desmond Jennings averaged 3.5 fWAR per full season from 2011 to 2014, but the turf caught up with his knees and he spent the majority of 2015 on the DL.

Jennings has looked good in spring training, and should see plenty of time in LF away from home, while swapping for DH at home and on turf to keep him healthy. He will also likely get a few off days vs righty starters, his weaker platoon side. Jennings is capable of being a very good outfielder again. If he stays healthy, I think he gives us a 2.5 WAR season in ~400 PA.

1B James Loney was injured and out of shape through much of 2015, and most of his tried-and-failed replacements were even worse. Even if his ceiling is low, his reliable glove at 1B would still be a huge improvement over what the Rays were forced to go with in 2015.

He will never hit for power or run the bases well, but the Rays prioritize defense and Loney appears to be the best available for the 1B job. He probably has a 2 fWAR ceiling at this point, but even 1 fWAR in a platoon vs RHP only would be a huge upgrade over last year.

C Rene Rivera had a Molina-esque 2015, playing great defense but with offense that looked a bit like the worst kid in gym class flailing at a wiffle ball. He excels in every facet of catcher defense, and if his efforts to rework his swing in the off season pay off a bit, he could still bring value.

Even bumping last year's 33 wRC+ to 60ish would put him in the realm of positive value. That would be a huge turnaround from his -0.9 fWAR 2015 season.

Steve Pearce had a breakout 2014 when he posted nearly 5 fWAR in a mere 383 PA for the Orioles, but those numbers didn't stick in 2015. The slump can be mostly attributed to attempting to play through an injury, and possibly what we call "luck" but it was mostlya pre- and post-injury divide.

There was almost certainly going to be some regression for Pearce last year, but his season was an oddity. If his true talent level is somewhere between the two seasons, we could see an excellent short-side platoon contributor. A Brandon Guyer-esque season of ~2 WAR over 300 PA seems reasonably in between, and that would be incredibly valuable.