Over at ESPN, Buster Olney has finished his annual top 10 rankings, which include every position as well as top rotations, top bullpens, top lineups, top defenses, and overall top teams. Olney ranked several Rays players in his top 10's, which can be accessed, with an insider account, here.
With 24 days left until Spring Training, this is the perfect time to see how the Rays stack up as the best of the best.
Made the Cut
Evan Longoria (6th)
Third base seems to be overflowing with talent in recent years with the likes of Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Nolan Arenando, and Kris Bryant playing the hot corner. Last year Longoria proved that he could still play with the A-listers, slashing .273/.318/.521 on his way to a 4.5 WAR season.
Evan being Evan. There’s nobody better at controlling what they can control. When you combine that with his talent, work ethic, and overall good health, this is how he produces and how he’ll continue to produce.
Ranking assessment: Agree. Anywhere in the 6-8 range would be a solid placement for Longoria. Longoria. He no longer produces at an MVP level, which the top third basemen do, but he is unquestionably still an elite presence.
Kevin Kiermaier (8th)
Centerfield isn't as deep of a position as third base, and because of that, I find Olney's assessment a bit puzzling. Kiermaier is ranked 8th! With Christian Yelich and Adam Eaton rank ahead of Kiermaier, although both of those outfielders played the majority of their innings in corner outfield positions. He also has Kiermaier behind Jackie Bradley Jr. who only produced one more WAR (4.8 v 3.8) than KK over 50 extra games.
Kiermaier is the best defensive centerfielder in the game, and his improved approach at the plate should have earned him a higher ranking.
Ranking Assessment: Disagree. The only centerfielder who is better than Kiermaier is Mike Trout. End of discussion.
The Rays come in just behind the Royals and Blue Jays who are both very solid defensive teams. Jeff Sullivan recently wrote (also behind a paywall) that the Rays had the best outfield in baseball last season, and are projected to be the best again this year.
With the additions of Colby Rasmus and Mallex Smith, the Rays have added to their wealth of defensive outfielders. A full season of Matt Duffy at shortstop and any time Wilson Ramos suits up behind the plate will surely help matters as well.
“From ESPN Stats & Information: The Rays gain Colby Rasmus, making them one of two teams to have two players on the 2017 roster who had at least 20 defensive runs saved in total last season (Kiermaier had 25).”
Ranking Assessment: Disagree. I think the Rays will outperform the Jays and Royals this season, especially with Jarrod Dyson departing Kansas City. With Brad Miller at first and improvements to shortstop and behind the plate I would rank the Rays the 4th or 5th best defense.
Close But No Cigar
Olney deemed a couple of Rays players not quite good enough for a spot in the top 10, but good enough that they could force their way into the discussion.
“Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays -- Struggled last season, but some evaluators believe that his 2016 was an aberration.”
Last season, Archer had a 3.1WAR (34th among pitchers) and a WAR and 2.3 RA9-WAR (tied for 75th), during a down season. I expect Archer to produce more along the lines of his 2015 season 5.2WAR (11th) and 4.3 RA9-WAR (17th) which indicate his merit to be included in the top 10 best pitchers conversation.
“Logan Forsythe, Tampa Bay Rays: He was much higher on this list after 2015, but injuries limited him to 127 games in 2016.”
Forsythe should put up another productive season in 2017, but I think Olney gets it right by placing him just out of the top 10. Second base, like third, has been shining brightly lately thanks to Jose Altuve, Brian Dozier, and Daniel Murphy playing their way to serious MVP considerations. Forsythe will need to bounce back above 4 WAR to make the top 10.
Top Pitching Rotation
"Tampa Bay Rays: This group has the potential to be the best in the American League, as it did at the outset of 2016. But Chris Archer has to get back to being a Cy Young Award-level performer.”
As always the Rays are bursting with a potentially dangerous pitching staff. Fangraphs Depth Charts is predicting a 9.8 WAR from Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Alex Cobb, and Blake Snell. Mix in Erasmo Ramirez, Brent Honeywell, and Matt Andriese, and you have a top 10 pitching staff.
“Wild card: Wilson Ramos, Tampa Bay Rays. He'd be high in the Top 10 list if he hadn't blown out at his knee at the end of the 2016 season. The Rays' hope is that Ramos could return to catching sometime around midseason in 2017, but the fact that he signed a two-year deal means that the bulk of the work he does behind the plate for Tampa Bay could occur in 2018.”
Ramos was tied with the third best WAR from the catcher position (with JT Realmuto) last season. If he can return from injury complication free, then he should remain one of the best.
Agree or disagree with mine or Olney's rankings? Let us know how you think the Rays stack up against the competition.