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These Rays had “bullish” 2017 seasons

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Who saw their stock jump up in 2017?

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, I gave out grades for the 2017 Rays.

In that analysis, grades were in part shaped by pre-season expectations, so that, for example, Evan Longoria got a lower grade than Jesus Sucre, since the latter had better offensive numbers than could have reasonably been expected.

In this exercise we are evaluating just how this year’s performance might change our expectations for players moving forward. Players who had stronger than projected years may have shifted our perceptions of their talents, whereas players who struggled may lead baseball fans and analysts to see them as less valuable.

Based on 2017 results, which Rays saw their value rise or fall the most? In this post we look at those whose stock rose in 2017.

We have five Rays who shifted their stock in a positive direction with 2017, and five Rays who did the opposite. This goes for both players at the major league level, and the ones who haven’t quite made it yet. Today we’ll look at the stock up candidates:

Stock up

Steven Souza Jr.

I have noted many times on this site that I was exceptionally low on Souza before the season. I don’t think I was alone in that regard, and not even Souza-stan and fellow DRB writer JT Morgan could convince me otherwise before the season. I’m here to eat crow (and I can tell you with a little hot sauce, it’s not bad).

Souza was the best Rays player in 2017 in my mind, and given that it wasn’t long ago that he was a projection systems darling, I’m back to being all aboard the Souza train. The plate discipline improvements have been noted time after time, but the fact that he played, by far, the highest number of games in a season in his career, and that he made a significant leap in his actual home run total were both massive in his increased value this season.

There’s no reason to think he can’t be the Rays right fielder for the next half-decade.

Kevin Kiermaier

Yeah…. I’m kind of high on KK….

Brent Honeywell

The year of our lord 2018 will be the year of the Honey Day, book it. With potential Alex Cobb and Jake Odorizzi departures from the Rays rotation, there may well be a few spots open on that front in 2018, and there aren’t too many young pitchers more deserving of a chance than Honeywell right now (and we all know Honeywell feels the same way).

Honeywell is fresh off a 2017 season in which he tossed 136.2 innings at Double-A and Triple-A combined. In those innings, he totaled 172 strikeouts to just 35 walks and posted a 2.08 at Double-A and a 3.64 ERA at Triple-A. His WHIP remains a bit high (1.30 at Triple-A), but with his nasty stuff, he should (hopefully) finally get his shot at the big leagues in 2018. I don’t buy into the concerns about his personality; I do buy into his screwball. The dude can pitch.

Blake Snell

Speaking of pitchers whose personalities are over-analyzed, Snell had a wild 2017 season. He started off the season in the doldrums, as he continued to struggle going deep into games (not actually that big a deal, but a major sticking point for a lot of fans) and running an ERA of 4.71 before being shipped back down to the minor leagues.

Unlike previous send downs, this one seemed to really light a fire in Snell. The 23-year-old lefty (he’s still younger than Faria!) struck out 61 batters in just 44.0 innings and had an ERA of 2.66 in Durham.

Upon being recalled to the bigs, Snell looked a lot better. He had one rough outing to start but then pulled things together for a 3.28 ERA over the last three months of the season. There were a few duds along the way (4.0 IP, 6 ER against the Twins and 1.0 IP 4 ER against the Yankees), but there were a lot more gems.

Snell regularly worked deeper into games, going at least seven innings in five of his 13 final starts, with three of those starts, in particular, really showing off Snell’s ceiling. There was the 7.0 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 8 K masterclass against the Mariners in late August, then the 7.0 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 5 K solid outing against the Cubs in late September.

It was his final start of the season that really got the blood flowing in terms of what to expect in 2018. In arguably the best start of his career, Snell looked absolutely filthy in a 7.0 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 13 K virtuoso against the Orioles on October 1. His Coors outing in 2016 is close (6.0, 1 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 9 K), but it’s hard to argue with a 13:0 strikeout to walk ratio and 25 (25!) swinging strikes. His curveball alone got 13 whiffs, per Brooks Baseball, and it was the kind of start that makes one hope that Bill James’ theory on a player displaying a skill is indeed true.

He could be the Rays’ number two guy by the end of the 2018 season.

Jesus Sanchez

Last season Sanchez truly broke onto the scene, moving from a fringe top-30 prospect to a bona fide top-ten prospect, but the excitement for Sanchez has only grown after another impressive season, and he is now a guaranteed top-five prospect in a loaded Tampa Bay system. The recently turned 20-year-old hit over .300 for his third consecutive professional season, slashing .305/.348/.478 with 15 home runs in 117 games at Lo-A this season, and it will be exciting to see how fast he can rise in 2018.

Sanchez is still exceptionally young (he’ll be 20 for the entirety of the 2018 season), so there’s no rush, but with a player of his talent, who has had no issue adjusting to every level the Rays have put in front of him, there’s no reason to slow him down too much. If Sanchez can reach Double-A next season and succeed, that’s a dream come true, and it could set him up for a late-2019 or early-2020 debut. Don’t be surprised if he becomes the Rays’ top prospect before his time in the minors is over.