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10 Things I Learned About The Rays In The 2017 Baseball Prospectus Annual

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MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Every spring you know it’s getting really close for spring training to begin when the major national publications are released. Today is the day that the 2017 Baseball Prospectus Annual Handbook becomes available.

You can purchase a hardcover or paperback version of the book, but a digital version is available via the Amazon Kindle app. Statistics discussed in this article are BP’s proprietary numbers, which can be referenced here.

1. Kevin Kiermaier is projected to be the 5th most valuable position player in the American League and could be better.

Kiermaier’s 5.0 WARP is the fifth highest projection in the American League tied with Josh Donaldson and behind Mike Trout (7.7 WARP), George Springer (5.3 WARP), Kyle Seager (5.1 WARP), and Miguel Cabrera (5.1 WARP).

The Rays’ unbelievable center fielder might be the Barry Bonds of outfield defense, excelling at a level that’s a magnitude of order higher than even his most talented peers.

The scary thing is Kiermaier leads all Rays hitters with a 8% projected breakout and 52% chance to improve. For a player that is already among the elite, that is quite a scary thought for opposing batters wanting to hit the ball in the air and opposing pitchers.

And it would seem the Rays agree with KK’s breakout potential, as preliminary reports suggest they plan to bat the best defender in baseball 1st or 2nd in the order in 2017.

2. Chris Archer is projected to put up the 3rd best FIP in the AL and could be better.

BP’s DRA statistic saw Archer take as a small step back in 2016 as his production fell from 6.3 WARP to 5.6 WARP in 2016.

...if you are worried about performance take a page out of Archer’s cool-and-confident book and just relax.

If you look at the numbers in the annual, his projected 3.0 WARP doesn’t sound great for one of the best pitchers in the league, but BP regresses all pitching performances heavily. It is only behind Chris Sale (4.1 WARP), David Price (3.5 WARP), Corey Kluber (3.4 WARP), and Carlos Corrasco (3.2 WARP) in the American League.

Best of all, Archer’s 3.46 projected FIP is tied for tenth among all MLB pitchers with David Price and only trailing Chris Sale (3.25) and Lance McCullers (3.43) in the American League.

3. Corey Dickerson could put up 3 WAR due to his improved defense.

Last season BP had Corey Dickerson providing +4.1 runs of defense in LF in 76 games. This was up from -1.8 runs in 54 games in 2015 while playing for the Rockies.

If he can get a few more balls to fall in for hits while maintaining his modest gains as a defender in left field, might just slug his way to a three-win season.

PECOTA projects a bounceback for Dickerson at the plate as he is tied with Evan Longoria for the team lead at .277 tAVE. PECOTA sees a .262/.312/.462 line with 21 homers in 548 plate appearances.

4. Jake Odorizzi is elite against LHB.

Only three right-handed starters held left-handed batters below a .210 tAVE in 2016: AL Cy Young winner Rick Porcello, runner-up Justin Verlander, and Jake Odorizzi.

He’s sustained mid-rotation form for two years nonetheless. But if it comes late you need only look back...to see the sort of company he might keep.

5. No reason to expect anything less from Alex Colome in 2017.

His cutter, which average less than 90 mph and comprises nearly half of his pitch mix, registered a whiff or a foul ball on nearly 75 percent of swings taken against it—just one point below Kenley Jansen’s, which comes in five miles-per-hour harder. Beyond the usual caveats about reliever volatility there’s no reason to expect anything less from Colome in 2017.

In 2016 Alex Colome put up a 1.6 WARP with a 2.45 DRA and 72 cFIP (BP version of FIP-).

6. Blake Snell’s top comparable is NSFW and shouldn’t be viewed by children.

The top comparable for Blake Snell will make many of you sick to your stomachs. Now is the time to look away if you don’t think you can handle it...

Ready?

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It is Dana Eveland.

The two other comparables are better in Will Smith and Tyler Skaggs, but don’t inspire a ton of confidence for a guy who just graduated as a top 25 prospect.

The vaunted 94 MPH left-side-four-seamer that profiled as both a swing-and-miss offering and a pitch that'd elicit weak contact didn't do much of either, but his slider was devastating and induced a whiff almost half the time hitters swung at it. While his ERA and FIP looked worthy of his top-25 prospect status, DRA hints that he could see a spike in runs allowed this coming year without corralling his wicked stuff.

The walks and lack of innings are the reason for pessimism. I expect him to take a step forward as he adjusts to the majors.

7. Willy Adames’s top 3 comparables give Rays fans something to dream on.

Adames top three comparables are Addison Russell, Corey Seager, and Trevor Story. While none have an extensive track record that kind of outcome would be very welcomed.

Encouragingly, his career high in dingers was the product of growth rather than a compromise at the plate. He’s still a patient, disciplined hitter with a strong understanding of the strike zone, and he’s now a 21-year-old man with the frame to hit doubles to all fields and knock a few balls over the fence. He’s also staved off questions about his ultimate defensive home for another year.

Adames is a prospect to get excited about, and I expect to see him in a Rays uniform very soon. As a founding member of the Willy Adames Hype Club I will make sure to be at the Trop for his first home game and hope it’s early this summer.

8. BP prospect evaluators don’t view Jake Bauers as a capable outfielder, but their projection systems do.

The 21-year-old lefty has terrific plate coverage, uses the whole field and possesses solid leather for a first-sacker. He can put the ball over the right-field fence, but will probably never be a middle-of-the-order masher; 20 homers may even be out of reach for him.

PECOTA projects him to get 655 plate appearances over the next two seasons and hit 20 combined homers during that stretch. The projections have him as a +3 and +4 RF in 2017 and 2018 respectively and an average 1B. If he’s close to a league average RF he’ll be covering a corner for the Rays. Top comparables are Wil Myers, Nomar Mazara, and Joc Pederson.

9. Brent Honeywell has three plus pitches.

Most of the blurb about Honeywell talks about his personality and describes his on-field demeanor as “colorful.”

His 2016 season was strong, tearing up High-A then holding his own in Montgomery before opening more eyes in the AFL. With three plus pitches but no world beater, there’s a rare legitimate third-starter profile that’s not just a hedge between the extreme outcomes of a top-of-the-rotation starter or high-leverage reliever.

I do think Honeywell is as safe a pitching prospect as you will see, but I think they are underselling his upside. I think a solid number three is a very likely outcome and will be fixture for the next four to six years in the Rays starting rotation.

10. Rays farm system ranks 15th prior to the addition of Jose De León.

The Rays farm system has two high impact prospects in Willy Adames (#21) and Brent Honeywell (#22) in their top 101. The depth is very good with a good mix of close to the majors performers and high upside teenagers.

The addition of Jose De León (#38) should see the Rays farm system climb a few spots as they don’t have an above average number of players in the top 101, but they do have really good quality.

You can read more about the Rays in their Top-101 here.