The Rays spent the off-season improving the depth of the team while also bolstering the offense with new additions to the lineup. While most of the team from 2019 stays together, the 2020 Opening Day roster has a few new faces on it. With acquisitions taking place via trades, free agency and minor league promotions, let’s take a look at the newest Tampa Bay Rays.
Hunter Renfroe - OF
Starting things off with one of the biggest acquisitions in the offseason, the Rays acquired 28-year-old outfielder Hunter Renfroe from the San Diego Padres in early December. Renfroe is a right-handed hitter known for his power bat and excellent defense.
Last season, Renfroe hit a career-high 33 home runs for the Padres in 140 games while accumulating a WAR of almost two wins. While Renfroe had a high strikeout percentage, 31.2%, he also set a career-best walk percentage of 9.3%.
Renfroe’s hitting profile really shines against left-handed pitching, with a wRC+ of 127 last season in 133 plate appearances and a 138 wRC+ with a .918 OPS over his past three seasons. His walk-rate also improves to 10.1% over that three-year span, leaving little doubt that Renfroe will be able to swing the bat effectively against lefties this season.
One place where Renfroe really shines is in the outfield, where he accumulated six Outs Above Average last season. Renfroe will wear the number 11 for the Rays, and he will be joining a former teammate from the Padres that was acquired later on in the offseason.
Manuel Margot - CF
The teammate that Renfroe will be joining on the Rays is 25-year-old center fielder Manuel Margot. Acquired via a separate trade with the Padres in February, Margot joins the Rays as a depth addition that plays top-notch defense in center field.
Margot’s 10 Outs Above Average in center field last season were good for seventh in the MLB, but its his jump, his initial three-second reaction to a ball in play, that has the Rays really excited. Kevin Kiermaier leads this category with 3.8 feet vs average, and Margot is not far behind, ranking fourth in the MLB at 1.6.
In fact, Margot’s initial reaction (the first 1.5 seconds after a ball is hit) is faster than Kiermaier, with Margot covering 1.4 feet vs average compared to Kiermaier’s 1.2. Not only is Margot good at defense, he can hit (left-handed pitching), too!
Margot slashed .330/.420/.466 last season with a 139 wRC+ against lefties last year in 120 plate appearances. This ability to hit left handers will give the Rays an opportunity to potentially platoon Kiermaier, giving him days off of his feet for this fast-paced 60-game season. Margot will wear the number 13.
Aaron Loup - RP
The next player to introduce is left-handed relief pitcher Aaron Loup, who the Rays signed to a minor-league deal in February. At 32-years-old, Loup has eight years of Major League experience under his belt, six of those years with the Blue Jays.
Loup has a unique delivery (although not the most unique delivery on this list today) from the left side that will be a useful tool for Kevin Cash out of the bullpen this season.
Loup has a 4.19 ERA over the past two seasons, throwing 43 innings between three different teams. For his career, he has been more effective against left-handed hitters, but has a higher strikeout percentage against righties. Most importantly, Loup is a ground ball pitcher with a career 63.7 ground ball percentage.
The Rays signed Loup knowing that a three-batter minimum will be in effect in 2020 and beyond, so the team is confident in the left-hander’s abilities. Who knows, maybe the Rays could leave a reliever in from a previous inning and still use Loup in a specialist role if the matchups fall together perfectly. All we know for sure is that Loup will wear the number 15.
Yoshi Tsutsugo - LF/3B/DH
Continuing on with the offseason’s biggest signing, the Rays inked 28-year-old left-handed hitting Yoshi Tsutsugo to a two-year contract in December. Tsutsugo joins the Rays from the Yokohama Bay Stars of the NPO in Japan.
Known for both his bat and his on-base skills, Tsutsugo has hit 25 home runs or more in each of his last four seasons while averaging an on-base percentage of .402 during that span.
Tsutsugo’s defense is the biggest question mark heading into the season, however the Rays feel that he is capable of playing both third base and left field, so that question will be answered throughout the course of the season. Yoshi will wear the number 25 this season.
José Martinez - RF/1B/DH
Next on the list of new faces is a player that the Rays have wanted to acquire for years, 31-year-old right-handed hitting José Martinez. Martinez comes over from the St. Louis Cardinals after four seasons of doing nothing but hitting.
Martinez’ career slash line is .298/.363/.458 with a 122 wRC+ and that is against pitchers of any handedness. Looking at just left-handed pitching, Martinez slashes .331/.405/.570 for his career with a 160 wRC+ in 298 plate appearances, meaning that when you look at the flip side against only righties, he still posts a 111 wRC+ in 990 plate appearances.
Martinez’ defense won’t win any gold gloves, nor will it even meet league average, but the bat is where all of the hype is around, and deservingly so. Martinez will wear the number 40.
Kevan Smith - C
A catcher finally joins the list of new faces on the 2020 Rays and its 32-year-old Kevan Smith. Signed in free agency to a minor-league contract, Smith made the Opening Day roster as the third catcher on the team.
Smith joins the Rays as a useful bat with a career slash line of .272/.318/.381. The numbers Smith has throughout his three full seasons in the MLB are not show-stopping but they are more than serviceable for someone capable of also working behind the plate.
Smith will be behind Mike Zunino and Michael Perez on the depth chart but will serve as a valuable depth piece for the Rays. Smith will wear the number 44.
Ryan Thompson - RP
I promised that there would be a pitcher with an even more unique delivery than Loup, and 28-year-old Ryan Thompson is exactly that pitcher. Promoted from Double-A to make the Opening Day roster after a Spring Training invite, the right-handed Thompson brings a different look to the mound with a delivery similar to Red Sox ace Chris Sale, albeit from the opposite arm.
Thompson joins the Rays after throwing 20.1 innings in Double-A Montgomery last season, posting a 3.10 ERA with 20 strikeouts. Thompson started five games and recorded three holds in 14 total games with the Biscuits, allowing only one home run during that time.
The Rays selected Thompson in the minor league portion of the 2018 Rule 5 Draft, selecting him from the Houston Astros organization. Although a slightly surprising sight to see him on the Opening Day roster, it is always great to see someone break the team out of camp and is undoubtedly an exciting call-up for both Thompson and the team. The rookie will wear the number 81.
While the newest seven players mentioned will join the Rays for Opening Day, a few others have joined the organization as part of the 60-man player pool, which can be found here.
The shortened 2020 season will lead to more new faces joining the team, including the possibility of top prospect Wander Franco near the end of the season. Now that Opening Day is finally here, we can celebrate those who did make the team, as Rays baseball is finally back!