So about two weeks ago, I made a quick preview for the 2022 season, immediately following the Rays upsetting exit from the playoffs against the Red Sox. I do not feel anything in that piece was "wrong" but it was far from comprehensive or what I would want it to be. This will be a much more superior product and I hope it at least generates discussion. Every offseason is long, but it's always better to have friends to talk to about next year.
Also, I would like to give thanks to @Mat_Germain_ on twitter, whose tweets on arbitration estimates and list of impending Rule 5 eligible players were an important source of information in making this.
I also will resort to using MLB.com ratings for minor league prospects... I know Baseball-America is the more trustworthy source, but MLB.com is free and easily available.
So on to the first order of business:
The Tampa Bay Rays 40-Man Roster Outlook
The Rays currently have 52 players across the 40-man roster and the 60-day injured list. Seven are impending free agents. Players on the 60-Day injured list will have to be reactivated and placed on the roster shortly after the conclusion of the World Series.
Players on the injured list (who are not also impending free agents) are: DJ Johnson, Yonny Chirinos, Tyler Glasnow, Cody Reed, Colin Poche, Ryan Thompson, Jalen Beeks, Oliver Drake, and Jeffrey Springs.
Impending Free Agents are: Michael Wacha, David Robertson, Colin McHugh, Nelson Cruz, Tommy Hunter, Chaz Roe, and Chris Archer.
The overall roster will need to be cut down not only to get to the 40-man limit leading into the season, but also to protect some minor leaguers eligible in the Rule 5 draft. The Rays will almost certainly try to protect at least six eligible players. This means at least 11 spots will need to be cleared. For a team whose greatest strength over the past three playoff seasons has been depth, it means tough decisions will have to be made.
Names to look out for ahead of the Rule 5 Draft
For those not fully familiar, the Rule 5 draft is a December draft where certain eligible minor league players not protected on the 40 man roster can be picked by any team with fewer than 40 players on their 40-man roster. Players are eligible after either 4 or 5 years after signing with a team (dependent on the age they sign a minor league contract at.)
The most likely names to be protected are: (2022 Age in Parenthesis)
Jonathan Aranda (24): A lefty bat who primarily played first base. He slashed .325/.410/.540 with 10 HRs in Montgomery (AA) over 322 plate appearances. He also spent time at second base and third base. Aranda is currently playing winter ball in Mexico. He's not on the MLB.com Top 30 list, but there's more upside with him than other non-listed bats from that side of the plate. He should start the year in Durham (AAA).
Blake Hunt (23): Ranked #15 in the Rays system by MLB.com. He slashed .225/.307/.427 in Bowling Green (A+). His slash was anemic in his brief time in Montgomery and he'll have to do better in 2022. Catcher bats typically develop later anyway, and Hunt's value is in his defense. Hunt is the best defensive catcher in the system right now, and his bat is expected to take steps forward.
Rene Pinto (25): Would likely have seen a September call-up last year if not for the quality in the majors ahead of him. While unranked by MLB.com, the Rays demonstrated their faith by placing him on the taxi squad for the ALDS. He has been an above average hitter for most of his minor league career and slashed an intriguing .299/.327/.532 in Durham (AAA), and even spent time as the Bulls DH. He's the most major league ready catcher in the system. He is also the "lock" that I am the least confident in.
Ford Proctor (25): Ranked #30 in the Rays system by MLB.com. Lefty hitter. Proctor is one of my favorite prospects due to his incredible position versatility. Drafted as a shortstop, he spent the 2020 lost season learning the catcher position. He spent ample time at both positions in 2021, and slashed a promising .244/.381/.419 in Montgomery (AA). Three catchers is a lot to protect, but he's a natural shortstop who's position flex can be a roster spot saver in the future.
Tommy Romero (24): Ranked #18 in the Rays system by MLB.com. RHP Romero already looks like a finished product in Durham (AAA). He should be one of the first arms available from the minors in 2022. Put up a 3.18 ERA/3.68 FIP in 62.0 IP with 70Ks to fill the void lost by Joe Ryan following the Cruz trade. Total work load of 110.1 IP in 2021. Average velo with good movement, also throws a curve and a change.
Tobias Myers (23): Ranked #29 in the Rays system by MLB.com. RHP Myers was the return from the Tim Beckham trade. He may have more potential than Romero, but is less of a finished product. Myers had a nightmare first two starts in Durham (AAA), but settled down admirably. AAA stat-line of 4.50 ERA/4.57 FIP over 58.0 IP and 65 Ks. Workload of 117.2 IP overall in 2021. He has a fastball that reaches 95 MPH and he has some of the best control in the system. His standout pitch has been the curveball. On the doorstep of the bigs but could use another year in Durham.
Other names that could be protected:
Dalton Kelly (27), a left-handed first baseman who slashed an impressive .244/.350/.512 with 27 HRs in Durham (AAA). He's an older minor leaguer. Could be a stopgap to potentially replace Ji-Man Choi (if traded).
Ruben Cardenas (24), a right-handed outfield bat who put up a serviceable slash line in AA. Could be dependent on if Manuel Margot is moved. I don't think there's too much danger of losing him though.
Kenny Rosenberg (26), an impressive LHP long reliever in Durham. 43 Ks in 30.2 IP (and a 2.35 ERA). Has been used as a starter at points in his career.
Ryan Boldt (27), Esteban Quiroz (30), Tristan Gray (26), Nathan Lukes (27)... All left-handed hitters in Durham. They have done well but are older minor leaguers. All left-handed bats. Lukes hit over .300 as a contact bat and showed some good defense in the outfield, if he is not picked up he may get a cup of coffee as an injury replacement.
What names could be moved on from before the 2022 Season?
While bigger names like Nelson Cruz and Colin McHugh seem to be the only major free agency losses, the Rays extremely thrifty nature means that even moderately expensive names in arbitration are at risk to be dealt or non-tendered. The Rays have also never been shy to sell high and trade players at maximum value.
Tyler Glasnow: He is not likely to pitch until 2023. It's not impossible to see Glasnow in September if his recovery falls on the lower end of recovery from TJS (13 months), though that would mean no minor league rehab starts either. Such a hypothetical September stint would look like his 2019 September recovery, but an even more cautious workload. The risk still likely outweighs the potential reward. He's expected to make a (relatively) high $5.8M in arbitration and the Rays could just move on from Glasnow in spite of extremely depressed trade value. It would be a shame, because they still have one last year of control available. Even other small market teams would use this opportunity to work out a team friendly extension but the Rays are the Rays.
Ryan Yarbrough: This has to be a near lock. Yarbrough had a disastrous 2021. All four of Yarbrough's pitches lost 1 MPH in velocity. Career highs in ERA, xERA, FIP, xFIP, barrel percentage, and launch angle given up. Career low in ground ball rate. His cutter, once his primary pitch, had to be completely abandoned after it surrendered a .582 slugging percentage. Yarbrough was still the MLB's best starter in average exit velocity, but not every softly hit ball is a sure out. I believe Yarbs can still rebound, but his estimated $4.4M price tag is too much for not enough upside.
Andrew Kittridge: I would definitely NOT expect Kittridge to be moved, but he would make for the ultimate sell-high candidate. Kittridge could end up regressing and still be one of the better relievers in the league. Kittridge was the MLB's best pitcher in chase rate in 2021, and in the top 20 percentile of spin rate, whiff%, and xERA. With the loss of McHugh to free agency, I expect him to be used more in his "One-Time-Through-The-Order" Specialist role, with about the same number of innings in fewer appearances. He's only expected to make $1.8M, so any trade for him should take a king's ransom.
Kevin Kiermaier: One of the best hitters in a Rays uniform from August 1st onward and one of the leading candidates for the 2021 Gold Glove. Due $12.2M in 2022 with a team option for 2023, making him the most expensive player on the roster. He managed to finish the year with a 104 OPS+ and saw success with a ball-in-play centered approach. 95th percentile in sprint speed and 97th percentile in outs above average, a team with large outfield dimensions and playoff aspirations could value Kiermaier enough to trade for his contract. I would expect Detroit or Seattle to be potential destinations.
Austin Meadows/Brett Phillips: Meadows is a sell-high candidate, but his and Phillips' contracts remain cheap for 2022. Trading either one of Meadows or Phillips would be admitting defeat on being unable to move Kiermaier's contract, but would at least yield a better return. A lefty does need to be dealt to make room for prospect Josh Lowe.
Ji-Man Choi: An estimated $3.5M isn't particularly expensive, even for Rays standards. Choi put up a healthy 117 wRC+ when he was on the field, but injuries have hampered his availability in both 2020 and 2021. Dalton Kelly could be a younger and cheaper option with more power, but is obviously unproven at the MLB level. The Rays could also move Brandon Lowe or Austin Meadows to first base to create a spot for Vidal Brujan... forcing fan favorite Choi off the roster.
Joey Wendle: Expected to make $4M after an All-Star game appearance. Wendle hit .300 his rookie year in 2018, but his glove has been his primary asset since joining the team. The Rays have a glut of infield gloves with names like Taylor Walls, Vidal Brujan, Greg Jones, Xavier Edwards, (right-hander) Mike Brosseau, and even Durham standout Esteban Quiroz. Wendle's bat is at least proven to be MLB caliber, but he had an anemic second half in 2021. wRC+ of 117(first half) vs 91 (second half)... but a fairly consistent contact rate, .275 vs .254. Wendle is a consistent and safe option at any infield spot, but the Rays are willing to take risks to save money and roster spots.
Manuel Margot: In his last year of arbitration anyway, Margot is expected to get a (relatively) hefty $5M. Margot plays impeccable defense in all three outfield spots, but features a bat that hovers just below average with wRC+ of 95 and an OPS+ of 98 in 2021 (though xBA and xSLG suggest he was unlucky.) The Rays could want an upgrade here, but lack immediate options in house. Maybe a resurrected Mike Brosseau could force Jordan Luplow back into the outfield?
Mike Brosseau: Speaking of everyone's favorite Cajun infielder, Bross had an awful year at the plate. Whether you look at his MLB statistics (73 wRC+) or his time trying to figure things out in Durham (99 wRC+). Still, a 40.4% hard hit rate and a 7.1% barrel rate has demonstrated that bad luck played a large role in Brosseau down year. He has never had a season with a wRC+ of less than 110 before 2021. He's been a good hitter at every stage of his professional career and he's still making the league minimum. Brosseau also plays good defense at three infield spots. If the team feels the walls closing in on roster crunch, he could go, but I expect him to get one more shot. Brosseau's 2021 reminds me of Joey Wendle's 2019.
Matt Wisler had an xERA of 2.55 and a FIP of 2.96 and struck out 62 in 48.2 IP, but is slated to make $1.8M and won't be the first two or three option out of the bullpen. Seeing him dealt would be more of a casualty of roster crunch than a testament to his ability. I would say it is slightly more likely that the Rays end up keeping him than not because he is an effective reliever when healthy.
Oliver Drake: I thought he was a free agent last time. Injured for all of 2021 and most of 2020, Drake is a righty with reverse splits. With a glut of lefties returning to the bullpen, I don't see a place for Drake on the 40 man roster to start the 2022 season. He should pitch in 2022, but as midseason signing who starts the year with a minor league contract.
Brent Honeywell: Still has a chance to be a part of this team, but did not look dominant in his return to Durham. The Rays have a lot of pitching options that could just leapfrog him. Would be a surprising move. More on Honeywell later.
Low Leverage Relivers: I've said before, I can see Louis Head getting the John Curtiss treatment. Head gave a strong performance in very low leverage. Chris Mazza soaked up innings with less impressive statistics to back it up. Ryan Sherriff and Cody Reed are depth lefties who may be able to sneak past waivers to make it onto the minor league roster. DJ Johnson didn't have much time to show what he was capable of before succumbing to injury, but has long term team control (which he still would have if he survives waivers). The Rays need to clear off around 11 spots, so expect the front-end of the bullpen to bear the brunt of the casualties.
The Projected 2022 Starting Rotation Options
Inexperienced starters disappointed in Games 2 and 3 of the ALDS, but these are the growing pains young pitchers must face in order to become better. The Rays may target one veteran starter to soak up innings, but do not expect a big addition to rework the rotation. It's still a youth movement in Tampa Bay. With young starters and players recovering from injury, expect a 6 man rotation and low innings caps on the starters.
Shane McClanahan: He should be your opening day starter. Since June 15, the day after Glasnow suffered his season ending injury, McClanahan stepped up with a 3.01 ERA and 3.03 FIP in 89.2 IP. McClanahan's overall workload in 2021 was 123.1 IP, so 160 IP seems to be the maximum we'd see out of McClanahan for the 2022 regular season.
Shane Baz: #19 overall on MLB.com's prospect list, and top 20 on every other reputable list, Baz has the tools to be one of the best in the MLB. The playoff start was disappointing, but a learning opportunity for a young pitcher. Baz features a traditional four-pitch mix with strong velocity and impeccable command. The limit for Baz will be service time games and a limited workload to protect him long term. He had a total of 92 IP across AA, AAA, and MLB, meaning the maximum IP for him in 2022 should only be around 130 innings.
Drew Rasmussen: After starting the year as a reliever, the Rays called upon Rasmussen to fill an emergency role as a limited starter. He instead looked like Tampa Bay's best starting pitcher in August and September. In 8 starts (with an albeit limited workload) Rasmussen had a 1.46 ERA and a 2.76 FIP in 37 IP. Rasmussen relied almost entirely on two pitches, a fastball and slider, but does have a curveball and changeup that could be worked in. He is also one of the leaders in groundball rate on the staff, forcing them 47% of the time in 2021. Rasmussen will be in his age 26 season and the elder statesman of the rotation (prior to any additions). He only worked 87.1 IP across the MLB and AAA, so he may be capped at around 130 innings like Baz.
Luis Patino: It's hard to pitch in the MLB at 21 years old. Patino was inconsistent but demonstrated great potential. His 106.2 IP workload between the MLB and AAA is higher than Baz and Rasmussen's, so he may be receive the second largest workload of the young pitchers. Patino was a fastball-slider pedigree (with a changeup) when acquired from the Padres but sprinkled in a curveball in 2021. With a 4-pitch mix as an experienced 22-year-old, Patino should be an improved pitcher in the middle of our rotation. He has the ceiling to be a true ace, but we'll temper expectations for now.
Yonny Chirinos: Chirinos was one of the Rays best pitchers but was lost due to a UCL injury and Tommy John Surgery in 2020. He suffered a setback in September that will likely keep him off the mound for rehab action until late April. It's an unfortunate turn of events but should still give Chirinos the opportunity to be a part of the rotation for most of 2022. Though his groundball rate was never higher than league average, Chirinos always seemed to be an efficient pitcher, averaging 14.9 pitches per inning in his career. A healthy Chirinos could be a big boon to the rotation, but will likely see a low innings cap coming back from injury.
A Veteran Addition?: With Ryan Yarbrough becoming more expensive and less effective, the Rays will likely kick in the tires on veterans within their price range. A veteran would need to be capable of absorbing around 150 IP over around 27 starts. The Rays current Top 8 starting options include just two LHP (and only McClanahan is a lock for the rotation), so adding a lefty would balance out the starting staff. However, the Rays will have deep pool of lefties in the bullpen to draw from, so a RHP is not out of the question. If Matthew Boyd were healthy (experiencing elbow problems that placed him on the injured list for all of September), I could see the Rays trading for him from Detroit. Adequate run prevention paired with the ability to eat innings. As of now, a reunion with Drew Smyly may be the easiest option.
Brent Honeywell: Once ranked the #12 overall prospect on MLB.com, Honeywell missed three years due to arm injuries. He made his return to the mound in 2021, but looked mediocre. Honeywell put up a 3.90 ERA in 13 starts in Durham (AAA) and 60 IP. He only managed 48 Ks, but just 15 BBs with an average WHIP of 1.200. He was a true reliever for the first half of the season, who had a 4.15 ERA in 21.2 IP. It's hard to be too critical on a player who had not pitched in three years. Evaluators still like his pitches and control but question his durability. Honeywell's signature pitch has been a screwball, a splitter-like breaking pitch that breaks armside rather than gloveside. Screwballs have historically been associated with causing stress on the elbow, though the science is unsettled on the matter. Honeywell features 5 pitches total, had an overall workload of 86 IP, and could win a starting spot either while Chiniros is rehabbing or lack of a veteran addition. It would be one of the better stories in team history if Honeywell can find himself in the rotation for 2022. I hope him the best. There is real talent there, I hope he shows it in a Rays uinform.
Josh Fleming: A true groundball lefty, Fleming has an impressive career groundball rate of 57.4%. However, Fleming failed to convert these groundballs into outs in 2021. Fleming's sinker and cutter both gave up xSLG rates over .426. His sinker was far more effective in 2020, only giving up an xSLG of .303, but his cutter has never been particularly effective in generating outs. If a three-pitch Fleming can just approach the rate-based success he had in 2020, then he can be an effective starter. With 114.1 IP in 2021, and a groundball centric style, a rejuvenated Fleming can eat 150 innings in 2022... but he'll have to prove his failure in run prevention for 2021 was a fluke to stay a rotation option.
Dietrich Enns: He is more of an emergency option. He mostly pitched as a starter in Durham and showed some promise, but expect him to be in the bullpen in 2022.
Brendan McKay: He battled injuries in both 2020 and 2021. He was demoted to Montgomery (AA) before being shut down for the year. He is still a talented LHP arm who has a career minor league 2.19 ERA in 184.2 IP. He'll be 26, but likely is on the outside looking in behind Fleming and Honeywell. I've always liked his talent so I won't write him off completely.
Adam Kittridge: In 2021, ,Kittridge was used both as a closer and as a One-Time-Through-the-Order long reliever. McHugh was used almost exclusively in the OTTO role, and his loss into free agency should push Kittridge into seeing it full time. The Rays will try to develop a different reliever to be the more traditional closer.
Peter Fairbanks: His slider took a step back in 2021, surrendering a .278 BA and a .204 xBA. But his fastball only gave up hits at a Mendoza line rate, an even .200 BA and an even more impressive .187 xBA. Fairbanks will likely see the most high leverage situations of any traditional reliever on the roster.
JT Chargios: He has a very similar makeup to Diego Castillo. Both have a hard slider that they use around 60 percent of the time, and both have a sinker that can touch 100. The key difference seems to be that Castillo attacks the left side of the plate exclusively while Chargios will throw the sinker away from left-handed batters. The Rays mostly used Chargios in lower leverage situations but did give him some tests he didn't thrive in. The Rays will likely throw him back into the fire in 2022. No option, so he has to swim or sink off the team.
JP Feyereisen: Fastball spin rate is 93 percentile, Whiff rate is 95 percentile, xBA is 88 percentile, chase rate is 86 percentile, and he has a safe 0.7 HR/9. This is the makings of one of the best closers in the game. What's the problem? Feyereisen is one of the worst pitchers in avoiding the walk in baseball, with a bottom 4 percentile BB rate. 5.4 walks per nine innings is a tragic flaw that would make Achilles of Troy blush. The Rays have no option but to fix this, but it'll be concerning how tinkering may affect his elite traits. He has options, so that helps us with flexibility.
Matt Wisler: Sliderman. Somewhat expensive at $1.8M and may be a roster crunch casualty, but he's an effective reliever.
Ryan Thompson: Groundball specialist with a 48% rate. Good run prevention stats until he got hurt. Has options. Should stick around.
Jeffrey Springs and Adam Conley: Lefties who we saw last year. I think the organization trusts Springs more, but the sample is small on both. Springs is coming off of an ACL tear, but he's not an NFL running back, he'll be fine. With the glut of RHP starters, keeping multiple lefties in the organization seems like a must. Springs has options, Conley does not.
Colin Poche: LHP. Has not pitched since 2019. His overall traditional stats look very unimpressive, but he was a rookie who had typical ups and downs. He had a 3.13 ERA and 42 Ks with a .286 SLG surrendered in his last 31.2 IP. He was once one of the top relief prospects in baseball. He has options, so there's more than enough roster flexibility to keep him around and give him chances.
Jalen Beeks: A lefty who was used in a similar role to what we saw from Colin McHugh. A Lefty OTTO specialist seems to be a real need for the bullpen of the future. He has had impressive stretches throughout his career but his extreme workload across multiple roles likely contributed to fatigue and eventual UCL injury. With a more managed workload (say only 70 IP in 45 Gs), he should stay healthy. In 2020, Beeks posted elite rates in Average exit velocity, Barrel %, xERA, xSLG, Whiff rate, and chase rate. His Baseball Savant page is painted dark red. All of this with a very low spin rate. Beeks when healthy should be a weapon, and he has options for roster flexibility.
Calvin Faucher: Acquired as a throw-in with Nelson Cruz. Features a slider. After having an abysmal 7 ERA with the Twins AA team, he went on to give up only 4 ERs in 25 IP with the Rays AA and AAA teams. Its hard to tell if the slider heavy approach is "Wisler" levels, but we'll find out in Spring Training if no one picks him up. He's technically Rule 5 eligible but it's hard to worry about older relievers. He should still be in the organization in 2022.
Kenny Rosenberg: See Above. Looks like another Jalen Beeks. That's a complement.
Phoenix Sanders: 80 Ks and just 11 BBs in 64 IP in AAA Durham. WHIP of 0.906. The run prevention was average with just 3.38 ERA (that would be good in the MLB, but not overly impressive for a 26 year old reliever in AAA) but who cares about ERA anymore? (Me...)
Throw darts at a phone book: Do people still even use phone books? The message is clear, this is a team that will go as deep as independent ball to find stopgap arms. There are more potential relief pitchers for the Rays than there are grains of sand on Clearwater beach.
Position Players. Some new young blood, but ultimately the same core.
The Rays could lose some longtime faces like Wendle or Choi. Even Diaz may not be safe. The Rays have a generation talent in their infield, a young playoff performer who should win the 2021 rookie of the award, and a power hitting lefty under a very team friendly contract.
The Rays typically value the platoon advantage over traditional positions. A lefty like Ji-Man Choi does not conflict with Yandy Diaz in the Rays philosophy of roster building because they want a left-handed and right-handed option at almost every position.
Mike Zunino: He has a very affordable 2022 option that has a base value of $4M, (it had an additional $3M bonus based on games played in 2021, but it likely did not max out due to the time share at catcher.) He was voted Team MVP for his awesome power numbers and great defense and framing for a countless number of pitchers. I do not expect him to repeat his 138 OPS+, but a figure around 105 OPS+ with good defense is well worth the money.
Francisco Mejia: Just now entering his first year of arbitration. Mejia was considered a prospect bust whose catching abilities were a lost cause and whose hitting abilities wouldn't be enough to warrant a position change. The Rays were rewarded for showing faith in Mejia that the Padres and Guardians did not have. His defense maxes out at average, but his league average hitting is an extraordinary asset to find in a catcher. Mejia is legitimately the best #2 catcher in the American League.
Rene Pinto and Ford Proctor: See Above. Pinto hit well in Durham (AAA) in 2021, and Ford Proctor should be in Durham for 2022. Pinto is the finished product while Proctor gives unique roster flexibility.
Left-Handed Batting First Base: Discussed above with Ji-Man Choi and Dalton Kelly. The safest option for the Rays may be moving Brandon Lowe to First Base, with the glut of middle infielder top prospects available. Austin Meadows could also move here.
Brandon Lowe: He had an inexcusable 0-18 in the playoffs... but the Rays are not going to make a change due to a small playoff sample size. What matters to them more is 39 HRs and 142 OPS+ in the regular season, and leading the team in both bWAR and fWAR. His defense at 2B was rated as the worst in his career by DRS, though his physical attributes are not declining. Even regardless, a move to 1B could help the team overall to make room for a defender with an even better pedigree.
Vidal Brujan: A rangy 2B defender with 70 grade speed. He stole 49 bases for Durham (AAA) in 2021. His bat looked weaker than in previous years, though he will still just be 24 in 2022. Growth is possible. Though he is a switch hitter, all of his professional success has come from batting on the left-side of the plate. Brujan did find some new power in his swing. If Brujan can be a league average hitter, plus defense and base stealing will make him a fixture on the MLB team.
Wander Franco: A true franchise player. We really do not need to explain how good Franco is or can be. The question is if he is a long term shortstop. Taylor Walls is the better defender of the two, but Franco had an impressive +6 DRS in 543 Innings at shortstop. Third Base may also be safer on Franco's body for long term availability (while also depressing his market value, if you're into that.) Franco's best defensive attribute is a strong arm that would serve him well on the left side of the infield at either spot. What may keep Franco at SS is rising 3B prospect Curtis Mead. Mead is just 21 years old and is showing off an impressive bat in the Arizona Fall League and should start 2022 in Durham (AAA). The Rays have a wealth of infield talent, so they can accommodate Franco at any spot.
Taylor Walls: If Wendie is moved, the Walls may be the next man up to take his place. His defense is most valuable as an every day shortstop, as he has true Gold Glove potential. Walls had +10 DRS in only 378 innings at shortstop. Walls' bat was disappointing in 2021, and it needs to be league average in order to warrant moving on from Wendle or being an every day shortstop.
Jordan Luplow: Since 2019, Luplow has a barrel rate of over 10%, one of the top marks in baseball. The problem has typically been consistent contact for Luplow, but a career OPS+ of 108 and wRC+ of 109 shows that he can be an above average hitter long term. Luplow's defense has been average in the outfield, showing the most promise in LF. He showed promise at 1B, but the outfield may only have one other RHH to enter the season if Margot is moved.
Yandy Diaz: Despite having Kindergarten Cop muscles, he's the opposite of Jordan Luplow. A healthy contact hitter who gets on base at a high-end rate. Diaz is still relatively cheap at an estimated $2.7M, and he is the best defensive 1B on the team. His 112 OPS+ and 111 wRC+ for 2021 were good, but we'd like to see values closer to what he put up in 2019 and 2020.
Mike Brosseau: See Above. He originally was a poor defender at 2B as a rookie, but ultimately grew into the position with great defensive stats there in 2020 and 2021. He has always been an above average hitter as a professional, and he needs to prove 2021 was just a bad fluke.
Randy Arozarena: In terms of actual production, Arozerena had a great year and showed why he's a cornerstone to build around in the outfield. Though some advanced metrics show room for improvement. Arozarena's barrel percentage was way down from 2020, though he saw the fewest fastballs in the zone of any player in the MLB (according to Brian Anderson of Bally Sports Media.) Arozarena has the speed to leg out hits on weak contact, and showed improved discipline on taking balls. It feels like there needs to be one more minor improvement to force pitchers to play into his hands again. While his production looks closer to Tommy Pham than Barry Bonds, that's still a good player.
Brett Phillips: The Rays acquired this guy for nothing to just be a defensive substitution down the stretch. Yet he managed to be one of the most productive hitters on the team against right-handed pitching in 2021. Phillips' key weakness is hitting against lefties, though he logged his first career home run against a lefty (albeit it was an inside the park home run.) He has elite speed, so any ball in play should be an opportunity to leg out a hit. If he can have an OPS of even just .600 against left-handed pitching, that would be good enough to put in the lineup every day in Centerfield (where his defense is most valuable)... but for now, he should still be a platoon bat.
Austin Meadows: His overall stat line was impressive with 117 OPS+, but Meadows quietly had a bad year against lefties. He had just a .563 OPS against same-sided pitching in 2021. His career line against lefties is .237/.295/.412 for a .707 OPS, so something in that realm would be more befitting of the elite hitter Meadows can be. He was primarily a DH for the first half of the year, but looked adequate when moved back to LF after acquiring Nelson Cruz. He could move to 1B, but the outfield and DH role is likely what we see out of him in 2022.
Josh Lowe: Rated the #73 overall prospect on MLB.com. His defense gets Kevin Kiermaier comparisons, and his raw power has always turned heads. He has healthy speed on the base paths. The question with Lowe has always been generating contact, but he showed growth with a .291 BA and a .381 OBP in Durham (AAA). He will be 24 years old in 2022, and he almost certainly will be a major piece on the MLB team.
And upgrade over Margot?: Margot will almost certainly be gone in 2022. He was a very solid player for us and his performance in Game 2 of the 2020 ALDS was incredible to see... but he's expensive, and not a very strong hitter. The Rays will need to find a right-handed hitter to replace him and platoon with Phillips. Could the Rays just stick with Luplow? Will they just pick up a non-tender player? Victor Reyes would be less inspiring but is talked about as a non-tender candidate with the Tigers. Who would they trade for? A name I would like to acquire could be Austin Hays, a player who isn't key to the Orioles rebuild but a strong defender, and has elite hitting stats against left-handed pitching... but even though he's not Cedric Mullens, I can't imagine the Orioles are in a hurry to just give Hays away to a division rival.
Prospect names to watch in 2022:
These players are currently ranked in MLB.com's Top 100, and are not expected to play significant time on the MLB team in 2022:
Xavier Edwards (#70) and Greg Jones (#84): Two Switch hitting middle infielders with speed.
Xavier Edwards is further along and will likely start 2022 in Durham (AAA), though has only 1 professional home run in 1093 plate apperances. He was a .300 hitter who will be 22 next year.
Greg Jones has more power between the two. He only briefly played in Montgomery (AA) and will likely need to be held back to start 2022. Jones will be 24 in 2022 and will likely reach Durham in the middle of the year.
The current Arizona Fall League contingent of Rays players are:
Curtis Mead (2B/3B): Discussed in the Wander Franco blurb. He will be a Pre-Season Top 100 prospect in 2022. His stock is rising very fast. He hails from Australia. The Rays acquired him by trading minor league reliever Cristopher Sanchez to the Phillies. The Phillies may see Sanchez as a starter long term, but Mead is making the deal look like a steal for the Rays.
Heriberto Hernandez (C/OF): So far the most promising player acquired in the Nate Lowe trade. He has not played catcher in the Rays system, so that may be abandoned. He is still a strong younger hitter who should start the year in Bowling Green (A+)
Matt Dyer (C/OF): Acquired from the Mets this year for Rich Hill. He is primarily playing OF in Arizona but predominately played catcher in Charleston (A). He slugged .519 in 2021 across his two Single-A teams and will likely start in Bowling Green (A+).
Caleb Sampen (RHP): He's not the promising prospect these prior players have been. He's already 24 ad seems to be rehabbing in Arizona after a lost 2021. He pitched 5 games in Montgomery (AA) before being shut down in early June. He is Rule 5 eligible. I'm not too concerned about losing him because of the injuries and lack of professional experience.
Trevor Brigden (RHP): Relief Pitcher who pitched in A+
Carlos Garcia (RHP) and Matthew Peguero (RHP): Another two Rule 5 eligilbe arms with not much experience. Neither has reached AA yet.
More Prospects to look out for:
Taj Bradley (RHP): Rated the #6 Prospect in the Rays Organization by MLB.com. He will be just 21 years old in 2022 and starting the year in Montgomery (AA). He had a prolific in 2021. Between Charleston (A) and Bowling Green (A+), Bradley threw 103.1 IP with 123 Ks! compared to just 65 hits and 33 BBs. He generated ground balls 48.4% of the time, and that could be his primary method of getting outs. I would expect him to get Top 100 consideration and get a spot on all major lists by at least by midseason 2022.
Austin Shenton (1B/3B): Rated the #19 Prospect in the Rays Organization by MLB.com. Acquired in the Diego Castillo trade. He will be 24 and will start the year in Durham (AAA). He's not Rule 5 eligible yet, so he will not require a 40-man spot until next year (unless he earns one.) He likely won't be on any Top 100 lists but has been a consistently productive hitter from the left-hand side.
Alika Williams (SS): Rated the #25 Prospect in the Rays Organization by MLB.com. He was the Rays Competitive Balance Round A pick in 2020. His overall slash line of .266/.317/.342 looked anemic in Charleston (A), with just 1 HR in 263 PAs. He was promoted to Bowling Green (A+) and immediately found a power stroke with 3 HRs in just 63 plate appearances. Then he hit a home run in a 4 game preview in Durham. He is a highly touted defender and he may be finding enough power to be an average hitter.
Ian Seymour (LHP): Unranked by MLB.com, this 22-year-old was the Rays second round pick in 2020. He pitched most of the season in Charleston (A) but ended his season in Durham (AAA) of all places. There he threw 10 IP in 2 starts, giving up just one unearned run. He may get kicked back down to Montgomery (AA) to begin next year, but his composure in his brief time in Durham could be considered in keeping him there to start the season. His standout pitch is a changeup.
The Rays won 100 games with their four best pitchers being rookies and their new franchise player Wander Franco only playing in 70 games. The advanced predictors will likely project us to finish second in the division, and media publications will decry our low payroll, but the expectation should be a three-peat as AL East Champions.
When will we start seeing any of this come into action?
Five days after the World Series is the deadline for players to be activated off of the 60-Day Injured List. Baseball's General Managers will meet on November 9, and discuss possible roster moves amongst each other.
Teams will have to have their 40-man rosters set by November 19 to protect players ahead of the Rule 5 draft. The last day for players to be non-tendered ahead of arbitration is December 1. (The CBA also expires on December 1, don't think about that too hard.) Winter Meetings begin December 5 where the Rule 5 draft will occur.
Nothing is written in stone
Nothing is obvious with the Rays. Everyone is available for a price. This team has always needed to be unpredictable to stay competitive. The young pitching should mature into one of the better rotations in the MLB, though a veteran addition could be welcomed. The bullpen seems to be bringing back most of the important names and some old faces that missed 2021. The young hitting core just finished second in the MLB in runs scored, and could get better with some creativity.
2021 was a good year for all of the young rookies who made a name for themselves on the roster. It ended disappointingly, but this is a team built to win for multiple years. 2022 may be our best chance yet and I just want the new season to start already. Only four months until Spring Training!