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Rays bold predictions: 2022 edition

MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

In anticipation of Opening Day, we’ve asked our writers and editors to share their boldest predictions for the 2022 season. Where will the team end up in the standings? Which individual performances will we remember? Who gets called up? How many times will a ball hit a catwalk when the team is on national TV? What other cities will be rumored to be the Rays 2028 home?

In case you are wondering how good we are at predictions, you can read our 2021 bold takes here. (Kudos to JT and Darby who nailed the Rays' strong 2021 offensive production)

The one time I tried to make a truly bold prediction it was 2019 and I said that Wilmer Font would be the surprise stud of the rotation. When he was gone after 10 forgettable appearances, I figured my powers of prognostication were poor, but then he did this and now I’m brimming with confidence, so I’ll say:

  • Rays finish second to Blue Jays to get a Wild Card slot
  • Wander is incredibly good but everyone is disappointed because he’s not “best player in baseball” good
  • Shane Baz is the standout of the pitching rotation, and Jalen Beeks is this year’s Collin McHugh.

Ian: It shouldn't feel bold to say that the Rays starting pitching will be good this year, but there are plenty of people who don't agree, so here goes. The Rays pitching rotation will be really good, and their potential is better than "really good." The front office isn't adding another pitcher right now because there's almost no one available who would actually improve things.

I'll put it this way: The Rays have five pitchers with a legitimate chance to win the Cy Young in 2023.

Now 2022 isn't 2023, and not all five will get there, because baseball grinds pitchers into dust. But 2022 will be about the journey, about watching each of these guys try to reach the best versions of themselves. Don't get discouraged at stumbles along the way, focus on whether or not they're moving forward each on their own path.

1. Tyler Glasnow just has to get back healthy. He was a nearly perfect pitcher before he got hurt.

2. Shane Mcclanahan needs to get his command more consistent. In 2021 he was in and out of dominance. Fastball and slider are as good as it gets, other pitches are there. When he can hit spots he's already an ace.

3. Shane Baz needs to rehab from his minor elbow surgery and then learn the majors. He already has the league's best fastball and good secondaries. Fully a Matt Moore situation (yes, that's a cautionary tale).

4. Drew Rasmussen has to transition back to starting. He was in a liminal space last year, but with the Rays starting was always the goal. He’s really a four pitch pitcher but while stretching out he only needed two.

Fastball is plus. Arm talent on slider is plus, but last year the numbers were weird. This year he's tweaking it and we'll see how it plays. I think it will play.

5. Luis Patiño needs to develop his pitch shapes. His athleticism is off the charts, his fastball is explosive. But the slider he brought from San Diego made no sense as a pitch. The SSW worked against the Magnus, and it ended up half as good as it could have been. We saw him slowly adjusting it better as the season wore on, and he's still so young -- honestly if he were about to make his MLB debut I think people would be more excited. Now he's had an offseason to work on pitch shapes (lockout didn't help, I'm sure), and the moment he pitches in front of a MLB Hawkeye system we'll know how far along the path he's come.

Because this is a 2022 bold predictions article I'll put this in 2022 terms and say that three of the five take a significant step forward, and people are talking about this rotation as one of the league's best by playoff time. And in 2023 one of the five wins the Cy Young.

Adam: Wander Franco will be the MVP.

Division Series - Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox - Game Four Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

No matter the contest, the league, game, sport, whatever have you, Franco will be the MVP. He’ll be the MVP of the All-Star Game, the ALCS, the World Series, the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals, and the Stanley Cup. He’ll also finagle his way to the Triple Crown, both the baseball one and the horse racing one, while not even using a horse.

As for an even BOLDER prediction, Isaac Paredes will have a better offensive season in the Majors than Austin Meadows.

Cole: Curtis Mead will hit a homerun in a 2022 playoff game.

To add some context here, there were only six hitters who batted in a big league game last year at an age of 21-years old or younger. That is the age that Curtis Mead will be throughout the 2022 season, and despite his young age, I am predicting that his bat will carry him to the big leagues (and the MLB playoffs) by the end of the year.

In the past, the Rays have not been afraid of using young and inexperienced players when the stakes are the highest. Shane McClanahan made his big league debut in the playoffs in 2020. Shane Baz and his career 13.1 MLB innings started ALDS game 2 this past year. The Rays also started Mike Brosseau (only 51 career big league games at the time) against a lefty in the 2019 Wild Card game against Oakland, a win-or-go-home affair.

Even though he will begin the season in Double-A, Mead could be the guy who follows in their footsteps. Come playoff time, I think the Rays will ultimately decide that their best possible lineup against left-handed starters contains Curtis Mead.

Fall Stars Game Photo by Chris Bernacchi/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Homin Lee: Sadly, Kittredge will be injured and unavailable for a while (I’m not trying to be a pessimist, but aren’t all pitchers injured and unavailable for a while each season?), but the Rays bullpen will be fine.

Looking at the Rays bullpen WPA leaders over the past three years, you might think this is not a bold prediction because the Rays bullpen aces have changed constantly.

  • 2021: Andrew Kittredge, Collin McHugh, Diego Castillo
  • 2020: Nick Anderson, Diego Castillo, Pete Fairbanks
  • 2019: Emilio Pagan, Oliver Drake, Diego Castillo

At this point, Kittredge is the only player we can call the bullpen ace. However, his 75 innings pitched last year could harm his health.

So, there may be situations when Kittredge has been out of the game for an extended period, and in that situation, Beeks, Chargois, and Raley will pick up the slack.

I don’t think it’s a bold prediction to say that Rays will be a top five bullpen in the American League — that’s easy. But I think they are deep enough to be top five even if, heaven forbid, they would have to get by without Kittredge for some time.

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Danny: The Rays have been shedding offense this season in favor of prioritizing the future, both acquiring prospects (Kameron Misner, Isaac Paredes) and promoting them (SS Taylor Walls, OF Josh Lowe) via the departure of All-Star hitters (INF Joey Wendle, OF Austin Meadows). The only addition on the offense has been the swap of OF/1B Jordan Luplow for OF/1B(?) Harold Ramirez... and my bold prediction is that’s it.

No more acquisitions to be made, no Nelson Cruz 2.0 walking through that door at the trade deadline. What you see on offense/defense is what you get.

Instead the Rays will deal from their prospect capital at the trade deadline to add a top of the line closer. Last year the Rays toyed with the idea of acquiring Craig Kimbrel, who went from a 0.49 ERA (36.2 IP) with the Cubs to a 5.09 ERA (23.0 IP) with his acquiring team, the White Sox, so maybe that would not have worked out, but before that the Rays used a trade deadline deal to pick up Nick Anderson, who then blossomed into one of baseball’s best. Let’s hope they pull of the latter and not the former.

Darby: Isaac Paredes has a Yandy Diaz-esc impact in his first year with the Tampa Bay Rays. Remember Yandy’s first year? This mysterious hulking giant who never hit HRs, was the Cuban Kevin Youkilis with his walk-rate? It seemed that lifting the ball was the last piece of an otherwise pretty good-looking puzzle. And then with Tampa Bay he did start getting some lift, knocked 14 HRs in 79 games, slashed .267/.340/.476, a BB/K rate of 10.1%/17.6%, and even hit two huge HRs in the postseason to knock out Oakland in the Wild Card game? Well, the Rays just identified another player who fits that mold almost to a tee.

Detroit Tigers v. Minnesota Twins Photo by Harrison Barden/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Isaac Paredes can play multiple infield positions, has an incredible batters eye, and drew BB at an incredible clip in the minors. While the hard-hit rate in his limited major league time was nowhere close to the Yandy man, Paredes has shown an incredibly advanced plate discipline and strike zone identification that leads me to believe he could be an immediate breakout player.

ZiPS projects his season line at .257/.340/.413, BB/K rate of 10.6%/14.6%, and 14 HRs - an almost perfect mirror of Yandy Diaz’ 2019 Rays debut. Now let’s just hope we get those two clutch HRs come October to complete the cycle!

Ashley: While I think it’s safe to say the Rays are stacked for another great season, the AL East is a pretty scary division this year (I can’t be the only one looking forward to 2023 when we won’t have to play all these teams 19 times a year, right?). The Blue Jays specifically look to be a real menace this year, combining their core of talented young players with smart trades and acquisitions. So prediction one is...

  • Blue Jays win the division, but the Rays will place second with 90+ wins and get a wild card spot.

Now, one move the Rays made early in the offseason, pre-lockout, was the acquisition of one Corey Kluber, something we really haven’t talked about a lot since it happened, and I’m 99% sure a lot of people forgot. I am a big lover of comeback stories (I wish we could have seen one in 2021 with Chris Archer), so I’m going to say there’s one coming.

  • Corey Kluber has a bounce-back season for the ages and gets at least one Cy Young vote for his efforts (though he will not win).

Last but not least, a season isn’t a season without the usual headlines, so I am going to go really bold with this final prediction:

  • Kevin Kiermaier gets injured in mid-May doing something very cool but probably ill-advised, and as a result we see considerably more of Brett Phillips in center. Because of his extended time playing, Phillips has an unexpectedly fruitfull first half both at the plate and in the field, and gets a surprising nod for the All-Star Game in July.

Look, what is pre-season prediction time if not writers doing a little wishful thinking, right?

League Championship - Tampa Bay Rays v Houston Astros - Game Three Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Jared Ward: I know the Rays subtracted two All Star players in Wendle & Meadows without adding much offense (although I think you have to consider a full year of Wander to kind of help with that). And both the Blue Jays and Red Sox made big offensive additions, BUT my first bold prediction is picking the Rays to win the AL East in 2022 for back-to-back-to-back AL East titles.

It will be closer than last year, but everybody (me included!) underrates the Rays, and somehow they put it together. Which leads me to my second bold prediction:

Rays will have a top five rotation in baseball with more than five people. The Rays’ young core of McClanahan, Patiño, and Rasmussen have such high ceilings and live up to the hype. Baz has a late start but still puts in meaningful innings to round it out with Yarborough anchoring the rotation. Yarbs did lead the pitching staff in IP last year, but posted a career worst ERA (5.11), K% (17.9%), and HR per 9 Innings (1.45). ZiPS has Yarby projected for much better results in 2022: 4.01 ERA, 18.8% K%, and a much improved 1.11 HR/9. And Yarby has looked crisp in Spring Training.

Because of inning limits and preservation for playoffs, the pitching load will be shared by the young core mentioned earlier, Yarby, Corey Kluber ( I agree with Ashley about a comeback story), and special appearances by Josh Fleming, Yonny Chirinos, Brendan McKay and Tyler Glasgow to help the workload. I know, three injured pitchers to help the workload? How's that for a bold prediction!

JT Morgan: Last year the Rays were carried by strong offensive production. Their 5.29 runs per game ranked second in the Major Leagues behind the Houston Astros. However their pitching was nearly as effective. Their 4.02 runs allowed per game ranked fifth in the majors and second in the American League behind the Chicago White Sox. [Eds note: JT is too modest to point out that he predicted this a year ago!]

This year the script flips to a more traditional Rays run scoring and prevention profile. The Rays improved significantly defensively after trading Austin Meadows and Joey Wendle this winter. More time will be given to Manuel Margot after he signed a two year extension earlier this week. Margot led all outfielders in Outs Above Average last season. Between Kevin Kiermaier, Brett Phillips, and Manuel Margot the Rays have three elite defensive center fielders. Joey Wendle was a good defender, but Taylor Walls is an elite defensive shortstop who will play all over the infield.

Along with defensive improvement comes the most talented group of arms in franchise history. This is saying a lot for a team that is known for its pitching and has had two Cy Young Award winners in the last decade. The rotation lacks experience outside of Corey Kluber, a two-time Cy Young Award winner, who is on back end of his major league career and hasn’t been that guy since 2018. A lot is going to be asked of the youngsters Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen, Shane Baz, and Luis Patiño. Kyle Snyder has a lot of shiny toys that he’ll get to deploy to get the most out of them. The bullpen has guys returning from injury that should give them plenty of depth to make it through 162.

Due to the focus of pitching and defense the Rays will lead Major League Baseball in fewest runs allowed.

Now it’s your turn. Use the comments to give us your bold predictions for the year.