Originally written on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 11/17/14
The Tampa Bay Rays finished 2012 with a 90-72 record and 3 games shy of a wildcard berth. It was a season in which their star player, Evan Longoria missed 88 games due to injury. The Rays led the majors with a 3.19 team ERA and their staff was anchored by the AL Cy Young Award winner, David Price. Tampa Bay also had a historic season from their closer, Fernando Rodney, who set a major league record for a reliever (minimum of 50 innings) with a 0.60 ERA, breaking Dennis Eckersley’s record of 0.61 (1990). Rodney also notched a club record 48 saves. Despite the loss of workhorse pitcher James Shields, the Rays still boast what is arguably the top starting 5 in all of baseball. Joe Maddon will be looking for his three young guns, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, and Alex Cobb to push their innings pitched up near the 200 mark this season. Heading into 2013 there are a lot of new faces on the team, but if anybody can mesh them together it’s Maddon, who knows the sledding will be tough in the AL East. “It’s going to be very tight,” Maddon said. “Respectfully, I think every team in our division is going to have an opportunity to get to the playoffs next year — more so than any time in the recent past.” In return for Shields, the Rays picked up two more outstanding prospects to add to their already rich crop of minor league talent. OF Wil Myers and RHP Jake Odorizzi could both start the year in the moors, but look for both of them to get called up at some point this season. As always, the ringleader of this team is perennial MVP candidate Evan Longoria who is healthy this spring. 3 Up Evan Longoria Best case scenario In an ideal world the Rays won’t miss the departed players, particularly James Shields and BJ Upton, and they will be able to seamlessly integrate all of the new faces into their system. This will be a key factor if the Rays want to survive in the AL East. Of course the #1 ingredient required for a best case scenario is a full season from superstar third baseman Evan Longoria. Other things that can make this a memorable season for the Rays are production from Will Myers, another stellar campaign from David Price and another lockdown season from closer Fernando Rodney. The Rays are a World Series caliber team. Most important Rays Evan Longoria is the heart and soul of the Rays franchise. ”His name being in the lineup,” David Price explained. “The pitcher knows when he’s on deck, when he’s in the hole, when he’s due up fifth in that inning. They know where Longo is at all times. They probably know where he’s sitting in the dugout.” If Longoria can stay healthy he will be a candidate to pry the AL MVP Award out of Detroit. Last season David Price made his third consecutive All-Star appearance and for the third straight season logged over 200 innings pitched. He finished the season with a sparkling 20-5 record, an AL best 2.56 ERA, a razor thin 1.10 WHIP and 205 strikeouts. The scary part is that the 27 year old lefty is just entering his prime. ”He’s just really become such a polished pitcher that every time he does go out there, you feel like he could throw a no-hitter,” Evan Longoria said. “He has that kind of stuff, and he’s that electric and that special.” Potential break out players “I didn’t get to see him [hit]; I was over there on the other field, but when he hit the ball, I thought it was thunder,” Joe Maddon said when asked about Wil Myers’ first batting practice session this spring. Myers is generally considered one of the top 5 prospects in all of baseball and isn’t it just like the Rays to pry him away from another team? Playing AA and AAA last year, Myers combined numbers were a .314 batting average with 37 home runs and 109 RBI. He might start the season in AAA, but it won’t be long before he gets called up. Could this be a break out season for 23 year old pitcher Matt Moore? He was solid last year going 11-11 with a 3.81 ERA and 175 strikeouts in 177.1 innings. Moore has a filthy arsenal and a very high ceiling. An 18 win, 200 strikeout season is certainly within reach for the promising lefty. 3 Down Worst case scenario Any worse case scenario for the Rays involves an injury to Longoria. If he misses extended time like he did in each of the past two seasons, it makes it that much harder for Tampa Bay to keep pace in the division. Jeremy Hellickson Areas of concern James Shields truly was a workhorse for the Rays. Last season he led the club with 227.2 innings and 33 starts. He racked up 15 wins and 223 strikeouts as well. It’s not that one guy is going to fill his shoes. The Rays will be looking for increased production from Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb. There was a lot of turnover on the roster and on most teams that would be cause for concern. On the Rays it’s not as worrisome, but still worth keeping an eye on. One of the new faces is Yunel Escobar who hasn’t always endeared himself to management at his other stops, but Joe Maddon is excited to work with the shortstop. “I think he’s capable of being the AL All-Star shortstop and Gold Glove winner,” Maddon said. “From day one, I want him thinking in that direction.” Who needs to bounce back from a down 2012 Desmond Jennings oozes potential and much was expected of him last year. He didn’t quite live up to the hype with a .246 batting average, 13 homers and 120 strikeouts. The Rays would like him to be a little more patient at the plate this year.
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