Fantasy Baseball 2010 Preview: Rays
The Tampa Bay Rays are everything that most small-market teams strive to be. They aren't loaded from top to bottom with billboard-recognizable names, and they boast a core group of young, cheaper players that are putting up enviable numbers.
The pitching staff in Tampa could lead this team back to a playoff run. All five projected starters have the talent to put up win totals in the 'teens and stay below four in the ERA department. If healthy, the new closer in town could shine in his role as the sole ninth-inning hurler.
The batting order is a pleasant mix of power, speed and upside potential that could pressure the upper portion of the division come September and October. With two hitters easily taken among the first 20 picks on fantasy draft day, one being a potential MVP candidate, 2010 looks like it could be a great season for the Rays.
Forget about the fact that Matt Garza only won nine games last season. Look to the areas of vast improvement to determine that he'll take a step forward in 2010. The biggest area of development came in Garza's strikeout rate, which jumped from 6.24 to 8.38 strikeouts per nine innings. Sure, that elevation in strikeouts came with an attached rise in walk rate, but you'll take a few extra walks to get the dominating strikeout numbers Garza is putting up now. His move forward last year has vaulted him up in the rotation to the No. 2 spot, and look for Garza to put everything together this year and become a fantasy "A-Lister". Garza can throw 200 innings again, and approach 200 strikeouts, if not surpass that milestone. You can also expect a double-digit win total and a sub-four ERA this season as well.
Those of you spending big bucks on Jason Bartlett or drafting him in the ninth round should gear yourself up for disappointment. Bartlett's hit rate last season jumped to 36.4-percent -- uncharacteristically high, even for him. When normalization occurs, his batting average will suffer, as will his on-base percentage. When those two figures drop, so will his stolen base numbers as he won't be on base as much. However, the potential drop in stolen bases and batting average aren't the two biggest areas of concern. His fly ball rate exploded last year and his HR/F ratio went from 0.9-percent to 8.7-percent. Those fly balls and home runs are going to greatly decrease in 2010, leaving Bartlett without the pop that made him so valuable in 2009. He'll also turn 31 towards the end of the season, and aging players with breakout years near their thirties tend to scare me.
1. Jason Bartlett, SS
2. Carl Crawford, LF
3. Evan Longoria, 3B
4. Carlos Pena, 1B
5. Ben Zobrist, 2B
6. B.J. Upton, CF
7. Pat Burrell, DH
8. Matt Joyce/Gabe Kapler, RF
9. Dioner Navarro/Kelly Shoppach, C
The toughest decision facing the Rays this spring when filling out the depth chart is where to play Zobrist. The team is equally comfortable with him in right field or at second base. There is no doubt that he will be in the lineup. The question of where he'll end up may be answered -- not by Zobrist -- but by Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac battling at second base or the play of Joyce in right field. If any of those three step up and claim a spot, Zobrist will shift to the vacant slot.
Both Navarro and Shoppach have good power strokes but had poor years in 2009, both hitting below .220. A platoon situation doesn't make much sense as both mash against lefties and flail versus right-handed pitching. Spring training will go a long way in determining the victor of this position battle.
1. James Shields
2. Matt Garza
3. Jeff Neimann
4. David Price
5. Wade Davis
Davis has not officially been handed the ball as the Rays' fifth stater, but it's a foregone conclusion that he will. If an injury occurs or Davis just blows up, Andy Sonnanstine will get a look instead.
CL - Rafael Soriano
Rays' fans may not be looking forward to losing Carl Crawford, but the young man likely to take his place may very bell a more productive player long term. You can talk about Desmond Jennings' outstanding five-tool abilities, and, yes, they are very impressive. But what makes him so fascinating is his combination of those tools and his rapidly improving instincts and feel at the plate. This is a player that's going to hit for a very high average, and has skills at the plate that resemble Yankees' legend Derek Jeter.
-- Frankie Piliere, FanHouse's National Baseball Analyst
• It's worth a late-round flier to see if Pat Burrell's skid last year was only injury related or he's truly diminishing as a hitter. If the only reason he fell off was his neck injury, Burrell could bounce back in 2010 and give you 25 home runs. That'd be great to find in the waning rounds of your fantasy draft.
• Not only did the walk rate for James Shields jump a bit in 2009, but so did his ERA. It's true that Shields has posted more than 200 innings and at least 11 wins in each of the last three seasons, but with a spike of more than half of a run to his ERA it may be a better option to let other owners gamble on the negative trends. You can focus on the back end of the Rays' rotation on draft day and truly shine with the value those guys bring.
• Carlos Pena missed the final month of the 2009 season and still launched 39 home runs. Look to his four-year trend of rising fly ball rate to see that this kind of home run potential isn't going away. If healthy, he could easily surpass the 40 home run plateau. Just be sure to combine his lower batting average with a few speedy guys who can equalize by hitting .300-plus.
• If you're into sleepers -- and who isn't these days, right? -- keep an eye on Sean Rodriguez. There is an outside shot that he could push Zobrist out to right field if he puts up some serious numbers at second base this spring. He didn't shine in his 25 major league at-bats last season, but in 365 Triple-A at-bats he blasted 29 home runs and hit .299. He shouldn't be drafted until he wins a starting job, but if he does, he could explode in 2010.
• If Carl Crawford is dealt in a trade-deadline deal or leaves via free agency after the 2010 season, the heir apparent is Desmond Jennings. He has fantastic speed and a great eye at the plate, but still needs time in the minors. Don't be tempted to add him to your fantasy roster just yet.