I’ll admit I have a man crush on Joe Madden and Andrew Friedman. I find them smart, creative, thoughtful and I’ll be the first in line to buy a copy of their leadership memoir when it drops (I’ve already read The Extra 2%). And I won’t buy it from Amazon either. I’ll get the hardback from my local mom and pop bookstore so I can dog-ear the pages and write little notes in the margins about how awesome at baseball (and life!) they are.
Despite a payroll that hovers only around $58 million (28th in baseball), the Rays have routinely won 90+ games, largely through developing human beings through putting them in positions to succeed.
One example is the 152 different lineups they used in 2013. This creates a can-do attitude of success. Players believe they can succeed in their roles because they have succeeded in many roles before. Take that, math.
Teams like the Phillies and Angels could simply pay a ninja a million dollars to infiltrate the Rays and steal their secrets. Instead those teams would rather drop $200 million on aging free agents. Different strokes, I guess.
Projected 2014 Rays Offense
|1. David DeJesus||LF||33||L||399||54||8||40||6||.250|
|2. Desmond Jennings||CF||27||R||524||85||15||55||29||.249|
|3. Ben Zobrist||2B||32||S||584||83||18||75||10||.280|
|4. Evan Longoria||3B||28||R||570||83||32||96||6||.261|
|5. Wil Myers||RF||23||R||542||78||22||80||9||.256|
|6. James Loney||1B||29||L||541||65||12||61||3||.276|
|7. Matt Joyce (vs. R)||DH||29||L||388||55||17||53||7||.250|
|8. Ryan Hanigan||C||33||R||367||39||5||36||0||.259|
|9. Yunel Escobar||SS||31||R||537||65||10||55||4||.267|
Zobrist came out of absolutely nowhere to explode onto the fantasy scene several years ago. A year after Zobrist’s debut, a friend of mine renamed his fantasy team the One Dollar Zobrists as a tribute to Zobrist’s 27 home run / 17 stolen base breakout production despite being a waiver wire afterthought.
Zobrist won’t produce any more 20+ homer or steal seasons and he’ll likely be closer to 10/10 if anything. Yet his batting average won’t kill you (he’s traded some power for more contact) and he’ll hit near the meat of the lineup, meaning that he’ll do right by you with regards to runs and RBI.
Another selling point on Zobrist been his positional flexibility, but that’s also waving bye-bye to fantasy owners as he’s likely to have just 2B and RF in all but the most lenient of fantasy leagues. Though on the decline, confidently draft him middle rounds as the 6-9th second baseman off the board.
Projected 2014 Rays Pitching
All the talk around David Price has been if the Rays will flip him for prospects in the near future or the very near future. Just don’t let the trade talk distract you from the fact that he’ll be one of fantasy’s best pitchers regardless of where he pitches. Even in 2013’s “down” season, he gave fantasy owners a 3.33 ERA and 1.10 WHIP.
Matt Moore has lost a little of his fantasy luster as he lost a little of his pitch velocity. Further bad news is that he simply needs to cut down his his walks or his WHIP will never be attractive to fantasy owners.
The good news is that walks rates typical tend to get better and better until age 30, and the 25-year-old Moore has time. The other good news is the strikeouts. Good lord, the strikeouts!
Moore has posted a K/9 of 8.5+ in his young MLB career, so he’s dripping with fantasy upside (someone get him a towel before he ruins the clubhouse floors!) provided you don’t overpay for him.
Chris Archer was the jewel of the Matt Garza trade. For $3-5 at the back end of the draft, he provides a tremendous opportunity for upside.
Alex Cobb has already figured out how to miss bats at the MLB level while also limiting the walks. A ground ball pitcher with a killer sinker, he could step a real step forward for fantasy owners, providing them another season of sub-3.00 ERA and ranking in the top 30 pitchers.
- Fantasy Star: Evan Longoria
What else needs to be said about Longo? Sure, we’re still waiting for that 40+ homer, 120 RBI, .290+ season that he’s capable off but we’ll settle for 30-plus homers and a shot at 100 RBI.
Staying on the field has been an issue for Longo in the past, but he’s middle of the order production from the third base position and you’ll have to spend a 2nd round draft pick to get it. (Disclaimer: That draft pick does NOT entitle you to Longo’s playmate wife.)
- Fantasy Bust: Desmond Jennings
It was a pipe dream for fantasy owners to expect a 20 homer / 40 steal season out of Jennings, but many owners did draft him for that upside. He’s had enough major league at bats to show that the talent probably isn’t in there for that type of production. He simply strikes out to much.
But he’s only a fantasy bust if he’s drafted for that upside. The reality is that he simply might not stick in that #2 spot in the lineup. Hitting 7th limits his run potential, and hitting as low as 8th is a very real posibility. But if he slides later into the draft he can be a fine 4th fantasy outfielder.
- Prospect Watch: Hak-Ju Lee and a gaggle of young pitchers.
Tampa Bay has more young pitching talent than I have Star Wars Stormtrooper action figures on card and in mint condition, which is saying something. As a result, I thought they deserved their own post, so if you love reading about filthy sliders, drug suspensions, Tommy John surgery, or pinpoint fastball location, then I suggest you give this a read and brush up on the exciting Tampa pitching prospects.
In terms of positional talent, the Rays’ system is thin and I can’t foresee anyone providing a great deal of fantasy relevance with the bat. Hak-Ju Lee is an excellent defender at shortstop and could get the call if Yunel Escobar wears out his welcome. He’s got solid on base skills and could steal 20 bases at the MLB level, but his career will always be about defense and he’ll be relegated to the 8th or 9th position in the lineup for his career, limiting his fantasy appeal.
Fantasy Sleepers: An excellent word the Tampa pitching is ‘upside.’ Anyone from the trio of Moore, Cobb or Archer have the talent to put together a fantastic season. While David Price is clearly their top of the rotation ace, it’s an abundance of riches to have so many pitchers that could easily solidify themselves as a solid #2 pitcher for years to come.
Joe Madden builds his lineup like a mad scientist, so there will be 100 iterations of what’s shown above. But what we can count on is the fact the the Rays pride themselves in building a winning atmosphere and squeezing every bit of juice of of the talent they’ve assembled on the field. Their creative defensive shifts won’t help your fantasy team (while their ever-evolving platoon experiments will actually hurt your fantasy team), but their approach to developing and utilizing talent will.
More on the Rays: