The Tampa Bay Rays enter the 2023 MLB season with high hopes of winning their third AL East division title in four years. After making it to the ALCS in 2021 and narrowly missing the playoffs in 2022, the Rays have reloaded their roster and are poised for another deep October run.
The Rays have established themselves as one of the most innovative and consistently competitive small-market franchises in baseball. Since their remarkable turnaround in 2008 that saw them reach the World Series, Tampa Bay has made the playoffs in seven of the past 14 seasons despite having one of the lowest payrolls in the majors.
The Rays have rebuilt on the fly year after year, developing young talent and acquiring affordable veterans to complement a stellar pitching staff. Their data-driven approach and defensive shifting tactics have allowed Tampa Bay to maximize their talent and outperform expectations.
Coming off a 86-76 record and third place finish in the competitive AL East in 2022, the Rays wasted no time making improvements over the offseason. Adding power to an offense that ranked 22nd in runs scored was a priority, along with bolstering their relief pitching.
Tampa Bay appears well positioned to overtake the Yankees and Blue Jays to recapture the division crown in 2023. This preview will analyze their offseason additions, returning core, prospects on the rise, and outlook across all facets of the game.
The Rays pulled off several trades and free agent signings to augment their roster over the winter:
- Curtis Mead – Top power hitting prospect acquired from the Nationals to play 1B/DH
- Manuel Margot – Starting CF re-signed to 1-year, $5M deal
- Zach Eflin – Veteran starter signed to 3-year, $40M contract
- JT Chargois – Reliever signed 2-year, $4.5M deal to improve bullpen
These moves help fill key needs in the lineup, rotation, and bullpen. Mead and Margot add crucial right-handed power threats to balance Tampa Bay’s lefty heavy order. The switch-hitting Mead mashed 27 homers across AA/AAA in 2022 and is expected to slot in at first base.
Eflin has posted a sub-4.00 ERA each of the past four seasons with Philadelphia. He deepens the rotation behind ace Shane McClanahan. Chargois, who owns a career 3.98 ERA and 10.8 K/9, further bolsters the bullpen options.
2023 Roster Preview
The Rays scored 705 runs last season, ranking 7th in the AL. Their .738 OPS ranked 9th in the league, while the 168 home runs were 5th. The additions of Mead and Margot should provide a spark.
Projected everyday lineup:
- 2B Brandon Lowe
- SS Wander Franco
- LF Randy Arozarena
- 1B Curtis Mead
- RF Manuel Margot
- 3B Yandy Diaz
- CF Jose Siri
- C Christian Bethancourt
- DH Harold Ramirez
Lowe, Franco, Arozarena, and Diaz form a strong core. Franco enjoyed a breakout sophomore campaign, batting .270 with 16 homers, 34 doubles, and 76 RBIs. The 21-year-old switch-hitter almost never strikes out and gets on base at an elite .362 clip.
Mead will provide much needed righty power in the heart of the order. The 23-year-old Australian destroyed minor league pitching last season across AA/AAA, slashing .315/.402/.601 with 27 HRs and 98 RBIs in 120 games.
Margot, acquired from the Padres in the Blake Snell trade, returns to the Rays after hitting .254 with 10 homers and 61 RBIs in 2022. His defense in center field is outstanding.
Bethancourt and Ramirez platoon at C/DH to round out the lineup. Both are coming off strong seasons.
Tampa Bay’s 3.76 team ERA ranked 5th in the AL last season. Their starting staff was again among the best in baseball, posting a 3.58 ERA (4th in MLB) with a .231 BAA (3rd).
- LHP Shane McClanahan
- RHP Tyler Glasnow
- RHP Drew Rasmussen
- RHP Zach Eflin
- LHP Ryan Yarbrough
The 25-year-old McClanahan has emerged as one of the top pitchers in baseball after a stellar 2022 season. He was an All-Star for the first time, going 12-8 with a 2.54 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 182 Ks in 166.1 IP.
Glasnow returned from Tommy John surgery to make three starts late in 2022. The Rays will monitor his workload, but expect his triple-digit fastball and high strikeout rate to bolster the staff.
Rasmussen broke out in his first full MLB season, compiling a 10-7 record and 2.85 ERA across 25 starts. His 0.91 WHIP ranked 2nd among AL starters. The Rays recently extended him through 2027.
Eflin has been a model of consistency for Philadelphia, logging a 3.49 ERA and 171 Ks over 128.2 IP in 2022. The 28-year-old adds valuable depth.
Yarbrough has quietly been an effective swingman for Tampa. He owns a lifetime 4.00 ERA across 348.1 IP and will fill various pitching roles. Top prospects Taj Bradley and Ian Seymour are waiting in the wings.
Tampa Bay’s relievers were outstanding in 2022, pitching to a 2.70 ERA (2nd in MLB) with 568 Ks (4th) and a .204 BAA (2nd). While they lost All-Star closer Brooks Raley, the unit remains a strength.
- RHP Pete Fairbanks
- RHP Jason Adam
- RHP JT Chargois
- LHP Colin Poche
- RHP Ryan Thompson
- RHP Jalen Beeks
Fairbanks inherits the closer job after posting a 2.67 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 9 saves across 60 IP last season. Adam, Poche, and Thompson form a rock solid setup trio. Chargois was a nice under-the-radar addition to provide further depth.
Prospects on the Rise
The Rays farm system is loaded with high-end prospects who could contribute in 2023:
- SS Carson Williams – No. 13 overall prospect mashed 28 HRs between High-A/AA last year. Elite power potential.
- OF Ian Moller – 2022 2nd rounder dominated in pro debut. Five-tool talent drew comparisons to Mike Trout.
- RHP Taj Bradley – Tall righty reached AAA last year. Mid 90s fastball and plus curveball could land him in rotation.
- OF Kameron Misner – Toolsy 2019 1st round pick coming off breakout season between AA/AAA (.269/.367/.472, 14 HRs, 31 SBs). On 40-man roster.
- RHP Seth Johnson – Flamethrower acquired from Mets reached AAA. Could make bullpen impact in 2023.
Tampa Bay has enviable depth across all levels of the organization. Several players could debut this season while others will continue developing for the near future.
Outlook and Predictions
- Starting Rotation – McClanahan, Glasnow, Rasmussen, and Eflin is as strong of a 1-4 as any team. Outstanding strikeout ability and command. Bullpen provides depth.
- Defense – Elite team defense is a trademark of recent Rays clubs. Standouts like Franco, Arozarena, Kiermaier, and Margot cover tremendous ground. Rays shifted on 34.4% of balls in play last year (2nd highest rate).
- Player Development – Tampa consistently produces young stars and gets improved production from reclamation projects. Built a sustainable pipeline of talent.
- Manager Kevin Cash – Players love playing for Cash and the innovative Rays. Known for getting the most out of his roster and using data/tech to gain an edge.
- Power Hitting – Rays ranked 22nd in HRs last season and are hoping Mead can add pop to lineup. Still lacking a true middle-of-the-order slugger.
- Bullpen Uncertainty – While the unit remains strong, Rays must replace All-Star closer Raley. Fairbanks assumed the role late last season but has been inconsistent.
- Injuries – Keeping Glasnow healthy and managing Franco’s workload in his first full MLB season will be key. Cannot afford injuries to the rotation.
The Rays are legitimate World Series contenders who improved across the roster this offseason. The rotation is among the AL’s best and will keep Tampa in every game. Franco’s emergence as a franchise cornerstone only raises the ceiling. There are impact prospects on the way while the lineup added crucial power bats.
Look for Mead to compete for Rookie of the Year as he energizes the offense. McClanahan will contend for the Cy Young if he replicates his 2022 dominance. Cash remains a master at pushing the right buttons and getting production from unlikely sources. With strong pitching, defense, speed, and athleticism, the Rays play the style of baseball perfectly suited for October success.
Prediction: 1st place in AL East (96-66 record)
The Rays edge the big-spending Yankees and Blue Jays in a tight division race. The offense takes a step forward behind the young stars, while the deep pitching staff leads Tampa to another playoff berth. Once in October, their versatility and unconventional style of play make this small-market team a dangerous matchup. The Tampa Bay Rays enter 2023 with their sights set on winning that elusive World Series title.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who are the Rays’ biggest offseason additions?
The Rays’ biggest offseason additions were power-hitting first base prospect Curtis Mead acquired from the Nationals, starting pitcher Zach Eflin signed to a 3-year deal, and reliever JT Chargois who bolsters the bullpen.
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What can we expect from Wander Franco in his sophomore season?
After finishing 3rd in 2021 Rookie of the Year voting, Franco appears poised for an MVP caliber season in 2023 at just 21 years old. He hit .270 with 16 HRs, 34 doubles, 76 RBIs and a .362 OBP last year while playing elite defense. Expect Franco to take another leap and cement himself as one of the best young stars in baseball.
Who will close for the Rays following Brooks Raley’s departure?
Right-hander Pete Fairbanks is expected to take over the closer role after posting a 2.67 ERA and 9 saves last season. He owns a mid-90s fastball and plus slider but has battled consistency issues in the past. Jason Adam and Colin Poche are proven setup options.
How does the Rays rotation stack up against the rest of the AL East?
The Rays possess one of the AL’s best starting staffs led by McClanahan, Glasnow, Rasmussen and Eflin. The Yankees rotation has injury concerns while the Blue Jays staff is less proven behind Manoah and Gausman. Tampa’s rotation depth is unmatched in the division.
Could top prospect Carson Williams make his MLB debut in 2023?
Williams is coming off a monster season in the minors where he blasted 28 HRs with a .311 average. The starting shortstop job is blocked by Wander Franco, but the Rays could call up Williams in a bench role to provide righty power. He’s on the 40-man roster and could debut in 2023.
Can the Rays realistically win the World Series with one of MLB’s lowest payrolls?
While unlikely, the data-driven Rays have a proven track record of outperforming expectations and making surprise deep postseason runs. With outstanding pitching, defense, speed and athleticism, they have an unconventional formula and versatile roster suited for October success. Much will depend on the offense, but the Rays could shock the baseball world with a World Series title.
The 2023 Tampa Bay Rays appear primed to contend for a World Series championship. An elite pitching staff, emerging young stars like Franco and Mead, and the additions of veterans like Eflin have Tampa positioned nicely to capture their third AL East title in four years.
Manager Kevin Cash will again get the most from his innovative roster. If the offense takes the next step and Glasnow stays healthy, this small budget team has all the ingredients to finally breakthrough on baseball’s grandest stage. The foundation is in place for another unforgettable season as the Rays look to recapture the magic from their remarkable 2008 run.