2023 Tampa Bay Rays Season Preview – Competing in the AL East

The Tampa Bay Rays enter the 2023 MLB season looking to build on their strong 86-76 record from 2022. With a talented young core and savvy front office moves, the Rays aim to compete in baseball’s toughest division, the AL East.

Introduction

The AL East features four legitimate playoff contenders in the New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays, and Boston Red Sox. The division’s strength makes it extremely difficult for any one team to run away with the title. The Rays will need to be firing on all cylinders to keep pace.

Tampa’s calling cards are stellar pitching and defense. They boasted the AL’s 2nd best team ERA last season while committing the fewest errors. Run prevention will surely be key again in 2023. However, the Rays need improved offensive production to seriously contend. This preview analyzes Tampa’s offseason acquisitions, emerging young talent, and outlook across all facets of the game.

Offseason Overview

The Rays’ front office worked this winter to bolster run production while maintaining payroll flexibility. Tampa signed veteran slugger Hunter Renfroe to add right-handed thump. Japanese star Masataka Yoshida brings on-base skills and speed. Extending budding superstar Randy Arozarena ensured a long-term core piece.

Meanwhile, the Rays traded away 1B Ji-Man Choi’s power bat and let SS Taylor Walls and CF Kevin Kiermaier depart. Pitching wise, Tampa lost veteran leader Corey Kluber but retained speedster Yandy Diaz. Overall, the Rays seem well positioned to compete while developing young talent.

Key Offseason Moves

  • Signed OF Hunter Renfroe (2 years, $19M)
  • Signed OF Masataka Yoshida (5 years, $90M)
  • Extended OF Randy Arozarena (5 years, $56M)
  • Traded 1B Ji-Man Choi to Pittsburgh
  • Lost SS Taylor Walls, CF Kevin Kiermaier in free agency
  • Lost SP Corey Kluber in free agency

2023 Rays Position Player Preview

Tampa’s offensive production lagged behind other contenders last season. They ranked just 22nd in runs scored and OPS. The Rays will count on breakthroughs from young hitters while leaning on Renfroe’s proven power bat.

Catcher

Christian Bethancourt and Francisco Mejía will likely split time behind the plate. Bethancourt offers power potential with 14 HRs last season. Mejía brings contact skills and elite arm strength defensively. Top prospect Blake Hunt could debut later in the year.

First Base

Trade acquisition Yu Chang will get the first chance to replace Choi’s production. Chang has flashed impressive power in the minors but struggled in limited MLB opportunities. He’ll need to capitalize on regular at-bats.

Second Base

Brandon Lowe posted a solid .791 OPS last season but injuries limited him to 102 games. He and Isaac Paredes will share time at second. Paredes is just 23 and coming off a 15 HR campaign. Keeping these young bats healthy is critical.

Third Base

Yandy Diaz is the staple of Tampa’s lineup. He reached base at a .396 clip last year while playing excellent defense. Diaz is the engine that makes the Rays offense go. Newly acquired Miles Mastrobuoni could push for playing time as well.

Shortstop

With Walls gone, blue chip prospect Vidal Brujan will get an extended MLB look. He boasts 80 grade speed and developing power. Brujan slashed .260/.340/.455 in 58 games last year. The Rays need him to grab the reins as their table setter.

Outfield

This unit is Tampa’s biggest strength. Arozarena enjoyed a breakout 2022, hitting 20 HRs with 30 SBs. Renfroe bashed 29 HRs for Milwaukee last year and owns a lifetime .807 OPS. Yoshida gets on base at an elite clip thanks to exceptional bat control. Harold Ramirez and Jose Siri provide further depth.

Projected Lineup

  1. Vidal Brujan SS
  2. Yandy Diaz 3B
  3. Randy Arozarena LF
  4. Hunter Renfroe RF
  5. Brandon Lowe 2B
  6. Masataka Yoshida DH
  7. Francisco Mejia C
  8. Yu Chang 1B
  9. Manuel Margot CF

2023 Rays Pitching Preview

Tampa’s pitching carried the team last year behind Cy Young winner Shane McClanahan. He leads a deep stable of exciting young arms and crafty veterans. The bullpen remains elite as well. Pitching will be this team’s backbone.

Starting Rotation

  • Shane McClanahan – After a breakout 2021, the lefty was utterly dominant last season. His 2.54 ERA led MLB among qualified starters. McClanahan pairs mid 90s gas with an elite changeup. At just 26, he is a true ace.
  • Tyler Glasnow – Glasnow has the stuff to be a co-ace beside McClanahan. However, he is returning from Tommy John surgery that cost him all of 2022. Early season innings limits will be in place, but Glasnow can still dominate when healthy.
  • Drew Rasmussen – Stepping in as SP3, Rasmussen enjoyed his own breakout last season. His 2.85 ERA ranked 7th in the AL as he secured a rotation spot. The Rays hope for 30+ starts and 180+ innings from him.
  • Jeffrey Springs – One of Tampa’s best stories in 2022, Springs moved from the bullpen to the rotation with great success. His 2.46 ERA was top 10 in the AL, and he pitched 113 innings in 24 starts. Springs earned a multi-year extension and will hold down the 4th spot.
  • Luis Patino – Once a top pitching prospect, Patino worked out of the bullpen in 2022 but is stretched back out this spring. The Rays hope he can seize the 5th starter job to round out an imposing young rotation.

Bullpen

Tampa’s bullpen led baseball with a 2.70 ERA last season and returns the bulk of that unit. Closer Pete Fairbanks and setup man Jason Adam will lock down the late innings. Brooks Raley, Ryan Thompson, and JT Chargois make it tough on righties. Colin Poche and Javy Guerra excel against lefties. This group is deep and versatile.

Key Stat Predictions

  • SP Shane McClanahan: 2.87 ERA, 210 IP, 220 Ks
  • SP Tyler Glasnow: 3.15 ERA, 140 IP, 180 Ks (if healthy)
  • RF Hunter Renfroe: .810 OPS, 33 HRs, 90 RBIs
  • LF Randy Arozarena: 25 HRs, 30 SBs, .850 OPS
  • 3B Yandy Diaz: .390 OBP, .820 OPS

Outlook and Predictions

The Rays will rely on stellar pitching and defense once again in 2023. But they showed willingness to open their wallets and acquire more offensive firepower as well. The Yankees enter as division favorites, but the Rays have enough talent to push New York all season.

I predict a 90-72 record and an AL Wild Card berth for Tampa. McClanahan and Glasnow can match any 1-2 rotation punch while the bullpen will shut teams down. If Renfroe boosts the middle of the order and young hitters like Arozarena and Brujan break out, the offense could surprise. The Rays should return to October in a hotly contested AL East.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who are the Rays’ biggest offseason additions?

The Rays signed outfielders Hunter Renfroe and Masataka Yoshida to bolster their offense. Renfroe provides big right-handed power while Yoshida gets on base at an elite clip and can play all three OF spots.

How does Tampa’s rotation stack up in the AL East?

The trio of Shane McClanahan, Tyler Glasnow, and Drew Rasmussen can match up with any AL East rotation. New York still boasts great depth, but a healthy Glasnow gives the Rays a top ace to anchor the staff.

What are Tampa’s biggest weaknesses?

The Rays lineup lacks proven power bats outside of Renfroe. They will need young hitters like Randy Arozarena, Vidal Brujan, and Brandon Lowe to take steps forward. Defensively, Manuel Margot is a downgrade from former Gold Glover Kevin Kiermaier in center field.

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Who will be the Rays MVP?

Look for Shane McClanahan to take home team MVP honors if he can replicate his Cy Young 2022 season. McClanahan would need to overcome superb seasons from Randy Arozarena and Tyler Glasnow to repeat.

Can Tampa realistically win the AL East?

The Yankees enter as division favorites given their offseason spending, but the Rays have a realistic shot. Tampa’s elite pitching can contain New York’s powerful lineup in head-to-head games. The Rays will need big seasons from their young hitters to keep pace offensively.

What’s realistic for Tampa in 2023?

The Rays should compete for one of the three AL Wild Card spots. Winning 90-95 games is possible given their pitching. Getting back to the ALDS for a decisive series with New York or Houston seems like Tampa’s ceiling this season.

Conclusion

The scrappy Tampa Bay Rays will look to make noise against their powerhouse AL East foes once again in 2023. Outstanding pitching and defense form the backbone of this team’s identity and success formula. Young hitters like Arozarena, Lowe, and Brujan emerging as impact bats could elevate Tampa’s offense.

The Rays boast an impressive blend of experienced veterans and exciting prospects. Overall, Tampa appears poised to contend for a playoff spot if their offensive gains materialize. Yankee dominance is far from guaranteed with the Rays pitching staff at full strength. Expect Tampa to push New York and Boston while hunting for October baseball again in 2023.

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