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 86-76 record and third place finish in the ultra-competitive American League East division in 2022. With a talented young core and shrewd front office, the Rays have their sights set on contending for a World Series title. This in-depth season preview analyzes the Rays’ offseason moves, lineup, pitching staff, prospects, and 2023 outlook.

Introduction

The AL East features four potential playoff teams in the New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox, and Rays. Tampa Bay will need standout seasons from Randy Arozarena, Tyler Glasnow, and Wander Franco to keep pace with their big-spending division rivals. This season preview examines the Rays’ chances of capturing their third AL East crown in four years.

Offseason Recap

Key Additions

  • Zach Eflin – The Rays signed the veteran right-hander to a three-year, $40 million contract, adding stability to the rotation. Eflin had a 4.04 ERA across 128 2/3 innings for the Phillies last season.
  • AJ Ellis – Tampa Bay hired the former MLB catcher as their new bench coach. Ellis brings expertise in analytics and relationships with players.
  • Brooks Raley – The left-handed reliever inked a two-year, $10 million deal after pitching well for the Rays down the stretch last season.

Key Losses

  • Kevin Kiermaier – The Rays declined Kiermaier’s $13 million option for 2023, ending his 10-year tenure in Tampa. His elite outfield defense will be missed.
  • Jeffrey Springs – The breakout lefty starter was traded to the Red Sox for five minor league prospects, depleting the rotation depth.
  • Calvin Faucher – The hard-throwing reliever was selected by the Nationals in the Rule 5 draft. He could compete for a bullpen role in Washington.

Extensions

  • Randy Arozarena – Fresh off a 20 HR, 32 steal campaign, Arozarena inked a five-year, $56 million extension buying out his arbitration years.
  • Tyler Glasnow – Still recovering from Tommy John surgery, Glasnow signed a two-year, $25 million extension keeping him under team control through 2024.

2023 Projected Lineup

Catcher

  • Christian Bethancourt
  • Francisco Mejia

Bethancourt displayed some surprising power in 2022, slugging 14 homers in just 268 at-bats. He and Mejia will likely split time behind the plate. Prospect Heriberto Hernandez could debut later in the year.

First Base

  • Ji-Man Choi

Choi has become an integral part of the Rays lineup, providing patience and pop from the left side. He slashed .238/.348/.411 last season, numbers Tampa would gladly take again.

Second Base

  • Brandon Lowe

One of the most dangerous hitters in the AL when healthy, Lowe was limited to 62 games in 2022. His presence in the heart of the order is vital to the Rays’ playoff hopes.

Third Base

  • Yandy Diaz

Diaz is the table-setter for Tampa’s lineup, relentlessly controlling the strike zone and reaching base. His .408 OBP led the Rays last season.

Shortstop

  • Wander Franco

The switch-hitting phenom is the franchise cornerstone entering his age 22 season. Franco has otherworldly bat-to-ball skills and posted a 136 OPS+ as a rookie. Health is key after he was limited to 83 games in 2022.

Outfield

  • Randy Arozarena
  • Manuel Margot
  • David Peralta

Arozarena has blossomed into a five-tool star coming off a 20/32 season. Margot and Peralta provide steady veteran production on both sides of the ball. Prospect Josh Lowe could also factor in.

Designated Hitter

  • Harold Ramirez

Ramirez was a revelation for the Rays last season, slashing .287/.326/.426 while playing solid defense across the outfield. He’ll likely slot in as the primary DH.

2023 Projected Rotation

  1. Shane McClanahan
  2. Tyler Glasnow
  3. Jeffrey Springs
  4. Zach Eflin
  5. Drew Rasmussen

McClanahan emerged as an elite ace in 2022, placing third in AL Cy Young voting. The Rays will monitor Glasnow’s workload in his return from Tommy John surgery – if healthy, he has top-of-the-rotation stuff. Springs was quietly very effective last season, while Eflin and Rasmussen provide quality options at the back end. Prospects Taj Bradley and Kyle Bradish could debut later in the year.

2023 Projected Bullpen

  • Closer – Pete Fairbanks
  • Brooks Raley
  • Jalen Beeks
  • Ryan Thompson
  • Colin Poche
  • JT Chargois
  • Jason Adam

Fairbanks converted eight of 11 save chances last season and appears poised for the full-time ninth inning role. The Rays bullpen is a constant strength thanks to their ability to develop and maximize relievers. Raley and Beeks are tough on lefties, while Thompson and Poche eat innings with effectiveness. Prospects Calvin Stevenson and Easton McGee could see time later in the year.

Top 5 Prospects Heading Into 2023

  1. SS Carson Williams – Hit .304 across A/AA in 2022, potential 2023 call-up
  2. C Heriberto Hernandez – Big power, arm strength, 24 HRs last season
  3. OF Ivan Johnson – 2022 1st round pick, five-tool talent
  4. RHP Kyle Bradish – Debuted in 2022, chance to earn rotation spot
  5. RHP Taj Bradley – Mid 90s fastball and sharp slider, reached AAA in 2022

The Rays system remains stocked with premium athletes at premium positions – a hallmark of their player development success. Williams, Hernandez, and Johnson all have everyday player upside, while Bradish and Bradley could make an impact on the pitching staff this season.

2023 Season Outlook and Prediction

Strengths

  • Productive lineup led by Franco, Arozarena, Lowe
  • Elite pitching development
  • Excellent team defense
  • Deep and versatile roster constructed creatively

Question Marks

  • Ability to keep pace with NYY, TOR, and BOS payrolls
  • Glasnow’s health and effectiveness post-surgery
  • Unproven back of the rotation

Season Prediction: 87-75 Record, Wild Card Berth

The Rays will deploy their standard formula – strong pitching, defensive versatility, and just enough offense to contend in the daunting AL East. If Glasnow returns close to his pre-injury form, Tampa’s rotation could emerge among the AL’s best. The Yankees and Blue Jays are more talented on paper, but the Rays’ resourcefulness, depth, and coaching will make them a playoff threat once again. Look for Tampa Bay to snag one of the three AL Wild Card spots in a tightly contested race.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who are the Rays’ biggest additions for 2023?

The Rays bolstered their rotation by signing veteran righty Zach Eflin to a three-year deal. They also added lefty reliever Brooks Raley and bench coach AJ Ellis to the coaching staff.

What was Tampa Bay’s biggest loss from last season?

The Rays traded away starter Jeffrey Springs and declined outfielder Kevin Kiermaier’s option. Springs was an unheralded rotation cog while Kiermaier provided Gold Glove defense for a decade.

How will the Rays replace Kiermaier’s defense?

Tampa has assembled a fleet-footed defensive unit capable of covering ground at Tropicana Field’s cavernous outfield. Manuel Margot and Randy Arozarena are both well above-average defenders with speed.

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Is Wander Franco poised for stardom in 2023?

All signs point to yes – Franco possesses generational bat-to-ball skills and posted a 136 OPS+ as a 21-year old rookie. If he stays healthy for 150+ games, Franco could emerge as one of baseball’s brightest young stars.

Can Tyler Glasnow return to ace form after Tommy John surgery?

Reports on Glasnow’s recovery have been positive so far. If he regains his upper-90s fastball and sharp curveball command, Glasnow gives the Rays a dynamic one-two punch with Shane McClanahan. There is some uncertainty though coming off major surgery.

Who will close games for the Rays this season?

Pete Fairbanks appears likely to get the first shot at the ninth inning after converting eight of 11 chances last season. Fairbanks has the big fastball and fearlessness to thrive in high-leverage spots. The Rays have also proven adept at maximizing different relievers in the closer role.

Conclusion

The scrappy Tampa Bay Rays will seek their fourth straight winning season in 2023. With a balanced lineup led by young stars, exceptional pitching infrastructure, and deep roster, the Rays are equipped to contend with the powerhouses of the AL East once again. If breakouts from Tyler Glasnow, Wander Franco, and others materialize, Tampa has a chance to celebrate their first World Series title. Expect the Rays to be in the playoff mix as a Wild Card team thanks to fundamental play, aggressive creativity, and very competitive talent.

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