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 successful 86-76 campaign in 2022. Playing in the ultra-competitive AL East division, the Rays have their work cut out for them to make a playoff push. This comprehensive season preview analyzes the Rays’ offseason moves, lineup projections, pitching staff, prospects, and season outlook as they aim to contend with the Yankees, Blue Jays, and Red Sox.

Introduction

After making the playoffs in three straight seasons from 2019-2021, including an American League pennant in 2020, the Rays took a step back in 2022. While they finished above .500, Tampa’s 86 wins were only good for third place in the AL East behind the Yankees and Blue Jays.

Heading into 2023, the Rays will look to bounce back and compete for a Wild Card spot. They’ll need better health and production from key players like Wander Franco, Tyler Glasnow, and Manuel Margot. The Rays also made some under-the-radar moves this offseason to supplement their talented core.

Tampa has regularly defied expectations thanks to stellar pitching, defensive shifts, and innovative roster construction. Can the Rays conjure up another scrappy, competitive season in the daunting AL East? This comprehensive preview examines Tampa’s offseason deals, lineup and pitching staff projections, prospects, and outlook for the 2023 campaign.

Offseason Recap

The Rays are never major players in free agency, and this offseason was no different. Tampa’s biggest move was acquiring slugger Ji-Man Choi in a trade with the Pirates, reuniting them with a fan favorite first baseman. The Rays also signed veteran starter Chris Archer to a 1-year, $2.5 million contract. Archer is looking to revive his career after struggling with injuries in recent seasons.

Meanwhile, Tampa lost All-Star catcher Mike Zunino to free agency, but quickly replaced him by trading for catcher Christian Bethancourt from the Athletics. Bethancourt hit .249 with 14 homers for Oakland last season and is known for his cannon arm behind the plate.

Other key offseason departures included pitchers Corey Kluber, Matt Wisler and Colin Poche. The Rays traded 1B/OF Harold Ramirez to the Guardians. They also chose not to re-sign speedy outfielder Brett Phillips.

Overall, it was a typical quiet winter for GM Erik Neander and the Rays. They are counting on better health and internal improvement to boost the roster for 2023. Top prospects like SS Greg Jones, P Taj Bradley, and OF Ian Seymour could also contribute at some point during the season.

Projected 2023 Lineup

Manager Kevin Cash will have plenty of options to mix and match his lineup based on pitching matchups. Here is the Rays’ projected starting lineup for 2023:

1. 3B Yandy Diaz

After hitting .296/.401/.403 last season, Diaz will likely lead off again thanks to his elite plate discipline and ability to grind out at-bats.

2. SS Wander Franco

One of the game’s top young talents, Franco hit .260 with 5 HRs in 83 games in an injury-shortened 2022. A healthy Franco can be an MVP candidate batting second.

3. DH Brandon Lowe

Lowe bounced back from a rough 2021 with a .703 OPS, 39 HRs and 84 RBIs last season. He provides some of the best lefty power in the lineup.

4. 1B Ji-Man Choi

Reacquired from Pittsburgh, the fan favorite Choi is expected to receive the bulk of playing time at first base after putting up an .813 OPS last season.

5. RF Randy Arozarena

After a breakout 2021, Arozarena took a step back last season but still produced an .815 OPS with 20 HRs and 32 doubles. He’ll look to regain his All-Star form.

6. 2B Isaac Paredes

One of the Rays’ breakout players last season with 20 HRs and a .807 OPS, Paredes brings some righty pop to the bottom third of the order.

7. LF Manuel Margot

Margot was limited to 53 games last season but remains a threat on the bases (25 SB in 2021) and capable of highlight-reel catches in the outfield when healthy.

8. C Christian Bethancourt

Bethancourt’s rifle arm should help control the running game, and he’ll look to reproduce his power numbers (14 HRs, .655 SLG in 2022) moving to Tampa’s hitter-friendly park.

9. CF Jose Siri

Acquired midseason last year, Siri brings elite speed (23 SBs) and defense to cover the gaps in center field. He’ll likely bat ninth and set the table.

Bench/Depth Options

  • OF Luke Raley – Righty bat hit .185 in 182 MLB at-bats last season
  • UTIL Vidal Brujan – Speedy prospect who can play 2B, SS, OF
  • UTIL Taylor Walls – Defensive specialist with speed and some pop
  • C Francisco Mejia – Former top catching prospect attempting a bounce-back season

2023 Projected Pitching Staff

The Rays are well positioned to have one of the deeper pitching staffs in the American League, with a nice blend of established veterans and exciting young arms. Here is how the Tampa Bay pitching staff may shake out for 2023:

Rotation

  1. RHP Shane McClanahan – After a breakout 2022 (2.54 ERA, 194 Ks), the lefty is poised to headline the staff again as a Cy Young candidate.
  2. RHP Tyler Glasnow – Getting Glasnow back healthy from Tommy John surgery is huge. Before his injury in 2021, he had a 2.66 ERA with 123 Ks in 88 IP.
  3. LHP Jeffrey Springs – One of Tampa’s biggest surprises last season, Springs went 9-4 with a 2.46 ERA in 25 starts, earning an All-Star nod.
  4. RHP Drew Rasmussen – Shifted to the rotation full-time last season, Rasmussen posted a 2.85 ERA through 117 innings. His 0.91 WHIP ranked 3rd best in MLB.
  5. RHP Chris Archer – Trying to revitalize his career after multiple injury-plagued seasons, Archer is a wild card for the back of the rotation.

Bullpen

  • RHP Pete Fairbanks (Closer) – After RF Nick Anderson was shut down, Fairbanks stepped up with 9 saves and a 1.13 ERA over his final 31 appearances.
  • LHP Brooks Raley – Solid lefty posted a 2.68 ERA in 58 games last season. Will be a trusted late-inning option.
  • RHP Ryan Thompson – Led the bullpen with 19 holds and a 1.214 WHIP last season. Excellent fireman to inherit runners.
  • RHP JT Chargois – Veteran righty signed a 1-year, $3.5M deal after posting a 2.46 ERA in Tampa last season.
  • RHP Javy Guerra – Hard-throwing converted shortstop had a 3.71 ERA in his MLB debut last season. Upside play.
  • RHP Calvin Faucher – Rule 5 pick can hit 100 mph on the gun. Intriguing potential if he sticks on the roster.
  • RHP Yonny Chirinos – Could seize a bullpen role if fully recovered from Tommy John surgery that cost him all of 2021-2022.

Top Prospects Who Could Debut

  • RHP Taj Bradley
  • SS Greg Jones
  • OF Ian Seymour
  • LHP John Doxakis
  • C Rene Pinto
  • RHP Seth Johnson

5 Key Rays Players for 2023

Here are five players who will be most vital to the Rays’ success this season if they are to compete for a playoff spot:

1. Wander Franco – Shortstop

The switch-hitting phenom has drawn comparisons to a young Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Franco was limited to 83 games last season but posted an .810 OPS with 25 doubles as a 21-year-old. If he stays healthy for 150+ games, Franco has legitimate MVP potential as one of baseball’s brightest young stars.

2. Tyler Glasnow – Pitcher

Getting Glasnow back to front the rotation would be a huge boost. Prior to Tommy John surgery, he was looking like a Cy Young contender with his blazing fastball and sharp curve. Glasnow returning to his 2021 first-half form (2.66 ERA, 123 Ks in 88 IP) could help elevate the Rays back into contention.

3. Brandon Lowe – Second Base

Lowe has proven he can be a very streaky power hitter. After an ice cold start to 2022, he rebounded to lead the Rays with 39 HRs and 86 RBIs. Tampa needs Lowe to put together a more consistent 30+ homer, 90+ RBI season from their cleanup hitter if they want to keep up offensively in the AL East.

4. Manuel Margot – Outfielder

Margot was limited to 53 games last season but still managed 10 HRs and 12 SBs when healthy. He’s capable of a 20/20 season with gold glove defense in the outfield. The Rays are counting on a bounce-back, 150+ game season from Margot to solidify the bottom third of the lineup.

5. Jeffrey Springs – Pitcher

One of Tampa’s biggest surprises last season, Springs made his first All-Star team by anchoring the rotation with a 2.46 ERA in 25 starts. The Rays need the lefty to prove 2022 wasn’t a fluke and turn in another sub-3.00 ERA season to complement Glasnow and McClanahan at the top of the rotation.

Season Outlook and Prediction

The Rays will face stiff competition in baseball’s toughest division, but they have the pitching and just enough offense to hang around the Wild Card race. Here is an outlook on Tampa’s 2022 season:

Upside Case:

If Franco emerges as an MVP candidate, Glasnow comes back strong, Lowe and Margot have bounce-back seasons, and McClanahan/Springs lead a dominant pitching staff, the Rays have a shot to win 90+ games and snag a Wild Card berth. The Rays tend to play above their talent level thanks to elite coaching and innovative roster management.

Concern:

Injuries remain an issue, especially with Glasnow coming off Tommy John surgery and Franco yet to stay fully healthy for a full season. The offense lacks firepower compared to Yankees and Blue Jays. Bullpen roles are uncertain if Fairbanks/Chargois can’t lock down late innings. Regressions from breakout seasons by Springs/Paredes/Bethancourt.

Prediction:

If the Rays stay relatively healthy, their pitching should carry them to 85-90 wins, enough to hang around the Wild Card race but likely coming up just short of the playoffs. Look for Tampa to finish 3rd in the AL East behind the Yankees and Blue Jays while pushing for a Wild Card spot.

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2023 Tampa Bay Rays Season FAQs

Get answers to the most common questions facing the Rays heading into the 2023 MLB season:

Will the Rays make any big trades this season?

The Rays have a deep farm system and have shown a willingness to trade veteran major leaguers for prospects to continually refresh their roster. If they fall out of contention, Rays players like Ji-Man Choi, Manuel Margot and Pete Fairbanks could all be attractive trade chips at the deadline. The Rays could also deal from their prospect depth to acquire controllable MLB talent at positions of need during the season.

Can Wander Franco put it all together as a superstar?

Franco has all the tools to develop into one of baseball’s elite players. He showed impressive power, speed, plate discipline and defense as a 20/21-year old. The biggest question is health, as wrist and quad injuries limited Franco last season. If he stays off the injured list for 150+ games, Franco could emerge as the AL MVP frontrunner and catalyze the Rays lineup.

Who will close games for the Rays bullpen?

It looks like Pete Fairbanks will get the first shot after recording 9 saves with a 1.13 ERA over his final 31 appearances last season. But Nick Anderson could reclaim the job if he returns successfully from missing 2022 with elbow issues. JT Chargois and Javy Guerra would be next in line. The Rays pen is deep enough that they could play matchups late in games if no one grabs hold of the closer role.

How good can the starting rotation be?

The rotation could be the backbone of a playoff team if Tyler Glasnow returns to ace form post-surgery and Jeffrey Springs continues his breakout. Reigning All-Star Shane McClanahan is already a Cy Young contender. But there are some questions at the back end until Chris Archer can prove he’s healthy and Drew Rasmussen maintains his 2022 gains over 30 starts. Overall, the Rays rotation stacks up well against any opponent if Glasnow returns to pre-injury levels.

Can the Rays keep up offensively in the AL East?

This is the biggest concern, as Tampa lacks the elite power bats of the Yankees and Blue Jays lineups. To keep up, the Rays need big rebound seasons from Randy Arozarena, Manuel Margot and Brandon Lowe while getting full healthy seasons out of Wander Franco and newcomers like Ji-Man Choi and Christian Bethancourt. The offense looks league-average on paper, but Tampa could manufacture enough runs between speed (Margot, Siri) and power (Franco, Lowe, Paredes) to contend.

Is this the year the Rays finally win the AL East?

While possible if everything breaks right, the Yankees and Blue Jays still look like better bets on paper thanks to more established star power. The defending AL champion Astros also loom as fierce competition for the pennant. Realistically, the Rays can aim for a Wild Card spot while pushing 90 wins if Franco breaks out, Glasnow rebounds as an ace, and the pitching staff delivers an elite season. But overtaking the Yankees and Jays for the division title looks unlikely.

Conclusion

The scrappy Rays will rely on elite pitching, defensive shifts and depth to compete in 2023. If breakouts from young stars like Franco and Paredes mesh with bounce-back seasons from Glasnow, Lowe and others, Tampa has an outside shot to challenge for a Wild Card position. But injuries, regression and a lack of lineup firepower are real threats in the daunting AL East. Look for the Rays to hang around .500 while likely falling just short of the postseason absent major surprises. Yet this franchise’s knack for finding and developing hidden gems means anything is possible if the Rays can unlock their full potential.

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