The Tampa Bay Rays enter the 2023 MLB season with high hopes of capturing their third AL East division title in four years. After posting 86 wins in 2022 and barely missing the playoffs, the Rays made some key offseason moves to bolster their roster for another run at October baseball.
In this comprehensive 2023 Tampa Bay Rays season preview, we’ll analyze the Rays’ chances of winning the competitive AL East. We’ll break down their starting pitching, bullpen, lineup, prospects, and new acquisitions. Additionally, we’ll compare the Rays to their AL East foes – the Yankees, Blue Jays, Red Sox, and Orioles.
Strengths of the 2023 Tampa Bay Rays
Formidable Starting Rotation
The Rays possess one of the deepest starting rotations in baseball, headlined by ace Shane McClanahan. The 26-year-old lefty dominated in his first full season, posting a 2.54 ERA with 194 strikeouts over 166 1/3 innings. He anchors a rotation that includes crafty veteran Corey Kluber, emerging young arms like Shane Baz and Luis Patino, and the versatile Tyler Glasnow.
Tampa Bay finished 7th in MLB last season with a 3.57 starter ERA. With a full healthy season from Glasnow and continued development from Baz and Patino, their rotation could be even more formidable in 2023. The Rays have enviable pitching depth that will keep them competitive in the tough AL East.
While the starting pitching grabs headlines, Tampa Bay’s bullpen was sneaky good in 2022. Their 3.23 relief ERA ranked 5th best in baseball. Pete Fairbanks, JT Chargois, Jason Adam, and Colin Poche formed a reliable late-inning quartet.
The Rays then added standout closer Kenley Jansen in free agency. The 3-time All-Star will lock down the 9th inning and provide leadership to an already talented group. If the starters hand a lead to the bullpen, the Rays will be tough to beat.
Speed and Athleticism
Manager Kevin Cash prioritizes versatility, speed, and defense. Players like Manuel Margot, Jose Siri, Brett Phillips, and newcomer Roman Quinn give the Rays elite speed in the outfield. Infielders like Taylor Walls, Jonathan Aranda, and Vidal Brujan also bring quickness to the diamond.
The Rays were 3rd in baseball last season with 88 stolen bases. Their athleticism allows them to put pressure on opponents with aggressive baserunning. It’s a key ingredient in Tampa’s scrappy brand of ball.
Strong Farm System and Player Development
Thanks to a fruitful farm system, the Rays consistently integrate young talent onto the big league roster. Top prospects like SS Xavier Edwards, OF Josh Lowe, and RHP Taj Bradley could make an impact in 2023. Edwards’ elite speed profiles nicely into Tampa’s style of play.
The Rays also have a knack for maximizing veterans like Corey Kluber, providing the perfect environment for them to thrive. Young players and veterans alike perform their best in Tampa’s collaborative clubhouse culture centered on analytics and innovation.
Question Marks for the 2023 Rays
While the Rays clearly have pitching and defense covered, run production remains a question mark. They finished 22nd in runs last season and lack a true middle-of-the-order thumper. Randy Arozarena is the closest thing to a slugger, but he’s better suited for the 2-hole. Tampa may struggle to drive in runs consistently.
Newcomers like catcher Christian Bethancourt and first baseman Ji-Man Choi add some power. But on the whole, the Rays lack punch and rely heavily on strings of singles, walks, and aggressive baserunning.
Durability Concerns in the Rotation
The biggest thing that could derail the Rays is injury risk in the starting rotation. Tyler Glasnow hasn’t topped 60 innings since 2021. Luis Patino has struggled to stay healthy. And free agent pickup Corey Kluber is entering his age 37 season.
Shane McClanahan is the only starter without durability concerns. The others will need to avoid lengthy IL stints for the Rays to maximize their rotation depth and weather the grind of 162 games. Any long absences could tax the bullpen and put pressure on unproven starters.
Uncertainty at First Base
First base remains an unsettled position after Ji-Man Choi’s up-and-down 2022 season. Choi has always been streaky and struggles against lefties. The Rays may platoon him with righty-masher Christian Bethancourt.
Ideally, one player would seize the job and provide steady offense from a power position. But the Rays seem content to mix-and-match Choi and Bethancourt while getting plus defense. It’s not an ideal situation offensively at first.
Lack of Financial Flexibility
The Rays operate with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, around $90 million in 2023. While they make the most of their limited resources thanks to savvy trades and prospect development, a higher payroll would provide more margin for error.
Injuries and/or underperformance could expose their lack of spending. Big market teams like the Yankees and Blue Jays can overcome roster holes more easily by acquiring high-priced upgrades. The Rays lack that financial flexibility.
Key Offseason Additions
Kenley Jansen – The longtime Dodgers closer signed a 2-year, $32 million deal to anchor the Tampa Bay bullpen. The 3-time All-Star gives the Rays a proven arm for high-leverage situations.
Christian Bethancourt – Acquired via trade from Oakland, Bethancourt brings power and versatility as a catcher/first baseman. He’ll likely platoon at first and DH.
Roman Quinn – An elite speedster signed to a minor league deal, Quinn has a good chance to break camp as the 4th outfielder. He’ll provide terrific defense and baserunning.
2023 Season Outlook and Prediction
The scrappy Rays will make life difficult for their AL East opponents. The starting pitching and bullpen should keep them competitive in low-scoring games. Timely hitting, athletic defense, and aggressive baserunning are the hallmarks of Rays baseball.
However, the lack of financial flexibility and unproven offense makes them unlikely to keep pace with the Yankees and Blue Jays over 162 games. The Rays seem headed for another 85-90 win season, but probably fall just short of the playoffs.
2023 Tampa Bay Rays Prediction: 87-75 Record, 3rd Place in AL East
The Rays will push New York and Toronto all season long. But their resource constraints make it tough to envision Tampa Bay keeping up with two juggernauts over 6+ months. Still, the 2023 Rays will deliver their trademark scrappy play and remain a pesky opponent.
How Do the Rays Stack Up Against the AL East Rivals?
New York Yankees
The Yankees enter 2023 as heavy favorites in the AL East after signing Carlos Rodon. Their imposing lineup, deep pitching staff, and massive payroll make them the team to beat. Still, the Rays play New York tough thanks to their terrific pitching. Expect another season of hard-fought battles between these division foes.
Advantage – Yankees
Toronto Blue Jays
Like the Yankees, the Blue Jays made a splash this winter by signing Chris Bassitt. Toronto’s imposing lineup may be the AL’s best. The concerns for them are pitching health and shaky team defense. They have more upside than the Rays but also more risk.
Slight Advantage – Blue Jays
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox got better with the acquisition of MVP candidate Masataka Yoshida. Their talented young core reminds us of the early stages of the Rays’ rebuild. But Boston’s pitching lacks the depth of Tampa’s staff for now. The Rays should edge them out.
Advantage – Rays
The Orioles are an ascending team after a surprise 83-win season. Young talents like Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson make the future bright. However, Baltimore is still a notch below the Rays in terms of roster depth and pitching infrastructure.
Advantage – Rays
Key Questions for the 2023 Rays
Can the Offense Produce Enough Runs?
The Rays lack firepower in the middle of the order. Manufacturing runs from top to bottom of the lineup will be crucial, or lack of offense could waste their strong pitching.
Will the Rotation Stay Healthy?
Arm issues are a concern for Glasnow, Patino, Kluber, and others. Tampa needs 170+ innings from its starters to weather the marathon season.
Who Emerges at First Base?
Platoons of Choi and Bethancourt offer flexibility but no sure thing. A breakout from one could go a long way.
Can Tampa’s Farm System Boost the Roster Again?
Rookies like Edwards and Lowe may provide a spark. Tampa needs prospects to fill gaps given payroll constraints.
How Will Kenley Jansen Handle the AL East?
Jansen revival is key after struggling in recent postseasons. High-leverage situations will test him against tough lineups.
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6 Key Rays Players to Watch in 2023
Wander Franco, Shortstop
The switch-hitting phenom is the future face of the franchise. A full healthy season could elevate him to stardom.
Shane McClanahan, Starting Pitcher
After dominating as a rookie, the lefty ace looks to establish himself among AL’s elite arms.
Randy Arozarena, Outfielder
Coming off a down 2022, Arozarena has explosive power/speed tools to rebound.
Vidal Brujan, Second Baseman
One of Tampa’s fastest runners, he’ll compete for starting second base job.
Xavier Edwards, Shortstop
Edwards’ elite speed and hit tool could make him perfect for Rays’ style.
Taj Bradley, Starting Pitcher
Bradley reached Triple-A in ’22 and could emerge as a key rotation piece.
The 2023 Tampa Bay Rays are positioned to contend all season long in the AL East. Although they lack the financial might of the Yankees and Blue Jays, the Rays have the pitching, prospects, and strategic elements to stay competitive.
Led by ace Shane McClanahan and bolstered by new closer Kenley Jansen, expect the Rays to once again play their scrappy brand of winning baseball. The development of young hitters like Wander Franco and Josh Lowe will be key factors to watch.
The Rays seem likely to fall just short of the Yankees and Jays over 162 games. But they should battle for a Wild Card position and remain relevant in the playoff race. Rays fans can look forward to meaningful games throughout summer and a feisty underdog team that consistently defies expectations.