Tampa Bay Rays 2023 Season Preview – Battling in the AL East Division

The Tampa Bay Rays head into the 2023 MLB season looking to build on their successful 86-76 campaign in 2022. After trading away several key players last season, the Rays will rely on a mix of veterans and up-and-coming prospects to compete in baseball’s toughest division – the AL East.

Introduction

The AL East features four other talented teams – the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles. The division was especially competitive in 2022, with all five teams finishing .500 or better. The Rays ultimately placed third.

Entering 2023, Tampa Bay will need to overcome significant roster turnover and develop their young talent quickly to keep pace with their division rivals. Manager Kevin Cash and the Rays have proven adept at maximizing their roster despite financial constraints. They will need to continue their resourceful approach to put together a postseason-caliber ballclub.

This season preview analyzes the Rays’ offseason moves, projected lineup and rotation, top prospects, and 2023 outlook. Read on for a comprehensive overview of how Tampa Bay is shaping up for the upcoming campaign as they battle in the hotly-contested AL East.

Offseason Recap

The Rays’ offseason was headlined by the departure of veteran outfielder Manuel Margot to the San Francisco Giants. Margot was coming off a career-best 2022 season where he slashed .300/.345/.465 with 10 home runs. His exit leaves a void in center field.

In his place, Tampa Bay acquired outfielder Esteury Ruiz from the Padres. The speedy 23-year-old could be the Rays’ opening day center fielder in 2023.

The rotation also underwent changes. Tampa Bay traded away Tyler Glasnow and traded for Zach Eflin from the Phillies. Eflin will slot in behind ace Shane McClanahan to solidify the top of the rotation. However, replacing Glasnow’s production will be difficult.

Additionally, the Rays signed starter Chris Archer to a one-year deal. Archer is reunited with Tampa Bay after previous stints from 2012-2018. The 34-year-old will provide experience but has struggled to stay healthy in recent seasons.

Finally, the Rays locked up budding superstar Wander Franco to a long-term 11-year contract extension. Securing Franco through 2033 was the team’s biggest victory this winter.

Projected 2023 Lineup

Catcher – Christian Bethancourt

After splitting time behind the plate in 2022, Bethancourt enters spring training as the favorite to take over primary catching duties. He hit .249 with 7 home runs last season. His power is limited but provides solid defense.

First Base – Ji-Man Choi

Choi brings a solid left-handed bat and excellent discipline to first base. He owns a career .362 on-base percentage and hit .233 with 11 home runs in 2022. Choi should continue to get on base frequently batting near the top of the order.

Second Base – Brandon Lowe

The 2019 All-Star has emerged as one of Tampa Bay’s most important hitters. Lowe led the Rays with 27 home runs last season while batting .221. He provides rare power at second base. His subpar average was likely an outlier, so a bounce-back season could be coming.

Third Base – Yandy Diaz

Diaz brings exceptional bat-to-ball skills with one of the lowest strikeout rates in MLB. He hit .296 last year and excels at making contact. Diaz is no power threat but should post another .300+ average with strong OBP numbers batting second.

Shortstop – Wander Franco

The uber-talented 21-year-old is the face of the franchise after signing his mega extension. Franco played just 83 games in an injury-plagued 2022 yet still showed huge upside. Over a full season, he is capable of a .300+ average, 20+ home runs, and elite run production from the leadoff spot.

Left Field – Randy Arozarena

After a breakout 2021 postseason, Arozarena’s production dipped slightly last season. He still showed flashes of brilliance in the outfield while clubbing 20 home runs and swiping 32 bases. The Rays will be looking for Arozarena to take another step forward in his age-28 season.

Center Field – Esteury Ruiz

Acquired from the Padres, Ruiz has elite speed (49 SB in AAA in 2022) but his bat remains unproven. He could secure the starting center field job out of spring training if he shows any signs of hitting. Otherwise, the Rays have platoon options like Jose Siri.

Right Field – Manuel Margot

This position is up for grabs after Margot’s departure. Offseason acquisition Ryan Thompson or prospects like Josh Lowe and Luke Raley could compete to start. A platoon is also possible. There will likely be no full-time answer in right field.

Designated Hitter – Jonathan Aranda

Top prospect Aranda got a taste of MLB action late last season and profiles as a solid left-handed hitter. He could take over primary DH duties if he builds on his strong minor league numbers. The Rays won’t overexpose him, so platooning is likely.

Projected 2023 Rotation

1. Shane McClanahan

The lefty had a sensational breakout season in 2022, posting a 2.54 ERA with 194 strikeouts over 166.1 innings. McClanahan established himself as a true ace and will frontline the rotation again in 2023. He has Cy Young Award potential if he can stay healthy.

2. Zach Eflin

Acquired from the Phillies, Eflin slots in as a durable No. 2 starter. He surpassed 175 innings in three straight seasons before being limited to 20 starts in 2022. Eflin owns a solid 3.56 career ERA and keeps the ball in the yard. He adds stability behind McClanahan.

3. Tyler Glasnow

Glasnow missed all of 2022 recovering from Tommy John surgery but expects to be ready sometime in 2023. At full strength, his strikeout stuff is among the best in baseball. The Rays will bring him along slowly, but he has the upside to be a dominant force by season’s end.

4. Drew Rasmussen

With a mid-90s fastball and plus slider, Rasmussen enjoyed a breakout year in 2022. He finished with a 2.85 ERA and 151 strikeouts over 152 innings. The Rays might opt to limit his innings, but he is emerging as a rock-solid mid-rotation presence.

5. Luis Patino

One of Tampa’s most talented young arms, Patino missed significant time in 2022 with injury. He owns electric stuff and posted a 4.31 ERA in his 17 appearances. Still just 23, Patino could put it all together in 2023 if he stays off the IL.

Bullpen

Veteran closer Brooks Raley headlines the relief corps after recording eight saves and a 2.68 ERA last season. Jason Adam, JT Chargois, and Colin Poche form a solid setup trio. Top prospects Taj Bradley and Ian Seymour could also factor into late-inning roles at some point.

Top 5 Prospects Heading into 2023

The Rays minor league system remains stocked with premium talent. Here are five top prospects who could make their MLB debuts this season:

1. Jonathan Aranda (3B/DH) – Impressed in September call-up last year. Projects as impact left-handed bat.

2. Curtis Mead (3B) – Plus hit tool and developing power. Close to big league ready after huge 2022 stats.

3. Taj Bradley (RHP) – Mid-90s fastball and hammer curve. Potential closer if called up.

4. Ian Seymour (LHP) – Polished lefty with four solid pitches. Could quickly seize rotation spot.

5. Kyle Manzardo (1B/OF) – Leading power prospect mashed 31 HR across three levels in 2022.

2023 Season Outlook

The Rays enter 2023 with uncertainty at several positions but have the pitching and prospects to remain competitive. Here is a summary outlook:

Lineup – The offense lacks star power but has capable veterans who can provide streaky production. Franco is the X-factor who could carry the lineup if he stays healthy. There are lots of platoons and timeshares likely.

Rotation – Fronted by McClanahan and Eflin then backed by promising young arms. Getting Glasnow back late in the year would be a big boost. But the rotation lacks depth and durability concerns exist with the current staff.

Bullpen – Led by closer Raley and several high-strikeout middle relievers. The pen could be a strength if the young arms progress as hoped. Bradley and Seymour provide potential midseason boosts.

Bench – No established veteram bats, but prospects like Aranda, Mead, and Manzardo could provide a spark when called upon. The bench is full of youth and uncertainty.

Intangibles – Supreme coaching and excellent clubhouse culture serve as stabilizers. The Rays always seem to maximize their roster through versatility, platoons and depth. But this might be their most challenging build yet.

2022 Record – 86-76 Third Place in AL East

2023 Prediction – 84-78 Third Place in AL East

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The Rays will likely trend back slightly in 2023 after trading away major pieces last season. Yet their elite coaching staff, player development pipeline, and resourceful roster construction enable Tampa Bay to remain competitive. If Franco breaks out into a superstar and the rotation stays healthy, the Rays have an outside chance at a Wild Card spot. But the AL East gauntlet will be their biggest obstacle in 2023.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who are the Rays’ biggest additions for 2023?

The Rays’ two biggest offseason additions were starter Zach Eflin via trade from the Phillies and outfielder Esteury Ruiz acquired from the Padres. Eflin will slot into the rotation while Ruiz could start in center field.

What was Tampa Bay’s biggest loss?

Outfielder Manuel Margot departed in free agency after posting career-best numbers in 2022. Replacing his production offensively and defensively will be difficult.

What is the Rays’ biggest strength?

The Rays’ biggest strength is their starting rotation, anchored by breakout ace Shane McClanahan. They have enviable rotation depth with Glasnow returning midseason and talented young arms like Rasmussen and Patino.

What is the Rays’ biggest concern?

Their biggest concern is the lack of established hitters in the lineup. Beyond Franco, Lowe and Diaz, there are many unproven young hitters being counted on to produce. Scoring runs consistently could be a challenge.

Who will be their breakout player?

Keep an eye on young third baseman Jonathan Aranda, who flashed huge offensive potential during his September call-up last year. He could break out as the everyday DH in 2023.

What is their season outlook?

The Rays should remain competitive but likely take a small step back after last year’s roster turnover. They have the pitching to stay in the Wild Card mix but lack the lineup firepower to keep pace with the AL East rivals. A third place finish around 84-78 seems realistic.

Conclusion

The Tampa Bay Rays have their work cut out for them in the loaded AL East division. But with a Cy Young caliber ace leading the rotation, optimism around phenom Wander Franco, and one of MLB’s sharpest front offices, the Rays will almost certainly exceed external expectations. They find ways to maximize their roster year after year.

If the bullpen and bench depth pan out and the Rays stay relatively healthy, they have an outside chance at a Wild Card berth. Yet the four other talented AL East foes will probably leave Tampa on the outside looking in for 2023. Still, the Rays remain on an impressive run of contention despite payroll constraints. Their blend of elite pitching development and innovative roster building should keep them battling for years to come.

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