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

The Tampa Bay Rays enter the 2023 MLB season looking to build on their successful 2022 campaign. After winning 86 games and qualifying for the playoffs last season, the Rays have their sights set on capturing their first AL East division title since 2010.

With a talented core of players led by shortstop Wander Franco and pitcher Shane McClanahan, Tampa Bay appears well positioned to compete in baseball’s toughest division. However, the Rays face stiff competition from the New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays and defending AL champion Houston Astros.

As the Rays prepare for the grueling 162-game marathon, let’s preview their roster, key additions and subtractions, position battles, projections and outlook for the 2023 season.

2023 Rays Roster Preview

Projected Lineup

The Rays lineup will look slightly different this season after the departure of veteran outfielder Manuel Margot. Here is the projected batting order:

  1. 3B Yandy Diaz – Gets on base and sets table
  2. SS Wander Franco – Future superstar, high average and power
  3. LF Randy Arozarena – Speedy slugger had 20/20 season
  4. 1B Ji-Man Choi – Excellent OBP skills, 12 HR in 2022
  5. RF Austin Meadows – All Star in 2019, lots of untapped potential
  6. DH Harold Ramirez – Contact oriented, hit .300 with 11 HR
  7. 2B Brandon Lowe – Injuries limited him last year, 37 HR in 2021
  8. CF Jose Siri – Lightning fast, elite defense, low OBP
  9. C Christian Bethancourt – Good arm, some pop, platoon partner

Starting Rotation

The starting rotation will be led by ace Shane McClanahan, who emerged as one of the AL’s best pitchers last season. The other projected starters include:

  • Shane McClanahan – 2.54 ERA, 194 Ks in 2022
  • Tyler Glasnow – Returning from Tommy John surgery
  • Drew Rasmussen – Steady improvement in 2022
  • Jeffrey Springs – Career year with 2.46 ERA
  • Luis Patino – Highly touted prospect with electric stuff

Bullpen

Tampa Bay’s bullpen was outstanding last season, ranking 2nd in the AL with a 3.23 ERA. The late inning relief crew is highlighted by:

  • RHP Pete Fairbanks – Overpowering fastball, 13.8 K/9 rate
  • LHP Brooks Raley – Solid lefty held lefties to .182 avg
  • RHP Jason Adam – 2.48 ERA in 2022, retains closer role
  • RHP JT Chargois – 2.42 ERA last year, lots of strikeouts

Bench/Role Players

  • C Francisco Mejia – Platoons with Bethancourt at catcher
  • IF Isaac Paredes – Occasional starts, some pop in his bat
  • OF Roman Quinn – Blazing speed, elite defense, pinch runner
  • 1B/DH Brendan McKay – Former top prospect, power/patience
  • UTIL Miles Mastrobuoni – Versatile defender, makes contact

Key Offseason Additions

Zach Eflin – Starting Pitcher

The Rays signed Eflin to a three-year $40 million contract, fortifying their rotation. The veteran righty has a career 3.81 ERA and adds durability, having made at least 128 innings pitched in five straight seasons.

Teoscar Hernandez – Outfielder

Acquired in a trade with the Blue Jays, Hernandez provides Tampa with a power hitting corner outfielder in his prime years. Hernandez bashed 25 home runs in 2022 and gives the lineup extra thump.

Key Offseason Subtractions

Manuel Margot – Outfielder

Margot left in free agency, signing with the Giants after three seasons with the Rays. His stellar outfield defense and baserunning will be missed.

Kevin Kiermaier – Outfielder

The defensive whiz was not re-signed after playing for the Rays since 2013. He struggled with injuries in 2022 but his elite glovework was a huge asset.

Jeffrey Springs – Pitcher

Springs was traded to the Blue Jays after his best season in Tampa Bay. The Rays dealt from a position of depth in their rotation.

Position Battles

The Rays have competition at a few positions during spring training:

Left Field

  • Randy Arozarena – After a bit of a down year, he still offers intriguing power/speed mix.
  • Teoscar Hernandez – New addition likely to get plenty of at-bats, either here or at DH.

Center Field

  • Jose Siri – Speedy defender has inside track but poor OBP is a concern.
  • Roman Quinn – If he can stay healthy, his lightning speed warrants playing time.

Fifth Starter

  • Luis Patino – Has strikeout stuff but control and health are question marks.
  • Josh Fleming – Crafty lefty was effective as a starter in 2021.
  • Taj Bradley – Top pitching prospect got a taste last year, future mid-rotation piece.

2023 Season Projections

Here are some reasonable statistical projections for key Rays players this year:

Wander Franco: .315 AVG, 25 HR, 90 RBI, 15 SB

The 21-year old superstar builds on strong rookie season and cement himself as a franchise player. 25 homers would represent a big power jump.

Randy Arozarena: .260 AVG, 28 HR, 75 RBI, 25 SB

After dipping a bit last year, Arozarena bounces back with an All Star-caliber season showcasing his unique power/speed blend.

Brandon Lowe: .245 AVG, 32 HR, 80 RBI

As long as he stays healthy, Lowe should return to 30+ HR form after an injury-plagued 2022 season.

Tyler Glasnow: 180 IP, 3.10 ERA, 200 Ks

If fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, Glasnow gives the Rays a Cy Young caliber ace atop the rotation. His strikeout stuff is electric.

Jeffrey Springs: 3.75 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 150 IP

Springs comes back down to earth a bit after his stellar 2022, but remains a solid mid-rotation starter. Durability is a plus.

Outlook and Prediction

The Rays have all the pieces to contend for a division title and make another deep October run. The lineup has an intriguing blend of speed, power and high OBP skills. The starting rotation goes five deep with several promising young arms. And the bullpen should again be a strength.

However, the AL East features three of baseball’s biggest spenders in the Yankees, Blue Jays and Red Sox. The division does not provide any easy wins. To win the East, the Rays will need full seasons from Glasnow and Lowe while their young hitters like Franco, Arozarena and Paredes take steps forward. Still, this is a team constructed to win 90+ games and battle for the postseason.

Final Prediction: 93-69 record, Wild Card berth. The Rays nab a Wild Card spot but fall just short of the Yankees and Blue Jays in the AL East race. In a crowded American League, they advance to the ALDS but lose in a competitive five game series. The future remains very bright in Tampa.

Frequently Asked Questions About the 2023 Rays

Rays fans have many questions about what to expect from their team this season. Here are answers to some key topics:

How good is Wander Franco? Could he win MVP in 2023?

Franco has superstar potential as a 21-year old. He makes tons of contact, showed developing power last year and plays a premium position. An MVP may be premature but 25 HR and strong defense makes him an All Star.

What kind of production can they expect from Glasnow returning from Tommy John?

If fully recovered, Glasnow has Cy Young ability with his upper 90s fastball and wipeout curve. 180 innings, 200 Ks and an ERA around 3.00 is reasonable to expect. He’s an ace if healthy.

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Will the Rays trade away any key players at the deadline?

Tampa often deals stars for prospects, but their competitive roster may prevent big subtractions. One player to watch is catcher Christian Bethancourt, who could be dealt if Mejia emerges at catcher.

How does the Rays bullpen stack up against NY and Toronto’s?

The Rays pen is definitely elite and comparable to the Yankees and Jays shutdown units. Tampa might have slightly less star power, but tremendous depth and diversity of looks.

Can youngsters like Franco, Arozarena and McClanahan get the Rays over the hump?

The Rays are betting big on their young core becoming stars. Franco and Arozarena emerging as All Star caliber hitters paired with Cy Young candidate McClanahan could absolutely get Tampa over the top.

Why can’t the Rays sign or retain star players?

As a small market team, Tampa cannot afford to sign or retain stars reaching free agency to huge deals. They rely on cost controlled prospects and trades rather than big free agent signings.

Conclusion

The 2023 season represents an exciting chance for the Rays to capture their first AL East crown in over a decade. They have enviable depth in pitching and hitting, with an intriguing blend of veterans and high-upside young talent. Few teams can match Tampa’s ability to develop players and construct competitive rosters on a budget.

However, the AL East remains a daunting gauntlet with three big spending powerhouses. For the Rays to come out on top, they will need full, healthy seasons from core players like Franco, Arozarena, Glasnow and McClanahan. Emergence from prospects like Paredes and Patino would also go a long way. The foundation is in place for a great season, but the divisional competition will be relentless.

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