The Tampa Bay Rays enter the 2023 MLB season looking to build on their recent success and compete for another AL East division title. After making the playoffs four years in a row from 2019-2022, including an American League pennant in 2020, the Rays have established themselves as perennial contenders in baseball’s toughest division.
This season preview examines Tampa Bay’s offseason moves, lineup, pitching staff, prospects, and 2023 outlook as they try to eclipse the big-spending New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. With a sound baseball strategy centered on developing young talent, can the Rays capture their third AL East crown in four years?
The Tampa Bay Rays have perfected the art of contending in the competitive AL East on a small-market budget. Through strong pitching development, defensive shifting, and depth across the roster, manager Kevin Cash has led the Rays to at least 86 wins in each of the past four 162-game seasons.
After getting bounced by eventual AL champion Houston in the 2022 ALDS, Tampa Bay had a relatively quiet offseason. They lost All-Star outfielder Austin Meadows in a trade but otherwise retained most of their key players. Their formula relies on developing homegrown talent and augmenting it with low-risk acquisitions.
The 2023 Rays will again rely on a deep pitching staff led by starters Tyler Glasnow, Shane McClanahan, and Drew Rasmussen. The lineup features offensive cornerstones Wander Franco and Randy Arozarena along with Yandy Diaz, Manuel Margot, and newcomers Luke Raley and Miles Mastrobuoni. Top prospects like OF Jesus Sanchez and LHP Shane Baz could also make an impact.
With their smart front office and talented roster, Tampa Bay looks primed to battle with New York, Toronto, and Boston for another AL East crown. This in-depth season preview examines all the key factors that will determine whether the Rays can conquer the division yet again in 2023.
The Rays avoided any major shakeups this winter after a successful 86-76 campaign. Their biggest loss was Meadows, who hit .228 with no homers in 36 games before being shut down with injuries. He was traded to Detroit for infielder Isaac Paredes.
In free agency, Tampa Bay was quiet as usual. They signed veteran catcher Mike Zunino on a low-risk one-year deal after he missed all of 2022 recovering from shoulder surgery. Speedy utility man Miles Mastrobuoni was also added on a minor league contract and could earn a bench role.
Meanwhile, the Rays focused on retaining key players. All-Star starting pitchers Shane McClanahan and Tyler Glasnow were locked up on long-term deals. Slugger Yandy Diaz, closer Pete Fairbanks, and set-up man Brooks Raley were also re-signed.
With few losses and stability across the roster, Tampa Bay is betting on internal improvement to fuel another playoff push. Top prospects like OF Jesus Sanchez, LHP Shane Baz, and SS Jonathan Aranda could provide a boost at some point in 2023.
Key Offseason Additions
- C Mike Zunino (free agent): Missed 2022 after shoulder surgery but was an All-Star in 2021. Provides veteran presence behind the plate.
- UTIL Miles Mastrobuoni (minor league deal): Speedy utility man who can play all over the field. May earn bench role.
- OF Luke Raley (waivers): Left-handed hitter claimed from Dodgers. Batted .182 in 47 MLB games in 2022.
Key Offseason Losses
- OF Austin Meadows (trade): All-Star slugger in 2019 dealt to Detroit for IF Isaac Paredes. Meadows was injured and ineffective in 2022.
- RP Colin Poche (free agent): Dependable middle reliever signed with Angels after posting 3.99 ERA in 2022.
- C Francisco Mejia (free agent): Let go after hitting .249 as part of catcher platoon in 2022. Signed minor league deal with Cardinals.
- RP JT Chargois (free agent): Valuable setup man missed all of 2022 injured but posted 2.80 ERA in 2021. Remains unsigned.
2023 Rays Lineup Preview
- Mike Zunino
- Christian Bethancourt
After injuries ravaged Tampa Bay’s catchers in 2022, the return of Zunino provides stability at the position. An All-Star in 2021, his right-handed power is a perfect fit in the middle of the order. Bethancourt posted an excellent .751 OPS last season and brings versatility, able to play first base or outfield as well. Top prospect Rene Pinto could debut later in the year.
- Yandy Diaz
- Jonathan Aranda
Diaz brings an elite bat-to-ball skills and plate discipline, though he lacks typical first base power. His .307 average and .797 OPS led the 2022 Rays. Aranda, MLB’s #93 prospect, is an excellent defender who hit well in Triple-A last year. He should spell Diaz vs. tough righties.
- Brandon Lowe
- Vidal Brujan
Despite some durability concerns, Lowe remains one of baseball’s top offensive second basemen. He was an All-Star in 2021 when he led the Rays with 39 HR and 99 RBI. Brujan is an elite runner who needs to cut down on strikeouts to earn more playing time.
- Isaac Paredes
- Taylor Walls
Acquired for Meadows, the 23-year-old Paredes has huge power potential from the right side. He hit 23 HR in Triple-A last year and will get a chance to win the starting 3B job this spring. Walls is a switch-hitter with good speed and defense who lacks power.
- Wander Franco
The switch-hitting Franco has superstar potential as one of MLB’s top young players. Despite missing significant time injured last year, he hit .260 with 6 HR and 33 RBI in 83 games as a 21-year-old. Now healthy, he’ll anchor the infield for years to come.
- Randy Arozarena
- Manuel Margot
- Luke Raley
- Jose Siri
Arozarena has quickly developed into one of baseball’s most dynamic players after his historic 2020 playoff run. The lefty swiped 40 bases last year while hitting 20 HR and making his first All-Star team. Margot and Raley will likely platoon in right field, providing speed and defense. Siri offers a power/speed combo off the bench.
- Harold Ramirez
- Jonathan Aranda
Ramirez had a breakout season hitting .329 in 99 games as Tampa’s primary DH. He doesn’t walk much but makes consistent hard contact. Aranda could also factor here when not giving Diaz a breather at first base.
2023 Rays Pitching Staff Preview
- LHP Shane McClanahan
- RHP Tyler Glasnow
- RHP Drew Rasmussen
- RHP Luis Patino
- LHP Jeffrey Springs
McClanahan emerged as an ace in his first full MLB season, making the All-Star team while posting a 2.54 ERA and 194 strikeouts. Glasnow returned late last year from Tommy John surgery and looked dominant. A healthy season could return him to Cy Young form. Rasmussen broke out with a 2.85 ERA through 25 starts. Patino and Springs round out the rotation as solid back-end starters.
- Closer: RHP Pete Fairbanks
- Set-up: LHP Brooks Raley, RHP Jason Adam
- Middle Relief: RHP Jalen Beeks, RHP Ryan Thompson, LHP Colin Poche, RHP Yonny Chirinos
Fairbanks converted 9 of 11 saves after replacing injured Andrew Kittredge as closer last season. Raley and Adam were excellent in high-leverage spots with ERAs under 3.00. Beeks is deadly against lefties while Thompson and Poche provide depth. Chirinos returns from Tommy John surgery. Top prospect LHP Shane Baz could claim a bullpen role.
Rays Top 10 Prospects for 2023
The Rays farm system is stocked with promising young talent, especially on the pitching side. Here are their top 10 prospects who could make an MLB impact this season, per MLB Pipeline:
- OF Jesus Sanchez (AAA) – Tampa’s top prospect has elite power potential from the right side. He hit 15 HR in 95 Triple-A games last year and should make his Rays debut in 2023.
- LHP Shane Baz (AAA) – Returned from injury to post 2.06 ERA in Triple-A late last season. His electric stuff could make him a dominant reliever this year.
- SS Jonathan Aranda (AAA) – Excellent defender reached Triple-A in 2022 and hit .314 overall. He’s ready to contribute in a utility role for Tampa Bay.
- C Rene Pinto (AAA) – Big lefty bat hit .260 with 19 HR between Double-A and Triple-A last season. Could take over as starting catcher later in 2023.
- RHP Taj Bradley (AA) – Tall righty had 2.69 ERA and 134 Ks in 119.2 IP between High-A and Double-A last year. On fast track for a 2023 call-up.
- OF Kameron Misner (AA) – Lefty batter with power/speed combo swiped 33 bases last year. Solid defender could push for a starting OF spot soon.
- RHP Seth Johnson (AA) – Converted shortstop has electric stuff but command is a work in progress. Struck out 87 in 65 IP last season.
- RHP Tanner Dodson (AAA) – Strictly a reliever now after struggling as starter. He struck out 81 in 58.1 IP last year across three levels. Could help Rays bullpen in 2023.
- SS Greg Jones (AA) – Blazing speed and elite stealing ability, swiping 71+ bases two years running. Bat needs to develop but glove is MLB ready.
- OF Ian Seymour (A) – 2022 2nd round pick has huge power upside and batted .315 with 12 HR in short season debut. At least a couple years away.
2023 Tampa Bay Rays Season Outlook
With their deep pitching staff and just enough offense, the Rays should once again contend for a playoff spot in the competitive AL East. FanGraphs projects them to finish 87-75, second behind the 95-win Yankees. However, Tampa has a knack for outperforming projections.
The keys to challenging New York will be the continued growth of young hitters like Franco, Arozarena, and Paredes, a healthy rotation anchored by Glasnow and McClanahan, and bounce-back seasons from several veterans like Zunino, Ramirez, and Lowe. Top prospects like Baz, Sanchez, Bradley, and Aranda could also provide a spark when they debut.
The Rays will need to fend off the Blue Jays and Red Sox while directly taking on the Yankees. The division race should be tight all season long. But with their organizational depth and talent at the major league level, the Rays have an excellent chance of winning 90+ games and their third AL East title in four years.
Frequently Asked Questions About the 2023 Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa Bay begins the 2023 season with their sights set on another AL East crown. Here are some key questions about the Rays heading into the new year:
Can the Rays Rotation Stay Healthy?
Injuries have hampered Tampa’s starters recently, especially Tyler Glasnow who missed nearly all of 2022 recovering from Tommy John surgery. A full healthy season from Glasnow and 2022 breakout Shane McClanahan could give the Rays a dominant one-two punch. But Glasnow’s durability over 30+ starts is still unproven, while young arms like Drew Rasmussen and Luis Patino will need to avoid regression. If the current group stays upright, Tampa’s rotation looks like one of MLB’s best. But depth options like Josh Fleming, Tommy Romero and prospects Shane Baz, Taj Bradley and Kyle Bradish will be essential in case of further injuries.
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Is Wander Franco a Future AL MVP?
Franco has shown flashes of brilliance in his first 180 MLB games since 2021. Though injuries limited the switch-hitter last year, he has one of baseball’s most advanced hit tools and approaches for his age. Franco cut his strikeout rate as a 21-year-old while hitting .260 with an .815 OPS. Many scouts view the smooth-swinging shortstop as a perennial batting title and MVP contender in the making. Franco may not fully break out until 2024 or 2025, but his rare talent gives Tampa a franchise cornerstone to build around.
Can Tampa’s Bullpen Suffer Minimal Regression?
Despite losing veteran Collin Poche, Tampa Bay’s bullpen on paper looks just as deep as the group that led baseball with a 2.70 ERA last season. Pete Fairbanks, Jalen Beeks, Brooks Raley and Jason Adam will need to maintain their excellent 2022 production and health. Meanwhile, young pitchers like JT Chargois, Calvin Faucher and Taj Bradley could seize high-leverage roles. Tampa’s front office has shown a knack for reconstructing quality bullpens on the cheap year after year. But some statistical regression would be unsurprising, putting more pressure on the starters and offense.
Will Randy Arozarena Join the AL’s Elite?
Arozarena had a breakout year making his first All-Star team and upping his OPS to .814 with 20 home runs and 32 doubles. His speed and defense in the outfield are also top-notch. But there is room for more – with a full healthy season hitting atop a deep Rays lineup, the 28-year-old could take his game to superstar levels in 2023. A 30/30 season with an OPS over .900 would make Arozarena one of the AL’s most dangerous all-around players. His continued development gives Tampa a dynamic threat they were sometimes lacking last season.
Can Isaac Paredes Seize the Third Base Job?
Acquired for Austin Meadows, Paredes represents Tampa’s opening at third base entering 2023. The 23-year-old has tremendous raw power but struggled in his MLB stints with Detroit. If he can cut down on strikeouts and drive the ball consistently, Paredes could solve the Rays’ need for an everyday third baseman with pop. But if he falters, Tampa lacks an obvious fallback option at the hot corner. Wander Franco shifting to third when top prospect Jonathan Aranda is ready is one contingency plan. Breakouts from Paredes or Aranda would be huge for balancing Tampa’s righty-heavy lineup.
The Tampa Bay Rays have perfected the art of contending on a budget against AL East juggernauts New York and Boston. With a loaded pitching staff and burgeoning young core of hitters, the Rays look primed to compete for another division title and deep playoff run in 2023.
Developing prospects like Franco, Arozarena, Paredes, and Baz will be key X-factors in Tampa’s season. If the rotation stays healthy and Kevin Cash gets typically excellent production from a deep bullpen, this team has the potential to win 90-95 games and push the Yankees. After four straight playoff berths and an AL pennant in 2020, the Rays have become one of baseball’s model franchises for developing and maximizing talent. Expect them to be right back in the mix chasing an elusive World Series crown in 2023.