The Tampa Bay Rays enter the 2023 MLB season looking to build on their successful 2022 campaign where they won 86 games and nearly made the playoffs. With a talented young core and savvy front office moves, the Rays have positioned themselves as contenders in the competitive American League East division.
The Rays have established themselves as a model small-market franchise, combining innovative analytics with strong scouting and player development. After making the World Series in 2020, Tampa fell short of the playoffs in 2021 before bouncing back last season.
With most of their core still intact, the Rays will rely on breakout seasons from young stars and strategic additions to complement their stellar pitching staff. The AL East features powerhouses like the New York Yankees and defending champion Houston Astros, but Tampa has proven capable of going toe-to-toe with baseball’s big spenders.
This in-depth preview will analyze the Rays’ offseason moves, projected lineup and pitching staff, prospects to watch, and 2023 outlook. From superstar wander Franco to comeback seasons for Tyler Glasnow and others, let’s examine Tampa’s quest to capture their first World Series title.
Key Additions and Subtractions
The Rays were busy this offseason, both acquiring new talent and extending current players. Here are their most notable moves:
- Signed C Mike Zunino to one-year, $7 million deal. Brings veteran leadership behind the plate.
- Traded for OF Brett Phillips from Baltimore. Excellent defense and personality returns to Tampa.
- Extended SS Wander Franco (11 years, $182 million) and 2B Brandon Lowe (6 years, $24 million). Locks up young stars long-term.
- Lost OF Manuel Margot to free agency (signed with Red Sox). Fleet-footed outfielder provided spark in 2022.
- Did not re-sign 1B Ji-Man Choi. Void at first base needs filling.
Overall, the Rays maintained roster continuity while securing Franco and Lowe. Zunino bolsters their catching corps while the loss of Margot creates an opening in the outfield. The Rays still have money and prospects to make further win-now moves if needed.
Remaining Offseason Needs
Even after an active winter, the resourceful Rays still have some areas they could address:
- First base – With Choi gone, Tampa lacks an obvious everyday option at 1B. Internal candidates like Jonathan Aranda could get a chance.
- Designated hitter – Veteran slugger Nelson Cruz was not re-signed after struggling in 2022. Rays need a feared bat at DH.
- Late-inning reliever – Bullpen was a strength last season but lost RHP Colin Poche. Extra high-leverage arm would help.
Don’t be surprised if the Rays pick up a first baseman or DH on a short-term deal during spring training. They maintain the prospect capital to make trades if payroll flexibility is limited. Pitching depth is always a priority as well.
2023 Projected Lineup and Rotation
Projected Everyday Lineup
With a young nucleus in place, Tampa’s lineup has contiguity. Here is their projected starting nine:
- CF Kevin Kiermaier – Gold Glove veteran sets table atop the order.
- SS Wander Franco – Face of the franchise and future superstar coming off strong rookie year.
- LF Randy Arozarena – Breakout 2020 postseason hero provides power and speed combination.
- 2B Brandon Lowe – 2022 All Star signed extension, looking to return to 2019-20 form.
- 1B ??? – First base vacancy needs filling, prospect Aranda may get first crack.
- RF Manuel Margot – Newly acquired veteran outfielder brings speed and defense.
- 3B Yandy Diaz – Patient hitter and run producer entering final year before free agency.
- C Mike Zunino – Reunited with Rays after injury-shortened 2022, excellent defender.
- DH ??? – Rays need a masher to fill this spot in the heart of the order.
The top six looks solid if the Rays obtain a legitimate middle-of-the-order bat at first base or DH. The lineup leans left-handed so adding some righty pop would create better balance. This group features speed and athleticism – critical for manager Kevin Cash’s aggressive style.
Projected Starting Rotation
Tampa’s pitching pipeline keeps churning out quality arms. They have enviable depth even with ace Tyler Glasnow sidelined. Here is how their rotation may shake out:
- RHP Shane McClanahan – 2022 All Star is new staff ace after brilliant breakout season.
- LHP Jeffrey Springs – From obscure reliever to rotation revelation last season, can he repeat success?
- RHP Tyler Glasnow – Returning midseason from Tommy John surgery, electric stuff if healthy.
- RHP Drew Rasmussen – Shined after being acquired in 2021, earned long term deal.
- RHP Luis Patino – Talented young righty has battled injuries, rotation wild card.
McClanahan elevates to number one starter status after finishing top 3 in AL Cy Young voting with 2.54 ERA. Springs was a huge surprise last season and will be relied upon heavily. Glasnow could form a lethal 1-2 punch with McClanahan if he returns to pre-surgery form. Pitching prospects like Taj Bradley and Kyle Manzardo may also contend for rotation spots at some point.
Tampa has enviable rotation depth with Rasmussen, Patino, Yonny Chirinos, Josh Fleming, and Tommy Romero also in the mix. The Rays have lots of options to get creative with openers, tandems, and bullpen games per their philosophy.
Run prevention is always a priority for Tampa. They utilize all their arms and have assembled a deep, versatile bullpen:
- RHP Pete Fairbanks – Overpowering closer saved 9 games late last season after injury return.
- RHP JT Chargois – Dependable righty posted 2.81 ERA in 2022, can close if needed.
- LHP Brooks Raley – Offseason trade pickup is tough on lefties, critical matchup piece.
- RHP Ryan Thompson – Missed bats at high rate last year (11 K/9), primed for expanded role.
- LHP Colin Poche – Led AL relievers in K% in 2021 before down 2022, shutdown lefty if healthy.
- RHP Jason Adam – Swing-and-miss stuff (35% K rate) but control wavered in 2022.
- RHP Javy Guerra – Mid 90s sinker is ideal weapon to induce grounders when needed.
Fairbanks and Chargois appear ready to handle the bulk of save chances. The Rays have an assortment of power arms and specialists to deploy in any scenario. Boosting bullpen depth is always on their radar – a trade pickup or minor league standout could force their way onto the roster.
Prospects to Watch
Top Position Player Prospects
The Rays farm system keeps churning out exciting young talent, especially up the middle. Here are names to monitor in 2023:
- SS Greg Jones – Blazing speed and elite stolen base threat. Could push for MLB role as soon as 2023.
- C Rene Pinto – Plus raw power and arm strength, breakout candidate.
- OF Kameron Misner – Toolsy center fielder made big strides last season, jumps on fastballs.
- SS Carson Williams – Smooth defender at premium position, contact-oriented approach at plate.
- 2B Tyler Frank – 2022 second rounder, advanced college bat could move quickly.
Jones and Pinto have loud tools and may only need one final push at Triple-A before debuting. The Rays won’t hesitate to give opportunities to guys like Misner and Williams either if they force the issue. Frank has the polish to ascend quickly like Brandon Lowe and Wander Franco have in recent years.
Top Pitching Prospects
Tampa just keeps churning out high-upside arms. Who can make an impact in 2023?
- RHP Taj Bradley – Four pitch mix, up to 97 mph fastball, command is catching up. MLB ready.
- RHP Kyle Manzardo – 2022 first rounder, huge frame and velocity. Fast riser.
- RHP Seth Johnson – Electric repertoire but command woes have stalled development. Intriguing wild card.
- RHP Ian Seymour – Deception and pitchability, backslash changeup is a swing-and-miss offering.
- RHP Cooper Kinney – 2022 second round HS arm, projectable and advanced feel for age.
Bradley is the most big league ready after dominating Double-A and Triple-A in 2022. Manzardo has the stuff to zoom through the minors as well. Johnson and Seymour offer different looks but need to hone control and consistency. Kinney is an exciting project who could gain momentum in coming years.
The Rays won’t hesistate to give these prospects a shot with their forward-thinking approach. Adding fresh, cost-controlled arms from within has been a staple of their sustainable success.
2023 Season Outlook and Prediction
- Young Core: Led by Franco, Arozarena, Lowe, McClanahan – controllable foundation in place.
- Pitching Depth: Starting rotation, bullpen, and prospects offer enviable pitching talent.
- Innovative Culture: Unorthodox strategies keep Rays ahead of curve under GM Erik Neander and staff.
- First Base/DH production – Rays lack established big bopper in heart of order.
- Bullpen volatility – Dominant in 2022 but relievers are notoriously fickle year to year.
- Health – Glasnow’s return and Zunino’s durability are uncertainties.
Key Stat Prediction
- Wander Franco 6 WAR season – Building off strong rookie campaign, Franco asserts himself as a bona fide superstar.
92-70, Wild Card berth
The Rays are positioned to contend again in 2023. The Yankees and Astros remain formidable division foes, but Tampa’s blend of rising talent and savvy management can go toe-to-toe.
Full seasons from Franco, Arozarena, Glasnow, and others will fuel an offensive uptick. The pitching and defense remain elite. Breakout performances from prospects coupled with some shrewd midseason pickups can spur a Wild Card push.
Expect the Rays to be right in the thick of the playoff race and make plenty of noise if they qualify. This small market franchise has proven they can surprise the league’s goliaths. The future remains bright in Tampa Bay.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who are the Tampa Bay Rays biggest competitors in the AL East?
The New York Yankees and defending champion Houston Astros remain the Rays’ top competitors in the AL East division. Both clubs boast MVP-caliber sluggers in Aaron Judge and Yordan Alvarez along with star-studded rosters. The Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays are also threats to contend. Navigating this gauntlet will be Tampa’s biggest challenge.
What does Wander Franco need to do to take the next step?
After an excellent rookie campaign, Franco needs to continue refining his power stroke and plate discipline to elevate to true superstar status. Cutting down on his 20.4% strikeout rate and increasing power production (he slugged just .402 in 2022) are areas of focus. Franco has otherworldly talent and improving in those facets could make him an MVP frontrunner soon.
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Who will be the Rays closer in 2023?
Pete Fairbanks appears poised to open the season as Tampa’s primary closer after converting 9 of 13 saves chances in the role late last year. However, the Rays tend to deploy their bullpen arms fluidly in high-leverage situations regardless of the inning. JT Chargois, Colin Poche, Ryan Thompson and others would be in mix for saves if Fairbanks falters or gets injured.
How does Wander Franco’s extension impact the Rays financially?
Franco’s mammoth 11-year, $182 million contract is the largest deal in Rays franchise history by far. It represents a massive commitment for the traditionally low-payroll club. However, the Rays are betting Franco continues blossoming into a face of MLB superstar, which would make the deal a huge bargain down the road if he develops as hoped. It does siphon some financial flexibility in the short term.
Can Tyler Glasnow recapture his 2019-20 form after Tommy John Surgery?
Glasnow was emerging as one of MLB’s most dominant starters before elbow surgery sidelined him. It may take some time to rediscover his peak velocity and sharp curveball upon returning. But by the season’s second half, Glasnow could thrive again if fully healthy. His upside remains ace-caliber and would be a season-changing addition to the rotation. Exercising patience will be key.
The Rays enter 2023 seeking to firmly reestablish themselves among the American League’s elite. Fielding an opportunistic offense and deep pitching staff, Tampa has the ingredients to dethrone the Yankees/Astros as division champs.
Further development from Phenom Wander Franco, resurgent seasons from Glasnow, Meadows, and others, plus impact rookies emerging could make the Rays a dangerous playoff squad. Savvy managing and progressive strategies will serve Tampa well in tight divisional races.
Expect the Rays to capitalize on the wide-open AL landscape and capture a Wild Card spot at minimum. This club has proven capable of captivating playoff runs. With a harmonious blend of youth and experience, the time is now for Tampa to make their World Series push. The future remains bright for the Rays no matter this season’s outcome.