2012 season preview: Tampa Bay Rays

raysThe Tampa Bay Rays mounted a furious comeback in the final month of the 2011 season, and ended up in the playoffs for the third time in four seasons after a complete and utter collapse by the Boston Red Sox. The rally ended up being for naught, as the Rays lost in four games in the ALDS to the eventual league champion Texas Rangers. However, this is still a very explosive young team that will be a legitimate contender in 2012.

Rays on TOC
End of Season Postmortem
Top Ten Prospects
You May Say I’m a Dreamer 

Depth Chart (as of 3/15)
C: Jose Molina
1B: Carlos Pena
2B: Ben Zobrist
SS: Sean Rodriguez
3B: Evan Longoria
LF: Desmond Jennings
CF: BJ Upton
RF: Matt Joyce
DH: Luke Scott
SP: James Shields
SP: David Price
SP: Matt Moore
SP: Jeremy Hellickson
SP: Jeff Niemann
CL: Kyle Farnsworth

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New Faces
The Rays didn’t have much turnover from 2011 to 2012, but there still is some there. Luke Scott, formerly of the Orioles, is the team’s new DH after Johnny Damon was largely a disappointment in the role in 2011. Carlos Pena returns to Tampa Bay after a season in Chicago to take over first base from the departed Casey Kotchman. The team is also apparently ready to roll with defensive specialist Jose Molina behind the dish. The Rays also brought in a pair of new relievers: former Tigers and Angels setup man Fernando Rodney, and former Marlins reliever Burke Badenhop.

Departures
Both of the team’s catchers in 2011, John Jaso and Kelly Shoppach, are no longer with the team. Jaso was traded to Seattle, while Shoppach signed as a free agent with the Red Sox. As mentioned earlier, former first baseman Casey Kotchman left as a free agent, signing with the Indians. Johnny Damon remains unsigned, and won’t be back in Tampa. A pair of relievers also left the team, as Juan Cruz signed with the Pirates and Andy Sonnanstine signed with the Cubs. Also, late season hero Dan Johnson was a minor league free agent that the White Sox snatched up.

Impact Rookies
You know how things roll in Tampa Bay: lots of young players all the time. Desmond Jennings lost his rookie eligibility last season, but will be the team’s Opening Day starter in left field to start the season. Matt Moore, the top pitching prospect in all of baseball, will slot nicely into Tampa Bay’s rotation after signing an extension this offseason with single digit innings in the majors. Other names to watch that could contribute in the majors for the Rays this year include outfielder Brandon Guyer and shortstop (and former top overall pick) Tim Beckham. 

Position Battles
The Rays seem pretty set overall, but there could be a battle over the next couple of weeks in camp at shortstop between Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac. Brignac started off last year as the starter, but was so horrible offensively that the team needed to make a move. 

Injury Concerns
The Rays are pretty healthy overall, but an outfield collision between Jennings and BJ Upton yesterday could result in some missed time for one or both of the players.

Burning Question
Can BJ Upton rebound to become the player he was in 2007 and 2008, or is he just a completely different player now?

Best Case
The Rays’ young talent gels as well as it did in 2008, and the team finishes with the best record in the American League.

Worst Case
Tampa Bay’s main young talent (Moore and Jennings) aren’t ready for a full season in the big show, and the team falls to third place in the division and has to fight and claw for a playoff spot.

Realistic Prediction
The Rays are either the first or second best team in the AL East, and should be in contention for a playoff spot all year long, unless something catastrophic happens. 

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About Joe Lucia

Joe is the managing editor of The Outside Corner and a contributing author at Awful Announcing. He lives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and is stuck somewhere between tolerating and hating Pittsburgh and Philadelphia sports.

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