With two days left of camp before the club breaks to Miami to begin the regular season, the Opening Day roster looks to have taken shape after Tampa Bay optioned RHP’s Chris Mazza Trevor Richards, and LHP Josh Fleming. The offense and bullpen had little turnover from last season, however, the rotation has a very different look after losing Blake Snell and Charlie Morton.
With that being said, the Rays still have a very solid team and intend to compete in a tougher A.L. East and a revamped American League. They still retain postseason star Randy Arozarena, A.L. Manager of the Year Kevin Cash, and the number one farm system in baseball. So, with all that, let’s dive in to the three keys to the Rays’ 2021 success.
The Veteran Pitching Has to Turn Back the Clock
Losing Snell and Morton was tough and has been the main argument used by the Rays’ critics as to why they will not compete in 2021. In the offseason, Tampa Bay attempted to plug the hole in the rotation by acquiring Michael Wacha, Rich Hill, and bringing back former Ray Chris Archer.
Wacha struggled last season with the Mets, posting an ERA above six. Hill posted 2.45 and 3.03 ERAs in 2019 and 2020 respectively but was limited to less than 100 innings in those two years combined due to injury. Archer, since being dealt to Pittsburgh, has struggled to stay on the field, and even when he has, his ERA has hovered up near five.
The veteran trio will have to be good if the Rays want to compete, at the very least, until the All-Star Break when young arms such as lefty Shane McClanahan can be called up. Hill will have to be able to stay on the field, Wacha will have to return to the production of his younger days, and Archer will have to do both. It will not be easy, but crazier things have happened under pitching coach and horse whisperer Kyle Snyder.
Arozarena, Meadows and Lowe Will Have to Rake
In October, when the lights were brightest, Randy Arozarena put on an all-time performance to lead Tampa Bay to an American League Pennant. Now he will need to prove that was no fluke. The Rays will need him to as well, in order to secure a spot in the October dance. If Randy hits anything close to how he did last postseason, the Rays will be in good shape.
However, Arozarena can’t carry the lineup for a full 162. The Rays will also need Brandon Lowe to continue his hot hitting from the 2020 regular season, where he put up a ridiculous 150 wRC+ before cooling off in October. For the last few seasons Lowe has established himself as one of the better hitting second basemen, slashing .262/.342/.513 with a wRC+ of 130 in his three major league seasons.
If Lowe can keep producing along with Arozarena, that will certainly help the offensive side of things. However, if Austin Meadows can return to his 2019 form, where he blasted 33 homeruns, that will put the offense over the top. If the Rays can get solid production from those three guys, surrounded by Manuel Margot, Kevin Kiermaier, Willy Adames, and Ji-Man Choi, it will really put Tampa Bay in a position to win night in and night out.
The Pitching Prospects Must Contribute
The Rays have the number one farm system for a reason. Up and down, the minor leagues’ talent oozes, waiting to make it to the big leagues. From number one overall prospect Wander Franco to RHP Luis Patino (#19 overall according to MLB Pipeline), there are plenty of prospects who are expected to make an impact this season. After the first month, when prospects can be called up and still have an extra year of team control attached, expect pitchers such as McClanahan and Patino to make appearances and eat innings.
If Tampa Bay wants to compete, they will need the young prospects to step in and not only develop, but also contribute on a winning team. If the young pitching struggles, it could be a long second half for the Rays. Not only will the big-time prospects need to contribute, but guys like Fleming and Rays’ #14 prospect Joe Ryan may also need to step in and pitch solid innings.
It may be asking a lot of the young guys to step in right out of Triple-A and perform in a pennant race but it’s what the Rays will need to succeed. Either way it should be fun to see electric prospects showcase their stuff at the highest level. At worst, the Rays develop and set the stage for what should be an exciting 2022. At best, they bring a World Series Trophy to The Bay.