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WanderWatch: The Wait Continues

Wander Franco, Major League Baseball’s No. 1 prospect, was reassigned to minor league camp by the Rays in the first round of spring training cuts. Franco was not expected to make the Opening Day roster.

Former Mariners President/CEO Kevin Mather’s comments regarding service time manipulation of Seattle’s top prospect Jarred Kelenic have brought the issue to the forefront of baseball conversations.

The decisions of the Tampa Bay Rays regarding their top prospects like Wander Franco, the number one prospect in MLB, are being viewed under a microscope, with some fans calling his reassignment a ‘business decision’ instead of a baseball one.

While Franco’s service time is one thing preventing him from cracking the roster, other factors are playing a bigger role in this decision.

Franco and Adames sit in the Rays dugout during the March 15 matchup with the Braves. (Will Vragovic/Tampa Bay Rays)

Franco hasn’t played above High-A. His bat is something to behold, which Rays fans got to witness in the seven games of this spring as he hit 5-for-17.

However, with no Minor League Baseball season played in 2020, Franco’s development rides on the necessity to get consistent playing time against higher level pitching.

Game action and plate appearances in the minors will only help him.

It also allows the Rays to test Franco’s versatility in the infield, playing third or second base outside of shortstop, his primary position as of now.

Some will point to players like Mike Trout and Juan Soto who skipped levels on their way to eventual MLB stardom.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that even the best were called up out of necessity. For example, Trout and Soto were both called up after injuries opened up roster spots.

Also, the Rays have plenty of shortstop depth on their current 40-man roster.

Willy Adames will reprise his role as the starting shortstop and team leader. Joey Wendle and Mike Brosseau have also seen time at the position and are capable of stepping in when needed.

Not to be forgotten is Taylor Walls, who hit .289/.371/.439 and had a 134 wRC+ in his previous two minor league seasons. His defense has even earned comparisons of an “infield Kevin Kiermaier”. Walls will likely start in the minors but should get promoted later in 2021.

Adames has been the anticipated starting shortstop since the beginning of spring training. (Marc Topkin/Tampa Bay Times)

It’s important to note that the Rays are losing just two position players, outfielder/DH Hunter Renfroe and catcher Michael Perez, going into the 2021 season after making it to game six of the 2020 World Series.

Tampa Bay’s offense is shaping up to be as good, if not better than 2020. High expectations surround outfielder Austin Meadows, and Rays fans are eager to see full seasons out of outfielder Randy Arozarena and 1B/3B/DH Yoshi Tsutsugo. Therefore, the Rays are hopeful that Franco’s bat will not be needed, at least in the early stages of the season.

None of this is to say that we won’t see Wander Franco in a Rays jersey at some point in 2021. We could see him sooner if the team is plagued by injuries or poor performances.

However, Franco just turned 20 years old on March 1, so the Rays will promote him when the time is right. They have the depth and the talent to wait. So continue to be patient- it will be worth every minute.

The Citrus Series: MLB’s most unique ‘rivalry’

This weekend, the Tampa Bay Rays and Miami Marlins face off in a three-game series to finish up their home-and-home schedule in 2021.

The return of the Citrus Series at Tropicana Field has us re-living and re-visiting the history of one of the most unique ‘rivalries’ in MLB.

Miami got first dibs at MLB, entering the league in 1993 when it played games at then Joe Robbie Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. Poor ownership, however, got baseball in Florida off to a rough start, even with the Marlins winning it all in 1997.

Two years later, the Rays entered the fold and in 1998, the Citrus Series, an annual tradition in the Sunshine State was born. The main thing missing? Exciting, competitive teams.

UNITED STATES – JUNE 17: Baseball: View of Pro Player Stadium during Tampa Bay Devil Rays vs Florida Marlins game, Miami, FL 6/17/2001 (Photo by Bill Frakes/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

From 1993 to 2007, the Rays and Marlins combined for four winning seasons and four 100+ loss seasons. Though the Marlins won two World Series championships in that time, 1997 and 2003, the impending fire sales that followed those championships overshadowed the team’s success on the field.

That didn’t matter to the Citrus Series as the Rays and Marlins would keep playing each other every season. In the first decade of the Citrus Series, the Marlins had the upper hand, going 34-22 against the Rays, including a combined 9-0 in 2003 and 2005.

UNITED STATES – MAY 22: Baseball: Tampa Bay Devil Rays Nick Green (18) in action during home plate slide vs Florida Marlins Paul Lo Duca (16), Miami, FL 5/22/2005 (Photo by Bob Rosato/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

Since 2008, the script has been flipped, dramatically. The Rays have gone 46-24 against the Marlins, including an 11-2 record since 2019, and the all-time series is now 68-58 in favor of Tampa Bay.

It’s helped to produce some great moments, like in 2018, when the Marlins looked to sweep the Rays in late July at Tropicana Field, but utility infielder Daniel Robertson had different plans in mind.

In that same season of 2018, Miami and Tampa Bay played a 16-inning game at Marlins Park, where catcher Jesus Sucre was forced to pitch in extra innings and Jake Bauers doubled to send the Rays home winners.

Good players have come and gone from this rivalry. MVPs like Giancarlo Stanton, Miguel Cabrera and Christian Yelich reigned for the Marlins.

Cy Young winners David Price and Blake Snell shined on the mound for the Rays. The one thing both teams had in common was developing young stars as between the two franchises, they have produced seven Rookie of the Year winners.

Recently, we’ve seen plenty of young stars come through both organizations and there are plenty to come in the near future, but tonight, the “rivalry” resumes at Tropicana Field.

Putting Wander Franco’s 39-game on-base streak into perspective

Wander Franco will be returning to the lineup tonight after being sidelined with right hamstring tightness on Sept. 10.

In his last game, Franco reached base in his first at-bat against the Detroit Tigers before pulling up and leaving the game early on. However, that hit against the Tigers kept his on-base streak alive, increasing it to 39 straight games.

At just 20 years Franco is doing something that just one other player in MLB history has done at his age, and that other player is Hall of Famer Frank Robinson.

Three nights prior to his injury, Franco passed Mickey Mantle with a walk in the seventh inning of a game against the Boston Red Sox, possibly his final at-bat of the night, to extend the streak to 37, setting a new American League record for any player age 20 or younger.

That was not a typo. Franco passed one of the greatest switch-hitters and power hitters of all time to set a new all-time American League record for on-base streaks.

As of this article’s release, Franco has the longest active on-base streak in MLB and the second-longest in franchise history…and he’s only been playing since June.

Let’s dive deeper into just how dominant this stretch has been for baseball’s “wanderkid”.

In Wander’s first 24 games in his MLB career, he slashed .221/.272/.358 in 95 at-bats with three home runs, 10 RBI, seven walks, 21 strikeouts and a .250 BAbip. He struggled out of the gate as many rookies do, but due to his high-profile status throughout his minor league career, it was heightened and illuminated that much more.

The final game of this stretch, July 24 against Cleveland, Franco put four balls in play that day, going 0-for-5 with a strikeout. Looking at his Baseball Savant page, of those four at-bats, the first two had exit velocities of 98.3 MPH & 101 MPH, both going roughly 380 feet.

To that point, his 101 MPH flyout was the 12th hardest-hit ball of his career. Since that date, Franco has hit 33 balls 100 MPH or more and that flyout is now the 38th hardest-hit ball of his career.

In those 39 games, over 151 at-bats Franco has slashed .325/.393/.530 with a .338 BAbip, 49 hits, 37 runs scored, 13 doubles, three triples, four home runs, 15 walks and 14 strikeouts.

He has raised his season average from .221 to .285 and his OPS from .630 to .810. His OBP sits around .350 and his slugging percentage is now over .460.

Post-ASG break, Franco has 58 hits, 41 runs scored, a .314/.376/.508 slashline and a 146 wRC+, along with an 8.3 percent walk rate and a 9.8 percent strikeout rate. For comparison, Franco’s strikeout rate pre-ASG break was 22.7 percent.

His 39-game on-base streak has catapulted him into the conversation for Rookie of the Year in the AL as he’s currently second among all MLB rookies with 250 plate appearances or more in wRC+, sitting just behind LaMonte Wade Jr. of the San Francisco Giants and fifth in fWAR with 2.2.

Basically, it took 20-year old Wander Franco a month to figure out MLB pitching…A MONTH. Regardless of how long the streak continues, Franco has continued to effortlessly adjust to higher levels of baseball and is an absolutely insane baseball player to watch.

We are watching the beginning of what has the potential to be an all-time baseball career, right in front of our eyes.

Rays injury & roster update: 8/20

Things are moving and shaking with the Tampa Bay Rays as the month of August comes to a close.

That means even more chaos when it comes to roster moves as September marks the expansion of rosters from 26 to 28. Today, we were welcomed with a flurry of positive news that bodes well for the Rays moving forward.

To start, the biggest news on Friday was that starting pitcher Chris Archer is expected to be activated off the 60-day IL to start Sunday’s series finale against the Chicago White Sox.

Archer was placed on the 60-day IL on May 8 with forearm tightness and has been working his way back onto the big league roster.

He’s had several setbacks along the way, but after his most recent rehab stint in Triple-A Durham, the Rays and manager Kevin Cash have decided that it’s now time to welcome him back to MLB.

Along with Archer on the rehab trail, Pete Fairbanks will pitch at Durham on Sunday, starting his rehab assignment after being placed on the 10-day IL with right shoulder inflammation on July 29.

The one bit of more unfortunate news is that right-hander Chris Ellis, who pitched during the Baltimore Orioles series and was promptly designated for assignment, was picked up by the Orioles on Friday.

That’s the second reliever the Rays have used in a multi-inning relief appearance in recent weeks and then DFA’d, but help is on the way on the IL. 

The other significant news is that Nick Anderson, who has made four relief outings in Durham on his current rehab stint, is expected to be back on the big league roster in September.

He’s struggled in his last two outings with the Bulls, so he’ll be continuing to build his arm back up to what it was in 2019 and 2020. Expect him to hopefully be back in several weeks’ time.

We will see Chris Mazza back with the Rays for what we assume will be a few days, possibly just the White Sox series, as Dietrich Enns was optioned back to Durham for more fresh arms in the bullpen.

Manager Kevin Cash also said that Josh Fleming, who pitched well in the Orioles series earlier this week, will be available out of the bullpen this weekend, presumably as a long reliever.

We’ll update you as the season progresses with any more news to come out.

Rays The Analysis: Niko Hulsizer – Ben Whitehall (Part 3)

This is the finale of a multi-part deep dive into the numbers and current trajectory of Tampa Bay Rays minor leaguer Niko Hulsizer. Statistics and data can be found on Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, and Baseball Savant.

In my previous article, I talked about Hulsizer’s numbers so far in his minor league career up until his current stint at Double-A Montgomery. In part three, I’ll be figuring out just how soon or how long we should expect Hulsizer to reach the majors.

So Where Do We Go From Here?

As discussed previously, Hulsizer is a strong guy who has major value in his bat. Not only can he hit, but he is a serviceable defensive right fielder. The three most important questions I have for Hulsizer’s future development are:

  1. Can he get and maintain a K% back down around 30%?
  2. Can he stay patient enough to sustain a double-digit BB%?
  3. Can he keep getting the ball in the air?

I think it will be interesting to see how the Rays work with Hulsizer to improve his strikeout rate. It’s important that he’s able to use his size and strength to drive the ball without sacrificing power for a little more contact, so I think the Rays could live with a 30 percent K%.

Hulsizer’s patience and understanding of the strike zone will be the key to his development, especially as he continues to adjust to higher levels of competition. Patience at the plate means seeing more pitches per at-bat, which leads to figuring out pitchers better and so on and so forth.

Something to note is his rising ground ball rate, which climbed from 32 percent in 2018 to 39.1 percent by the end of 2019. He stabilized it somewhat in Bowling Green at 35.8 percent, so hopefully, it will lessen in Montgomery and beyond. The Rays could afford to not deal with a second Yandy Diaz-type situation, though even he is starting to lift the ball more in 2021.

If he can get under it and drive it to the gaps and over the fence, he’s going to be an extremely valuable asset for Tampa Bay, but the real question is, when should Rays fans expect him in the bigs?

The answer isn’t concrete, but don’t expect a 2021 call-up as he’s still figuring out Montgomery, let alone Durham or MLB. Tampa Bay doesn’t rush prospects, and with the current big league roster, Hulsizer really doesn’t have a spot to fill in. Another possibility is a promotion to Triple-A Durham before the end of the season.

What seems most logical for Hulsizer will be to spend the rest of the season in Montgomery, come to 2022 spring training as a non-roster invitee, and then get promoted to Triple-A early in the season. However, if he’s ranking in Double-A, there’s no reason to not bring him up to Durham.

Tough decisions will need to be made amongst members of the front office, especially to figure out whether or not Hulsizer will be added to the 40-man roster or risk losing him in the Rule 5 Draft. This upcoming offseason will be telling for Hulsizer’s future in the Rays organization.

Wrap-Up

Hulsizer is an exciting prospect and Rays fans should keep their eyes out on him. He has incredible potential and at 24 years old, we should expect him up relatively soon. His track record screams a big time power hitter, and time will only tell what he becomes.

I’m rooting for the Rays and Hulsizer as he looks to become a success story under this current regime after years of disappointment at the corner outfield position. I think it’s reasonable to expect some moves to be made to keep such an interesting player in the organization.

Thanks so much to Ben for writing this series, and be sure to check him out on Twitter @dogpancake73 and read more of his writing at rblrsports.com!

Rays The Analysis: Niko Hulsizer – Ben Whitelaw (Part 2)

This is a continuation of a multi-part deep dive into the numbers and current trajectory of Tampa Bay Rays minor leaguer Niko Hulsizer. Statistics and data can be found on Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, and Baseball Savant.

In my previous article, I discussed where Niko Hulsizer’s road to becoming part of the Tampa Bay Rays organization and what has made him such an under-valued player. In part two, I’ll be putting numbers to paper to show just what has made Hulsizer such a fun prospect to follow.

By the Numbers

Hulsizer’s professional career began in the Dodgers organization 2018, where he hit nine home runs, stole 12 bases and posted a 14.9 percent walk rate, .957 OPS, .360 BABIP and 145 wRC+. His OPS and BABIP has sustained through his three-year minor league career to date, posting a career .341 BABIP and .925 OPS.

If you thought Hulsizer would have a difficult time replicating his impressive first season, you’d be wrong. He began 2019 at Class-A Great Lakes, posting a .969 OPS in 58 games. His K% did climb a bit to 29.3%, but that isn’t going to be too much of a concern when 58.9% of his hits in those 58 games went for extra bases.

Things did get a little more difficult for Hulsizer when the Dodgers promoted him to High-A Rancho Cucamonga, the alleged birthplace of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

Unfortunately, Hulsizer wasn’t as flaming hot when he arrived at his next stop. This was the first time he had been younger than the average age of his competition. However, like we’ve seen with Hulsizer this season, he can be virtually unstoppable once he gets into a rhythm.

He found his footing with a three-hit day on June 27th and played very well until cooling off leading up to an injury on July 21st. Hulsizer was then traded to the Rays on July 31st and didn’t play too well during his rehab games with the Rays rookie affiliate (.384 OPS, 34 wRC+).

However, the Rays weren’t discouraged, promoting him to then-High-A Port Charlotte after his injury, where he posted a .690 OPS and 105 wRC+ in nine games. Determined to get his production back, Hulsizer opted to play winter ball for the Perth Heat of the Australian Baseball League.

It benefitted Hulsizer tremendously as he posted an .887 OPS across 151 plate appearances against older, more experienced players. He also was able to get consistent at-bats and playing time before the 2020 minor league season was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

His hard work through the lengthy offseason off 2020 paid off when he began 2021 at now-High-A Bowling Green. While his K% rose to 38.9%, he recorded 38 hits, 23 of those extra-base hits, in 44 games with the Hot Rods, posting a .930 OPS, 148 wRC+, and an ISO of .320.

Hulsizer was either walking (13.9 BB%), hitting the ball really hard and really far, or striking out. Thankfully, he did the first two of those at such an impressive rate that the strikeouts didn’t hurt his game too much.

On July 13, Hulsizer was promoted to Double-A Montgomery, where he got off on the right foot, hitting a grand slam in his first game with the Biscuits. In 19 games, Hulsizer has a slashline of .290/.389/.661 with five home runs and 20 RBI, as well as a 30.5 K% and a 13.9 BB%.

The final part of this series will be released on Thursday afternoon.

Rays Injury Report: 8.4

It’s incredible how good the Tampa Bay Rays have been this season with the amount of players that have been on the injured list, especially on the pitching side.

We’ll be doing this more often, but here’s your Rays Injury Report for August 4.

The Rays currently have 15 players on the IL, including three recovering from Tommy John surgery: Yonny Chirinos, Colin Poche and Jalen Beeks.

We can now add Tyler Glasnow onto the Tommy John list as he will be getting TJ on Wednesday of this week.

Other players who will not be returning this season include Chaz Roe, Cody Reed and Tommy Hunter, who came over to the Rays as part of the Rich Hill trade with the New York Mets.

That leaves just eight players left and of those eight, four are on the 10-day IL: Pete Fairbanks, Collin McHugh, Jeffrey Springs and J.P. Feyereisen. McHugh has the possibility to come back in this weekend’s Baltimore Orioles series.

Fairbanks has begun to play catch and Feyereisen is expected to throw a bullpen in the coming days as both of them rehab back to the major league team.

That leaves four pitchers who are all on the 60-day IL: Nick Anderson, Chris Archer, Oliver Drake and Ryan Thompson, who was just placed on the 60-day before Tuesday’s game against the Mariners.

Anderson is currently working his way back and will be rehabbing in Triple-A Durham soon, but a Covid-related issue is currently holding him back from the mound.

Archer suffered a hip injury in his most recent start in Durham, further setting back his return to the big league club. Thompson and Drake are currently unknown as to when they will return. It seems that Drake might be shut down for the season, so we wouldn’t expect him to be back soon.

As of right now, there are no position players on the IL.

We’ll continue to keep this updated as the season finishes out.

RHP Tyler Glasnow to undergo Tommy John surgery on Wednesday

The fears of the Tampa Bay Rays organization and fans were realized on Tuesday as Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reported that RHP Tyler Glasnow would undergo Tommy John surgery on Wednesday.

Glasnow has been out since June 14, when he complained of pain in his throwing elbow. It was discovered that he partially tore his right UCL and he attempted to rehab it back to pitch this season.

However, it proved to be too much as we soon found out Glasnow had complaining of arm problems since first suffering an injury during the 2019 season. 

As we found out once the MLB trade deadline passed, the Rays’ front office went about the deadline with the assumption that Glasnow wouldn’t return to pitch this season.

With more than a dozen pitchers currently on the IL, it would’ve only made sense for the Rays to acquire pitching to help out, but knowing the Rays, they wouldn’t overpay for a probable two-month rental.

The moves that Tampa Bay did make included trading LHP Rich Hill to the Mets, RHP Diego Castillo to the Mariners for RHP JT Chargois and acquiring RHP DJ Johnson from Cleveland.

ws seemed to be inevitable, and it’s made worse knowing that Glasnow will probably be sidelined through the entire 2022 season. 

As of now, it’s not worth it to rush him back knowing he’s Tampa Bay’s ace, but now that he’s officially out long-term, the Rays will need to find ways to piece the starting rotation together.

It seems that Luis Patino, Shane McClanahan and Ryan Yarbrough will be mainstays, and Michael Wacha will last through the 2021 season. Hopefully, Chris Archer will be back soon to help as well as Brent Honeywell and if all works out, Shane Baz later.

However, the Rays will now have to do what they can to push through the rest of the season as they make their push to defend the AL pennant.

Rays The Analysis: Niko Hulsizer – Ben Whitelaw

This is the first in a multi-part series, a deep dive into the numbers and current trajectory of Tampa Bay Rays minor leaguer Niko Hulsizer. Statistics and data can be found on Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, and Baseball Savant.

Niko Hulsizer found his stride after a slow start to the season and has been turning heads in the Rays organization. We’ll be looking at the numbers to figure out why Hulsizer has gone under-the-radar for so long and what his current path to the majors looks like.

Why Is Nobody Talking About This Guy?

When he was originally acquired from the Dodgers for Adam Kolarek in 2019, I thought, “Oh cool, another three-true-outcomes type guy? He just seems like an older Moises Gomez.” After seemingly dodging a bullet with two .500 OPS players in Justin Williams and Jesus Sanchez, how much faith Rays fans have in the organization to develop a quality hitting corner outfielder?

Desmond Jennings and Brandon Guyer are two of the best recent examples, which shows you the lack of corner outfield development the Rays have had. Remember, players like Randy Arozarena and Austin Meadows were MLB-ready at the time of their acquisition.

Moises Gomez, Hulsizer’s teammate in Montgomery, is a corner outfielder prospect many have been high on. However, he’s seen significant regression in his hitting compared to seasons prior. Knowing the Rays, a big-time corner outfielder will be developed soon and given his age and track record, I think Hulsizer fits that mold in a big way.

An 18th round draft pick out of Morehead State in 2018, Hulsizer was a right-handed power bat, but scouts and baseball websites alike didn’t rate him highly. On Fangraphs’ future value scale, Hulsizer was rated as just a 35. Let’s take a look at his Fangraphs scouting report to see why.

Note his Rule 5 Draft eligibility this winter. The Rays will have a big decision on their hands this winter to include him on the 40-man roster or let him to go the draft.

His decent fielding, mediocre arm, and okay speed suggest he could be an average corner outfielder defensively. It’s clear that at 6’2 225 pounds, Hulsizer’s best tool is his raw strength.

However, with that strength comes a few questions: How well will his power translate into real games, and can he avoid swinging and missing enough for pitchers to respect that power? 

Hulsizer and his impressive numbers have been able to answer those questions literally since his minor league career began, so I’m not entirely sure why he isn’t talked about more. Side note, his birthday comes one day after mine, so that’s pretty cool.

Part Two in this series coming soon!

Carolina Connection- Margaret Gasperson

Years ago, my husband and I moved to Winter Haven from High Point, NC. I have always loved sports. We are avid sports fans, but not particularly baseball. 

About a year after being here, our son surprised us with a four pack of Rays tickets for Opening Day. David Price was pitching, and we had a great time!

When we arrived at our second game, we got a Facebook message from Kathy Woods, a dear friend from back home in North Carolina. “Guess what?  My nephew, Wil Myers, just got moved up to the Rays!”, it read.

Margaret in her Wil Myers Jersey

Sure enough, Wil Myers was in the lineup that night. He attended high school at a private school just down the street from our home in North Carolina, where I had coached the high school softball team many years ago.

Well, needless to say we had a hometown connection! Over time I became increasingly invested in the team.

This gal, who once really could not have cared less about baseball, is now a HUGE Tampa Bay Rays fan!  We watch games on tv every night and try to visit the Trop from time to time.

Margaret and her family enjoying a Rays game at Tropicana Field

I even make sure to keep LOTS of Rays paraphernalia around my office. I’ve enjoyed learned the ins and outs of Rays baseball and baseball in general! 

I love to learn about all of the Rays players and baseball was my JOY during the tough times of the pandemic! 

These Carolina transplants are Rays fans for life!!!! 

If you have a story about your journey as a Rays fan and would like to share, please email us at raystherooftb@gmail.com.

Hand Up- Five things I got wrong about the 2021 season

As about a third of the baseball season is in the books, I thought it was a fitting time to reflect on some of my personal thoughts and predictions from before the season got underway.

Ten preseason predictions stood out, five of them proving to be true this year and five that have not held up. Here are the five I missed on.

1. “Willy Adames is our shortstop”

ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA – APRIL 13: Willy Adames #1 of the Tampa Bay Rays looks on during the fourth inning against the Texas Rangers at Tropicana Field on April 13, 2021 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

This was a big fat lie, although one that I’m sure Cash believed in the moment.

This was a quote from Kevin Cash during spring training when asked about the possibility of Wander Franco or Taylor Walls making the big-league roster.

I totally believed him because Franco had yet to play a game in AAA and there were some questions about Taylor Walls at the plate. However, Willy Adames was NOT in fact their shortstop.

The Rays traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for pitchers J.P. Feyereisen and Drew Rasmussen on May 21.

The move cleared a spot for SS Taylor Walls, who has been impressive on both sides of the ball. His plate discipline and wizardry with the glove have shown that in fact, Taylor Walls is our shortstop.

2. Tyler Glasnow will need some time to truly step into the “ace” role

ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA – JUNE 08: Tyler Glasnow #20 of the Tampa Bay Rays throws a pitch during the first inning against the Washington Nationals at Tropicana Field on June 08, 2021 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

Man, was I wrong with this one and I can’t believe I ever doubted him.

My initial thought process was that in his prior seasons, he was never “the guy” in the rotation. He struggled with inefficiency and going deep into games; however, it was okay because Charlie Morton and Blake Snell took some pressure off.

I expected him to be better than in previous seasons because of his addition of the slider, but WOW he stepped into the ace role immediately and never looked back. Before his elbow injury on June 14, he was second in the AL in strikeouts with a 2.66 ERA.

He was a shoo-in for the 2021 All-Star Game and shaping up to be a Cy Young finalist. He is reportedly on his way back and playing light catch. Having the ace back in the rotation during the 2021 postseason would be huge for this team.

3. Yoshi Tsutsugo will have a breakout season with the Rays

ANAHEIM, CA – MAY 05: Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Yoshi Tsutsugo (25) hits a double in the eighth inning of a game against the Los Angeles Angels played on May 5, 2021 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, CA. (Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

This aged poorly.

Watching Tsutsugo during the 2020 season, I thought that I had seen some good plate discipline and hard contact that just wasn’t falling in for the lefty hitter.

Unfortunately (miraculously even), his performance was even worse in 2021 than it was the previous season. Through 26 games with the Rays this year, he posted a measly .167 batting average and a .462 OPS.

The Rays designated Tsutsugo for assignment before he was traded to the Dodgers on May 15. Unfortunately, his struggles have followed him to Los Angeles where he sports a .120 batting average and a .410 OPS through 12 games. He is currently on the injured list with a calf strain.

4. Cody Reed will be the reliever that steps up in a big way.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 01: Cody Reed #21 of the Tampa Bay Rays in action against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on September 01, 2020 in New York City. New York Yankees defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 5-3. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Also no.

It seems like every season, there is at least one reliever that comes out of nowhere and ends up being a huge piece in the bullpen.

A ton of guys have had to step up early this season with the multitude of key injuries the Rays suffered. Ryan Thompson, Collin McHugh, Andrew Kittredge, and more filled in those spots (and in a huge way- Kittredge was even named an All-Star), however Cody Reed did not.

It is not because of his performance, but rather his lack of innings due to injury. After just 9.2 innings, Reed had to undergo thoracic outlet surgery, which will keep him out for the rest of the 2021 season.

5. There was no way that Wander Franco, Vidal Brujan, and Taylor Walls would all be up before the All-Star break.

ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA – JUNE 22: Wander Franco #5 (left) and Taylor Walls #6 (right) of the Tampa Bay Rays look on during batting practice before a game against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field on June 22, 2021 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

I’m fairly sure I’m on record numerous times saying that we wouldn’t see Wander Franco until rosters expanded, or maybe even not until 2022.

This was a huge whiff on my part considering he made his wildly anticipated debut on June 22 against the Red Sox and is almost certainly not being optioned any time soon. I’ve already mentioned Taylor Walls and how incredible he has performed as the everyday shortstop.

Now, JUST before the All-Star break, the last of what I call “The Big Three” was promoted in Vidal Brujan. They join other rookies Randy Arozarena, Josh Fleming, and Shane McClanahan contributing to the big-league club.

Luis Patiño, Kevin Padlo, and Brent Honeywell have also made appearances. The willingness of the Rays to promote their rookies this year and the success that those rookies have had, show that the team is ready to usher in a very talented new era.

I don’t think we’ve seen the last MLB debut for the Rays this year either. Look out for Joe Ryan, Shane Baz, Josh Lowe, and more before the Commissioner’s Trophy is raised. We are just getting started.