Analyzing Tampa Bay Rays Hitters For 2020 – 60-Game Season Update

Matt Wallach previews the Tampa Bay Rays hitters for 2020.

The Tampa Bay Rays were one of the biggest surprise teams from 2019, and they were a lot of fun to watch. However, most of their success came from their dominant pitching staff. The Rays offense wasn’t bad, it was just outshone by their great pitching. With 769 runs scored in 2019, the Rays tied for the 15th best offense in that department. Their .254 cumulative batting average ranked 12th, and their 217 home runs ranked 21st, which trailed the other top teams and is perhaps the biggest reason why the Rays offense lagged behind other playoff teams, as they did place in the top half of the league in most other categories, including wOBA and batter WAR.

The Rays pitching should continue to be strong in 2020, but for the Rays to enter the World Series conversation, their offense will have to take another step. Tampa Bay has been quite busy already this offseason as they retool their lineup and hope for improvement. The lineup is anchored by breakout star Austin Meadows, but it remains to be seen if another hitter will enjoy a similar breakout in 2020. Elsewhere, the team must determine whether Hunter Renfroe is an adequate replacement for Tommy Pham, and whether Mike Zunino can return to his performance level from 2017, as they try to replace Travis d’Arnaud.

(Last Updated: July 7, 2020)

60-Game Season Update

Trending Up

The Rays tremendous depth makes them one of the teams that end up being best-prepared for the new roster rules for 2020. While this will make roles less certain for fantasy purposes, there should be a few more players slated to get more playing time this season. The first name that pops into mind is Nate Lowe, who was looking like he would start the season in AAA Durham pre-shutdown, he should find himself on the Major League roster to start the year with a real opportunity for playing time. His playing time probably depends on how things go with some of the Rays other corner infielders, most notably Ji-Man Choi and Yandy Diaz, and Lowe could also get some DH reps depending on how Yoshi Tsutsugo performs in his first Major League season. Lowe likely won’t be a starter on Opening Day, but he definitely could get some legitimate playing time. Another youngster who will likely start out on the Major League squad after looking like he’d fall victim to the roster crunch is Randy Arozarena. He could see action against left-handed pitching, but how much probably depends on how fellow newcomers Manuel Margot and Jose Martinez do in their likely platoon roles. Also worthy of a mention is the teenage phenom and top prospect Wander Franco. He made the team’s 60-man roster, and his debut wasn’t totally unrealistic pre-shutdown, and it could be more likely now, which would truly be something to be excited about.

Trending Down

Players pegged for a downgrade would be players that are already mainly platoon players or players whose spots in the lineup are already somewhat unstable. Mainly the aforementioned Choi and Tsutsugo, and to a lesser extent Diaz, although I think his playing time is pretty much assured. Hunter Renfroe could also be thrown in here, as he has historically had drastic righty-lefty splits, although he should be in the lineup most day at least to start out. Kevin Kiermaier is also a platoon-option with expanded rosters, as they wouldn’t lose anything defensively with Margot out there against righties, and both players generally hit opposite-handed pitching better than same-handed pitching, so they appear tailor-made for a platoon pairing. The Rays depth is both a blessing and a curse, as there will be a lot of players that should be fantasy-relevant, but in not enough spots.

Projected Lineups

BAL Lineup v RHP
BAL Lineup v LHP

 

Original March Edition

Roster Changes

 

 

Hitter Previews

 

Catchers

 

Mike Zunino (Catcher | Batting: 9)

2019: 30 R, 9 HR, 32 RBI, 0 SB, .165/.232/.312 | #67 C (per ESPN Player Rater)

2020 ADP: 500+ (#36 C)

With the departure of d’Arnaud to the Atlanta Braves, and the team’s top catching prospect Ronaldo Hernandez still a few years away, the Rays decided to bring back Zunino, who had an absolutely disastrous 2019 season, and his struggles lead to the necessary acquisition of the aforementioned d’Arnaud. Looking back at the last two seasons of Zunino’s career, it’s hard to believe that he had a 126 wRC+, and a nearly five WAR season not too long ago, but things can change quickly in baseball, that much is for sure. Unless he reaches those offensive numbers again, most of Zunino’s value will likely come from his defensive skills. That’s not a bad thing, but it would severely limit his fantasy value, as you don’t get points for framing in fantasy baseball.

In the batter’s box though, we pretty much know what to expect from Zunino: that is a high strikeout rate and a low walk rate. Zunino hasn’t had a season with a strikeout rate lower than 30% since his debut season in 2013 and has never walked at greater than a 9% clip. He is an extreme pull hitter, and he also saw an increase in his ground ball rate in 2019. While Zunino’s skill set isn’t one where I would predict much lasting success, I would say he should be better than he was last season, as it is pretty difficult to hit for a 45 wRC+ two seasons in a row, although there will likely be better options at catcher available in most leagues.

Strengths – HR 

Weaknesses –  AVG, OBP, SB, R 

Best Case Scenario

 

Zunino turns back the clock and returns to his 2017 form, becoming yet another Rays catcher to have an outstanding season out of nowhere.

 

Worst Case Scenario

 

Zunino replicates his dismal performance from 2019, leading the Rays to look for an external replacement to upgrade the catcher spot, yet again.

 

2020 Projection: 45 R, 17 HR, 55 RBI, 1 SB, .210/.280/.405

 

 

Infielders

 

Ji-Man Choi (1B | Batting: 4)

2019: 54 R, 19 HR, 63 RBI, 2 SB, .261/.363/.459 | #36 1B (per ESPN Player Rater)

2020 ADP: 411 (#28 1B)

I’ve always liked Ji-Man Choi as a player. When he made his debut back in 2016 for the Los Angeles Angels, I remember seeing his AAA numbers and being really impressed. When the New York Yankees acquired him on a minor league deal in 2017, I remember wanting him to play over Greg Bird, and he performed well in a really small-sample six-game stretch with the Yankees, and I never quite understood why they didn’t give him a longer look. After only playing twelve games for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2018, he was traded to the Rays for Brad Miller and cash. Miller has since bounced around to a handful of other organizations, and it looks like the Rays have pulled off yet another bit of their magic, as Choi has established himself as quite the hitter, and is currently penciled in as their cleanup hitter.

His slash line is maybe a bit underwhelming for a first baseman, where you would expect a lot more power than what Choi gives you, but what I like most about Choi is his excellent plate discipline, which took more leaps in 2019, as his walk rate jumped from 11.8% in 2018 to 13.1% in 2019. Choi also dropped his strikeout rate a little over two percentage points, and it sits at just slightly over 20%. Those are pretty good rates, especially for a first baseman with more than modest power. Choi should be an above-average hitter in 2019, although as a first baseman his profile will likely cause his value to drop, seeing as fantasy owners likely expect more power coming out of their first base slot. Additionally, the Rays love playing the matchups, so I wouldn’t be shocked if he ends up sitting often against left-handed pitching.

Overall, Choi’s 2020 fantasy value is likely to be found more in deeper leagues. He’s a good player, but the other talent at the top of the position group will likely push him to bench or waiver-wire status in twelve-team and shallower leagues.

Strengths – OBP, R

Weaknesses –  HR

Best Case Scenario

 

Choi sees a power eruption, turning into a hitter with around twenty home or even thirty home run potential, making him a more valuable fantasy asset.

 

Worst Case Scenario

 

Choi takes a step back in the plate discipline department where he is strong, and no longer justifies a spot in the lineup on most days, and the Rays look for a replacement.

 

2020 Projection: 70 R, 22 HR, 66 RBI, 2 SB, .255/.354/.445

 

Brandon Lowe (2B | Batting: 1)

2019: 42 R, 17 HR, 51 RBI, 5 SB, .270/.336/.554 | #44 2B (per ESPN Player Rater)

2020 ADP: 173 (#12 2B)

Lowe was the favorite for the American League Rookie of the Year award before some guy named Yordan Alvarez came up and immediately became one of the best players in baseball. Realistically, it would have been difficult to hold on to a lead in the award race, not because of anything he did on the field, but because injuries cost him almost the entire second half of the season. When healthy, Lowe was absolutely fantastic, as evidenced by his slash line, which I did not even realize was that strong, especially in the power department. Outside of the slash line, what really stands out to me about his peripheral stats is his fantastic .501 xwOBA on contact, well above the .371 league average, and the ninth-highest among hitters with as many plate appearances. If you prefer the actual wOBA on contact number, Lowe was still ninth in the same group, although it drops to a still-excellent .516 mark.

While there is a lot to like in the batted-ball side, Lowe is less impressive with his plate discipline, having walk and strikeout rates of just 7.6% and 34.6% respectively. I think it wouldn’t be outlandish to say that this is where Lowe’s biggest weakness lies. He doesn’t necessarily chase bad pitches (30.9% chase rate in 2019 vs. 28.3% league average), but he instead whiffs a lot. At 37.3%, his whiff rate is way higher than the 24.3% league average. It’s not impossible to have success with rates like that, but I must say that it’s difficult to have success with rates like that. What makes Lowe a better bet for success than say, his teammate Zunino, is that when he hits the ball, he hits it well. Lowe is still likely to be a productive hitter because of his superb batted-ball skills, but it could be unlikely he repeats his 2019 performance. I would like to have Lowe on my roster for fantasy baseball, but I’m not willing to overdraft him to get him, and there may be some that will. Lowe is likely to be a valuable and productive hitter in 2020, although he may disappoint if you’re expecting a full season of his 2019 greatness.

Strengths – HR, R, PA/AB

Weaknesses –  AVG, OBP

Best Case Scenario

 

Lowe improves his plate discipline, which combined with his excellent batted-ball skills, makes him one of the best second base options for 2020.

 

Worst Case Scenario

 

Lowe regresses in the batted-ball department, and doesn’t improve in his plate discipline, which causes his overall productivity to decline.

 

2020 Projection: 77 R, 25 HR, 82 RBI, 8 SB, .250/.325/.475

 

Yandy Diaz (3B | Batting: 3)

2019: 53 R, 14 HR, 53 RBI, 2 SB, .267/.340/.476 | #47 3B (per ESPN Player Rater)

2020 ADP: 242 (#22 3B)

We were all so excited over Yandy. We had such good reasons to be excited too. Look at the exit velocities, look at the simple fix he needs to make, the Rays will get him right, look at the biceps!

Alas, while it wasn’t a bad season for Yandy in 2019, it also wasn’t quite what we were expecting. He got off to such a great start in the early part of the season, with a 158 wRC+ and seven home runs in April. It was by far the best month of the season for Diaz, although that month was followed by his worst in May, where he recorded just a 57 wRC+, and a lot of the hype died down. He dealt with injuries for a lot of the season, winding up on the injured list three separate times, which likely contributed to the struggles he endured. Diaz could not really get into a rhythm at the plate, which likely affected his performance.

While Diaz did not make the type of improvements that we would have liked to see in 2019, he did make some other improvements that I think turned him into a more complete hitter. While his 2019 wRC+ of 116 is nearly identical to his one from 2018 of 115, he got there in a different way, and I actually prefer the way he got there in 2019. His isolated power jumped from a paltry .110 in 2018 to a much stronger .208 mark in 2019. He made improvements in the power department despite not really improving his launch angle. Instead, he pulled the ball more, and got great results when doing so, to the tune of a 171 wRC+ on pulled batted-balls. If Diaz can stay healthy over the course of a full season while putting up an isolated power mark over .200 yet again, and maybe being a little bit more consistent, I don’t think he’ll be considered a disappointment anymore, but instead, as the well-above-average hitter that he actually is. There are a lot of good third basemen these days though, so Diaz is likely to fall in most drafts, but he is one of the more intriguing late options on the board, and without the hype that he had last season, Diaz should still be a useful player and be worth the investment to his fantasy owners at his ADP.

Strengths – R, RBI

Weaknesses –  HR

Best Case Scenario

 

Diaz not only maintains his 2019 level of performance, but he undergoes another evolution at the plate by finally getting his average launch angle up, which leads to even more power, and he becomes one of the best third basemen in the game.

 

Worst Case Scenario

 

Diaz’s strong power marks from 2019 revert back to his pre-2019 ways, which still makes him a fine hitter, but lacking the upside that we know should be there.

 

2020 Projection: 75 R, 17 HR, 73 RBI, 6 SB, .275/.360/.455

 

Willy Adames (SS | Batting: 7)

2019: 69 R, 20 HR, 52 RBI, 4 SB, .254/.317/.418 | #33 SS (per ESPN Player Rater)

2020 ADP: 286 (#23 SS)

The former top prospect and the main piece of the first David Price trade that seems like so long ago, Willy Adames is entering his third season in the Majors. It’s been a bit of a mixed bag for him overall, with a strong 110 wRC+ in his first go-around in 2018 that was definitely encouraging, but he fell off in 2019 with just a 97 wRC+ in 2019. As a roughly league-average bat and plus defense, Adames was solid overall in 2019, but his lighter bat will likely cause him to not be a major option for fantasy purposes.

I actually do like Adames though, although not enough to make him a priority come draft season, but he did make some positive improvements at the plate this season that aren’t necessarily reflected in his stats. The first thing that jumps out to me is his much improved hard-hit rate. It jumped from 29.6% in 2018 to 35.5% in 2019, which is roughly league average. His other Statcast metrics got better as well, such as his launch angle jumping over a degree to 10 degrees, and his average exit velocity jumping to roughly league average at 87.8 miles-per-hour. His expected stats were better than his actual ones, which wasn’t the case in 2018, but he wasn’t able to outperform his expected stats as he did in 2018. For some extra oddity, Adames had some pretty extreme splits. First and foremost, he seems to hate hitting at Tropicana Field. Whether it’s the dome, the turf, the catwalks, the stingrays in centerfield, or a combination of things, Adames didn’t hit well at the Trop in 2019. With just a 53 wRC+ at home compared to a 137 mark on the road. Adames had one of the largest differences in this department. I don’t exactly know what to make of this, I would say it’s just noise and that it’s unlikely this happens again, which in that case would probably make his overall stats better over the course of a full season. Another oddity from Adames’ 2019 season was that he had an above-average wRC+ in every month except two, and in those two months, he was pretty bad. In April and July, his wRC+ was 53 and 54, respectively. Every other month he didn’t have a wRC+ lower than 113.

So who is the real Adames? I took a deeper look at Adames here where I try to give some additional context to his 2019 season, and I think it’s likely that he won’t have such an extreme, and odd season like he just did, and if I believe that’s the case, I think Adames can be an above-average hitting shortstop, which is definitely valuable. His lack of power (although he did pop 20 dingers last season), combined with his low walk-rate and a strikeout rate in the high-twenties will probably limit his fantasy value, he could be a solid if unspectacular option in deeper leagues. This season will be crucial for him though, as after overperforming and then underperforming his peripherals, Adames, and the team would like to see him hit his potential.

Strengths – PA/AB

Weaknesses –  OBP, HR

Best Case Scenario

 

Adames reaches his full potential as a former top prospect, by continuing to evolve as a hitter, taking the next step by making further improvements in his hard-hit rate, and adding some more plate discipline to his game.

 

Worst Case Scenario

 

Adames underperforms with the bat again, staying slightly below average in terms of wRC+, and doesn’t show much or any improvement in his biggest areas of weakness, limiting his fantasy value.

 

2020 Projection: 77 R, 18 HR, 75 RBI, 8 SB, .266/.330/.425

 

 

Outfielders

 

Austin Meadows (OF | Batting: 2)

2019: 83 R, 33 HR, 89 RBI, 12 SB, .291/.364/.558| #15 OF (per ESPN Player Rater)

2020 ADP: 45 (#14 OF)

It’s so nice to see a former top prospect finally put it all together. That’s what happened to Austin Meadows in 2019. After spending a few seasons in “prospect-limbo” with a few seasons of underwhelming results in the minors, Meadows finally got the chance to shine with everyday playing time in 2019 (sorry, Pirates fans) to the tune of a 142 wRC+ and four WAR, and he emerged as not only the best hitter in the Rays lineup but also as one of the best outfielders in baseball. Meadows was particularly special in September, with a whopping 218 wRC+ in the month, which trailed only Alex Bregman for the best mark. If you bought into Meadows going into 2019, you were rewarded with a great return on your investment, as he was likely a late-round pick going into the year.

The question is whether or not he can do it again. While it may be difficult to maintain a 142 wRC+ for the next few seasons, I don’t see much that would suggest that his breakout was a fluke.

Looking at the Statcast peripherals, there are plenty of encouraging signs. His barrel rate doubled from 2018, jumping to 12.5% in 2019. His expected stats closely resemble his actual ones from a year ago, which while not overly predictive, make me a bit confident that his performance wasn’t a fluke. His xBA was .284 vs. .290 actual, his xSLG of .547 was slightly trailing his actual .558 one, although it was still strong. Finally, his xwOBA of .372 was right in line with his actual .380 one. Additionally, looking into his batted-ball metrics, Meadows saw a decrease in his groundball rate from about 42% to now 35%. Trading those grounders for more fly balls and line drives. Staying with improvements in batted-balls, Meadows developed into more of a pull hitter in 2019, with his pull rate jumping from 32.9% to 41.1%. Meadows was an absolute monster when he pulled the ball in 2019, with a .517 ISO and a 267 wRC+ on those pulled balls. To add to the intrigue of Meadows, he has plus speed, with sprint speed that ranks in the 78th percentile per Statcast. While he didn’t steal many bases, just twelve in 2019, Meadows does have the potential for more if given the opportunity. Overall, Meadows should still be the best Rays hitter in 2020, and I think he will likely return as one of the best fantasy outfielders for 2020. While he’s in that second tier of fantasy outfield options, Meadows should still provide plenty of value for his owners, with a profile that will play in every type of league.

Strengths – PA/AB, HR, AVG

Weaknesses –  OBP

Best Case Scenario

 

Meadows retains his performance from a season ago, which would make him a top fantasy option as he is the anchor for the Rays lineup all season long.

 

Worst Case Scenario

 

Meadows regresses some, and becomes more of a slightly above-average hitter relative to league average, which would make him a still useful player with fantasy value, although it would be disappointing to his fantasy owners who likely drafted him pretty high.

 

2020 Projection: 92 R, 30 HR, 86 RBI, 15 SB, .275/.339/.510

 

Kevin Kiermaier (OF | Batting: 8)

2019: 60 R, 14 HR, 55 RBI, 19 SB, .228/.278/.398| #65 OF (per ESPN Player Rater)

2020 ADP: 328 (#77 OF)

Kevin Kiermaier will be thirty-years-old not long into the 2020 season, and at this point in his career, we basically know who he is as a player. The days of expecting Kiermaier to be an about league-average-or-higher bat with spectacular defense are likely behind us, but he is still likely to be in the lineup most days, granted that he can stay healthy, and that’s because while his offensive production has dropped off, he is still a defensive wizard. Statcast’s Outs Above Average metric had him at 17 in 2019, which was second-best among all outfielders, and he did that while only playing 129 games. That’s mostly the reason for his 1.5 WAR in 2019, as it’s hard to be valuable without plus defense with a batting line like that.

That’s nice and all, but unlike real life, defense doesn’t win fantasy baseball championships. 2019 was the second-straight season for Kiermaier where his wRC+ was under 80, and it was also the second-straight season where his wOBA was in the bottom ten percent of the league. He’s trending in the wrong direction in some other categories, including his walk rate, which fell to a minuscule 5.4% in 2019-the lowest of his career by far. His groundball rate also jumped to a career-worst of 53.5%. Ditto for his chase rate, which jumped to 34.9%, a mark well above the 28.3% league average. The best asset of Kiermaier’s game is probably his speed, which after all these years and the injuries, is still one of the best in his game, with sprint speed that is in the 99th percentile per Statcast, which is truly elite. You would think that would translate into plenty of stolen bases for Kiermaier, but he hasn’t swiped more than twenty bags since 2016, as the Rays aren’t too fond of stolen bases these days. I guess there is always bounceback potential for a hitter like Kiermaier, which even if he returns to his old ways at the plate from a few seasons ago, he wouldn’t be much better than a league-average hitter, which could make him useful in deeper leagues, but with plenty of solid outfielders in the rest of the league, I’m not sure how many rosters Kiermaier will be on this season.

Strengths – SB

Weaknesses –  HR, AVG, OBP

Best Case Scenario

 

Kiermaier returns to his old ways at the plate, replicating his 2017 season where he hit for his best wOBA and wRC+ marks in his entire career at .337 and 113, respectively.

 

Worst Case Scenario

 

Kiermaier continues to trend in the wrong direction at the plate and continues to deal with injuries as he hits the wrong side of thirty. With good defense though, he remains a valuable player, just not for fantasy purposes.

 

2020 Projection: 70 R, 15 HR, 60 RBI, 20 SB, .230/.310/.400

 

Hunter Renfroe (OF | Batting: 5)

2019: 64 R, 33 HR, 64 RBI, 5 SB, .216/.289/.489| #83 OF (per ESPN Player Rater)

2020 ADP: 301 (#75 OF)

It was a tale of two halves for Hunter Renfroe in 2019. In the first half of the season, it was Renfroe that was the anchor of the San Diego Padres lineup, with a .252/.308/.613 slash, good for a 132 wRC+. While he was still not walking much, it finally looked like the Renfroe breakout was happening. While a .613 slugging percentage is not likely to stick for most hitters, Renfroe was still one of the biggest surprises of the first half, and there was a reason to be excited about the twenty-seven-year-old again.

Then, things kinda fell apart. The one good thing about his .161/.263/.299 slash line for the second half, was that his walk rate jumped to 11.7% in that time span. The bad thing is that is the only really good thing about Renfroe’s second half. Already a hitter with a prolific strikeout profile, Renfroe’s strikeout rate jumped to a whopping 36.6%, the highest rate of any player who had at least 200 plate appearances in the second half. With the Padres already having too many outfielders, and with Renfroe having the worst end to the season of any of their other options, they decided now was the time to part with Renfroe. The team acquired yet another outfielder (although he is now their best outfielder) in Tommy Pham, with Renfroe and a few others going to Tampa. So the question now becomes how will Renfroe fare in Tampa?

First off, I think he should have more power potential playing more games in more hitter-friendly parks, including a lot of games in the American League East bandboxes. He’s primarily a pull hitter, who doesn’t hit a lot of grounders, and consistently gets barrels at a rate that’s better than league average. I think the power will still be the main attraction for Renfroe, and he could be a cheap supply of power. He plays plus defense as well, which doesn’t help us that much, but that strong defense should keep him in the lineup most days, despite being the shorter end of the platoon advantage, and also being a Tampa Bay Ray, where they love to play the matchups. It’s all about who the real Renfroe is at the plate, and which hitter the Rays believe he is. I don’t think he’ll suddenly find the plate discipline he desperately needs that would make him a more complete hitter, but it was only in 2018 where he was a 114 wRC+ hitter for the Padres. That came with a 6.8% walk rate and a .302 on-base percentage, but he showed good power output with twenty-six homers in just 117 games. If I had to guess, I would say that Renfroe is more likely to be the hitter he was in 2018 than the one he was in 2019, including both halves. While he likely won’t help much in leagues that factor in batting average or on-base percentage, Renfroe’s power is real, and he should provide plenty of slugging, perhaps even more with the change of scenery. Barring another acquisition, Renfroe should be in the lineup most days, although the Rays may get wonky and go with Joey Wendle in right field if they really want to play the platoon advantage, which in that situation would really diminish Renfroe’s value. As it is now though, Renfroe should be seen as hitter with thirty-plus homer potential, with not much else in terms of upside.

Strengths – HR

Weaknesses –  AVG, OBP

Best Case Scenario

 

Despite his limitations elsewhere, Renfroe’s power-heavy profile plays extremely well in the American League, and he hits for career-bests in the power department.

 

Worst Case Scenario

 

Renfroe can’t keep slugging as he did in the past, which combined with his subpar plate-discipline, most likely would push him to the bench, as the Rays look for a replacement elsewhere.

 

2020 Projection: 72 R, 35 HR, 88 RBI, 2 SB, .235/.302/.505

 

Yoshi Tsutsugo (DH/OF/1B/3B | Batting: 6)

2019: 74 R, 29 HR, 79 RBI, 0 SB, .272/.388/.511 (in Japan) | Position Rank: N/A

2020 ADP: 397 (#28 3B)

One of the newest members of the Rays, Yoshi Tsutsugo was posted by his Japanese team, the Yokohama DeNA BayStars, and signed a two-year deal with the Rays earlier this offseason. He recently turned twenty-eight, and while his 2019 slash line from Japan was the weakest of his career since he was twenty-one, if he produced that line in the Majors, I think the Rays and fantasy owners would be happy with that. He hit the ball hard in Japan, with an average 92 miles-per-hour exit velocity, that would be one of the best in baseball. It obviously remains to be seen how that translates to the Majors, but his offensive skills are the reason he was signed. He averaged thirty-four homers over the last four seasons in Japan, so he has the profile of a slugger. He has power to all fields, and if he can maintain his strong 13% career walk rate in Japan, he should be a well-above-average hitter in the Majors. He’s shown good pitch recognition in the past, which I think should translate well, which should make him a well-rounded hitter.

I currently have him slotted in as the everyday designated hitter because from all reports, the defense is not good. If he was a better defender, the left-handed-hitting Tsutsigo would be an obvious platoon match with Renfroe in right field, but the way the Rays roster looks now, I think their best lineup would include both Tsutsugo and Renfroe. Interestingly, the Rays announced Tsutsugo as an outfielder and third baseman in their press release of the signing, which according to all of the reports I’ve seen, it would not be a wise move to play him there for an extended period of time.  He hasn’t played either of the corner infield spots regularly since 2014, but it would be worth a shot to see what he looks like there in spring training to see if he can stick there. While I expect Tustsugo to see the majority of his playing time at designated hitter, it’s a strong possibility that he gets a handful of starts at the corner infield and outfield spots, which should gain him multi-position eligibility, which is always a plus from a fantasy perspective.

Overall, I would expect Tsutsugo to be close to thirty homers with a wRC+ that could top off at around 120 as it stands right now. There is risk obviously in that he’s yet to see a single Major League pitch, which will likely cause his price to fall on draft day, and there’s also some risk in that he’s already on the side of the aging curve where most hitters start to experience regression, and it could be argued that the regression has already kicked in with his 2019 season being the weakest for Tsutsugo in Japan in many years. His profile isn’t one that typically ages well, but for one season, I think Tsutsugo can be a cheap, productive hitter that will ultimately provide a positive return for his fantasy owners. Just don’t expect his stat line from Japan.

Strengths – HR, AVG 

Weaknesses –  SB  

Best Case Scenario

 

Perhaps because Major League pitchers have yet to figure out how to pitch to him, Tsutsugo sets the league on fire, becoming a sensational hitter, and a pleasant surprise for the Rays and his fantasy owners at the same time, eclipsing thirty homers and one hundred RBI.

 

Worst Case Scenario

 

Tsutsugo cannot adapt well to Major League pitching, and he doesn’t live up to his reputation as a hitter, which combined with his weak defense, most likely pushes him to the bench.

 

2020 Projection: 65 R , 30 HR, 82 RBI, 0 SB, .255/.335/.475

 

Jose Martinez (DH/OF/1B | Batting: )

2019: 45 R, 10 HR, 45 RBI, 3 SB, .269/.340/.410 | Position Rank: #113 OF (per ESPN Player Rater)

2020 ADP: 472 (#33 1B)

Jose Martinez is a hitter who has desperately needed to get out of the National League, and with an offseason trade to the Rays, he’s on the right path to becoming a more valuable player. Without the designated hitter in the National League, he’s always been battling for playing time, because he doesn’t have the glove that would make a National League manager comfortable every day. While he will likely still see the field with the Rays, having the luxury of being able to place him at DH should open up more playing time. He’s deserving of that playing time too, as his bat has the potential to be special with consistent playing time. He’s been a Statcast darling going back to 2017, with xwOBA marks on .426 and .384 in 2017 and 2018 respectively to go along with outstanding xSLG marks on .606 and .521 in those same respective seasons, and there was a lot to be excited about, but after a rocky 2019 in which he dealt with injuries and his once strong Statcast numbers fell down to a .343 xwOBA and .466 xSLG, combined with the fact that he’ll be thirty-two in July, and it’s possible that his best days are behind him, which is a shame as he could have been something really special had he been traded to the Rays, say three years ago.

However, Martinez is still likely to play a big role for the Rays. Despite his numbers being down in 2019, he still excelled at raking against left-handed pitching, posting a .329/.397/.600 line against southpaws, with a .414 wOBA and 160 wRC+ to go with it. He should definitely be in the lineup against every single left-handed pitcher, but I do wonder how often he’ll play against the strong side of the platoon. Other hitters like Meadows, Choi, and Tsutsugo should be locked into the lineup against right-handers, which only leaves one more spot for three hitters between Martinez, Renfroe, and the other piece of the trade in Randy Arozarena, and that is a battle that will likely be fluid throughout the season.

Overall, Martinez will likely be a valuable piece for the Rays in 2020, but if he’s getting the majority of his playing time against left-handers almost exclusively, it will kill his fantasy value, as he might only play two times a week. I do think the Rays will do a good job rotating between Martinez and Renfroe, but until we see how it plays out in the regular season, Martinez’s value is likely to be low for fantasy purposes. He could be one of the best lefty-mashers in the league, but he’s not as attractive with his declining 2019 metrics and tough path to everyday playing time.

Strengths – SLG

Weaknesses –  PA/AB, SB  

Best Case Scenario

 

Martinez beats out Renfroe and Arozarena for jobs in the spring, getting everyday playing time, and now with more time to recover from his injuries, rakes at the level he did in 2017 and 2018, this time with more playing time, which makes him a must-add for fantasy purposes.

 

Worst Case Scenario

 

Martinez sees the vast majority of his playing time against left-handed pitching, and while he does well in that role, doesn’t make him very relevant for fantasy purposes.

 

2020 Projection: 38 R , 11 HR, 36 RBI, 1 SB, .275/.336/.455

 

Randy Arozarena (OF| Batting: )

2019: 4 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 SB, .300/.391/.500 | Position Rank: N/A

2020 ADP: 500+ (#130 OF)

In my opinion, Arozarena was the real get for the Rays in the Matthew Liberatore trade, and for good reason. He’s long been an underrated prospect and has done nothing but hit his way through the minors. With the St. Louis Cardinals having a glut of outfielders and the chance to get a top pitching prospect, they felt comfortable moving Arozarena, and on the flipside, the Rays felt comfortable moving a top pitching prospect mostly for Arozarena.

In the minors in 2019, Arozarena absolutely dominated, with a .309/.422/.515 line in AA, before moving up to AAA for his second stint there and continuing to rake for a .358/.435/.593 line, with a .432 wOBA and a 151 wRC+, with an 8.5% walk rate and a very encouraging 17.0% strikeout rate. Despite those outstanding numbers, the Cardinals, in the midst of a playoff run, were only able to give Arozarena twenty-three plate appearances in 2019, in which he posted a .380 wOBA and a 138 wRC+, while also maintaining his good AAA walk and strikeout rates nearly exactly with an 8.7% walk rate and a 17.4% strikeout rate. This was an extremely small sample for sure, but he did show that he could hit the ball hard, with an average exit velocity of 90.7 miles-per-hour, and he also showed signs of good plate discipline, with a chase-rate of 21.3%, below the league average of 28.3%.

He also does remind me a bit of when the Rays acquired Yandy Diaz, as he was another hitter who hit the ball hard that they felt they could make better. And while Diaz is maybe still a work in progress, there is a similar profile when it comes to Arozarena. As was the case with Diaz, Arozarena hits a lot of groundballs, not just in his brief cameo in the Majors in which he hit 56.3% grounders, but also in his minor league career. In his minor league career, his low for groundball rate was when he was in A-ball in 2017, where he hit 44.7% groundballs, and his groundball rate was as high as 54.9% in AA in 2019. He hits the ball hard but hits too many grounders, which is frustrating but also shows an area where he could improve. Overall, he’s projected to be roughly league average at the plate in his first full season, which is not bad at all, and there is plenty of upside. On the defensive side of things, he should be passable in centerfield, which could create an intriguing scenario in which he starts over Kiermaier against left-handed pitching. He might be on the outside looking in for an everyday spot as of now, but with a good spring training, he could be a sneaky option late in drafts, and if he ends up with a starting spot, I think he could make a real impact in 2020.

Strengths – AVG, SB

Weaknesses –  PA/AB, HR 

Best Case Scenario

 

Arozarena earns an everyday spot out of spring training and never relinquishes it, which means he is performing exceptionally well, as he’s an above-average hitter with decent pop and speed, and he also shows that he could get even better by cutting down on his groundball rate.

 

Worst Case Scenario

 

Arozarena starts off slow out of the gate in 2020, which pushes him to the bench or back to the minor leagues, where he continues his trend of mashing AAA pitching while waiting for another Major League opportunity.

 

2020 Projection: 40 R , 10 HR, 38 RBI, 7 SB, .289/.342/.435

 

Manuel Margot (OF| Batting: )

2019: 59 R, 12 HR, 37 RBI, 20 SB, .234/.304/.387 | Position Rank: 74 (per ESPN Player Rater)

2020 ADP: 349 (#82 OF)

 

Well, the Rays trade for Manuel Margot complicates things just a little bit in terms of projecting playing time within their lineup. At the moment, I would expect Margot to platoon with Kiermaier in center field. Being a right-handed hitter, Margot won’t get the most playing time of the platoon, which does limit his fantasy value. A look at his overall slash line from 2019 and his career would suggest that he has limited fantasy value anyway, and unless you’re looking for cheap steals, Margot wouldn’t likely be an option for most anyway.

However, Margot I think Margot is likely to produce plenty of value for the Rays in 2020. Not only is his defense elite, but he hits lefties pretty well. In 2019, he hit .330/.420/.466-good enough for a .383 wOBA and a 139 wRC+ against left-handers, which is ahead of some other notable right-handed hitters such as Gleyber Torres and Ronald Acuna Jr.  While he may not be that good going forward (those numbers may be propped up by a .416 BABIP), even if he hits for 80% of what he did against lefties last season (roughly a 111 wRC+), he should still provide value for the Rays with his outstanding defense and speed, and he should still see plenty of opportunities in the field late in games that he isn’t starting as a defensive replacement, as a late-inning outfield with him, Renfroe, and Kiermaier could be one of the best in the game, and would allow the Rays to be pretty flexible with their players. Overall though, Margot is not likely to make a fantasy impact in 2020, although he could be a streaming option if the Rays end up facing multiple lefty starters in a week.

 

Strengths – SB

Weaknesses –  PA/AB, HR, AVG, OBP 

Best Case Scenario

 

Margot ends up with more playing time than expected and makes the most out of those opportunities with improvements in his overall offensive game, which makes him fantasy relevant for than just steals.

 

Worst Case Scenario

 

Margot is mostly a bench option for the Rays, playing maybe twice a week and against the short end of the platoon, which crushes whatever fantasy value he has at this point and he sits on the waiver wire for the entire season.

 

2020 Projection: 42 R , 8 HR, 37 RBI, 12 SB, .250/.315/.415

 

Playing Time Battles

 

Right Field: Hunter Renfroe vs. Jose Martinez vs. Randy Arozarena. As I mentioned during the Martinez write-up, I think as of right now, there are three hitters competing for one open spot in the lineup. While it’s definitely possible that all three are in the lineup against lefties, there’s going to be a battle for which of these three play against righties, as all three are right-handed hitters, and the Rays have their other two outfield spots locked in and Tsutsugo should be the designated hitter most days against right-handers. Whoever ends up winning this playing time battle will likely see their fantasy value go up, while the other two will likely see their’s drop. This is a battle that may very well play out over the course of the season, and I could see the three being rotated heavily to start the season until someone emerges. If I had to pick one of the three to start on Opening Day, I would probably go with Renfroe, as he probably has the most potential for power at the moment, as well as plus defense in the field, but with a start to the season that is reminiscent of his second-half from 2019, the Rays shouldn’t hesitate to pull the plug and go with another option in that spot. Another wild card in this is how the Rays feel about Tsutsugo’s outfield defense. If they feel like he could be passable there, he may very well be the primary right fielder, which would likely push Martinez to the everyday designated hitter role, with both Renfroe and Arozarena on the outside looking in. It’s too early to project this playing time battle right now, but there should be more clarity as spring training rolls on.

Projected Lineup

 

Tampa Bay Rays Projected Lineup vs RHP

 

Tampa Bay Rays Projected Lineup vs LHP

 

Conclusion

 

While the Tampa Bay Rays lineup may be missing some of the star power of some other lineups around the league, Tampa Bay has collected a nice surplus of hitters that should be above-average at the plate. As of writing, the Rays lineup projects for the 12th most batter WAR by Steamer, which is right along the lines of where they were a season ago. While their projections trail other American League postseason-hopefuls such as the Houston Astros, New York Yankees, and Minnesota Twins, among others, the Rays have plenty of offensive depth that some of the other hopefuls lack. The Rays are well equipped to handle injuries or underperformance and have consistently gotten more with less. While the team would likely have loved to keep Tommy Pham around in a perfect world, the Rays will likely continue rolling right along as if nothing ever happened. Meadows is the only hitter featured with an ADP inside the top-150, but that doesn’t mean the lineup is bad, and I have a feeling that several Rays will have stronger-than-expected seasons, as the Rays fight for the postseason in 2020.

Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Matt Wallach

Matt writes for Pitcher List and Rotoballer and is a lifelong fan of the New York Yankees. He can be found always talking baseball on Twitter @Wallach18.

4 responses to “Analyzing Tampa Bay Rays Hitters For 2020 – 60-Game Season Update”

  1. Avatar Tim A says:

    everything looks so fresh. this site is the future! Go Expos!! err I mean Go Rays!

  2. Avatar Ryan says:

    Why do the Rays hate Nate Lowe?

    • Avatar Dave says:

      Yeah, I was hoping to read something positive about his outlook – instead there’s just deafening silence. I’m guessing he and McKay will start in the minors given the Rays’ depth. Even though they both have 2 MiLB options remaining, they’re both 24 years old and appear MLB ready. It seems like a waste to keep them down.

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