Fantasy Breakdown: Tampa Bay Rays for 2021

A preview of the Tampa Bay Ray's lineup, rotation, and bullpen for 2021

As we prepare for the season ahead, the Pitcher List staff will be creating profiles for every fantasy-relevant player for 2021. Players will be broken up by team and role through starting pitchers, bullpen, lineup, and prospects. You can access every article as it comes out in our Player Profiles 2021 hub here.

 

Hitters

Starting Pitchers

Relief Pitchers

 

At A Glance

 

The defending American League Champions are going to look very different in 2021, as they seem to after each off-season. Retool, refocus, and reinvent has been the Rays’ mantra since their inception, but never has the timing been so tender.

After lamenting a similar salary dump last winter, Blake Snell was sent to San Diego in exchange for major-league pieces Luis Patiño and Francisco Mejía plus prospects Cole Wilcox and Blake Hunt. Nate Lowe and José Alvarado were also dealt in separate deals and Hunter Renfroe was designated for assignment, leaving holes all over the roster.

However, as always with the Rays, it will be exciting to see how they plug the boat without ever letting water on-board. The lineup is littered with talent, albeit in an un-sexy manner. Brandon Lowe will look to build upon his impressive 2020, Randy Arozarena may be a budding star in this league, Austin Meadows should bounce back after a choppy season, and Wander Franco is waiting in the wings. This core will, per usual, be flanked by platoons as far the eyes can see.

On paper, their rotation has taken a clear step back with Snell’s departure. Tyler Glasnow still has another gear to reach and Ryan Yarbrough has developed into a rock-solid middle of the rotation type, but it is anyone’s guess as to how the rest of the staff will fill itself out.

The Rays seem to like it that way, though, consistently finding new ways to blur the lines between starter and reliever. Patiño will have a role with the major league club, as will newly acquired Michael Wacha, but ‘starter’ may be a generous term for either, especially in a fantasy sense. Behind them, there is a slew of veterans and prospects who could all have some sort of role as the season wears on.

Clearly, pitching depth is aplenty and that will help the Rays’ bullpen to remain elite. The three-headed-monster of Nick Anderson, Diego Castillo, and Peter Fairbanks will all command high-leverage roles and mix in for saves. Ryan Thomspon and John Curtiss will look to build upon their formidable postseasons. Past them, we can be certain there will be plenty of fluidity in this bullpen. The Rays’ next best reliever may not even be on the roster yet.

 

Hitters

By James Schiano

Projected Lineup

 

Infielders

 

Brandon Lowe (2B)

2020: 36 R, 14 HR, 37 RBI, 3 SB, .269/.362/.554 | 2B #3

2021 ADP: 70.61 (2B #6)

From MVP-candidate to postseason dud, Lowe managed to fit his entire range of outcomes as a hitter into the shortened 2020 season. On August 24th, Lowe had 9 HRs in 29 games along with a manageable 22.9% strikeout rate and an extraordinary 190 wRC+. His name was being thrown around with some of the best hitters in the league and it seemed as if Lowe was staking his claim as a true impact player.

Then, he cratered. From August 25th on (27 games), Lowe slashed .231/.321/.418 with a 29.2% strikeout rate. His woes continued into the playoffs to the point where he was borderline unplayable.

An inability to consistently hit left-handed pitching lies at the root of Lowe’s struggles. As a rookie, he struck out 52.9% of the time against lefties in limited exposure (66 PAs). He was able to handle them during his hot-start in 2020 but again floundered as he fell deeper into his slump. The fear here is with so many infield options on the major league roster and even more talent in the upper minors ready for promotion, Lowe’s full-time role could quickly turn into a platoon. That adds some unwanted risk to the draft price and may spell trouble.

 

Willy Adames (SS)

2020: 29 R, 8 HR, 23 RBI, 2 SB, .259/.332/.481 | SS #19

2021 ADP: 300.59 (SS #28)

The only other Rays infielder who could possibly play every day, the once-heralded prospect has been mired in mediocrity since his debut. He enjoyed a modest breakout in 2020, collecting career-bests in wRC+ (124), ISO (.222), Barrel% (9.9), and Hard Hit% (40.5). These gains came at the expense of contact, as his K% and Whiff% each rose sharply.

We are all aware of Wander Franco’s looming presence, but there is reason to believe the Rays don’t expose him at shortstop right away, especially while Adames remains an asset defensively. If he can continue to be at least league average at the plate, his sheer volume of PAs could prove to be a great value late in drafts.

 

Ji-Man Choi (1B)

2020: 16 R, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 0 SB, .230/.331/.410 | 1B #61

2021 ADP: 557.80 (1B #51)

The Gerrit Cole-killer, everyone’s favorite pudgy first basemen, Choi is a much more useful real life ballplayer than in a fantasy sense. Since he was acquired by the Rays in June of 2018, they have only allowed him to take 134 PAs against left-handed pitching, and with good reason.

Ji-Man Choi‘s Splits

Clearly, Choi’s role will never expand to that of an everyday player, nor should it. This makes him unplayable in most weekly leagues, but there is a path to effectiveness with Choi in daily leagues. He can legitimately be counted on for four-category production with favorable match-ups and can be a helpful player to roster or keep on one’s radar.

 

Michael Brosseau (1B/2B/3B)

2020: 12 R, 5 HR, 12 RBI, 2 SB, .302/.378/.558 | 1B #47

2021 ADP: 423.47 (1B #43)

Brosseau flashed his potential in 2018 with the Durham Bulls and has scratched and clawed his way into the Rays crowded infield rotation with impressive defensive versatility, sneaky power production, and clutch hitting. If he were on the Pirates, Orioles, or some other infield needy team, he would be a must-have on all 12-team rosters and would be featured on sleeper lists across the internet, but mountains would need to move for him to find his way into the Rays’ lineup with any sort of consistency. Of course, there is a world where the Rays hold Wander Franco in the minors for a healthy portion of the season, Brandon Lowe struggles with lefties, and other members of this infield fall victim to injuries, but you can feel comfortable leaving him on the waiver wire until these various dominoes fall.

 

Yandy Díaz (1B/3B)

2020: 16 R, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 0 SB, .307/.428/.386 | 3B #55

2021 ADP: 425.66 (3B #39)

The constituency calling for Díaz’s long-awaited breakout has dwindled dramatically. When he was traded from Cleveland to Tampa before the 2019 season, it felt like people were jumping out of buildings to let their takes loose. “A physical specimen”, “the Rays will help him improve his launch angle”, and “he finally has a path to regular playing time” were all apt reasons for him to breakthrough, but such has not come to fruition. Not to say Díaz is not incredibly useful; his plate discipline is up there with the league’s best, he provides a power right-handed bat that serves as a perfect platoon partner for Choi, and brings fire day in and day out. He is what he is and will provide value in deeper, daily leagues with a very limited ceiling.

 

Joey Wendle (2B/3B/SS)

2020: 24 R, 4 HR, 17 RBI, 8 SB, .286/.342/.435 | 3B #15

2021 ADP: 310.65 (3B# 33)

Known for his defense (and not wearing batting gloves), Wendle surprised with a heckuva 2020 campaign at the dish. Checking in with the fourth most PAs on the Rays, he provided legitimate production across four categories on route to the best offensive production of his career. Without taking into account his injury-riddled 2019 campaign, he has been an above-average contributor in each of his two full seasons with the Rays and is clearly trusted by the organization. By virtue of him still being the best defensive third baseman on this roster, he has the most logical path to consistent at-bats out of this entire platooning glut and can give you a few very important stolen bases at the back-end of the draft or off the waiver wire.

 

Mike Zunino (C)

2020: 8 R, 4 HR, 10 RBI, 0 SB, .147/.238/.360 | C #47

2021 ADP: Undrafted (C #47)

Zuino is not a good hitter, plain and simple. He performs a vital role with the Rays behind the plate and his knowledge of this deep and diverse pitching staff is impressive, but should not be on fantasy radars anywhere. He was begrudgingly brought back for his third consecutive one-year contract and the organization is certainly hoping this is finally the year he is usurped.

 

Francisco Mejía (C/OF)

*2019: 27 R, 8 HR, 22 RBI, 1 SB, .265/.316/.438 | C #N/A

2021 ADP: 537.07 (C #43)

The Rays have been mum on his role, but there is no doubt Mejía will have the opportunity to earn one after coming over from San Diego. However, there is literally nothing that he has done as a major league player to warrant any type of optimism. Hitting had been his calling card as a minor leaguer, carrying him all the way to a consensus top-25 prospect status in Cleveland’s system. Defensively, he has long been criticized for his inability to block the ball with any type of consistency and has never delivered positive value as a framer in the major leagues. 2020 represented his best season as a framer, though, which the Rays certainly value and may be enough to keep him behind the plate part-time.

In spite of all his detriments, Mejía clearly has talent, an avenue to at-bats, is just 25, and finds himself as a member of what most believe to be the smartest organization in the sport. That alone makes him worth a flier and he basically comes free with an ADP after 500. Who knows, maybe the Rays get out of him what may turn out to have been there all along. Most catchers do not debut until they are 23-25 anyway, so let us all agree to call this a fresh start.

 

Outfielders

 

Randy Arozarena (OF)

2020: 15 R, 7 HR, 11 RBI, 4 SB, .281/.382/.641 | OF #80

2021 ADP: 58.86 (OF #18)

If someone told you that Arozarena would be the 18th outfielder off the board 12 months ago, you’d probably say, “Arozarena? Is that some type of rice-dish?” But alas, here we are. The record holder for hits, total bases, and HRs in a single postseason, it will be almost impossible for the still-rookie to follow up his historic performance. Not that the potential is not present, Arozarena has some of the quickest hands in baseball right now and slugged 1.280 on pitches at or above 95 mph in 2020. In a league that will only continue to throw harder and harder, that is indicative of top-end ability. His power-speed combo is up there with the best players in the league and his plate discipline was above average through the minors, he very well could outperform this ADP.

The question is whether that is a worthwhile bet to make. It is difficult to justify taking a player with just 67 career (regular and postseason) games under his belt in the same range as George Springer, Aaron Judge, Marcell Ozuna, and Michael Conforto. A certain risk, how Arozarena follows up his heroics will be one of the most interesting storylines of the 2021 season.

 

Austin Meadows (OF/DH)

2020: 19 R, 4 HR, 13 RBI, 2 SB, .205/.296/.371 | OF #115

2021 ADP: 93.32 (OF #25)

Meadows would love to leave 2020 in the rear-view mirror. He seemed to be on the precipice of stardom after a 2019 campaign that saw him rank near the top of the league in Barrel%, xwOBA, xSLG, and xBA as just a 24-year-old. Rather than build off his breakout, Meadows was diagnosed with Covid-19 just two weeks before the 2020 season and found himself on the IL. It was obvious that the illness took a lot out of him as he struggled mightily over the first month of the season. Then when he finally seemed like he was getting his legs back under him, he fell victim to a strained oblique and proceeded to look lost from then through the World Series.

His poor 2020 creates what could be a great draft day opportunity. Just one year ago Meadows’ ADP sat in the mid-30s and most drafters are letting a poor 36 game stretch, that was mired by illness and injury, to knock him down nearly 60 spots. There is a lot to like about Meadows in this spot and there is a very very good chance he closes 2021 the same way he closed 2019, as the Rays best all-around hitter.

 

Manuel Margot (OF)

2020: 19 R, 1 HR, 11 RBI, 12 SB, .269/.327/.352 | OF #58

2021 ADP: 259.28 (OF #69)

It does not seem like Margot will ever live up to his top-prospect status (50-grade power, really?), but he is still plenty useful in both a real-life and fantasy sense. Always a defensive stalwart and supreme athlete, a few adjustments made at the dish last season that could signal his mini-breakout is the start of something more. He has always exhibited solid plate discipline and dropped his K% to a career-best 15.7% in 2020. He was able to be more aggressive at the plate without his BB% taking a hit, too, and pulled the ball at a career-high rate.

More important to some fantasy owners out there, Margot was more aggressive on the base-paths than he’s ever been. There is a legitimate chance he eclipses 500 PAs in 2021 given his fit as an everyday brighter fielder, a right-handed center fielder to spell Kiermaier, and the Rays’ clear trust in his ability to hit. Imagine if someone had told you Margot would hit clean-up in a World Series game? Margot is a great value pick going outside of the top 60 OFs.

 

Yoshi Tsutugo (OF/DH)

2020: 27 R, 8 HR, 24 RBI, 0 SB, .197/.314/.395 | OF #75

2021 ADP: 489.27 (OF #119)

Unexpectedly, Tsutugo was third on the Rays in PAs in 2020 despite his inability to find any consistency at the plate or carve out a home defensively. Clearly, after bringing him over from Japan and committing so many at-bats to him, the Rays have confidence in his ability and are aware Tsutugo fell victim to some serious bad luck on his balls in play. His xBA, xSLG, xwOBA, and xwOBAcon all checked in higher than their non-expected counterparts in addition to his Hard Hit% being in the top 14% of all qualified hitters. A simple regression to the mean would create a great value on draft day.

Of course, his profile is not without warts. Like many hitters who come over from Asia, Tsutugo struggled mightily with major-league velocity. His 25.4 Whiff% and 31.1 K% on fastballs were both near the bottom of the league and must improve if he is to sustain success in the major leagues, especially with a bevy of potential designated hitter and corner outfield options jockeying for playing time in Tampa Bay.

 

Kevin Kiermaier (OF)

2020: 16 R, 3 HR, 22 RBI, 8 SB, .217/.321/.362 | OF #70

2021 ADP: 484.01 (OF #115)

Kiermaier has always derived his fantasy value out of a playing time guarantee. He is one of only two Rays (along with Adames) to top 1000 PAs over the last three seasons, and that is in spite of various injuries and general incompetence at the plate. However, he has been out there day in and day out because of that silky smooth glove. While he is yet to regress in center, the Rays have begun to look beyond Kiermaier. He turns 31 in April, his name has been in and out of trade discussions this winter, and it is difficult to ignore the presence of Margot. With any hit at all to his playing time, Kiermaier will fall from a possible source of stolen bases to completely off the fantasy radar.

 

Watch List Considerations

Ah, the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Drum roll brrrbrrrrbrrrrr… Wander Franco (ADP 312.34) is banging on the door and ready to make an impact. Projection systems are mixed on him, given the fact that he has never seen a pitch above High-A ball, but all expect him to play somewhere around 100 games and immediately produce in all five categories. We cannot discount the chance, as remote as it may seem now, that the Rays’ penchant for fiscal prudence keeps him in the minor leagues longer than expected, perhaps even the entire season. I am not saying that is likely, but stranger things have happened. There is tons of risk/reward in drafting the soon-to-be 20-year-old.

If that did wind up as the case, Vidal Bruján (ADP 530.62) would assume the jack-of-all-trades rookie role many are pegging for Franco. Bruján may not be as dynamic, but he is plenty talented in his own right. A silky smooth athlete with blazing speed and above-average bat to ball skills, there is a decent shot he finds his way on the Rays and contributes this season. Apart from the two studs, prospects Taylor Walls, Tristan Gray, Kevin Padlo, and Tyler Frank all have more experience in the upper minors than Bruján or Franco and could get the call first depending on how the spring shakes out. None have the talent to make an impact like the aforementioned studs, though, but each can be useful for a period of time and may wind up on deeper league radars with an injury here or there.

While the Rays’ infield depth is vast, their outfield is relatively thin. Any injury to one of their starters would leave a platoon-sized hole at a key position and open the door for 2016 first-round pick Josh Lowe. Drafted out of high school, it took Lowe a few years to adjust to professional ball before his monster breakout in 2019 that saw him smack 18 home runs and swipe 30 bags in 121 games for the Montgomery Biscuits (AA). Lowe is big, fast, powerful, and a serious dark-horse to play a big role for the Rays in 2021.

Lastly, I’ve made my disdain for Zunino known and Mejía is a question mark until proven otherwise. Veteran Kevan Smith or prospect Ronaldo Hernández could each find themselves in a position to find some meaningful at-bats this season and there is an incredibly low threshold to being ownable in two-catcher leagues.

 

 

Starting Pitchers

By James Schiano

 

Tyler Glasnow (Locked In Starter)

2020: 5-1, 57.1 IP, 91 K, 4.08 ERA, 1.13 WHIP | SP #23

2021 ADP: 53.03 (P #17)

Repertoire: 60.6% Fastball, 34.8% Curveball, 4.7% Changeup

The fantasy community has been on pins and needles waiting for the Rays to unleash Glasnow. Since his acquisition from the Pirates at the 2018 trade deadline, he has pitched into the 7th inning just seven times despite no longer struggling with control and being incredibly effective. Glasnow has been in the middle of the pack in both pitches per inning and pitches per batter, a shocking development considering where he was just a few short years ago. Moreover, his 7.9 BB% is a nonissue and 33.3 K% is 6th highest in the league over that same period, nestled between Jacob deGrom and Shane Bieber

So, again, the main force restricting Glasnow’s fantasy value is the Rays. Of the top 20 ADP pitchers on NFC, Glasnow is the only one who has averaged less than 80 pitches per start. One other member was in the 80s: former Ray Blake Snell. It is unlikely the Rays’ philosophy will change in a single offseason, making Glasnow’s draft-day price a bit expensive. Until he develops a consistent third pitch or is allowed to see lineups a third time, his ADP will always be more about ceiling rather than performance.

 

Ryan Yarbrough (Locked In Starter)

2020: 1-4, 55.2 IP, 44 K, 3.56 ERA, 1.19 WHIP | SP #109

2021 ADP: 260.50 (P #97)

Repertoire: 36.0% Cutter, 30.0% Changeup, 23.4% Sinker, 10.7% Curveball

Snell’s departure makes Yarbrough’s inning-eating role incredibly important for Tampa Bay this season, as he is the only pitcher on the roster who has thrown at least 140 innings in any of the last three seasons. That being said, there is nothing about his profile to suggest this role will lead to any type of advancement in his game. One of the softest tossers in the league, Yarbrough gets by with deception and mixing up his repertoire to keep both righties and lefties off balance. He has been in the top 1% of opposing Exit Velocity in back-to-back years and seems to have a true knack for limiting solid contact. Draft him as a steady-eddy, solid yet unspectacular source of IP, W, and a low WHIP.

 

 

 

Luis Patiñ0 (Likely Starter)

2020: 1-0, 17.1 IP, 21 K, 5.19 ERA, 1.85 WHIP | SP #N/A

2021 ADP: 457.28 (P #176)

Repertoire: 64.8% Fastball, 18.1% Slider, 17.2% Changeup

Here is what we call a wildcard. The centerpiece coming over from San Diego, Patiño has as wide a range of outcomes as any pitcher in baseball. Universally dubbed an elite prospect, Patiño boasts three plus pitches: a fastball that sits 96+, a nasty mid 80s slider, and a power changeup that checks in around 88-89. His stock has risen incredibly quickly and will pitch this entire season at 21 years old with only four professional seasons under his belt.

For that reason, he is still incredibly raw. Patiño had trouble repeating his mechanics and locating each of his three pitches with the Padres last season. His 16.5 BB% was outrageous and the main limiting factor to his success. Luckily, he finds himself in the pitching development capital of the world. The Rays helped Glasnow and Fairbanks reign in erratic, cutting fastballs to deliver the ride necessary to missing bats rather than missing the strike zone. As long as they have some of their fairy dust in stock, there is no doubt Patiño realizes his frontline, All-Star potential sooner rather than later. Given the fact that his service clock has already begun and the Rays’ lack of top-end rotation options, his ADP feels like a risk worth taking.

 

Rich Hill (Likely Starter)

2020: 2-2, 38.2 IP, 31 K, 3.03 ERA, 1.16 WHIP | SP #87

2021 ADP: 489.7 (P #175)

Repertoire: 45.6% Curveball, 44.3% Fastball, 3.7% Slider, 3.6% Cutter, 2.6% Sinker

Very on theme for their off-season, the Rays signed Hill to a 1 year deal worth $2.5 million on February 12th. He has been 2-pitch pitcher since his renaissance with the Dodgers, relying on his dominant curveball to keep hitters off balance. Since the start of 2017 it has allowed a 3.7% Barrel Rate and .095 ISO while making it possible for his 88 mph fastball to be effective. Sure, he will never be dominant or get close to 200 IP, but Hill serves a valuable purpose for Tampa Bay and is a definite candidate to sneak on to fantasy radars.

 

Chris Archer (Likely Starter)

2019*: 3-9, 119.2 IP, 143 K, 5.19 ERA, 1.41 WHIP | SP #333

2021 ADP: 519.84 (P #187)

Repertoire: 39.9% Fastball, 35.5% Slider, 12.1% Changeup, 10.4% Sinker, 2.1% Curveball

I’m coming home, I’m coming home, tell the world I’m coming home: cue the music! The Rays signed Archer to a one-year, $6.5 million pact on February 2nd and while it is unlikely he will match his production from his last stint in Tampa Bay, he fits nicely into this mess of fringe starters. Archer missed all of 2020 after surgery to combat thoracic outlet syndrome, but showed signs of life during the second half of 2019. He ditched his ineffective sinker in favor of more four-seamers which helped him to bring up his K% dramatically.

29 other teams sign Archer and no one bats an eye, but the Rays track record with both him and reclamation projects, in general, is reason enough for intrigue. His slider is still plus and without that sinker bogging down his repertoire, he could be effective. There are worse fliers to take with your last pick, even without the guarantee for innings.

 

Michael Wacha (Likely Starter)

2020: 1-4, 34.0 IP, 37 K, 6.62 ERA, 1.56 WHIP | SP #247

2021 ADP: 536.29 (P #195)

Repertoire: 42.5% Fastball, 29.2% Changeup, 26.9% Cutter, 1.3% Curveball

With only two certified, definite starters in this rotation, it is anyone’s guess how the rest of this pitching staff will shake out. Wacha represents the first of many, many mildly intriguing options. Last season marked the second consecutive season where he struggled mightily with run prevention, but the Rays saw enough underlying developments to give him a shot.

Wacha still has a devastating changeup and last year marked the third consecutive season where he increased its usage. Wacha also has an incredibly ineffective fastball and threw it at a career-low clip last season. Wacha’s curveball was an unmitigated disaster from 2o18-2019, and he all but removed it from his repertoire. Additionally, Wacha adjusted most of his pitch designs, adding drop and ride to his cutter and creating previously minimal ride on his changeup. All in all, his K/BB rose to a career-high level and while his role is yet to be determined, there is some sort of foundation the Rays can work with here.

 

Josh Fleming (Fringe Starter)

2020: 5-0, 32.1 IP, 25 K, 2.78 ERA, 1.08 WHIP | SP #44

2021 ADP: 498.52 (P #192)

Repertoire: 53.4% Sinker, 29.8% Slider, 15.7% Changeup, 0.9% Fastball, 0.1% Curveball

Entirely unspectacular, Fleming profiles as a useful innings-eater/bulk guy for Tampa Bay and just barely on the edge of fantasy radars. He cannot boast the swing and miss stuff as many of his counterparts and is basically Yarbrough-light. The soft-tossing lefty, however, is adept at getting movement on his pitches. His sinker ranks near the top of the league in both drop and fade while his changeup also has significant drop. The ceiling is limited, but Fleming will more than likely wind up as a valuable streamer when he gets a shot at the Orioles.

 

Brent Honeywell Jr. (Fringe Starter)

2020: Rookie* | SP #N/A

2021 ADP: 572.52 (P #221)

Repertoire: N/A

Oh man, is this a long time coming. I have long been a fan of Honeywell; between his incredibly nuanced repertoire, luscious flow, and killer instinct it is hard not to root for the guy. His debut was supposed to come at the end of 2017, but the Rays kept him down. He then required Tommy John surgery during the following spring training. He was on track to come back at some point during the 2019 season before he fractured a bone in his right elbow while rehabbing. After being with the team at their alternate site during 2020, he needed two additional elbow surgeries, with the most recent coming in early December. Despite the four procedures in less than three years, he is on track to be at full strength by the spring.

Coming back from this type of hardship would be Herculean, but Honeywell is chomping at the bit to do so. All indications say he totes a vaunted five-pitch-mix, including his famous screwball, and tremendous control to boot. It is difficult to take stock in minor league statistics from more half a decade ago, so any scouting reports or firsthand accounts that come out of camp will be paramount to fairly valuing him in drafts. That being said, there are worse guys to take a shot on with the last spot on your roster.

 

Shane McClanahan (Fringe Starter)

2020: Rookie* | SP #N/A

2021 ADP: Undrafted (P #248)

Repertoire: N/A

McClanahan made history last October becoming the first pitcher in MLB history to make their major league debut during the postseason. He was used mostly in either mop-up duty or during irrelevant points of the series, but the Rays’ willingness to have him on their roster bodes well for his potential usage this season. A first-round pick back in 2018, McClanahan has the exact type of minor league profile you look for in late-round fliers.

His fastball has excellent ride and sits 95-97 while his curveball (which is more like a slurve) is plus. His changeup is still developing, but his command was terrific through the minors as he earned a 3.63 K/BB across four levels during two professional seasons. He will likely have some sort of role to open the season with the opportunity to earn more of a share with any type of success.

 

Trevor Richards (Fringe Starter)

2020: 0-0, 32.0 IP, 27 K, 5.91 ERA, 1.72 WHIP | SP #280

2021 ADP: Undrafted (P #377)

Repertoire: 50.7% Fastball, 31.1% Changeup, 17.5% Curveball, 0.7% Cutter

If you looked up ‘Fringe Starter’ in the dictionary, Richard’s profile would pop up. He will likely be used to follow openers and get bulk innings before the Rays turn to their bullpen and should not be counted on for anything more than that. There is a chance he sticks in this role and winds up with anywhere from 100-140 IP and a smattering of wins, but should only be counted on in the juiciest of streaming scenarios in the deepest of fantasy leagues.

 

Watch List Considerations

The Rays blur the line between starter and reliever better than any team in baseball, which adds some confusion to this section. Anyone mentioned here besides Glasnow and Yarbrough comes with risk. As far as further names to watch, lefty Brendan McKay is at the top of the list. The former two-way prospect’s debut in 2019 was a mixed bag: he started out hot before being hit hard over his final few appearances. A positive Covid-19 test kept him out of summer camp and shoulder surgery ended his 2020 season before it could start. There is no telling when he will be ready, but he is someone to keep an eye out for.

Two other names could mix in for bulk/starting roles in Tampa Bay: David Hess and Joe Ryan. The Rays signed Hess to a minor league contract last month and the righty may mix in for a bulk role, but certainly nothing more. Ryan is more interesting, though. He mowed hitters down across three levels (A-, A+, AA) through 2018 and 2o19 behind a top-notch fastball and looping curve with excellent command. There is optimism that the development of his changeup and/or cutter could give him enough ammo to handle major league hitters, but may still be a season away.

 

Relief Pitchers

By James Schiano

 

Bullpen Roles

 

Nick Anderson (Closer)

2020: 6 SV, 6 HLD, 16.1 IP, 26 K, 0.55 ERA, 0.49 WHIP | RP #10

2021 ADP: 159.63 (P #57)

Anderson has truly established himself as one of the great relievers in the league. Of course, the Rays would never deploy him as such because who knows, they may need him in the third inning of a Game 5 and traditional closers do not operate in that fashion. While the saves will never come in the bunches fantasy owners crave, his career 42.2 K% is downright foolish, and scooping up Anderson after the first wave of closers go off the board will be great for your season-long ratios.

 

Peter Fairbanks (Setup)

2020: 0 SV, 7 HLD, 26.2 IP, 39 K, 2.70 ERA, 1.39 WHIP | RP #N/A

2021 ADP: 478.36 (P #185)

It is pretty unbelievable that year in and year out the Rays can pull elite relievers, seemingly out of thin air. Fairbanks is the latest installment of this phenomenon. The legend goes, Fairbanks’ elite fastball had too much run and not enough ride when he came over from the Rangers for Nick Solak in 2019. A quick alteration to his pitch design and bam, one of the best relievers in baseball was born. Fairbanks only got better as 2020 continued, making me think that he will be very much more in the mix for saves than he was even before his batch of strong postseason performances. This is a great price for someone who could very easily chip in 8-12 saves with elite ratios.

 

Diego Castillo (Setup)

2020: 4 SV, 5 HLD, 21.2 IP, 23 K, 1.66 ERA, 1.06 WHIP | RP #18

2021 ADP: 321.93 (P #123)

The emergence of first Anderson and now Fairbanks have caused many to forget about Castillo, but the big man is still plenty reliable despite becoming the third option on this team. His 147 IP over the last three seasons is far and away the most for any of the relievers currently in this bullpen and is fourth-most on this roster, only trailing Yarbrough, Wacha, and Glasnow.

One has to think that Castillo’s usage may eventually bode poorly for his performance. 2020 saw him earn his worst FIP by almost a full run as well as career worsts in K% and BB%. Seeing his ADP ahead of Fairbanks gives me pause, as it seems unlikely he winds up as the more effective option this season.

 

Ryan Thompson (Middle Relief)

2020: 1 SV, 4 HLD, 26.1 IP, 23 K, 4.44 ERA, 1.41 WHIP | RP #N/A

2021 ADP: Undrafted (P #N/A)

On with the parade of guys who have literally come out of nowhere. The Rays claimed Thompson off waivers from the Astros ahead of the 2019 season and the side-winder made his debut in 2020. Most teams like to have a few different arm slots in their bullpen and the Rays use Thomspon to help change the eye level of their opponents. He will face a heavy dose of right-handers in a medium-leverage role and certainly come away with a few holds.

 

John Curtiss (Long Man)

2020: 2 SV, 0 HLD, 25.0 IP, 25 K, 1.80 ERA, 0.96 WHIP | RP #N/A

2021 ADP: Undrafted (P #351)

Owner of the best stuff in this pen after the big three, Curtiss’ role and development will be interesting to track this season. Bouncing around between the Twins’, Angels’, and Phillies’ systems, he was unable to reign in his lively fastball. Walk rates consistently sat in the double digits as he toiled away in the minor leagues. The Rays swooped in and voila, Curtiss was in the 99th percentile of BB% last season as a swingman. It may take an injury or two for him to mix in for a higher leverage role, but he is someone to watch.

 

Collin McHugh (Long Man)

2019*: 0  SV, 4 HLD, 74.2 IP, 82 K, 4.70 ERA, 1.23 WHIP | RP #N/A

2021 ADP: Undrafted (P #388)

The Rays sent Aaron Slegers the Angles to clear a spot on their 40 Man Roster for Archer and then promptly signed McHugh to a 1 year deal to potentially fill that bullpen role. It has been over a year since McHugh pitched in the major leagues and more like two since he was effective. There is no guarantee he will break camp with the team, but may carve out a decent role for himself if so as a multi-inning receiver and spot starter. It likely will not be fantasy relevant, though.

 

Watch List Considerations

The Rays proclivity for bullpen construction is unmatched. Last season, only five relievers on their opening day roster were with the team in their final playoff game. In 2019, that number was just one. Their ability to go through a season and simply discover RPs who instantly become studs is truly unbelievable and impossible to predict. Realistically, they will pick up a handful of guys over the next eight months who become vital cogs in what will undoubtedly remain the best bullpen in baseball.

As for what we do know, both Colin Poche and Andrew Kittredge will be returning from injury at some point this season and likely mix in with medium-leverage roles. Apart from current 40-man roster members, Shane Baz has received rave reviews since coming over from Pittsburgh and apparently impressed during his time at the alternate site last season. While he still projects as a starter long term, he could very easily be counted on in the bullpen this season if need be.

 

ADP data taken from NFC composite ADPs

2020 Positional Rankings from Razzball’s 12-team Player Rater (ESPN).

Photo by Mark LoMoglio & Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter & IG)

James Schiano

Graduate of THE Ohio State University and New York City dweller, I am a die-hard Mets fan who can generally be found screaming at the TV or making wise-cracks to anyone who'll hear them. Follow me on Twitter @JeterHadNoRange

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