This pool of talent only stands to improve with the arrival of Jeremy Hellickson, widely regarded as the first or second best pitching prospect in baseball depending on who you ask. Additionally, the Rays believe they have a replacement for Carl Crawford in stud prospect Desmond Jennings. The Rays also made headlines in the offseason by going out and signing two former Red Sox greats in Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon.
While these two should provide valuable veteran experience to the team and decent bats at the DH position, at this stage in their careers it would be a major surprise it their value went any further beyond that. While the Rays should still be a decent team, the loss of some of their biggest names and the fact that the most reliable arm in their bullpen may be Kyle Farnsworth should be enough to land them securely behind the Yankees and Red Sox in the division race.
Key Additions: Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon
Key Losses: Matt Garza, Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Grant Balfour, Rafael Soriano, Joaquin Benoit, Dan Wheeler, Jason Bartlett
C: John Jaso
1B: Dan Johnson
2B: Sean Rodriguez
3B: Evan Longoria
SS: Reid Brignac
LF: Desmond Jennings
CF: BJ Upton
RF: Ben Zobrist
DH: Manny Ramirez
1: David Price
2: James Shields
3: Jeff Niemann
4: Wade Davis
5: Jeremy Hellickson
CL: Kyle Farnsworth
Critical Players to Success:
Kyle Farnsworth: Outside of Farnsworth the Rays don’t have a single name in their bullpen who any manager would be comfortable trotting out in the 9th to close out a game. Farnsworth absolutely has to perform well until J.P. Howell returns or the Rays’ season could get ugly quick.
Wade Davis: Davis showed glimpses of his bright future towards the end of last season and on into the playoffs. The Ray’s need a solid, reliable starter behind Price and Davis is capable of being that guy if he can keep up his success.
Evan Longoria: Nobody is concerned about Longoria having success, but his presence in the middle of this lineup will be absolutely vital to the Rays’ run scoring capabilities. He is the lone true power threat in this lineup outside of Manny and it will be his job to drive their numerous speedy, contact hitters in.
Check out the other 2011 MLB Team Previews.