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2010 Tampa Bay Rays Preview

James Shields, RHP
Matt Garza, RHP
David Price, LHP
Jeff Niemann, RHP
Wade Davis, RHP

Closers and Setup
Rafael Soriano, RHP
J.P. Howell, LHP

Starting Lineup
Jason Bartlett, SS
Carl Crawford, LF
Evan Longoria, 3B
Carlos Pena, 1B
Ben Zobrist, 2B
B.J. Upton, CF
Pat Burrell, DH
Matt Joyce, RF
Kelly Shoppach, C

Player in Decline

Carlos Pena possesses the infamous old-player skills. He walks, he strikes out, and he hits home runs with a few shift-beating bunts thrown in for fun. With that said, Pena is entering his 32-year-old season and probably shouldn’t be counted upon to match his recent production with a high degree of certainty.

Player on the Rise

Matt Joyce is intriguing if for no other reason than because most will have forgot about his presence. He should receive the lion’s share of plate appearances in right field and has strong power and walk abilities with some speed as well.

Top 5 Fantasy Players
Carl Crawford: Elite
Evan Longoria: Elite
B.J. Upton: Average
Ben Zobrist: Average
Carlos Pena: Average

Top 10 Prospects
1. Desmond Jennings, OF
2. Jeremy Hellickson, RHP
3. Tim Beckham, SS
4. Wade Davis, RHP
5. Matt Moore, LHP
6. Nick Barnese, RHP
7. Luke Bailey, C
8. Reid Brignac, SS
9. Alexander Colome, RHP
10. Kyle Lobstein, LHP

Overall Team Outlook: The Rays club figures to be competitive for the third consecutive season. Whether or not it has enough to secure a playoff position will be the question.

The Starting Rotation: One of the strengths for the team figures to be the rotation. Led by the underappreciated James Shields and the fiery Matt Garza, the Rays also boast a few tantalizing young arms alongside which their playoff hopes may ride. Shields is a workhorse who has topped 200 innings each of the past three seasons and should break the franchise single-season record for wins (14) sooner than later. Lacking offensive support has led to so-so win-loss records, but have no doubt about it, he’s the Rays’ best starter.

Garza shares something in common with the duo of David Price and Wade Davis in the sense that this could be a coming out season of sorts with a high probability at a career-best ERA. The highly touted Price started last season in Durham amidst much controversy but upon reaching the Majors showed he still had some things to learn. Davis, on the other hand, exceeded expectations in his brief showing with the Rays. His first start included striking out six batters through two innings.

With all that talent it’s easy for Jeff Niemann to be lost in the crowd, something the 6’10” righty is not used to experiencing. Niemann will have to wine and dine Lady Luck once more to repeat or top his rookie season. Each has double-digit win potential.

The Bullpen: One of the more surprising moves of the offseason was the Rays acquisition of Atlanta closer Rafael Soriano. In Atlanta, Soriano was flanked by lefty Mike Gonzalez; with the Rays he’ll be paired with J.P. Howell, who is equally as talented. The hard-throwing Grant Balfour and blasé veteran Dan Wheeler should also play big roles, but most of the saves will go Soriano’s way.

The Starting Lineup: The most glaring change for the Rays will come behind the plate. Incumbent starting catcher Dioner Navarro will take a smaller role with Kelly Shoppach on board. Carlos Pena and Ben Zobrist figure to man the right side of the infield while the amazing Evan Longoria and Jason Bartlett cover the left. In the outfield, stolen-base threats Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton will welcome the long-awaited Matt Joyce, while Gabe Kapler receives a fair share of playing time as well. Despite their best efforts, the Rays figure to roll with Pat Burrell as designated hitter.

Last year, the Rays sent each of their non-catcher infielders to the All-Star game, a feat unaccomplished in some 40 years. Unlike some of the Rays’ recent lineups, this one figures to pack some power with the addition of Shoppach (who has as many home runs as Joe Mauer over the past two seasons) and Joyce. Zobrist and Bartlett don’t figure to replicate their 2009 performances, but then again, neither do Upton or Burrell. Look for Crawford and Bartlett to score runs while Longoria, Pena, and Zobrist drive them in. Nearly every starter has either home-run or stolen-base potential, as well.

The Bench: Willy Aybar, Navarro, and Kapler seem locked in as the top three bench players. The Rays have a plethora of positional players on the cusp of contributing to the big league club, including Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac. The question is more or less which can help more now and whose development will be hurt less.