Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Jason Collette of Baseball Prospectus about the upcoming season, and to get his thoughts on the Tampa Bay Rays. Jason is a senior writer for Baseball Prospectus’ fantasy side, and has been providing fantasy baseball analysis for the past 14 years. In addition to his work with Baseball Prospectus, he also writes for TheProcessReport, a Rays fanblog that is part of the ESPN blog network. He was gracious enough to answer a few of my questions about the Rays.
DH: Baseball Prospectus projects the season on the basis of the PECOTA (Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm) system. Could you give us a brief overview of the system for those who may be unfamiliar with how it works?
JC: PECOTA is a system that looks at historical data, looking for constants on body type and age. It determines who the player most resembles at that age, not what the player is going to become. For example, Jake McGee at age 26 is compared to what Francisco Liriano, J.P. Howell and Johan Santana were at that age. It looks through historical data to project what the player will be that season.
DH: The season projections appear to be fairly positive for the Rays. What do you see as the keys for 2013 for the Rays?
JC: The biggest key for the Rays would be for Evan Longoria to stay healthy, particularly on defense where the replacements last season struggled. After that, the rotation needs to stay healthy, and their overall depth. Yunel Escobar at short should help solidify the lineup and their defense. The Rays should be deeper, but they need to replace roughly 50 home runs with the loss of B.J. Upton and Carlos Pena. Luke Scott needs to be better, and Desmond Jennings and James Loney may need to hit 15 home runs each.
DH: The loss of James Shields is a blow to the rotation. Do you foresee someone stepping up to replace Shields, or do you think it will be more of a committee approach?
JC: Everyone is going to need to eat extra innings. Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore in particular will need to go deeper into games. Jeff Niemann will need to stay healthy, and Roberto Hernandez is going to have to step up. It would need to be more of a team effort.
DH: Which player(s) do you see stepping up on the offensive side for the Rays?
JC: Escobar – he could be the best shortstop the Rays have had in their history. He’s a good defensive shortstop, and has the potential to be a top of the lineup hitter, possibly in the two hole. He could be the key to the team, as he improves the defense in the middle of the infield. Longoria, Escobar, Ryan Roberts and Loney comprise a good defensive infield.
DH: Is there a player that you feel is being overlooked that could end up playing a significant part for the team?
JC: The signing of Kelly Johnson may have been overlooked. He’s a nice depth piece. Johnson can hit lefties, so that helps. Someone else who may be overlooked may be Ryan Roberts. Both provide flexibility and play multiple positions, and both have good offensive potential.
DH: Looking towards the future, Baseball Prospectus considers Taylor Guerrieri and Tyler Goeddel to be the top breakout candidates amongst the Rays prospects. What separates them from the other prospects?
JC: With Guerrieri, it comes down to his stuff. He has the most impressive repertoire of their minor leaguers – his stuff could be considered rated ‘R’. In the case of Goeddel, he plays a premier position, and has been young for his level. He could take a step forward offensively. He’s still only 20. If he can grow into his body, he could develop the power to stick at third.
DH: Finally, are there any other prospects for Rays fans to keep an eye on this year?
JC: Later this year? Probably not. Hak-Ju Lee is good defensively, but may not hit. The lower minors have a lot of depth, but the prospects, once Wil Myers and Chris Archer are out of the system, are more down the pipeline instead of being at the cusp. For long term potential, Blake Snell and Drew Vettleson could be players to watch going forward.
I would like to once again extend my thanks to Jason for taking the time to answer these questions and to Andrew Skutt for arranging the interview.