Every year, teams inevitably have players that will perform worse than they did the previous season, and also players that will perform better than the previous season. You can predict teams on how they will perform all you want based on their players’ statistics the previous season, but the fact of the matter is that every year there are teams who shock the league because of numerous players who bring their play up another notch. With that in mind, which Tampa Bay Rays players will take a step forward in 2014?
Longoria had a great 2013 season, slashing .269/.343/.498 (133 wRC+) while also getting nominated for a Gold Glove, and finishing sixth in the MVP voting. But here’s a crazy thought- Longoria could be even better in 2014. Part of the reason is that we can expect that Longoria will not get into another huge slump like he did in 2013. In the month of July, he slashed just .194/.288/.347 (74 wRC+) while looking completely lost at the plate. Longoria will experience his ups and downs in 2014, but he likely won’t see the kind of extended slump that he did last season. 2013 marked Longoria’s first time playing 135 games since 2010, and Longoria will only be stronger when he goes through that experience again. In addition, Longoria struggled with plantar fasciitis in the second half of last season. Longoria did not have the luxury of an extended period to rest this injury, so it is safe to say it was still bothering him through the end of the season and affecting his play to some degree. Put together the facts, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Longoria’s numbers were even better this season.
Jennings was a top prospect in the organization and showed flashes of his true potential when he hit .259/.356/.449 (128 wRC+) in his first big leagues stint in 2011. However, since then he has been disappointing due to underwhelming on-base and power numbers. Jennings has been a good player, but the Rays expected a little bit more out of him, and this year might be the year he finally reaches his full potential. Reports say that Jennings arrived in camp 15-20 pounds heavier, which would help him make harder contact on a consistent basis. While he was never considered a huge power guy, he was expected to hit for a decent amount of power–maybe this is the year he can reach his power potential. Jennings will also need to improve his plate discipline. He did improve his OBP from .314 in 2012 to .334 in 2013, though, so he is trending in the right direction. If he can continue to improve in these two areas, this could be the year that everything finally clicks.
It seems crazy to say that Moore could be better than the pitcher who posted a 3.29 ERA and finished 9th in the Cy Young voting last year, but it is entirely possible. Last year, Moore posted an 8.56 K/9 and a 4.55 BB/9. But, in his minor league career, he posted a 12.6 K/9 and a 3.28 BB/9. He might not be able to quite reach these numbers in 2014, especially the lofty strikeout rate, but if he can put up a 9.25 K/9 and a 4.00 BB/9 in 2014–both very achievable numbers–we could see Moore’s overall performance be even better in 2014. That goes without saying that Moore dealt with decreased velocity last year in spring training that never quite dissipated. This spring, his velocity is looking good and is scary to imagine how good he could be at full strength. For Matt Moore in 2014, a modest improvement is likely and an ascendance into a frontline pitcher is not out of the question.
Hanigan’s offensive numbers were awful in 2013, as he posted just a .198/.306/.261 slash line (53 wRC+) for the Cincinnati Reds. However, this poor line was in a large part due to injuries and bad luck. Hanigan suffered an oblique injury and a hand injury last season, both of which are notoriously tough on hitters. Hanigan’s numbers also suffered from an unusually low .216 BABIP. Put all the information together, and Hanigan should hit closer to his career .262/.359/.343 line this year. With improved offensive numbers to pair with his outstanding defense, Hanigan should be a valuable part of the Rays’ squad this year.
McGee started off last season very poorly, posting ERA’s of 6.48 and 6.75 in April and May respectively, which inflated his season ERA to 4.02. However, McGee is simply a better pitcher than that, and expect him to show that next season. McGee may not reach the level of his 1.95 ERA in 2012, but he should be more reliable and post ERAs in the high 2.00′s or low 3.00′s moving forward. Similar to Evan Longoria, it would be surprising to see McGee go through a long period of such bad numbers again in 2014. In addition, McGee is bringing back his curveball and changeup after using his fastball more than 90% of the time in 2013. If he can make even one of those pitches a passable big league pitch, it should help him out tremendously. Don’t be surprised if McGee is one of the best setup relievers in baseball this coming season.
The Tampa Bay Rays have plenty of players who will see better performance next year, and you can even make a case for players not on this list. Even if every single Rays’ player played at the exact same level as last year, the Rays would be a good team given their solid offseason additions. But add in better performance from these players, and the Rays might just make a World Series run in 2014.