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Tampa Bay Rays: Polishing a Few Gems for Success

By David Egbert
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Expectations of the season for the Tampa Bay Rays have fallen way short, but the core of players is in place for future success. It’ll take just some tweaking to make it happen.

This has been a terrible season for the Tampa Bay Rays. Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. However, through all of this misery, the core a a good team has arisen.

What the Rays need to do from here on out is get rid of the Desmond Jennings‘ and Logan Morrison‘s of the world and focus on making some quality players better. Here is a short list of those players.

The first three are starters Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Blake Snell.

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For whatever its worth, what happened to Archer and Odorizzi this season is way beyond my comprehension.

But it seems to me that a pitching coach with the talent of Jim Hickey should be able to straighten it out.

Knowing they would have very few runs to work with, pitching too carefully maybe was part of the problem. Lack of a veteran catcher was probably another part of the problem.

Snell simply needs smoothing off the rough edges that come with being a rookie. At any rate, there is no reason these three starters should not front a quality five man rotation.

Shifting to the outfield, two outfielders need a little bit of polish to their offensive game in Kevin Kiermaier and Steven Souza Jr. .

Kevin Kiermaier is already a gold glove center field and an excellent base runner.

However, his offensive game leaves much to be desired. He hits far too many fly balls and strikes out too often. He needs to put the ball on the ground, bunt for a hit and go to the opposite field more often.

Sadly that’s not Kevin Cash and Derek Shelton’s game. Maybe it will be next year.

The next outfielder is Steven Souza Jr. who came to the Rays with great credentials. In his last year of AAA ball, hit for a .350/.432/.590 slash line.

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Unfortunately, he has not come close to duplicating those numbers in his two years with the Tampa Bay Rays and the problem is too many strikeouts.

Last season he struck out 144 times in 426 at bats and this year he is on his way to 180 strikeouts in 500 at bats.

That is totally unacceptable and he needs to cut it down by a third. A serious look at his approach at the plate and his swing in needed in the off season.

Next on our list is the team’s defense. The key to any team’s defense is their infield. A tight infield that works smoothly together can save a lot of runs and win a lot of ball games.

The Tampa Bay Rays have half of that infield in Evan Longoria at third and Logan Forsythe at second,  both are All Stars.

Whether they have the other half in Matt Duffy at shortstop and Brad Miller at first remains to be seen.

Duffy is a former shortstop who played third base for San Francisco and Miller is a good athlete who has played every infield position except first base. The foursome needs to work together every day between now and next season to establish their chemistry.

There are other possible gems that need a lot more than just polishing. Drew Smyly, Erasmo Ramirez and Matt Andriese have had their moments in 2016 but all three need to have their roles better defined going forward.

One or more may be traded. Also they need to knock the rust off Alex Cobb after Tommy John surgery.

On the offensive side, Corey Dickerson has power but not much more. He too strikes out too much, is a mediocre outfielder and can’t seem to adjust to the DH role.

Teams should always be careful of players who have grown up in Coors Field and Dickerson may need a total rework of his game.

Three gems that don’t seem to need polish are the trio of relievers at the back end of the bullpen.

Alex Colome as the closer, Brad Boxberger as setup and Xavier Cedeno as the lefty specialist are about as good as the get.

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What does need work is the front end of the bullpen that has depended too much on journeyman and marginal AAA relievers.

Round this group into shape and add a quality catcher and you have a real chance to compete in the tough AL East. Fail in too many of these areas and the Tampa Bay Rays are looking at another ugly year.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays have a Plethora of Shortstops

This one is up to the manager and the coaches and if they don’t put a polish on this lineup, the team should look for new leadership.

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