Tampa Bay Rays: New Found Depth Helps Rays Win

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - JULY 8: Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria
ST. PETERSBURG, FL - JULY 8: Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria /

Last season one of the main downfalls of the Tampa Bay Rays was their lack of quality roster depth. However this year, the success of the team is partially due to the quality roster acquisitions obtained during the off-season and even some since the start of the season.

Among the issues that led to the demise of Tampa Bay Rays last season was a serious lack of roster depth. The team battled injuries all season and never seemed to have quality replacements at Triple-A Durham. In addition, the players they obtained through waiver pickups and trades didn’t add real value to the team. The result was a team that looked and played like a second division club.

This year started out with the same devastating number of injuries but the team seemed to find quality players to step up and fill the gap. Sometimes it was a player up from Durham, sometimes it was a player back from an injury or sometimes it was a player obtained in a trade. They all seemed to contribute and there are even more at Durham or waiting to get off the disabled list.

The first was Mallex Smith obtained in an off-season trade. Smith stated the season as a part-time replacement for the injured Colby Rasmus. When Rasmus returned, he was sent to Durham for a short time only to be recalled to replace the injured Kevin Kiermaier.

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Since his return, Smith has been on fire as a lead-off hitter posting a .350 batting average and over .400 on base percentage in 97 at bats. He isn’t as talented as Kiermaier in the outfield but more than makes up for it with his situational hitting and speed on the bases.

Next up was catcher Wilson Ramos. Signed as an off-season free agent, Ramos entered the season on the 60-day disabled list and was not suppose to be ready to catch until late August. However, an aggressive rehab program had him ready to catch in late June.

His work behind the plate has been excellent and he is a serious upgrade from Derek Norris. Ramos’ hitting is starting to come around and he has hit .316 in the month of July.

The starting rotation took a hit when Matt Andriese went down to injury. To fill that hole, the Tampa Bay Rays turned to Jacob Faria. Faria had been tearing up the International League over the last two years and has continued his dominance over hitters at the major league level.

He doesn’t have a monster fastball but does have a quality change-up and two outstanding breaking balls. Most of all, Faria has an outstanding mound presence and never seems to be rattled or lose his command. In 38 big league innings, he is 4-0 with a 2.11 ERA and 37 strikeouts.

The bullpen also got a lift from the return of Brad Boxberger. The team has been in serious need of a relief pitcher to set up Alex Colome and “The Box” is just the man for the job. In four games since his return, Boxberger has given up no runs and struck out seven of the 15 batters he has faced. It certainly in an upgrade from the list of marginal pitchers the Rays have used in that role this season.

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Brad Miller had struggled mightily in 2017 before going on the disabled list. After a solid 2016 season that had Miller hitting 30 home runs and driving in 81 runs, he had hit under .200 before going on the DL.

An injury to Tim Beckham put him back in a starting role at second base. His hitting and his fielding has picked up highlighted by a recent game winning home run against the Red Sox.

This piece would not be complete without mentioning the addition of Adeiny Hechavarria. I have to admit that I wondered why the Tampa Bay Rays needed another middle infielder when they had so many bullpen needs.

However, after watching Hechavarria play shortstop, I am sold on the trade. He is a highlight reel player in the field and a solid contact hitter at the plate. It also allows Beckham to move to second base which is probably his best position in the field.

Last but not least are Trevor Plouffe, Taylor Featherston and Shane Peterson. Plouffe is a right-handed bat who can play first and third and DH. He is an upgrade from Rickie Weeks.

Featherston is an okay twenty-fifth man who can play all infield positions and he has an option remaining. Peterson has proved to be a decent bench bat but will probably be dropped when Kiermaier or Rasmus returns.

In today’s strange world of constant baseball injuries, it’s important to have multiple players who are available at any time to plug the gap when active players are injured or fail to meet expectations. Bench players will also be important as the season grinds through September.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays Mid-Season Report Card

So far, it seems that the Rays have done more than an adequate job of preparing for unforeseen circumstances in a long season.