Projecting the Rays Opening Day roster ahead of spring training
By Jimmy Goodman
The head of the Choi boy fan club, Ji-Man Choi is locked into the starting spot at first. Following a trade with that saw positional rival Nate Lowe flipped to the Texas Rangers for a handful of prospects, Choi is left as the main starting option to start the season.
Ji-Man struggled statistically in 2020 likely in part as a result of injuries as well as a complicated travel situation coming from South Korea to start the delayed regular season. That said, Choi still profiles at least as a league average hitter if not better for 2021.
The Tampa Bay Rays best player through the balance of the 2020 regular season, Brandon Lowe struggled greatly in the postseason but still profiles as the team’s best bat for 2021. After leading the team in all major batting categories including a 152 OPS+ and finishing 8th in the AL MVP vote, Lowe carried an OBP under .200 and struck out nearly 37% of the time.
Small sample sizes and a month long road trip certainly don’t help Lowe’s optics, but he is a strong bounce back candidate for 2021 and no Rays batter has been better over the last two years.
Despite some notable trade rumors, the Rays will return their starting shortstop and voice of the team for the coming season. Willy Adames will look to continue momentum after a career year where he carried a strong .259/.332/.481 slash line.
With super prospect Wander Franco among others lurking in the farm system, 2021 will be an important year for Adames with respect to his future on this team.
While his 2020 performance came with a dip in exit velocity, Yandy Diaz has plenty of power to spare. Accompanying his decline in EV and slugging percentage was a career high OPS+ of 131 and the first “positive” BB:K ratio of his career as he walked 4.4% more than he struck out.
Though not his most outwardly obvious asset, Yandy’s eye will keep him in for more than enough innings and at bats split between first, third, and DH.
Joey Wendle is, quite simply, a get-the-job-done player. Whether it is platooning all over the field or getting a clutch slap single or gap shot when needed, Joey gets things done for the Rays. After a down year in 2019 where he was limited to 75 games due to injury, Wendle was a constant contributor for the Rays in 2020 where he matched a career high .435 slugging percentage.
One of the troubles with Wendle, however, is fulling understanding his role with the team. With Yandy, Willy, and the prospect bounty taking a hold of the infield, it’s hard to envision where Wendle can consistently slot in on this team. All this said, manager Kevin Cash is known to operate lineup cards in mysterious ways and ultimately this might just be part of the Joey Wendle act.
In 2020, Mike Brosseau went from quality bench bat to Tampa Bay folk hero with two swings of the bat. The former undrafted prospect mashed in limited action in 2020 carrying a monstrous 158 OPS+ while slashing .302/.378/.558.
In the midst of a logjam in the infield, Brosseau’s performance should dictate more innings and plate appearances in 2021.