3 Players To Watch Series
LOD’s 3 Players to Watch: Tampa Bay Rays
After the first week in the 2023 season, the Tampa Bay Rays stand alone on top of MLB at 7-0. In those seven games, as David Conde pointed out in his recent article, they outscored their opponents 53-18. Looking back over the past few seasons, the Rays have been a model for consistency. They have competed in four consecutive postseasons, including winning an AL Pennant in 2020.
The Rays have largely done so with a strong pitching staff, both in the starting rotation and from the bullpen. They have also been able to do a lot with a little. In fact, as 2023 season begins, the Rays payroll remains under $65 million. That’s over $95 million less than the league average and over $200 million less than division rival New York Yankees. Despite the overwhelming gap in payroll, the Rays have been able to play at the same level as any team in MLB.
Zach Eflin, SP
The Central Florida native (Hagerty HS) returns to his home state after seven seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies. Eflin signed the biggest free agent contract in Rays history, 3 years / $40 million in the off-season. He joins a solid Rays starting rotation that includes Shane McClanahan, Jeffrey Springs and Drew Rasmussen. Tyler Glasnow begins the 2023 season on the IR. Eflin enjoyed a strong opening performance last weekend against the Tigers. He’s pitched 11 innings, given up 12 hits and 4 earned runs, while striking out 12 and picking up two wins in two starts this season.
Wander Franco, SS
Just a couple years back, Wander Franco was the #1 prospect in the MLB Pipeline. Today, he’s entering his third season with the Tampa Bay Rays, at just 22 years of age. Last year, the Rays signed Franco to an 11 year / $182 million deal, locking him up through 2032. However, Franco has yet to play a whole season with Rays. In 2021, Franco played 70 games after his call up in 2021. In 2022, Franco played just 83 games due to a combination of injuries. It’s hard to make a judgement on what the young shortstop can really do without a full season of play. This should be the year to see that and he’s already out to big start with 3 HR / 8 RBI / 3 doubles and 2 stolen bases.
The swag is Out. Of. Control. pic.twitter.com/lSscuydY6i
— Tampa Bay Devil Rays (@RaysBaseball) April 8, 2023
Randy Arozarena, LF
He’s already made a big impact in 2023 with Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic. Arozarena put up 1 HR / 9 RBI / .450 BA / 1.507 OPS in six WBC games, taking Team Mexico to the semi-finals. It’s clear that Arozarena shines in the spotlight, as he ripped through the 2020 postseason to lead the Rays to the World Series. And he’s already off to a hot start with the Rays in the first seven games this season. The 2021 AL Rookie of the year has put up 20 HR in both his first two full seasons with the Rays. He steadily increased both his RBI total (69 to 89) and Stolen Base total (20 to 32) from 2021 to 2022. It’s not out the question for Arozarena to produce a 30 HR / 30 SB season and tack on 100 RBIs. If this happens, he’ll be at the forefront of the AL MVP talk.
Rays Up Again in 2023
By all measures, the Tampa Bay Rays should have another strong season in 2023. It’s reasonable to believe they are likely to compete for the AL East title or at least snag a Wild Card spot. The AL East is arguably the strongest division in baseball with the Yankees, Blue Jays and Orioles (even the Red Sox), so any team that survives it could easily make a postseason run. While a hot start certainly doesn’t guarantee success in a 162 game season, the more wins they stockpile in April the better off they’ll be positioned when September rolls around.