For the Tampa Bay Rays, 2016 was a season to forget.
Plagued by injuries and inconsistent play throughout the lineup, their 68-94 finish was reminiscent of the old ‘Devil Rays’ days. The last place finish in the already difficult American League East was so far back (16 games to be exact) of the fourth-place New York Yankees that one would need a magnifying glass to see that far down in the basement. To put things in perspective, only the Minnesota Twins had a worse record in the American League.
In saying that, the Rays have talent. They can compete and play much better baseball than what was shown last season. All it takes is hard work, determination and a little luck going their way.
Three players in particular need to bounce back from disappointing 2016 campaigns for Tampa Bay. These three are crucial if they want to have a chance of finishing higher in the standings. If they bounce back, they could possibly compete for a playoff spot in what could be a wide-open AL East race.
1) Chris Archer – The 28-year-old Archer was tabbed as the next David Price coming up through the Rays system following a 2011 trade from the Cleveland Indians. With Price dealt to the Detroit Tigers in July 2015, Archer became the undisputed leader of an already deep and talented pitching staff. After three great seasons, including a breakout 2015 campaign which saw him finish fifth in the AL Cy Young Award voting, 2016 proved to be a struggle.
His 4.66 ERA in the first half was part of the reason the Rays were out of the playoff race by August. He did improve down the stretch, posting a 3.25 ERA post All-Star break, but by then the damage had been done. Finishing with a major league leading 19 losses and 4.02 ERA, there’s no doubt Archer wants to get back to the type of pitching that made him a top of the rotation guy for Tampa Bay since his rookie season of 2013.
2) Steven Souza Jr. – After being traded from the Washington Nationals to the Tampa Bay Rays during the 2014 offseason, there were high hopes the young right fielder would provide offensive punch to a lineup that lacked an ability to manufacture runs. Unfortunately, that hasn’t come to fruition yet, with Souza spending a majority of time sidelined by various injuries.
When healthy, the 27-year old showed flashes of power at the plate, evidenced by his 17 homers in 120 games (430 at bats). If he can escape the serious injuries that have plagued him for most of his career, 2017 might well be the year Souza shows why the Rays gave up on uber-prospect Wil Myers in an effort to boost the team’s offensive numbers and chances of winning games.
3) Curt Casali – Following a trade from the Detroit Tigers late in the 2013 offseason, Casali enjoyed a fairly quick rise to the major league level. He made his majors debut in mid-July 2014 after opening the season with AA Montgomery, recording a hit in his first big league at bat. 10 days later, he hit two homers in one game against his former Tigers team.
2016 was a year to forget though, with Casali batting .186 in 84 games with the Rays before being demoted to AAA Durham in August. 2017 is shaping up to be the year that provides the 28-year-old with what might be his final shot at staying with the Rays organization, as he will likely begin the year splitting starts with Luke Maile while offseason acquisition Wilson Ramos continues to rehab from late 2016 surgery
The Tampa Bay Rays 2017 success rides on contributions from everyone, but bounceback seasons from the three mentioned above could go a long way in determining whether this team is even in the playoff conversation at the midway point and beyond.