A tale of two seasons for the Rays bats.
After a 2016 season that saw the Rays set a club record for home runs (216) this season saw them do it again. The new mark is now 228 and they did it with a new hitting coach in Chad Mottola. The home run ball played a big part in a Rays offense that, for the first few months of the season, could score with anyone. In fact, they were 6th in the AL in runs scored pre-All Star Game. Fast Forward to post-Midsummer Classic and it’s a much different story.
Losing Kevin Kiermaier, again, to injury didn’t help things. Seeing All Star Corey Dickerson‘s drastic drop off didn’t either. The fact is, this Rays offense didn’t have much of an identity after all. As promising as it started, it might very well have been the reason this team missed the playoffs for a fourth straight year.
Here’s three players who were pleasant surprises in 2017 at the plate:
- RF Steven Souza Jr – He was named team MVP by the BBWAA, Tampa chapter and for good reason. Souza finally showed the five-tool player he can be with a break out campaign. Playing in a career-high 148 games, Souza had a career year across the board. His 30 home runs and 16 stolen bases also made him the first player in team history with a 30/15 season. The one real knock? His 179 strikeouts led the team by a wide margin.
- CF Kevin Kiermaier – Despite a career-low 98 games in 2017, Kiermaier showed he’s finally hitting his stride at the plate. He set a career-high in home runs (15) and a career-high slash of .276/.338/.450 with an impressive OPS of .788, also a career-high.
- 1B Logan Morrison – Destroyed his career-high in home runs with 38 this season…making just $2.5M in his second year in Tampa. Also set a career high in RBI (85). The real knock on “Lomo” this season was his paltry .168 avg with RISP. Imagine the year he’d have had if he even hit just .200…
There were a few players who disappointed. One was an All Star while the other was a 30-home run man a year ago:
- 2B Brad Miller – No one took a fall quite like Miller from a year ago. Coming off a 30-home run season the Rays expected to have one of the scariest second baseman at the plate in baseball. Injuries limited him to just 110 games, but his offense suffered all season. He finished with just nine long balls, 40 RBI, and a .201 avg. The upside? He was a base on balls machine. Miller finished with a .327 on-base % helped hugely by his 63 free passes drawn…most on the team by a long shot.
- OF Colby Rasmus – He’s not on this list for production. In fact, Rasmus had a fine year at the plate. He played in just 37 games battling a hip injury and then finally being placed on the restricted list. It’s a mystery to anyone if Rasmus ever plays baseball again. Had he been in the lineup for the long haul in 2017 – who knows how much his bat could have bolstered the offense in the second half.
- LF/DH Corey Dickerson – A 2017 All Star, Dickerson had a torrid first half of the season. He was among the AL leaders in avg (.312) and led the league in extra base hits. After the break, however – he was a completely different player. Dickerson managed to hit just .241 the rest of the way. He also struck out 73 times in 65 games. His 27 home runs were a new career-high – so there’s that.
Imagine the possibilities.
There is a chance Morrison returns to man first base in 2018. He’s talked about how much he loves playing in Tampa and the Rays could probably get him for a bargain. That will depend on how invested in 1B/OF Jake Bauers down at Durham. Is he a 30+ home run slugger? If a drop in home runs but an uptick in hitting with RISP is in his future, the Rays would gladly take that switch.
It’s anyone’s guess if Miller returns. With Willy Adames nearly ready for a call up and Daniel Robertson showing signs that he’s ready for a full season at the MLB level it could be a crowded infield come spring training.
Imagine what a full season from Kiermaier could bring. In three of his four full seasons, he’s played in less than 110 games. That must change if the newly minted cornerstone of the Rays can truly contribute the way his bat started to show this season.
The 2018 Rays lineup could very well look much the same as it did on Opening Day in 2017. A full season of C Wilson Ramos is exciting to think about. Will SS Adeiny Hechavarria still be around? He was proving to be one of the hottest bats in the lineup. Time will tell. Rumors of 3B Evan Longoria not being around by the Winter Meetings are already starting.
Hang onto your hats, Rays fans. This could be another wild off-season for your baseball team.