Yes, you can expect Evan Longoria to put up solid numbers at the plate. Chris Archer? He did have a good spring training, and could be on track to put his horrible 19-loss season behind him. A 10-6 season may not sound astounding, but it made Jake Odorizzi the Rays best pitcher in 2016. Coming off a 37-save season with a 1.91 ERA, Alex Colome looks to remain a dependable closer.
But if Tampa Bay wants to give its rivals in the tough American League Eastern division headaches, they will have to rely a lot on their newcomers.
The first of these looked to be catcher Wilson Ramos. A free agent signee in the off season, Ramos hit .307 with 22 homers and 80 RBIs for the Nationals last year. But a knee injury will keep him sidelined for most of the first half of the season. This means the Rays will have to lean on new pickup Derek Norris behind the plate. He did have 14 home runs and 42 RBIs in 125 games for San Diego last year, but needs to up his average from an abysmal .186.
While Colome is set at closer, questions remain about the other relievers leading up to him, especially with injuries to Brad Boxberger and Shawn Tolleson. The Rays hope Austin Pruitt can provide effective relief in their place. He fanned 149 batters in 162 innings for AAA Durham last year and was named the Bulls MVP.
One of the more exciting players to keep an eye on is former Atlanta Brave Mallex Smith. He has received high marks for his speed and defense, swiping 229 bases in five years in the minors, then 16 in 72 games with the Braves last year. Though he will need to up his average from the .238 mark in 2016. Tampa Bay also strengthened its bench with the addition of veterans Rickie Weeks, Jr. and Peter Bourjas.
If the newbies click and the vets perform as expected, 2017 could be an improvement over 2016 for Tampa Bay.