By Ryan Adams

The season is winding down. The Rays are all but out of post-season contention. With the players in house right now and on the horizon at Durham, here’s what I think next year could look like for the Tampa Bay Rays:

ROTATION:

1) RHP Alex Cobb (15-9, 2.85 ERA) – Cobber is now and will be the ace of this staff on Opening Day 2015. He has evolved into not just a work horse capable of well over 200 IP – but for my money, he’s one of the top-10 pitchers in the American League.

2) LHP Drew Smyly (14-10, 3.30 ERA) – Smyly is going to continue to prove that the David Price trade wasn’t as horrible as so many seem to think. He’s 25 and going to continue to get better and mature as a SP – and that’s VERY exciting!

3) Chris Archer (12-8, 3.15 ERA) – If Archer can get those walks down and keep composed when he gets hit around, these numbers could be much better. Doesn’t give up HRs (10 in 173.2 IP in ’14). Just needs to keep growing entering 3rd full season in ’15.

4) Jake Odorizzi (13-10, 4.00 ERA) – Jake has become the best story of 2014 for the Rays. Becoming a strikeout pitcher has been a pleasant surprise. Biggest knock – needs to keep the ball in the park (19 HRs – 159 IP).

5) This is a wide-open competition for the 2nd straight year. Hellickson probably gets it if he’s still with the team as there has been talk of him maybe being trade bait in the off-season with other arms at Durham looking ready for a shot. But if he’s not here, you’re looking at a few names in a heated competition: Colome, Karns, Montgomery, Romero, and Andriese could all get a long look at this spot in ’15.

**Keep in mind Matt Moore will most likely not get back into the rotation until closer to May/June as he continues to rehab from Tommy John**

BULLPEN: Jake McGee will be back and most likely the closer. I see Joe making it official in Spring Training with Brad Boxberger coming back as one of the best setup arms in baseball. “Jake n the Box” should be a staple here for many years to come. The rest of the ‘pen should be composed of Beliveau, Yates, Balfour…and then a competition of a free agent or two and some of the young arms at Durham ready for their shot as well as veterans like Ramos and Gomes still gunning to make the team out of Spring Training. Peralta could stick around but will be 39 in February and has regressed in ’14.

LINEUP:

CF Kevin Kiermaier (.280, 15 HR, 60 RBI, 30 SB) – KK is hitting .333 at lead-off in ’14. He’s also found some pop and is hands down the fastest guy in a Rays uniform.

2B Ben Zobrist (.270, 12 HR, 50 RBI, .360 OBP) – Zo has turned it up since the All-Star Break in ’14 and seen that avg sky-rocket back to around the .270 mark. He’ll carry that over and start ’15 hot.

3B Evan Longoria (.275, 30 HR, 100 RBI, .500 SLUG%) – 2014 will be a distant memory and Longo will get back to his typical numbers in ’15.

1B James Loney (.290, 13 HR, 85 RBI, 35 2B) – No, Loney doesn’t hit HRs for a typical #4 hitter. But his avg, constant contact, and low K% makes him a solid run-producer and #4 hitter in THIS lineup.

RF Wil Myers (.260, 25 HR, 70 RBI, 150 GP) – Myers will be healthy and ready to rebound in his first FULL season in the Majors. His numbers will finally show his potential to be a solid slugger in this league.

DH Matt Joyce (.275, 15 HR, 60 RBI) – Has been more consistent in ’14 than people give him credit for. Moving down in lineup will help him improve even more.

LF Desmond Jennings (.250, 15 HR, 50 RBI, 25 SB) – Jennings has seen more success hitting in the lower-third of the order than lead-off…by a long-shot. Might be hist last chance to show the Rays he can be productive…and healthy.

C Ryan Hanigan (.250, 10 HR, 55 RBI, 120 GP) – Hoping Hanigan stays healthy, he’ll give the Rays the most solid year, offensively, by a catcher in a very long time. Will also continue to shut down the opponent running game and be above avg behind the plate.

SS Nick Franklin (.260, 15 HR, 50 RBI, 20 SB) – Yunel was nearly traded to the A’s this season, leading me to believe maybe he’s gone in the off-season. Franklin was brought in as part of the Price trade and has more power/speed than Yuni.

BENCH: David DeJesus OF/DH, S-Rod UTL, Curt Casali C, INF Logan Forsythe, OF Guyer

FINAL THOUGHTS:

These are obviously best-case scenario numbers. Health, free agency, Winter Meetings, and so many other factors will come into play and what I’ve posed here most likely won’t be how things look come February. There is a lot of MLB-ready talent at Durham, as well. OF prospects Mikie Mahtook and Jeremy Moore have done some good things to maybe make some noise during Spring Training. Could ’15 finally be the year we see Hak Ju Lee and/or Tim Beckham make the 25-man? Did Cole Figueroa show enough in his limited time with the MLB club in ’14 to warrant a shot in ’15? The pitching depth, while not nearly as promising as it once was, is still strong and has plenty of arms ready to prove they can make a Major League club.

For those who have said this team has a long road ahead to get back to contention – maybe you don’t remember the decade of misery prior to the 2008 season when this team won 70 games ONCE in that span. Maybe you don’t remember all the failed free agents in THAT time period. Maybe you don’t remember the manager carousel. To those people who are so down on this team after a disappointing 2014 – maybe you should sit back and relax. Understand that for six years this team under Joe Maddon has been one of the best in all of baseball – and even the best teams are allowed to slide from time to time. The Rays will push 80 wins in ’14 and head into the off-season having had a strong second-half to build on. As long as Joe Maddon holds the reigns to this team, they’ll be a team to contend with every year. He’s still one of the best managers in baseball. He’s still the true face of the Tampa Bay Rays. And for my money – he’s still the man who will finally bring a baseball championship to Tampa Bay.

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