Jamal has been a writer for Bleacher Report since 2010 focused strictly on the Rays. He has had his work featured on websites such as Forbes, USA Today, CBS Sports, Houston Chronicle and the LA Times. Jamal is a special correspodent for 620wdae.com covering the Tampa Bay Rays.
The blueprint of the Tampa Bay Rays success is based on excellent pitching and defense. If the 2014 season was compared to a house, today would be the day the cement starts to get poured to create the foundation.
The Rays come into spring training with a very strong foundation.
The starting rotation, led by David Price, will once again be among the best in baseball. Matt Moore and Alex Cobb are coming off of good seasons and Chris Archer should be ready for his first full season in the majors.
The injury to Jeremy Hellickson will open an opportunity for a prospect, most likely Jake Odorizzi, to get an opportunity to start the season at the major league level.
The core of the bullpen remains intact with Jake McGee, Joel Peralta and Cesar Ramos. The addition of Grant Balfour, Heath Bell and Juan Carlos Oviedo far outweigh losses of Fernando Rodney, Alex Torres and Jamey Wright this offseason.
This year’s bullpen has the opportunity to be one of the greatest in franchise history.
It is hard not to have high expectations for a bullpen that includes three pitchers that have saved over 35 games in a season during their career. If the starters can provide seven quality innings, the bullpen should be more than capable of closing the door.
The primary concern with the catchers is depth.
The Rays traded away Jose Lobaton to the Nationals in exchange for pitcher Nathan Karns. The trade makes sense since it provides another pitcher to the shelves for a future spot in the rotation. It also creates a large cause for concern for catcher depth.
In 2013, the Rays had five catchers on the 40-man roster and will start this year with two. Ryan Hanigan, acquired in the offseason from the Cincinnati Reds, had two stints on the DL last year for an oblique injury and a sprained left wrist (glove hand).
Jose Molina, will turn 39 years old this season. Last season he played in 99 games despite missing a few games with hamstring, quadriceps and knee injuries.
Injury concerns aside, the combination of Hanigan and Molina provides the Rays with a quality defensive catching duo. Hanigan led the National League in caught-stealing percentage in 2013 (45.5) and 2012 (48.5). The Rays allowed 119 stolen bases in 2013, the most in franchise history.
Today, the foundation is being poured for what could be an exciting year for the 2014 Tampa Bay Rays. A season with high hopes and high expectations as the Rays look to make anouther run towards October baseball.