One of the things we want to do here at Trop Talk is to bring in different perspectives about the Rays. We have several contributing writers lined up for the future but for now we were fortunate enough to have the guys from The Rays Party answer some questions for us. Enjoy.
Trop Talk: Even though it is still very early, after watching the Rays play so
far, what early season assessment can you make about the squad?
The Rays Party: That they are playing like contenders right where they left off after Game 5 of the World Series. Beating Boston 2 games to 1 is huge considering they had major trouble their since the franchise started. The Rays will need to pick up the bats a little more because they are playing a little like least year where they relied on their pitching a lot to keep the score low since they couldn’t drive in those crucial runs. But don’t use April as a barometer for any team considering the Baltimore Orioles were in first place on April 29th only to have the Rays knock them out the next day. The Orioles finished with a record of 68-93.
TT:Everyone can not wait for David Price to get called up, but how do you
feel Jeff Niemann will fair in the fifth starter sport?
TRP:I was a strong supporter for Niemann to start the year in the rotation over anyone else. Remember Niemann was the Rays #1 pick a few years ago so he definitely has starter material. Throwing in the mid nineties with above average breaking pitches should take him far anywhere he pitches. Don’t be surprised if he pitches around a 4.00 ERA with a winning percentage above .500 in his short time here. If he keeps the ball down, hitters will have a tough time picking him up from that high arm angle. I think he may struggle a bit with the long ball, but he should be a nice surprise for the Rays.
TT:Once Price gets called up do you feel Niemann will be sent to the
bullpen, and if so, who do you think from the bullpen will be first to
TRP:Hard to say. Remember that bullpen isn’t even a lock since Jason Isringhausen and Chad Bradford look to get some time when they return from the DL. But I would say Lance Cormier since he has the least late inning usage by Joe Maddon. Joe Nelson should be on a short leash if he doesn’t perform. Dan Wheeler is also a trade possibility and Troy Percival needs to stay healthy. Regardless, the bullpen has probably the best depth in the Majors and whoever gets kicked out will be replaced by someone who is better.
TT:Jason Bartlett could have arguable been the teams M.V.P. last season.
Who is your prediction to be the M.V.P. for the Rays this year?
TRP:I say Evan Longoria. He hit four home runs in three games there is no way he can’t get over 35 maybe well over 40 isn’t that far out of hand. A Gold Glover, Silver Slugger, All Star, and a top candidate for AL MVP as well.
TT:Troy Percival had a interesting first appearance this season. How
short do you feel his leash is till Maddon goes to the Closer By
TRP:I think Percival is the closer until he can’t pitch no more. Maddon wants experience in those last three outs and use his aces (Howell, Balfour, Wheeler) in the crucial 6-8 innings. It is all about how often he stays off the DL but the Rays have a whole sort of pitchers capable of closing the game when Percival is out.
TRP:Although he has made a few baserunning miscues I say Gabe Kapler. I think he is this years Cliff Floyd providing great leadership in the clubhouse. He is also a decent player still and provides the Rays a crucial right handed bat and centerfield defense.
TT:Which position player do you feel has the biggest chance of getting
traded this season?
TRP:Gabe Gross. The Rays have Matt Joyce breathing down his neck who will be a full time starter at some point this season. And when that happens Gabe Gross isn’t as useful as he could be in a platoon. He should be decent trade bait for an NL team looking for a veteran left handed bat with decent outfield defense.
TT:Which starting pitcher is poised for a breakout season even after the
success from last season?
TRP:Matt Garza. We saw him in the third game of the Red Sox series and how well he pitched when wasn’t entirely on top of his game. Don’t be surprised if he starts pushing 20 wins and Cy Young award consideration. One thing he has over Shields is that Garza pitches as good on the road compared to playing at the Trop.
We would like to thank The Rays Party for taking the time to answer these questions. Go check them out The Rays Party