What I Like And Don’t Like About Rays Thus Far

The Rays end their first week plus of baseball with a losing 4-5 record. They took 2-of-3 from the Miami Marlins, got swept by Bostin in Fenway Park going 0-3, and took 2-of-3 from the Yankees in their 2021 opening series at Tropicana Field.

Of course, the following observations are mostly small sample sizes; therefore, these could change and some certainly will in the next week after Tampa Bay plays at home against Texas for 4-games before finishing the week with a rematch in the Bronx with the Yankees.

Let’s get things going on the positive notes:

Glasnow Mixes In New Pitch:

Tyler Glasnow is the undisputed head of the Rays rotation and he’s pitched like the head of any rotation thus far in 2021. It could be argued that he has been the most dominant pitcher the first week plus of action. Lance Lynn and Joe Musgrove might have something to say about that, but I don’t think it’s crazy to throw Glasnow’s name right up there at the top.

He’s pitched 12 innings covering two starts and allowed just one earned run. He’s struck out 34.9% of the batters he’s faced while walking just 4.7%. He has also introduced a slider into his repertoire and is very comfortable using it. Per Fangraphs.com, last season he threw his fastball 60.6% of the time, curveball 34.8%, and a changeup 4.7%. This season, he’s throwing his fastball 53.4%, curveball 12.1%, the slider 33.3%, and the changeup 1.1%.

He already appears comfortable with all three pitches. Sky is the limit for Glashow.

Margot’s Bat Picks Up Where It Left Off:

Manuel Margot continues to hit. Last season for a myriad of reasons, Margot got off to a horrible start. In his first 11 games he hit just .091 (3-for-33). He finished the remainder of the regular season batting .321/.374/.411 spanning 123 plate appearances. The bat didn’t slow down in the postseason either batting .276/.344/.552 spanning 65 plate appearances.

In 25 plate appearances in 2021 he’s batting .292/.320/.542. While the sample size is extremely small, getting off to a good is never a bad thing. It’s nice to see Margot continue to hit as when he was acquired from San Diego his lifetime slash line was .248/.301/.394.

He has earned everyday play in the outfield. He did have to miss a few games against New York with a groin issue but that appears to be fully healed.

Arozarena Living Up To The Hype:

Randy Arozarena came on like a house on fire after his callup to the Rays at the end of August last season. He finished the regular season slashing .281/.382/.641 with seven homers in 76 plate appearances. That was nothing compared to what he did in the postseason batting .377/.442/.831 with 10 homers while setting numerous postseason records.

He is the odds on favorite in the American League to win Rookie of the Year. There are a lot of expectations for the 26 year old to carry. The pressure hasn’t got to him thus far in the early season as he’s batting .314/.351/.514 spanning 37 plate appearances. Hopefully, he continues to bring a complete five tool game to the park every game and stays health.

Arozarena has the talent to be not only a ROY candidate, but MVP talent as well.

Mejia Settling In:

Francisco Mejia had an awful injury plagued 2020. To make matters worse he hit just .077 (3-for-39). Quite a disappointment for Mejia and the Padres as he was coming off a productive 2019 season where he hit .265/.316/.438 (.754 OPS). The Rays acquired him this past off-season as part of the Blake Snell deal.

At the time of the trade, Rays GM Erik Neander commented that the Rays felt that Mejia was a change of scenery type guy. Thus far the early returns are more along the lines of the 2019. Although it’s an extremely small sample size, the number are encouraging. Through 17 PA he’s hitting .308 (4×17) drawing a pair of walks without striking out.

The Rays will continue to balance the position between Mike Zunino and Mejia, but as the year goes on Mejia may force more playing time with his bat.

Honey Day Finally Arrives:

It was only two perfect innings. It was against the New York Yankees. It was only 21 pitches. That’s what the numbers say. The whole story, and most Rays fans are aware, is that prized prospect Brent Honeywell Jr finally made his debut. It was a long journey from undergoing Tommy John Surgery in 2018, fracturing his elbow in 2019, decompression of the right ulnar nerve last May, and arthroscopic surgery on the elbow on December 16th.

There’s a lot that can be said for Honeywell’s work ethic and desire to reach the big leagues but that desire burns deep. “I always knew I would get here. My dad built me as a pitcher. He always told me you’re going to pitch in the big for a long time.” Honeywell said after his start. “Now, I’m 26 and it’s just starting. I like to look ahead down the road. I’m one of those kind of cats.”

Honeywell will be brought along slowly during the season. Hopefully, the Rays find a way to utilize him for upwards of 75-100 big league innings this year. That would be a solid base of work.

Of course there are a few more good stories that have emerged during these first nine games, but now it’s time to move to some of the more disappointing observations. Keep in mind, it’s much easier to find the negative than the positive, that’s seems to be human nature.

Where Has Diaz’s Slugging Gone:

In 2019 Yandy Diaz hit 14 homers in 347 plate appearances and had a slugging percentage of .476. He added a pair of homers in the AL Wild Card game against the Athletics wrapping up a powerful season. It was a pleasant surprise for Tampa Bay as Diaz had only hit one homer in 299 plate appearances with Cleveland prior to the Rays acquiring him.

Since the 2019 season Diaz’s power has evaporated. Over the 2020-2021 seasons Diaz has hit .288/.411/.367 with two homers in 168 plate appearances (going into Sunday’s game with New York). Of course, Diaz is still a productive hitter and the 2021 season is just beginning.

I’m sure the Rays would love a +.400 on-base percentage at the top of the lineup, but I would think they would like to see more power generated.

Time To Pull The Plug On Tsutsugo?

I’m normally the last person to have a knee jerk reaction. My patience with players is much longer than most, but there is something off about Yoshi Tsutsugo. He just looks lost at the plate. He can’t handle velocity. He seems to be trying to feel for the ball when he swings rather than looking to do damage to the ball with his swing.

Here’s what the numbers say: going into the game against New York on Sunday Tsutsugo has hit .197/.308/.372 spanning 215 plate appearances over the 2020-2021 seasons. It’s unfortunate that we haven’t seen a “hot streak” from Tsutsugo that would inspire some sort of ceiling to return to if he just keeps playing.

It might seem harsh, but it may benefit the Rays long term if they were to send him to the alternate site to get his swing locked in. Kevin Cash and others have said all the right things about adjustments that Tsutsugo has made, I’m just not seeing it…at all.

It is only hurting the team to continue waiting for him to find it at the big league level.

Meadows Defense And Selectivity:

Let me start by saying that Austin Meadows looks much healthier and capable with the bat than he did in 2020, but he still isn’t the 2019 version of himself. I started to look at a few numbers over at Fangraphs.com after I saw Meadows swinging through a number of pitches.

Meadows had a swinging strike% in 2019 of 8.9%. That number jumped to 12.5% in 2020. It’s at 13% heading into Sunday’s game against the Yankees. Other similar trends: in 2019 his z-contact% (contact on balls inside the zone) was 87.9%. In 2020 that dropped to 81.4% and thus far in 2021 he’s at 77.6%.

To complain about Meadows offense probably is petty considering that he’s batting .242/.375/.576 with three homers early and I’ll wear this one. It’s just that I do believe there is an extra gear for Meadows to reach and I hope to see it soon.

The other part of Meadows game has been extremely disappointing. His fielding has been a negative most of his time with the Rays but it’s degrading faster than my eyesight (which is pretty fast). Maybe the Rays need to keep him either in left field or right field rather than move him in game or per start.

As of now, Meadows either needs to log more time at DH or learn to play first base.

Injuries, Injuries, Injuries:

Tampa Bay hasn’t played 10 games yet and already their depth is being tested. The injured list includes: Nick Anderson (right elbow sprain – 60 day), Jalen Beeks (recovery from Tommy John surgery – 60-day), Yonny Chirinos (recovery from Tommy John surgery – 60-day), Oliver Drake (right flexor tendon strain – 60-day), Colin Poche (recovery from Tommy John surgery – 60-day), Chaz Roe (right shoulder strain – 10-day), Ji-Man Choi (arthroscopic surgery, right knee – 10-day), Kevin Kiermaier (strained quad – 10-day), Pete Fairbanks (strained right rotator cuff – 10-day). Chris Archer (lateral forearm strain – 10-day)

This doesn’t include the Rays having to put Ryan Sherriff on the restricted list due to personal issues.

Ji-Man Choi is sorely missed and would already have displaced much of Yoshi Tsutsugo‘s plate appearances.

The bullpen being down Nick Anderson, Pete Fairbanks, Chaz Roe, and Ryan Sherriff is going to make Kevin Cash‘s job very difficult in knowing who/when to bring guys in.

Kevin Kiermaier is not easy to replace in center field. The outfield is much better with Kiermaier in center flanked by Manuel Margot in right and Randy Arozarena in left.

Dave Haller Departs Organization:

Dave Haller is departing as Vice President of Communications. He worked his final game with the organization on Saturday. Per the Rays game notes he was with the team for 417 spring games, 2,013 regular-season games, and all 56 postseason games in franchise history since joining the organization in November of 2007. He is moving to Northern Virginia with his wife and two sons.

Those are the numbers, the work that Dave did was outstanding. What it doesn’t say is how Dave treated each and every member of the media in his time. I do believe that Dave said hello to me at pretty much every game I worked. He was very accommodating each and every year I attended Baseball’s Winter Meetings. I wish Dave the best and am glad that he’ll get to end the traveling and get to spend more time with his family.

I like it for him. I dislike it for me. Thanks for all you’ve done Dave. It didn’t go unnoticed by anyone.