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Five Spring Training predictions for the Rays

@juanctoribio
February 15, 2020

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- As the Rays officially opened camp on Thursday, the air was filled with optimism and confidence following what the club was able to accomplish during the 2019 season.

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- As the Rays officially opened camp on Thursday, the air was filled with optimism and confidence following what the club was able to accomplish during the 2019 season.

Tyler Glasnow, Blake Snell and other Tampa Bay players have not shied away from stating that, if healthy, they believe the Rays could compete for the American League East title and make a legitimate World Series run in 2020.

In that spirit, here are five predictions for the Rays heading into this season.

1. Snell returns to form
Snell shed 13 pounds over the offseason and will look to stay healthy this season. If he’s able to avoid any significant injuries, all signs point to the left-hander bouncing back and becoming Tampa Bay’s ace again. Even with his inconsistencies and injuries last year, the underlying numbers showed Snell still improved after his AL Cy Young Award-winning season in 2018. The whiff rate on all four of his pitches went up by a significant margin and the expected batting average on balls in play also decreased, proving that Snell may have just run into some bad luck last season.

2. What about Glasnow?
Through the first six weeks of the 2019 season, Glasnow posted a 1.75 ERA and it appeared like he was cruising to his first All-Star Game. However, he suffered a mild right forearm strain on May 10, forcing him to miss most of the season. But much like Snell, when Glasnow is on the mound, his production is undeniable. The right-hander’s fastball velocity ranks in the 95th percentile, his curveball spin is right up there and he finished last season with a .179 expected batting average, a .294 expected slugging percentage and a .222 weighted on-base average, which all rank among the best in the Majors. If Glasnow is able to stay on the mound and make 30 starts, he could pitch his way into the AL Cy Young Award conversation in ‘20.

3. Going gold?
As a prospect, Willy Adames’ hitting ability was what scouts praised the most. But throughout the last two seasons, he has significantly improved his defense at shortstop, becoming one of the best at the position in 2019. Adames finished with 4 Outs Above Average, ranking 14th in the Majors among qualified shortstops and sixth in the AL behind Andrelton Simmons (16), Francisco Lindor (11), Carlos Correa (9), Niko Goodrum (6) and Elvis Andrus (5). Adames also ranked sixth among Major League shortstops with 13 Defensive Runs Saved. With continued improvement, the 24-year-old could work his way into Gold Glove Award chatter.

4. Closing time
The Rays won’t name a closer, but after Emilio Pagán’s trade to the Padres, they’re going to have to find someone who can consistently get the last three outs of the game. That person could turn out to be Diego Castillo. The 26-year-old recorded eight saves last year and displayed elite stuff in his second Major League season. Castillo’s fastball velocity ranked in the 99th percentile and his strikeout rate ranked in the 77th. Behind a sinker-slider combination, he could establish himself as the team’s closer -- even if Tampa Bay never makes it official.

5. 30-homer club?
Austin Meadows and Hunter Renfroe are the most likely candidates to reach the 30-homer mark this season, but Brandon Lowe could make it interesting. When Lowe makes contact, he usually hits pretty hard. His average exit velocity last season was 91.1 mph and his hard-hit percentage climbed to 46.2. Those numbers helped Lowe hit 17 home runs last season despite playing in just 82 games. He’ll have to lower his strikeout percentage, which ballooned to 34.6 percent last season, but he has the ability to put up big numbers in 2020.

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.