The Rays plan to have Nathaniel Lowe begin this season in Triple-A Durham, but there's no doubt that the impressive prospect will be playing in the Majors at some point in 2019. With Jake Bauers and C.J. Cron off the team, the Rays will look for Yandy Diaz, Brandon Lowe
The Rays plan to have Nathaniel Lowe begin this season in Triple-A Durham, but there's no doubt that the impressive prospect will be playing in the Majors at some point in 2019. With Jake Bauers and C.J. Cron off the team, the Rays will look for Yandy Diaz, Brandon Lowe and Ji-Man Choi to contribute at first base to start the season.
Lowe flew through the Minor League ranks last season, starting the year in Class A Port Charlotte and finishing the season in Triple-A Durham. Through the three levels, Lowe hit .330 with 27 home runs and 102 RBIs, and he was named the 2018 Rays Minor League Player of the Year.
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The 23-year-old first baseman has only 100 at-bats at Triple-A, so it could take some time for him to make his Major League debut. But with all the moves the club made this offseason, it seems like a matter of time before Lowe is the Rays' everyday first baseman.
The closer we get to Spring Training, it seems more likely that the Rays will head into camp with the players currently on the 40-man roster. The Rays' bullpen finished sixth in the American League last season with a 3.80 ERA, and nearly every main contributor will return for 2019. Adding prospects Colin Poche and Ian Gibaut to the mix will help the competition in the bullpen, but the Rays will remain engaged in the free-agent market for a veteran reliever.
It's likely the Rays place right-handers Brent Honeywell and Jose De Leon on the 60-day disabled list when the team is forced to set its roster, which would open a couple of spots. The Rays could elect to see what they have during camp and decide if they want to sign someone else before Opening Day.
If the Rays make a big move during the next month, I believe it will come via a trade. Now, that doesn't mean the Rays won't sign a free agent, but in order to make a big splash, it appears that they'll have to trade some of their outstanding prospects.
Adding a power right-handed hitter remains a priority, with players such as St. Louis' Jose Martinez and Miami's J.T. Realmuto remaining a possibility. The Rays certainly have the farm system to pull off a trade for either player, but it depends how much they're willing to deal. Aside from a bat, they could look to add another starting pitcher.
The Rays are high on the veteran impact that catcher Mike Zunino and pitcher Charlie Morton can have in the clubhouse. Zunino is only 27 years old, but most people in Seattle raved about his maturity. It's a young group, but the clubhouse culture seems to be a healthy one and manager Kevin Cash deserves a lot of credit.
Adding more veteran leadership will be something the Rays seek, especially at the back end of the bullpen, a role that free agent Sergio Romo excelled at last season.
Yes, the Rays have to replace some key bats, but they have also added some quality hitters over the past couple of months. Tommy Pham, who finished with a 1.071 OPS in 39 games with the Rays last season, will get a full year in the lineup. Austin Meadows, whom the Rays also acquired in July, is expected to be an integral part of the offense, along with Willy Adames, Daniel Robertson, Zunino and Michael Perez.
The Rays have to replace Cron's team-leading 30 home runs, but they believe they have more power heading into 2019 than they did last season.
Despite struggling for most of last season, Kevin Kiermaier is probably the most logical option for this Rays lineup. Diaz, Matt Duffy, Joey Wendle and Robertson also make some sense and could be used in that spot, depending on the matchups.
Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com.