Raley's new efficient swing is paying off

March 6th, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG -- This offseason was a real fixer-upper for Rays first baseman/outfielder .

For one thing, he and his fiancée, Katie, did a lot of work on their new house in their home state of Ohio.

Just how much work? That question draws a big sigh out of the 28-year-old. New floors, countertops, vanities, windows, paint, et cetera.  

“Luckily, her dad is pretty handy. He did a lot more than I did,” Raley said.

On the baseball field, Raley didn’t require quite such an overhaul, but things definitely needed to change.

He has torn up Triple-A pitching in parts of three seasons, posting a .934 OPS and 40 home runs across 168 games. But that success hasn’t translated over during his limited time in the Majors, where Raley has batted .189 with a .561 OPS and a 34% strikeout rate. That includes going 12-for-61 with 24 K’s in 22 games with Tampa Bay last year. 

Yeah, Raley has taken only 127 career at-bats at the highest level, but if he is ever going to become an impact hitter for the Rays, the time is now.

Raley has no Minor League options remaining, meaning that if he doesn’t make Tampa Bay’s 26-man roster, his future in the game becomes hazy. Maybe he will land with another team via waivers, a trade or as a free agent. Or maybe he won’t.

Raley tries not to think about these possibilities, but he is aware of his tenuous situation.

“That’s life. That’s how I think about it,” he said. ”There’s always going to be situations in life where there’s pressure on you and you’re expected to perform. I’m just trying to be me, play hard and show that I can do it.”

Raley has shown out so far in Spring Training, going 5-for-15 with only two strikeouts and three home runs, including a three-run shot during the Rays’ 5-1 victory over the Marlins on Monday.

This success follows a winter in which Raley and the Rays’ coaches implemented multiple fixes for his setup at the plate. Specifically, he is setting his hands closer to his body in order to make his approach shorter and more direct. He also reduced his leg kick, which Raley says has helped him recognize and attack pitches quicker.

“I think my swing is more efficient than it’s ever been,” he added.

A story about a hitter making an offseason swing adjustment is not novel by any means, but Raley and Rays hitting coach Chad Mottola believe these changes could turn the 6-foot-4, 235-pound slugger into a truly complete player.

“He’s worked his butt off doing it,” Mottola said. “It’s a pretty big mechanical change. Usually when you reduce your move, you’re going to lose some juice, and he’s done a great job of maintaining the power and making his move simple.”

Raley is already a versatile defender capable of playing first base and both corner outfield spots. Perhaps center field isn’t out of the question either.

“I think I could do it,” he said.

A 92nd-percentile sprint speed from last year hints at Raley’s athleticism. A 12.7% career barrel rate is a sign of the kind of damage he can do when he actually makes contact. 

“We know he can do everything else well. Now he’s making these adjustments,” Mottola said. “… He can be a special player and help us out.”

There’s no doubt that the Rays need exactly the kind of help Raley can provide. The 85 wRC+ and .629 OPS from their left-handed hitters last season ranked 24th and 28th, respectively, in MLB. Healthy campaigns from Wander Franco and Brandon Lowe will obviously go a long way to improving those numbers, but Raley, who is competing for one of perhaps two openings on the position-player side of the Rays’ roster, knows that he can find a home here as long as he sticks with what’s working so well.

“I don’t doubt my power. I doubt my consistency at times,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been trying to improve, and that’s why I minimized the movement in my swing. I think I did it without losing a lot of power, if any. … I feel like, if anything, it will grow because of the adjustments I made.”