The Tampa Bay Rays generated some interesting conversations when they started utilizing their "opener" strategy early on in the 2018 campaign. Over the course of the season, that revolutionary approach to the game propelled the Rays to an astounding 90-win season.
That unique strategy will be making a return to Tampa Bay in 2019, as will nearly all of the key pieces from that 90-win season. And when you factor in some of the new additions and young arms returning from injury, expectations are higher than ever for the Rays this summer.
If you are looking to join in early on what could be a playoff caliber baseball team, we have all the key information you are going to need to know about the 2019 Tampa Bay Rays.
Rock Solid Foundation
The key in 2018 was the emergence of Blake Snell as a true ace pitcher. Not only was Snell the best pitcher on the roster in 2018, he was also the best pitcher in the American League and comes into 2019 as the reigning A.L. Cy Young Award winner.
Snell will benefit from the support of a strong defense that is anchored by centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier, who might be one of the best defensive players in the majors.
In addition to Snell's pitching and Kiermaier's defense, Rays fans can expect to see plenty of pop in the middle of the batting order thanks to slugger Tommy Pham, who was acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals right at the trade deadline last season.
The Rays also acquired pitcher Tyler Glasnow from Pittsburgh at the deadline, and his improved command produced impressive results down the stretch. If he can build on that success moving forward, we can expect a solid year from him in 2019.
New Faces in Tampa Bay
In order to build on their successful 2018 season, the Rays made some moves to improve their roster during the offseason. The biggest of those moves was inking pitcher Charlie Morton to a two-year deal. Morton will slot in right behind Snell as the number two starter.
Another free agent acquisition that could make an impact is the addition of Avisail Garcia on a one-year deal that is laced with incentives. Garcia is a proven major leaguer who was an All-Star in 2017, so there is plenty of reason to believe he can contribute in a meaningful way.
The front office was also active on the trade market during the winter, which resulted in the acquisition of catcher Mike Zunino from Seattle and infielder Yandy Diaz from Cleveland. Zunino brings a big bat to the middle of the Rays order, and Diaz is someone the Rays have liked for years.
Returning Young Arms
In addition to a solid core and some key additions, the Rays are also going to benefit from the return of a number of young pitchers throughout the season.
Pitchers Brent Honeywell, Jose De Leon, and Anthony Banda are all scheduled to make their return from Tommy John surgery at some point during the year. All three have the ability to earn a rotation spot upon their return, which could eventually make the "opener" strategy unnecessary.
Barring any significant injuries, the 2019 Tampa Bay Rays are going to be a force to be reckoned with in the American League. And while they might not be talented enough to take on the Yankees and the Red Sox for the A.L. East pennant just yet, they are almost certainly going to be a serious contender for one of the two Wild Card spots.
There are going to be a lot of very exciting games happening at The Trop this year, so make sure you plan on heading down to see the Rays as much as possible.