By Michael Wong
Port Charlotte, Fla.--The Tampa Bay Rays continue to operate on a shoestring budget and a never-ending conveyor belt of power pitching coming out of their farm system to try and remain relevant in the ultra-competitive AL East. While it has become easy to discount the Rays' chances on a yearly basis, we have seen them rise up before with no expectations attached. Let's check out some of the more pressing fantasy baseball issues circling the team.
1. Chris Archer went down as a decent-sized disappointment last season after his big 2015 emergence. Which way does he go for this upcoming season? There is no denying the fact Archer forced a lot of his fantasy baseball owners to rip out their hair last year, especially in the first half when he compiled a hideous 4.66 ERA and 1.44 WHIP. We told you all to buy low on Archer at that point though as he was still missing a high number of at-bats and his advanced numbers pointed toward a rebound. That is exactly what happened as Archer pitched to a much better 3.25 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in the second half as he looked more like the ace pitcher he was expected to be. And that second half performance is what we expect to see out of Archer for the majority of 2017 as the power righty remains one of the best strikeout artists in the game. Consider that over the last two seasons, Archer has struck out 253 and 233 batters for 10.70 and 10.42 K/9 rates respectively. That is ace stuff folks and also keep in mind that Archer's HR/9 rate went into outlier territory last season (1.34 compared to 2015's 0.81). If Archer jobs back the HR/9 rate closer to his usual norms, he will be a low-3.00 ERA pitcher with a boatload of strikeouts again. Big aggressively.
2. Speaking of young power arms, how good can Blake Snell be? Snell is simply the latest in a very long line of power arms to come out of the Rays system (Archer, David Price, Jake Odorizzi) as he struck out guys at an insane 11.57 and 12.86 K/9 rates the last two years at Triple-A. He was not too shabby on that front in his 89-inning debut with the Rays last season either as he logged a still high 9.91 K/9 rate. Alas the problem with Snell is a big one and that is an utter lack of control (4.00 BB/9 at Triple-A and 5.16 BB/9 with Rays) and that could undermine him in his first full major league season. Snell has the overpowering stuff to be a fantasy baseball ace in short order but his WHIP could be ugly if he doesn't find any sort of sense of control. We have seen plenty of power arms come up and struggle with control and then figure things out, so Snell is still a must have sleeper. The kid is going to be a good one.
3. How much of a fluke was Brad Miller's performance last season? Simply put, not even Miller's mom could have seen him hitting 30 home runs with 81 RBI in 2016. Consider that Miller's previous MLB high was 11 and we have a major outlier candidate here. Of course Miller was tapping into his prime years for the first time in his career and we have seen post-hype sleeper breakouts like this before. However opposing pitchers won't be sleeping on Miller this time around and keep in mind he still batted a terrible .243 with all those homers last season and stole just 6 bases. With an ugly 24.8 K/9 rate, Miller is unlikely to hit better then .260 at most and we think he is more of a 20-homer guy then a 30. Very likely regression candidate who we would avoid.
4. We all know how great of a defender Kevin Kiermaier is but maybe we should start looking at him more closely in fantasy baseball as well? It certainly seems that way as Kiermaier has put up 10/18 and 12/21 ratios in the home runs/stolen base categories the last two years. Yes the .263 and .246 averages were very ugly but last season in particular actually showed growth there. Consider that Kiermaier walked at a career-best rate in his BB/9 at 9.7 and his .278 BABIP was quite unlucky. We are not saying Kiermaier will bat .300 or even .280 but .265 is very possible and looks better than last season's .243. No one wants Kiermaier in drafts and so his dirt-cheap cost makes him a great outfielder 3 candidate you can snag very late.
5. There should be restraint when it comes to how much we should pay at the draft table for closer Alex Colome right? We think so due to the fact that as great a closer as Colome has become, he is a major trade candidate at the July deadline. There is no guarantee that Colome will close with whatever team acquires him and so his 2017 draft cost is likely too inflated already. Now Colome has the goods as evidenced by his excellent 1.91 ERA and 11.28 K/9 rate last season but the chances of him being traded are quite high.