Spring Training games are here at least, meaning the 2023 MLB season is around the corner for the Tampa Bay Rays and other clubs in the league. The Rays enjoyed another strong campaign in 2022, winning 86 games and making the postseason for the fourth consecutive year.
However, Tampa Bay endured a quick playoff exit at the hands of the Cleveland Guardians who dispatched them in two games.
Thus, the Rays entered the offseason looking to figure out how to take that next step in the American League.
But in typical Rays fashion, the offseason consisted of quiet moves, with the biggest being the free agent signing of former Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Zach Eflin.
Tampa Bay also agreed to extensions with three key players, pitchers Jeffrey Springs and Pete Fairbanks, as well as infielder Yandy Diaz.
So, the Rays enter the 2023 MLB season with largely the same roster that pushed them into the playoffs last year.
Can they make the playoffs and return to the World Series for the first time since the pandemic-shortened 2020 season?
Or will their relatively quiet offseason catch up to them, as the likes of the New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles pass them by?
That’s what we’ll discuss here. Without further ado, here are three bold predictions for the Rays in 2023.
Rays star Wander Franco Stays Healthy and joins the 20-20 club
Wander Franco, the former number-one overall prospect in the sport, has yet to play a full season and realize his potential.
Unfortunately for Franco, both of his seasons that were cut short were out of his control.
In 2021, the Rays didn’t call him up until June, resulting in him playing in just 70 games.
In 2022, Franco got off to a hot start but suffered a hamate fracture in his right wrist in July. The Rays star needed surgery and had a delayed rehab assignment, finally returning to the lineup in September.
Franco is now healthy at Spring Training before the 2023 season, a great sight to see for Rays fans.
He is one of the more well-rounded players on the team, able to affect the game in the field, at the plate and on the basepaths.
Franco will stay healthy and put it all together in 2023, hitting over .300 with 20-plus home runs, 20-plus stolen bases and over 100 runs scored for the Rays.
Shane McClanahan will win the AL Cy Young award
Shane McClanahan, a first-time All-Star in 2022, looked to be well on his way towards taking home the hardware in the first half of last season, as he carried a 10-3 record, a microscopic 1.71 ERA and 147 strikeouts in 110 2/3 innings pitched into the second half last year.
He started the All-Star game for the American League.
But a 4.20 ERA down the stretch, as well as a shoulder injury, derailed what looked like a coronation as the league’s best pitcher.
Fast forward to 2023 and McClanahan knows what he needs to do. The Rays ace looks healthy and is already hitting the upper 90s on the radar gun at Spring Training.
However, McClanahan knew that durability would be his greatest ally in 2023, telling reporters that he completely revamped his offseason to focus on “self-improvement“, cutting out snacks, alcohol and making an attempt to eat better, per Joe Trezza of MLB.com.
Rays manager Kevin Cash believes that McClanahan can get better, which is a scary thought for opposing hitters.
In 2022, McClanahan ranked among the leaders in ERA, WHIP, FIP, strikeouts per nine innings and strikeout-to-walk ratio.
He will do so again, this time staying healthy for the entire year en route to his first CY Young award win.
The Rays make the playoffs once again
The Rays rotation will be in good hands with McClanahan leading the way and Tyler Glasnow back heathy.
The lineup will be bolstered by the return of a fully healthy Franco, as well as key hitters such as Randy Arozarena, Yandy Diaz, Brandon Lowe and Isaac Paredes.
The bullpen, featuring a closer-by-committee approach, figures to be as solid as ever.
The American League has plenty of talent. The defending-champion Houston Astros look like they have a great chance to win the World Series once again.
The New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays represent threats within the Rays’ own division.
The Guardians, who knocked out the Rays last year, the Chicago White Sox, and the Minnesota Twins, could all be formidable in the Central.
Meanwhile, the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers loom as dark-horse contenders.
Still, the Rays will find a way to advance to the postseason once again, even in a division loaded with talent.