Art’s World – It’s Rays Time…………Finally!

Art’s World – It’s Rays Time…………Finally!

The 2023-2024 NFL season has finally come to a close. It ended with one hell of a Super Bowl LVIII win by the Kansas City Chiefs 26-22 over the San Francisco 49’ers with 5 seconds left in overtime! Not only was the game exciting, but the halftime show with Usher and his lineup of stars was better than expected, The commercials this year were a mixed bag, but the Ben Affleck Dunkin commercial and the Arnold State Farm commercial were the standouts for me. Finally, we had plenty of shots of Taylor Swift with her friends and the Kelce clan having a great time, which I know angered the Taylor haters. But here is a clue to those butt hurt Neanderthals. The game was 4 hours and 18 minutes long, Taylor’s total TV time was 57 seconds, so go back under your rock, it is over.

Now that football is done, it is finally time for us to get together and root for our Tampa Bay Rays as they begin spring training for the 2024 season. There is a lot to look forward to this year even with the changes that have been made through trades, signings and additions. While there are 73 players in camp the Rays opening day, there are few openings for the final opening day 26 man roster, so there will be plenty of competition for the few spots that remain to be filled. There is also the possibility of a trade or two taking place during spring training or signing a ML free agent. There are bound to be a few surprises regarding the Rays roster for opening day.

Now let’s take a look at what we have to look forward to for this season. As they begin spring training I personally feel that despite the personnel changes, that the 2024 Rays will be a better team than last year’s 99 win team for several reasons. Most of the talking heads and experts have the Rays in the 82-88 win range, but I truly believe they can win 95 or better and get to the post season for the 6th year in a row. Why do I feel that way?

To begin with the Rays have a good solid core of players to build around. J. Lowe and Paredes had breakout years in 2023 and they will build on that and be even more formidable. Yandy showed total consistency, won the batting title and could be even better in 2024. I believe that Randy Arozarena is ready to have an All Star, MVP type year and B. Lowe comes into camp 100% healthy, something that has been missing in recent years. Add in even more production from Siri, a great deal in getting Cabellero at SS, and the acquisitions of both DeLuca and Palacios will pay off over the course of the season. Once again the teams have a good balance of power and speed along with better than average defense. Yes, catching is still a question mark but Pinto is going to surprise with his power, his improvement behind the plate and become a solid backstop. As for a backup, it could be Jackson, Brantly or a late spring training find, we shall see. But what the Rays have offensively and defensively is very well put together for a lot of big wins. The one player I want to keep a close eye on in pre season is Jonathan Aranda. This could be make or break time for him, so I am hoping for the best because the potential is there and now is the time to show it.

As for the pitching, yes Glasnow is a big void to fill, but let’s be honest, as good as he was, we always held our breath on every pitch wondering if he would go down with another injury. What we got in return with Pepiot is a very solid arm, injury free who had some plus outings in L.A. and has the potential to win in double figures. He will become a favorite with the fans. Eflin we know his potential and what he can bring, Civale has been there, done that and is anxious to show that he can be a big winner. Taj Bradley has all the talent in the world to become a stud. If he can clear out his head and just concentrate on the positives there is no telling just how good he can be. Zach Littell’s move to being a starter was a big success that he will build on and be one to watch develop even more. Shane Baz will be worked back slowly, bhut if all the potential he has begins to show….look out! So, while the starting five are not loaded with world beaters and multiple Cy Young pitchers, it is much more competitive than many think. Then there is the Rays bullpen and once again it is strong with a lot of different looks and will be the anchor for this team. Cleavinger is back, the signing of Phil Maton is huge, Devenski is back, Poche, Adam, Kelly and Armstrong return and Fairbanks is totally healthy and raring to go. Who will get the last spot or two in the bullpen? That will be an interesting scene to watch unfold. One name to watch is Naoyuki Uwasawa the Japanese reliever they signed out of the NPB, he could be the sleeper among the relievers to make the roster. With all that said, the big key will be staying injury free with no long term damaging loss of players because of injury.

No doubt Glasnow, Margot, Raley, etc. will be missed, but the replacements will more than hold their own and in the overall picture we have better defense, more speed, good power mix and pitching that can be much better than some think. Our farm system is strong, so any replacements needed for a short time will be plentiful. Plus, there is one more thing I call “the secret weapon” this year. The brand new turf that is being put in the Trop. It is supposed top be softer, more give and the closest thing to real grass that has been developed yet. If that is the case, the worry about the hard surface on legs and backs may be eased quite a bit and that bodes well for a number of players. So, let’s hope this new turf is all that is supposed to be and will be a big help, rather than a hinderance, to the players.

With Cash and Neander leading this franchise for at least the next 5 plus years, the Rays are in very good hands for now and in the future. I expect being a contender and getting to the post season will be a continuing ritual for the Tampa Bay Rays with a World Series win added to the picture. Who knows, it could happen in 2024, time will tell……………….RAYS UP!

Art Koch, National Features & DVD Editor, NightMoves Magazine and AAN

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