Returning to roots the 2017 Rays vision

Returning to roots the 2017 Rays vision

With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Rays squad each day this week. Today's topic: What's the vision?

ST. PETERSBURG -- Every year when the calendar says it's almost Spring Training time, the vision a team has for the coming season begins to crystallize.

Clearly, the Rays want to get back to their roots in 2017, and that means having a team that can boast of quality pitching and defense, augmented by a better offense.

Every club preparing for Spring Training with own vision

To that end, the strength of this year's team will again be the starting pitching.

Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, and Jake Odorizzi will lead a staff that also includes Blake Snell, and either Matt Andriese or Jose De Leon in the five-slot. Depending on the group's health at the end of Spring Training, Chase Whitley could pitch his way into the picture, as well as youngsters Jacob Faria, Taylor Guerrieri, Austin Pruitt and Jaime Schultz.

Leaning on starting pitching -- and having success -- is nothing new for this franchise. Rays starters have posted a 3.83 ERA since 2008, which ranks fourth-best in the Major Leagues and tops in the American League. In addition, the starters pitched to a 553-470 record during that span, sixth-best in the Majors.

Assisting that group is an improved defense. The infield is solid with Evan Longoria at third, Matt Duffy at shortstop, Brad Miller at either second or first, and Logan Morrison at first. Tim Beckham, Nick Franklin, and Daniel Robertson could also be part of the infield picture.

Kevin Kiermaier will be back in center field, which means batted balls will have a hard time finding a place to drop. He'll be flanked by Colby Rasmus in left and Steven Souza Jr. in right. So the outfield defense should be improved in 2017.

Cash on Kiermaier's fine defense

Luke Maile and Curt Casali will begin the season behind the plate, and be joined shortly after midseason by standout Wilson Ramos to give the Rays a solid look at catcher.

Last season the Rays' offense took two steps forward, and two steps back. On the plus side, Tampa Bay hit a club-record 216 home runs. The Rays finished sixth in the Majors in home runs, but 24th in runs scored. Much of the problem stemmed from an inability to make productive outs.

According to Baseball Reference, Rays hitters recorded just 119 productive outs, second-fewest in the Majors behind Oakland. A productive out is defined as advancing any runner with none out, driving in a run with the second out of an inning, or a sacrifice bunt by a pitcher with one out.

The additions of Rasmus and Ramos should help in that department, as should the continued maturations of Kiermaier and Souza, along with a full season with Duffy, and solid contributions of Longoria and Miller.

All in all, the Rays' vision of returning to their roots looks reasonable.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.