Rays 2017 preview: Tampa Bay a trendy pick to take big step forward

After finishing last in the AL East last season, the new-look Rays hope to take a big step forward in 2017

After finishing last in the AL East last season, the new-look Rays hope to take a big step forward in 2017. But will it be enough to make the postseason?

One forecast is bullish on the Rays, who brought in catcher Wilson Ramos, outfielder Colby Rasmus, pitcher Jose De Leon,outfielder Mallex Smith and reliever Shawn Tolleson.

According toBaseball Prospectus, the Rays will finish the season with more than 80 wins, good forsecond in the AL East. While the Rays should be improved from last year's68-94record, that projection is a bit bold for our liking. A season with 75 wins, which theAtlantis Casino Resort projects, seems more realistic.

The Rays are withoutLogan Forsythe (traded to Dodgers), Drew Smyly (traded to Mariners) and Alexei Ramirez moving forward, but a solid rotation, stellar defense and reliable bullpen help temper those losses. Like last season, the biggest questionremains: Will the Rays be able to score enough runs to win games?

Here's a look at what the 2017 season holds for the Rays.

Tampa Bay Rays schedule 2017

The Rays kick off the 2017 schedule April 2 at 1 p.m. ET against the Yankees at Tropicana Field as part of ESPN's coverage of opening day. The three-game home series against the Yankees is followed by a four-game set at home against the Blue Jays.

Tampa's first road trip of the season also begins against the Yankees on April 10 before they travel to Fenway Park to take on the Red Sox.

Tampa Bay Rays roster

Rays projected opening day lineup

1. Kevin Kiermaier, OF

2.Brad Miller, 2B

3. Evan Longoria, 3B

4.Corey Dickerson, DH

5.Matthew Duffy, SS

6.Colby Rasmus, OF

7.Steven Souza, OF

8.Logan Morrison, 1B

9.Curtis Casali, C

Rays projected rotation

1.Chris Archer, RHP

2.Jake Odorizzi, RHP

3.Alex Cobb, RHP

4.Matt Andriese, RHP

5.Blake Snell, LHP

Raysprojected bullpen

Closer: Alex Colome, RHP
Setup:Xavier Cedeno, LHP
Setup:Danny Farquhar, RHP

Raysfantasy baseball sleeper

Blake Snell, SP: The 24-year-old southpaw looks to build on his9.9 K/9 ratio and 3.54 ERA (3.39 FIP) from last year. He had a low HR rate (0.56) and if he can bring his walk totals down, Snell has the potential to pay big rewards.

Rays top prospect(s)

Pitcher Jose De Leon should see plenty of major league innings but will the Rays make room for infielderWilly Adames? He's currently being played at shortstop but a move to second or third base appears likely.

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