After a massive roster overhaul, the new-look Tampa Bay Rays are aiming to defy the odds, something they’ve been consistently accomplishing for the past seven years. They’ll unquestionably need their surplus of young talent to make a tremendous difference if they intend to prove the multitude of skeptics wrong yet again.

Now, I can argue that this team is still a division contender until I’m blue in the face, but my opinion won’t go far to sway perception anyway, so I’ll refrain. Instead, I’ll be taking an in-depth look at a few of the prospects that could be critical to this club’s success in the upcoming season.

Keep in mind, this is not a ranking of the top prospects in Tampa Bay’s system (You can find Keith Law’s latest rankings here), but rather a short list of players that could, in my opinion, contribute significantly to the Rays throughout the 2015 season.

  1. Steven Souza, OF: The centerpiece of Tampa Bay’s return in the three-team Wil Myers trade from this past December, Souza has been penciled into an everyday spot in the projected starting lineup heading into next season. Everything can change between now and Opening Day, but it appears that the Rays are counting on a breakout season from the 25-year-old to compensate for the run production lost with the subtractions of Myers, Ben Zobrist, and others. Souza’s raw power and athleticism make that a very feasible objective.
  2. Alex Colome, P: Even without David Price, Tampa Bay’s rotation is still in excellent shape. However, their depth will be tested until they get electrifying southpaw Matt Moore back from injury in June or July. The vacancy left by his absence will be filled out of Spring Training, and the front-runner for that spot is right-handed starter Alex Colome. Colome has performed well in very brief big league service time (39 2/3 innings), but it seems likely that he’ll see an expanded and potentially prolonged role with the Rays in 2015. His marvelous array of pitches make him nearly untouchable when he’s on, but Colome does need to improve on his command if he expects to hang around in this remarkable rotation.
  3. Mikie Mahtook, OF: Formerly a first round draft pick by the Rays in 2011, Mahtook has taken enormous strides forward in the past few seasons to develop into the well-rounded player he is today. He doesn’t do any single thing exceptionally well, but he does possess an average assortment of tools across the board, and could very possibly turn into a valuable role outfielder at Kevin Cash‘s disposal, similar to what Brandon Guyer brings to the current squad. Mahtook, 25, slashed to an impressive .292/.362/.458 line in 489 at bats at Triple-A Durham a year ago, and Tampa Bay’s recent moves might just open up a spot for Mahtook to finally break into the majors and prove his worth at the highest level.
  4. Burch Smith, P: Smith was another key piece brought to the Rays in the Myers trade, and he’s certainly a young hurler to keep an eye on. Smith was poised to take over a more prominent role in the San Diego Padres rotation until forearm tendinitis caused him to miss almost the entire 2014 season. Smith utilizes a cutting, mid-90s fastball and a pair of improving secondary pitches to keep hitters off-balance. If he can prove he’s healthy, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see Smith outperform his competition in the Spring and earn that fifth and final spot in the Rays rotation. If not, he’ll be a fine option for the club at Triple-A, or even an alternative in the bullpen.
  5. Tim Beckham, SS: Beckham will likely always be remembered as a considerable bust from the 2008 MLB draft. Tampa Bay selected him first overall that year, ahead of fellow first rounders Buster Posey, Pedro Alvarez, Eric Hosmer, Andrew Cashner, and others. To this point, Beckham’s career has resulted in nothing but disappointment and drug suspensions. No longer is he expected to be a superstar shortstop of the future, but, at 25 years of age, Beckham still has the capability to be contribute at the big league level, and Kevin Cash has cited him as a player in the mix to add depth to Tampa Bay’s thin middle infield. An impressive Spring could give Beckham the opportunity to show why he was so highly regarded as a high school prospect.

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