To say the future is bright in Tampa Bay is a bit of an understatement. Youth is front-and-center with the Rays organization; the club has done an enviable job of developing its home-grown talent. Both the scouting and the player development staffs should be given gold medals.
The youth movement actually begins with Andrew Friedman, one of the brightest, young front office men in the game. Although he hasn’t done a ton of wheeling and dealing, Friedman has managed to score interesting prospects such as Sean Rodriguez, Matt Sweeney, Alexander Torres, and Aneury Rodriguez.
Scouting director R.J. Harrison enters his fifth season in the role and has overseen the selecting of players such as David Price, Evan Longoria, Desmond Jennings, and Matt Moore. Mitch Lukevics, director of minor league operations, is in charge of the prospects once they enter the system; players such as Jennings, Moore and even Jeremy Hellickson are prospects that have been drafted outside the first three rounds and developed into top prospects. Although the club has received favorable drafting slots in recent years, it clearly makes great use of later round picks.
The draft hasn’t always gone smoothly for the organization, though. The club hit a huge speed bump in 2009 when it failed to sign its first two selections in LeVon Washington and Kenny Diekroeger, both interesting selections to begin with. The organization made up for it, to some degree, by nabbing some higher-ceiling (but higher risk) players in later rounds: catcher Luke Bailey, first baseman Jeff Malm, and pitcher Kevin James.
Not known as an international powerhouse, the organization has one Latin player amongst its Top 10 prospects (pitcher Alexander Colome). The club did break into the European market this past off-season by signing Czech left-hander Stepan Havlicek.
On the big league squad, the team boasts some exciting talent, including the enigmatic B.J. Upton, third baseman Longoria, and second baseman Rodriguez. Young position players marching through the minor league system include nearly-ready Jennings, Tim Beckham, and Reid Brignac. The depth isn’t great, but Jennings has the chance to be a special player.
The starting rotation is the backbone of this club. James Shields is the old man of the group at 28, followed by Jeff Niemann, 27, Matt Garza, 26, Wade Davis, 24, and David Price, 24. All five pitchers arguably have the ceilings of at least a No. 2 starter. Looking down into the minor leagues and the club has a ton of pitching depth, including Hellickson, Moore, Colome, Nick Barnese, Kyle Lobstein, and even Jacob McGee, who is making his way back from injury.
This club can compete with the best organizations in the Major Leagues right now, and it should continue to be a powerhouse for years to come.
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