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Top 15 Prospects: Tampa Bay Rays

The Tampa Bay Rays organization has separated itself well from the mentality that once saw the organization make some interesting choices during the original expansion draft of 1997 and then make a big slash in the free agent pool with the likes of Fred McGriff, Wade Boggs, and Roberto Hernandez (and later Jose Canseco). That approach – an immediate win-now mentality – crashed and burned very quickly with no organizational depth to fill in the big league gaps. The club has spent the last few years developing in-house – and high-ceiling – talent with the likes of David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, and Evan Longoria. This is the recipe for success for a club that cannot afford to battle the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox for the highest payroll in the American League East division. The organization enjoyed a plethora of picks before the third round of the 2011 draft and, while they picked some very intriguing prospects, I would still describe the haul as more quantity over quality. A number of over-drafts were made within the selections to keep the budget reasonable for the small-market-minded team.

1. Matt Moore, LHP
BORN: June 18, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 5 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2007 8th round, New Mexico HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 2nd

Moore enters the 2012 season with perhaps as much hype as any other rookie hurler in the last five to 10 years, save for a fella named Stephen Strasburg of Washington. The lefty has a chance to be as good or better as fellow-home-grown-southpaw David Price, although he was acquired out of the college ranks and selected first overall in 2007. Moore, an eighth rounder from that very same draft, is a much better story in terms of the organization’s player development. He has a chance to be as good or better than some of the other prep arms nabbed in the first round of that draft including: Jarrod Parker (Arizona, now with Oakland), Madison Bumgarner (San Francisco), Phillippe Aumont (Seattle, now with Philly), Blake Beavan (Texas, now with Seattle), Chris Withrow (Los Angeles NL), Tim Alderson (San Francisco, now with Pittsburgh), Michael Main (Texas, now with San Francisco), and Rick Porcello (Detroit). Signed for $115,000, Moore is head and shoulders above anyone else taken in the eighth round; the next best prospect selected in that round would be a toss up between Trevor Reckling (Los Angeles AL) or Jay Voss (Florida, now Detroit). Moore’s repertoire features three potentially plus pitches in a 91-97 mph fastball, nasty curveball and solid changeup. He has all the makings of a No. 1 starter who should eat up tons of innings with a solid frame and worry-free mechanics. The Rays club could feature a killer starting rotation in ’12 with the likes of David Price, James Shields, Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, and either Wade Davis or Jeff Niemann.

2. Hak-Ju Lee, SS
BORN: Nov. 4, 1990
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2008 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 8th

Perhaps the most underrated middle infielder in baseball, Lee is going to take a lot of MLB fans by surprise when he finally settles in as the Rays’ everyday shortstop. He is a gifted fielder who will vacuum up ground balls with above-average range and steady glove. He also has outstanding instincts and a strong arm. As if the Rays’ talented starting rotation needs the added edge. At the plate Lee uses the whole field and shows solid gap power. He should hit for a solid batting average but he won’t show much home run power. He’s also a swift base runner and could steal between 20 to 30 bases in a full season. With just 100 at-bats above high-A ball, Lee could return to double-A to begin 2012 but don’t be shocked if he’s the Rays’ starting shortstop by August. Acquired from the Cubs in the large deal involving Matt Garza, this is one player the Cubs might regret letting get away (even with Starlin Castro on hand).

3. Taylor Guerrieri, RHP
BORN: Dec. 1, 1992
EXPERIENCE: None
ACQUIRED: 2011 1st round, South Carolina HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA

Another underrated player, Guerrieri was one of the top prep pitchers – from a pure talent perspective – in the 2011 draft. The club snatched him up with the 24th overall selection amid concerns about his maturity. Baseball America said it best during their pre-draft coverage in 2011:

“Guerrieri will be one of the toughest calls for clubs in the first round. He has one of the draft’s best arms, and among preps he ranks behind only Oklahomans Dylan Bundy and Archie Bradley in pure stuff… A South Carolina signee, Guerrieri could go in the first 10 picks if teams are sold on his makeup, but many are not. He’s on his second high school thanks to off-field incidents at North Augusta (S.C.) High, and scouts continue to research his decision-making.”

His four-pitch repertoire includes a 90-95 mph fastball that can touch the upper 90s, a potentially-plus curveball, a cutter and a changeup. Guerrieri signed too late to play pro ball in 2011. With Tampa Bay’s methodical (and very successful) approach to developing pitchers, the right-hander will likely open ’12 in extended spring training before being assigned to a short-season squad in June. With that said, he could probably hold his own in low-A ball right now.

4. Chris Archer, RHP
BORN: Sept. 26, 1988
EXPERIENCE: 6 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2006 5th round, North Carolina HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 4th

Along with Hak-Ju Lee, Archer was part of the loot that the Rays acquired from the Chicago Cubs in the Matt Garza trade, which just keeps on giving and giving. The right-hander teases prospect watchers with his potential but he’s also painfully inconsistent – especially in terms of both his command and his control. Archer, 23, posted a 5.36 BB/9 rate in double-A in 2011. His strikeout rate, which was 7.91 K/9, could see a hike if he learns to command his fastball better within the zone. His fastball ranges from the low-to-mid 90s and can occasionally touch the upper 90s. He also has a plus slider and a middling changeup. Although he has the frame to provide plenty of innings, Archer may be better suited to a high-leverage relief role if his control does not improve. On the plus side, though, he’s in the right organization to help him take a step or two forward in his development.

5. Enny Romero, LHP
BORN: Jan. 24, 1991
EXPERIENCE: 4 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2008 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 11th

Romero is yet another talented left-hander coming up through the Rays’ minor league ranks. With a little more development time he could be talked about as one of the best pitching prospects in the game, perhaps as soon as 2013. Romero was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2008 and he’s made steady progress ever since. He already throws his heater up to 96-97 mph and he has more room on his frame to add muscle. His repertoire is rounded out with a curveball and a changeup. Both currently flash average potential at their best moments but he has a bit of a unique delivery and he struggles to repeat his arm slot at times. With more innings under his belt, he should show improvements in both pitches and the delivery gives him a little added deception to the hitter – especially lefties who have a heck of a time lifting the ball in the air against Romero.

6. Alexander Colome, RHP
BORN: Dec. 31, 1988
EXPERIENCE: 5 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2007 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 7th

Colome has been dancing around the Top 10 list for the Rays for a while now. Because he hasn’t made as much improvement with his control as hoped, and with the starting pitching depth on the big league club, Colome could very well end up at the back end of the Rays’ bullpen as soon as 2013. His stuff is definitely good enough to close at the Major League level. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and can touch 97-98 mph. He has a good curveball as his second weapon. Moving to the ‘pen would allow him to ditch his slider and changeup, both of which as fringe-average at best. Colome’s uncle Jesus Colome pitched in relief for parts of six seasons with the Rays. The younger Colome has been very durable over the past two seasons and he made 28 starts in the minors between high-A and double-A in 2011. He also made 11 relief appearances in the Dominican Winter League, posting a 0.77 ERA with 14 Ks in 11.2 innings (albeit with eight walks). He’ll likely return to double-A to begin 2012 but he could reach triple-A – and possibly the Majors – by the end of the year.

7. Alex Torres, LHP
BORN: Dec. 8, 1987
EXPERIENCE: 7 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2005 international free agent (by Los Angeles AL)
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 9th

Torres is a smallish left-hander who has some conditioning issues. He also struggles with his control, thanks to a cross-body motion, and posted a walk rate of 5.41 BB/9 at triple-A in 2011. He’s been durable over the past three seasons by pitching more than 140 innings each year. I had a chance to personally scout Torres last season and caught him on a bit of an off day. I noted that he used his curveball too much and will need to learn to pitch off his fastball – which ranges 89-93 mph – if he’s going to succeed at the Major League level. When I saw him, his curveball was a little too loopy. He did occasionally break off a few tight curveballs that moved more like sliders. Torres has a potentially-plus changeup but I did not witness much of it. Scouts see him as a potential No. 3 starter but I am a little less optimistic and see him as more of a No. 4 starter or middle reliever but he should definitely have a solid career in the big leagues. He should return to triple-A for some more seasoning in 2012.

8. Mikie Mahtook, OF
BORN: Nov. 30, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 1 season
ACQUIRED: 2011 1st round, Louisiana State U
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA

The third last pick of the first round, taken one spot ahead of fellow Rays’ prospect Jake Hager, Mahtook has the chance to be a very solid big league ball player. His overall ceiling, though, is in question. Mainly a center-fielder in college, there is some concern that he won’t have enough range to play center at the big league level. Add in an average throwing arm and he’s likely headed to left field where it will put more pressure on his bat. Mahtook isn’t afraid to use the whole field but he needs to focus on pulling the ball with authority as it remains to be seen how much home-run power he’ll show in pro ball. Mahtook signed too late to play ball during the regular season but he was assigned to the Arizona Fall League and performed very well. He hit .338 and knocked out three home runs in 18 games. A star college player, he should open 2012 with an initial assignment to high-A ball and has the skills necessary to reach double-A in his first full season.

9. Drew Vettleson, OF
BORN: July 19, 1991
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2010 supplemental 1st round, Washington HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 14th

One of my favorite B-level Rays prospects, Vettleson, 20, had a solid debut season in Rookie ball by posting a wRC+ of 123. He showed patience at the plate (10.1 BB%) as well as increased power (.179 ISO rate); he could eventually hit 20 home runs once he learns to pull the ball with authority. He also showed off his slightly-above-average speed by nabbing 20 bases in 26 tries. Vettleson really wore down in the second half of the year so he’ll have to get stronger. He also needs to improve against southpaws after posting an OPS of just .516 against them (compared to .877 vs righties) in 2011. In the field, he should develop into an average or better right-fielder. Vettleson could move up to low-A ball in 2012 where he’ll be challenged to maintain his performance through August.

10. Tim Beckham, SS/2B
BORN: Jan. 27, 1990
EXPERIENCE: 4 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2008 1st round, Georgia HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 18th

It’s been a long, hard, humbling road for Beckham, who was selected first overall out of a Georgia high school in the 2008 draft. Four years into his pro career, he has yet to show star potential and has performed basically at an average level at each stop along his path to the Majors. Defensively it’s become clear that he’ll have to move off shortstop at the big league level (especially with Hak-Ju Lee in the same organization). He may end up at third base or right field. Beckham spent 2011 at double-A, posting a wRC+ of .102 (.100 being average) but he did maintain a decent batting average and showed that he isn’t afraid to talk a walk. He also swiped 15 bases in 19 tries and has average speed. He received a late-season promotion to triple-A and held his own in 24 games. After the season Beckham played another 22 games in the Arizona Fall League where he showed some unexpected power (.244 ISO rate) but was otherwise unspectacular. He should return to triple-A for 2012 where he’ll need to develop more power in his game if he’s going to be an everyday player at his projected position.

The Next Five

11. Ryan Brett, 2B: A second baseman and center fielder in high school, Brett has settled in at the keystone position in the pro ranks. He has yet to hit below .300 in two pro seasons and he has a solid idea of what he needs to do at the plate to be successful. Just 5’9”, power will never be a big part of his game but he makes excellent contact (8.9% strikeout rate) and isn’t afraid to take a walk (9.6%). After two seasons in Rookie ball with above average performances (wRC+ of 133 in ’11), the switch-hitting Brett should move up to low-A ball in 2012.

12. Tyler Goeddel, 3B: One of my favorite prep bats from the 2011 draft, I was thrilled to see Goeddel sign with an organization with such a strong commitment to player development. He currently displays excellent gap power and easily projects to hit 20+ home runs with added experience. I love his swing and could definitely see him hitting for a solid average as a pro. Goeddel also shows impressive defensive skills at third base and could develop into a gold glove candidate with a plus arm. He has above-average speed but that could trickle away as he fills out his 6’4” 180 lbs frame.

13. Josh Sale, OF: The Rays’ first round pick in 2010, Sale has developed at a snail’s pace so far. The outfielder has decent hitting mechanics but he’s a little too aggressive at the plate and may simply need a better idea of what he’s trying to do, as well as better pitch selection. Still just 20, Sale may be challenged with a promotion to low-A ball in 2012 or he could spend a little more time in extended spring training. He’s in danger of getting lost in the shuffle of a very deep minor league system.

14. Brandon Guyer, OF: Guyer doesn’t have the raw skill that someone like Josh Sale possesses but he makes the most of his abilities and could be a solid fourth outfielder on the Rays as soon as 2012. Guyer, 26, posted a wRC+ of 150 in triple-A in 2011 and really has nothing left to prove in the minors. He does a little bit of everything and could be a solid platoon player against tough southpaws (.979 OPS vs LHPs in 2011).

15. Derek Dietrich, 3B/SS: Dietrich turned down the Astros as a third round pick in 2007 and instead headed off to Georgia Tech where he had a solid college career. Drafted by the Rays in the second round of the ’10 draft, he finally signed and spent last season slugging 21 home runs (.219 ISO) in low-A ball thanks to above-average left-handed power. He’ll move up to high-A ball in 2012 where he look to make more consistent contact. Currently playing shortstop, he’s expected to eventually move to the hot corner.

SLEEPER ALERT: Jeff Ames, RHP: One of the Rays’ many supplemental first round draft picks (seven) from 2011, Ames could go down as one of the best. The right-hander features plus arm strength and can fire his above-average moving fastball up to 95-97 mph, although it fluctuated in 2011. That allowed the Rays to nab him with the 42nd overall pick. He pitched 30.1 innings in his debut and posted a strikeout rate of 11.57 K/9 in Rookie ball. He could open 2012 in low-A ball if he has a strong spring. Ames, a junior college draftee, could develop into a high-leverage reliever at the big league level but he’ll likely pitch out of the starting rotation in the low minors.