The Rays continue to have one of the best farm systems in Major League Baseball, both in terms of high ceiling talent and depth. The off-season trade that added Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery and Patrick Leonard added to the Rays’ embarrassment of riches.
A former third round draft pick out of a North Carolina high school by the Kansas City Royals, the catcher-turned-outfielder has developed into one of the top power-hitting prospects in baseball. He’s now among the Top 5 prospects in all of baseball. Because of that fact, it was somewhat shocking that Kansas City was willing to move the top prospect in the winter of 2012-13 to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for pitching help in the form of James Shields and Wade Davis.
Myers, 21, split the 2012 season between double-A and triple-A, and hit 37 home runs between the two levels. He has impressive raw power, obviously, but his approach at the plate is still a work-in-progress and he struck out 140 times in 134 games, mainly due to the conscious effort to hit for more pop. His .314 career average has been influenced by some very high BABIPs that will be hard to duplicate at the big league level until he improves against breaking balls and tightens up his two-strike approach.
Defensively, Myers is still learning the nuances of right field but he has average range and a plus arm. He has also played some center field where he projects to be fringe-average, as well as third base where he’s raw but could develop into an average fielder. Myers should open 2013 back in triple-A for a little more seasoning – perhaps to push back his arbitration clock – but he could reach Tampa Bay by mid-season. He projects to develop into an all-star, run-producing right-fielder with 30-plus home run potential.
Archer finally had the breakthrough in 2012 that prospect watchers had been waiting for since his pro debut. The right-hander has made strides with both his control (trimming a walk per nine innings off his rate between 2011 and ’12) and his command, although both remain inconsistent. Archer, 24, can overpower hitters with easy velocity on his fastball that can touch 97-97 mph.
He also features a good slider and the quality of his previously-below-average changeup surprised me. It showed some potential but he needs to keep the pitch down in the zone. He did a nice job of establishing and getting ahead with the fastball before mixing in his secondary pitches. A contact I spoke with made it clear that it’s not just Archer’s stuff that makes him a special pitcher. “You look at his stuff… it’s really good. This kid has top-notch character and he has really good work ethic,” he said. “These are the ingredients that give a player a chance to be a good big leaguer.”
After taking five years to reach double-A, the pitcher made his big league debut in 2012 and showed that he’s capable of retiring big league hitters. After the trade of both James Shields and Wade Davis this past off-season, Archer has a shot at breaking camp as the club’s fifth starter. He has the ceiling of No. 2 or 3 starter.
Lee is one of the most underrated prospects in the game and his name doesn’t pop up nearly as often as it should. A plus-fielding shortstop, the South Korea native also possesses the ability to hit for average while displaying above-average speed on the base paths. As a contact stated, “He’s a quick-twitch guy with foot speed, arm speed, and bat speed.”
At the plate, Lee holds his hands very high and shows a quick bat that’s short to the ball with a level stroke. He looks a little too passive at times, allowing very hittable pitches to go by, and helping to explain why he struck out more than 100 times last season. When I saw him play, he showed the ability to make adjustments by going the other way for a single to left field on the exact same pitch he struck out on in his previous at-bat.
In the field, Lee possesses above-average range as well as a strong, accurate arm and good actions. On the base paths he has the potential to steal 30-40 bases. The biggest need for Lee at this point is to get stronger — as witnessed by his one extra base hit in 20 Arizona Fall League games — but he looked stronger in 2012 than he did when I saw him in ’11. The talent evaluator stated, “As he matures physically and mentally, he should become a very good ball player.” The shortstop prospect should move up to triple-A Durham in 2013 and could be ready to assume the Rays’ starting shortstop job in 2014.
Guerrieri, who just turned 20 in December, was the 24th overall selection during the 2011 amateur draft and his stuff is undeniably good. The South Carolina native has a low-90s fastball that touches the mid-90s, as well as a potentially-plus curveball and a potentially-above-average changeup. His control grades as above-average for his age, thanks to his consistent delivery, but the command of his secondary offerings is a step behind.
What caused him to slide in the draft, though, was concern over his maturity. However, as I discussed with a contact, the maturity of a teenager entering professional baseball for the first time is always a concern but often overblown. The contact stated that the right-hander had a great season both statistically and “how he conducted himself as a professional.”
Guerrieri spent his first official season in pro ball (He didn’t pitch after signing late in 2011) in short-season Hudson Valley where he allowed just five walks and 35 hits in 52 innings of work. Tampa Bay is notoriously cautious with the development of its young pitchers but Guerrieri should open 2013 in A-ball and could move fairly quickly. The young hurler could be ready for the majors around late 2015 or early 2016.
Colome, 24, is entering his seventh pro season and the Rays’ patience is about to pay off. The right-hander split last season between double-A and triple-A — although an injury ended his season prematurely — and could be ready for the majors after about half a year of seasoning back in the upper levels of the system.
The Dominican Republic native has an overpowering fastball that ranges from the mid-to-upper 90s and he backs it up with three complementary offerings, including a slider/cutter, curveball and changeup. He reportedly has a better curveball but I really liked what I saw from his slider/cutter. Colome has the ceiling of a No. 2 or 3 starter but, if he can’t stick in the starting rotation, a contact I spoke with said the prospect has a chance to develop into a dominating reliever. “He has a chance to do both,” he said. “It’s just a matter of command.”
Colome is an impressive pitcher to watch when he’s firing on all cylinders. I saw him hit 97 mph with his first pitch of the game (stadium gun). He pitched with a low three-quarter arm slot that showed a little effort in the first inning while he struggled with his fastball command but looked better as the game progressed. Colome’s fastball showed impressive arm-side run when his mechanics were clicking.
He also looked more comfortable from the stretch, possibly due to the simplified mechanics compared to his full wind-up. The stadium gun was probably a little hot but I saw him bury a 90 mph slider/cutter in the dirt and he featured an impressive 10 mph difference between his fastball and changeup. Credit certainly had to go to the young pitcher’s veteran catcher in that game — as well as to Colome for his coachability — for mixing up his pitches, changing speeds and moving the ball around the zone.
A key component to the 2010 Zack Greinke trade between Milwaukee and Kansas City, Odorizzi rose methodically through both systems. He opened 2012 back in double-A but quickly moved up to triple where he made 19 appearances (18 starts). After the season, the right-hander was traded to Tampa Bay along with Wil Myers, and a collection of prospects, for James Shields and Wade Davis.
Odorizzi’s biggest strength may be his athleticism, which helps him repeat his arm slot and field his position. He also has an impressive pitcher’s frame and has been durable over the past two seasons, pitching more than 140 innings each season. Odorizzi’s repertoire includes an average fastball that ranges between 88-92 mph. He also has a curveball, slider and changeup – all of which have the potential to be average or better with improved command.
His control is currently ahead of his command. I have some concerns over his extreme fly-ball tendencies in 2012 and his ground-ball rates have dipped with each move up the ladder through the minor league system. A contact I spoke with said Odorizzi’s fly-ball rates are the result of relying heavily on his four-seam fastball. “As his changeup gets better and he starts using his two-seamer more, I believe his rates will hold up,” he said. The pitching prospect has the ceiling of a No. 3 or 4 starter. Now that he’s in a system with more pitching depth, Odorizzi, 22, will almost certainly return to triple-A to open 2013.
Shaffer, 21, was a bit of a steal as the 25th overall selection in the 2012 draft. A solid all-around talent out of Clemson University, the North Carolina native is extremely polished and could move quite quickly through the system. He has the potential to hit for both power and average thanks to outstanding approach at the plate and plus bat speed. Shaffer already shows solid power but a contact I spoke with sees even more usable pop in the future. “He has a body that projects to fill out and get stronger,” he said. Defensively, Shaffer could develop into an above-average or plus defender at third base thanks to his athleticism and strong arm.
He’s currently blocked at the big league level by Evan Longoria but I’m told that the organization has no plans to worry about moving him off the hot corner. However, a contact I spoke with felt Shaffer could easily move to another position — should the need arise. “If he hits, we’ll find a spot for him on the big league squad,” the talent evaluator said. “You always [draft] the best player available… You can’t have too many prospects.” After holding his own in the Arizona Fall League, Shaffer could jump to high-A ball and see double-A before the year is out.
Almost everything you need to know about Romero can be summed by looking at two columns on the stat sheet: The young lefty walked almost as many batters as he allowed hits to in 2012: 76 walks to 89 hits in 126 innings pitched. As a contact stated, Romero needs to improve his command of the fastball and throw his breaking ball for strikes but, “He can be overpowering at times.”
The ball comes out of his hand well and the Dominican Republic native can zip his fastball in at 97 mph and has a promising curveball but double-A will be a stiff test for him in 2013. “It’s how you use the stuff that’s important,” the talent evaluator said. Formerly very thin, Romero has added on significant weight to the point where he looks like a future workhorse and has the ceiling of a No. 2 or 3 starter if he can improve his secondary pitches. If not, he could be a dominating high-leverage reliever.
Vettleson isn’t a huge player but he carries some big tools. The left-handed hitter uses a smooth batting stroke and outstanding bat speed to generate above-average power. His has simple mechanics in his swing and keeps his hands quiet. When he connects, the ball makes a special sound coming off of his bat.
When I saw Vettleson play, he hit a double to right center field off of a right-handed pitcher throwing 93-96 mph. In his second at-bat, he drove a ball back up the middle for a single. In his third at-bat, he got behind 0-2 and then worked the count to 3-2. Vettleson then teed off on a low and away fastball to center field for a home run. He didn’t force the issue in any of his at-bats and appeared to have an idea of what he was trying to do. He appeared to favor pitches middle-in.
A contact I spoke with said Vettleson needs to concentrate on using the entire field more often. “He gets pull happy,” the talent evaluator said. I didn’t get a chance to see how well he could handle a good breaking ball. The talented prospect is not all about hitting. He also has a plus arm and solid range in right field. Vettleson will move up to high-A ball to begin 2013 and I wouldn’t be shocked if he got a taste of double-A before the year is done. He’s likely two to three years away from the majors.
Rivero, 21, is quickly rising up the pitching depth charts in the Rays system. Although he’s rail-thin, the southpaw can already hump his heater up into the 90-94 mph range and backs it up with a promising curveball and developing changeup. Rivero has an easy delivery and his low-three-quarter arm slot is almost side-arm. A contract I spoke with said the prospect has a “lightning-quick arm.”
When I saw him pitch he was working well down in the zone but got hit hard when he elevated. His changeup had definite potential but he telegraphed it by slowing his arm speed. Rivero did a nice job of using his fastball early in the count to get ahead and then using his breaking ball to get hitters chasing. The Venezuelan left-hander got off the mound well to field the ball or cover first base and showed his solid athleticism.
Rivero has above-average control and almost doubled his ground-ball rate over 2011. He also almost doubled his innings total for 113.1 innings last season. The talent evaluator I spoke with said Rivero is still learning to pitch and needs to improve his command and develop a more advanced plan for setting up hitters. The lefty will move up to high-A ball in 2013 and could be ready for the majors by mid-to-late 2015.
Snell, 20, was one of the Rays’ 10 picks prior to the second round of the 2011 draft. Drafted out of Washington state, the left-hander is still developing but a contact I spoke with said the prospect is intriguing thanks to his solid delivery, good arm action and the way the ball comes out of his hand. “He has a very high ceiling. He has all the things you look for.” Snell has a four-pitch repertoire with an 88-93 mph fastball, potentially-plus slider and two other pitches currently below-average: a curveball and changeup. He uses his size well to get a downward plane on his pitches, which helps him induce above-average ground-ball rates.
The contact said the keys for Snell to reach his potential are to add strength and stay healthy while continuing to mature. “All young players need to learn to be professionals,” he said. With that said, Snell is dedicated to the game. “He likes what he’s doing… He loves being a professional,” the contact said. The southpaw pitched just 47 innings in 2012 so don’t expect a full-season assignment right away in 2013. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start out the year in extended spring training before moving up to low-A ball in June.
When I first asked a highly-respected talent evaluator about Hager I was told that he was one of the most intriguing prospects in the system. “He’s not on all the top lists, and he’s not a sexy prospect… But if you’re going to bet on a prospect reaching the majors, bet on Hager.” The infielder was one of the youngest players on the low-A squad in 2012 but he was the undisputed leader of the club, and was likened to Paul Konerko in his early years. “He always got it, and could put things into perspective.”
Hager should stick at shortstop thanks to his average speed, decent range, strong arm and good actions. At the plate, the 19-year-old prospect shows the ability to hit for a solid average and makes good contact. Hager has room to add weight/strength to his frame and projects to have 10-15 home run pop. He has a nice smooth stroke and is not afraid to take the ball where it’s pitched. He needs to become a little more patient at times and clean up his base running but he’s ready for the challenge of high-A.
During my 2011-12 Rays Top 15 list, I chose Ames as the Rays’ sleeper prospect for 2012. After struggling in his debut season in ’11, the hard-throwing right-hander returned to short-season ball and was dominant with a 1.96 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 64.1 innings (13 starts). His fastball works in the mid-90s and as a contact put it, “He has a power arm with plus life and a good body.”
Ames needs to improve his secondary pitches and his command has a ways to go. He was an extreme-fly-ball pitcher but allowed just one home run. It’s somewhat rare for a legitimate prospect in his early 20s to repeat short-season ball, but the Rays organization is cautious with its young arms and Ames entered pro ball as a raw power arm. A talent evaluator I spoke with said Ames made a lot of strides in 2012 and is a very hard worker with the makings of a plus slider.
Ames’ changeup needs significant work to help him stick in the starting rotation but the talent evaluator told me that the Rays are committed to him as a starter and have taken just one pitcher (Lenny Linsky) in the upper rounds of the amateur draft with the intention of developing him as a reliever. Ames will move up to A-ball in 2013 and will look to pick up his developmental pace.
Mahtook was the 31st overall selection of the 2011 amateur draft out of Louisiana State University, the second of 10 selections the Rays had that year prior to the second round. A center-fielder in college, the prospect will play the corner outfield in pro ball but a contact I spoke with said he could back-up center in a pinch, thanks to his average range and arm.
Mahtook, 22, split 2012 between high-A and double-A and saw his batting average drop from .290 to .248 but the contact I spoke with felt his struggles had more to do with him tiring in the second half of his first full season, as opposed to being over-matched. “He got a little tired at the end… That first full year is challenging,” he said. “Knowing him… he’ll be a much better hitter [in 2013].” Mahtook hits with a quiet, slightly-open stance. He has a short swing and uses his hands well — but he’s not overly physical. In one at-bat I watched him get fooled and out on his front foot a little too early but he still managed to pull the ball past the shortstop for a single thanks to good hands.
Mahtook has some work to do in the coming year to prove that he can provide enough offense to be a regular corner outfielder in the majors. He hit just nine home runs with 40 walks in 131 games. He stole 23 bases — but was caught nine times — and has slightly-above-average speed. He’s a very good runner under way and gets down the line quickly. The Louisiana native should return to double-A to open 2013 but could see triple-A by the end of the year.
One of my favorite prep hitters available in the 2011 amateur draft, I was happy to see Goeddel sign with an organization that has such a good track record of developing talent. He’s a highly-projectable prospect with a body you can dream on. I preferred his hitting stance as an amateur and it appears as though the Rays have made some adjustments.
His swing remains very impressive, although it’s inconsistent at times and gets loopy. He also has extraneous movement in his hands during his set-up. Even with those issues, Goeddel has potentially-plus defense at third base and could probably play multiple positions in the field thanks to his range, solid arm strength and above-average speed. His future at third base hinges on his power developing as average or better for the hot corner.
The organization almost always starts off its prep picks with an assignment to short-season ball in their first full year, but Goeddel was an exception and I’m told it was because the club felt so highly about him. “He’s truly an exception with what we’ve done over the years,” a contact told me. “There were a lot of things that attracted us to Goeddel… We felt he had legitimate first-round tools.” He’ll likely move up to high-A ball and should be ready for the majors around late 2015 or ’16.