The Salt River Rafters look to take home the crown this year on the backs of the strong pitching staff. They feature risings stars, former highly touted players and a few break out candidates for next year. The Rafters assembled their team with players from the Toronto Blue Jays, St. Louis Cardinals, Arizona Diamondbacks, Tampa Bay Rays and Colorado Rockies.
Toronto Blue Jays
C Derrick Chung
3B Andy Burns
CF Kenny Wilson
Center fielder Kenny Wilson has always shown off his speed, but not much else since Toronto selected Wilson in the second round of the 2008 draft. The 5'10 185 pound right hander seemed to have flipped a switch last year though, as he put together his first season with a batting average above .250, in his third trip through the Midwest League. He suffered a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder in 2011 that allowed him to only play in 48 games. Coming back from that, he spent 94 games in Low A, followed by 29 games in A+, hitting a combined .260/.362/.358 with 55 steals, 92 runs scored, 30 extra base hits, and 58 walks to 97 strike outs. He only played 22 games before going down with an injury at the end of April, not making it back to game action for three months. He played in 33 more games to finish off the year, and he hit .259/.333/.375 with 56 runs scored, 16 steals, 14 doubles, 19 walks and 56 strike outs.
Derrick Chung was drafted last year in the 31st round as a 24 year old short stop. The 5'11 180 pound right hander was moved to second base last year, and then behind the plate for this year. He only played 71 games at A+ Dunedin, batting .287/.341/.336 with 12 doubles, 21 RBI, 24 runs scored, no home runs and 20 walks to 30 strike outs. He missed time in May after being taken out in a play at the plate. Behind the dish he only allowed seven passed balls, made one error, and threw out 42% of potential thieves. Chung has a strong arm and quick release, but has no power at the plate. He's good at getting the bat on the ball and has a plate discipline, but being as old as he is, he's certainly behind the curve.
Right handed pitcher John Stilson has been on the fast track ever since the draft. He was selected in the 3rd round of the 2011 draft and the 6'3 200 pounder started his career in A+, with a promotion to AA in his first pro season at age 21. He put up solid numbers in a starting role, but he was moved to the bullpen and thrived. He pitched at AA and AAA this year, posting a 2.17 ERA in 49.2 innings, allowing 39 hits (7.1 H/9), 15 walks (2.7 BB/9), 53 strike outs (9.6 K/9) and a 3.53 K/BB ratio. On the mound he works with a 93-96 mph heater, a devastating change up and a hard breaking ball (not sure if its a curve or slider). He has good makeup and a deceptive, cross-body delivery. He will be in Toronto next year barring injury.
St. Louis Cardinals
2B Jacob Wilson
RF Stephen Piscotty
LF James Ramsey
LHP Anthony Ferrara
RHSP Sam Gaviglio
LHP Dean Kiekhefer
LHP Lee Stoppelman
Right hander Sam Gaviglio was drafted in the 5th round of the 2011 draft, and made his debut that year with short season Batavia. Last year, he made 23 starts, posting a solid 3.92 ERA in Low A as a 22 year old with 133 innings pitched, 128 hits (8.7 H/9), 30 walks (2.0 BB/9),113 punch outs (7.6 K/9), a 3.77 K/BB ratio and a 2.79 GO/AO ratio as well. This year, he only threw 47.2 innings due to injury, but he was great when he was on the mound. He had a 2.27 ERA, 33 hits allowed (6.2 H/9), 13 walks (2.5 BB/9), 39 strike outs (7.4 K/9), a 3.0 K/BB ratio and 1.81 GO/AO ratio. He only throws in the high 80's, but he works his sinker in, out, down, wherever he wants to put it, and has a change up and slider as well.
Another reliever from the Card's contingent that could shoot up prospect lists is lefty Lee Stoppelman. The 6'2 210 lb southpaw lit up the short seaon New York-Penn league as a 22 year old after being drafted in the 24th round in 2012. He posted a 0.79 ERA in 34.1 innings of relief, allowing 23 hits (6.0 H/9), 7 walks (1.8 BB/9), 49 strike outs (12.8 K/9), and a 7.0 K/BB ratio. This year he was bumped to A+ to start the year and he threw 24 innings with a 1.50 ERA. That got him a promotion to AA where he spent most of the year (40 innings) and then a cup of coffee with AAA to finish the year. For the season he had a 1.50 ERA in 66 innings, allowing 40 hits (5.5 H/9), 26 walks (3.5 BB/9), 78 strike outs (10.6 K/9), and a 3.0 K/BB ratio. His fastball works in the 88-92 range with good movement, his best off speed pitch is a change up with nice fade on it and he has a curve he mixes in every once in awhile. He gets excellent deception coming from a low 3/4 arm slot that makes his heat seem even faster.
Jacob Wilson is the only position player heading west that wasn't picked in some form of the first round. Wilson went in the 10th round in 2012, showing good pop and advancing through both levels of A ball this year. He spent the majority of his time in Low A, making 409 trips to the plate with a .243/.336/.424 line. The 5'11 195 lb second baseman stroked 28 doubles, 18 homers and scored 75 times this year with 57 walks to 74 strike outs and 82 runs batted in. He struggled in A+ though, only managing a .179/.294/.291 line in 32 games. A .191 BABIP there didn't do him any favors either.
SS Nick Ahmed
2B Mike Freeman
3B Jake Lamb
RHP Jake Barrett
LHSP Andrew Chafin
RHP Bo Schultz
RHP Matt Stites
Jake Lamb was a sixth round pick in 2012 for Arizona, debuting in the Pioneer league with a bang, hitting .329/.390/.539 with 22 doubles, nine home runs, 24 walks and 51 strike outs in just 67 games. Now 22, the 6'2 200 pound lefty swinger was bumped to A+ to start the year but injured the ole hamate bone in his hand on the first of June, limiting him to half a season. He did manage 304 trips to the plate between rehab in the AZL and A+, hitting a combined .302/.421/.548 with 22 doubles once again, 13 home runs, 50 walks and 75 strike outs. The only flag is a ridiculous .380 BABIP this year and an equally absurd .371 BABIP last year. He doesn't have the speed to beat out hits so this could be an early sign he might regress. The hamate injury sapped his power, but he still hit 11 doubles and five home runs after coming back from the injury. He has plus raw power, and improving discipline at the plate (his walk rate jumped almost 10%). He's very good defensively with decent range and more than enough arm for third base.
Jake Barrett is an Arizona native and was drafted twice in the third round, first by Toronto in 2009, and then again in 2012 by the Diamonbacks. The 6'3 230 pound power righty became a dominant closer for Arizona this year, locking down the 9th inning for A+ until the end of June, then AA for the rest of the year. This year he combined for 29 saves in 52 innings with a 1.21 ERA, 39 hits (6.8 H/9), 12 walks (2.1 BB/9), 59 strike outs (10.2 K/9), and a 4.92 K/BB ratio. He thrived after the promotion, posting a 0.36 ERA, allowing just one earned run and three walks in 24.2 innings with 14 saves. He has two overpowering pitches he uses, a heater anywhere from 93 to 98 and a hard slider with excellent bite on it. He's got the power pitches, frame and demeanor to continue making the 9th inning his home, as long as his elbow holds up.
Matt Stites made his way to the Diamondbacks organization this year in a trade from San Diego with Joe thatcher and a round B draft pick for Ian Kennedy. The 5'11 170 pound right hander has yet to make a pitch for Arizona, as he had an emergency appendectomy at the end of July which shut him down for the remainder of 2013. The former 17th round pick in 2011 did make 46 appearances for AA San Antonio before his appendix gave way, totaling 52 innings with 14 saves and a 2.08 ERA. He allowed 37 hits (6.4 H/9), 8 walks (1.4 BB/9), 51 strike outs (8.8 K/9), a 6.38 K/BB ratio and 1.06 GO/AO. As amazing a year as it was, he was actually worse than his previous campaign. In 2012 he threw 48.2 innings in Low A with a 0.74 ERA, only 25 hits and three walks allowed with 60 strike outs. That's 4.6 hits per 9 innings and 20 strike outs for every walk. He does this with an easy 92-96 mph heater that has been reported to hit triple digits, that also has heavy sinking action in the lower ranges. He pairs that with a slider with sharp tilt that looks like a future plus pitch. He also has fantastic command, seeing as he's walked 19 batters in 135.1 professional innings.
Tampa Bay Rays
C Curt Casali
2B Ryan Brett
3B Richie Shaffer
LF Todd Glaesmann
LHSP Grayson Garvin
RHP Merrill Kelly
LHP Mike Montgomery
RHP Matt Ramsey
When the Rays selected Ryan Brett in the third round of the 2010 draft, they knew they were getting a scrappy under-sized second baseman. The 5'9 180 pound switch hitter was raking in his first full season last year before getting popped with a 50-game suspension for, as he says, "taking an energy pill that contained Adderall". By that point he had made 456 trips to the plate, compiling a .285/.348/.393 line with 48 steals, 20 doubles, six homers and three triples with 37 walks and 73 punch outs. He improved in just about every aspect offensively, with a combined .302/.356/.454 line between A+, AA and a rehab stint in the GCL. He added 17 doubles, 7 home runs, 5 triples, 26 stolen bases and 23 walks to 43 strike outs for the year. He was on fire with A+, hitting .340/.396/.490 in 225 plate appearances before his promotion. He makes consistent contact and wears out the gaps. He has above-average speed and great instincts on the bases. He's got a quick first step which gives him very good range at second, a solid arm and iffy hands.
Southpaw Grayson Garvin seems to be a forgotten man in the Rays system, even though he's a former 1st round pick by the Rays in 2011, but went down with an elbow injury that required Tommy John. He was able to come back and make 11 starts this year, spanning 28.1 innings between the GCL and A+. He finished with 19 hits allowed (6.0 H/9), 8 walks (2.5 BB/9), 24 strike outs (7.6 K/9) and a 3.0 K/BB ratio. On the mound, the 6'6 225 pound lefty pumps fastballs between 90-95 with great command of it. He's also got a future plus change that has a good 10-15 mph separation from the cheese with great fade on it. A developing slider rounds out his arsenal and he should get plenty of innings in the desert to make up for lost time this year.
Matt Ramsey had a solid full season debut this year, throwing out of the pen for both A ball affiliates. The 23 year old was chosen by Tampa in the 19th round of the 2011 draft, and in 50.2 innings this year he allowed 51 hits (9.1 H/9), 25 walks (4.4 BB/9), 58 strike outs (10.3 K/9) and a 2.32 K/BB ratio. Ramsey is another Tommy John survivor, getting his done shortly after signing, and he made his pro debut last year. At the time of the draft he could get his fastball up to 98, but sat around 94-96 with it. Add a hammer curve and show-me slider, and that's what he has to get out hitters.
RHP Dan Houston
LHSP Tyler Matzek
LHP Kraig Sitton
RHP Cole White
The Rockies contingent is led by first baseman Kyle Parker, who is continuing a transition from the outfield this fall. The former 26th overall pick in 2010 has yet to hit less than .285 or less than 20 home runs in a season while progressing a level per year. This year he posted a .288/.345/.492 line with 23 doubles and homers, three triples, 70 runs scored, 74 RBI, 6 steals and 40 walks to 99 strike outs. The 6 ft 200 pound right hander has continued to cut down on strike outs, but his walk rate was cut in half this year in his first taste at AA. His calling card is his obvious power, but he's got a career .293 average, so he can barrel up the ball all over the field. Not much is known yet about his defense at first base, but odds are he's not going to be gold glove material over there, as he was a below-average left fielder this year in any metric.
Switch hitting string-bean Cristhian Adames will also be heading west. The 6 ft 160 pound short stop has been young for just about every level he has played at, starting in 2011 when he played in Low A at the age of 19. Now 21, Adames just finished his season at AA where he hit .267/.331/.350 in 446 trips to the plate. He hit 19 doubles, just three home runs, stole 13 bags, scored 45 runs and walked 34 times to 78 punch outs. His strike out rate rose slightly this year while he lost 2 points on his walk rate during the toughest jump of the minors. At the plate he stays inside the ball well, utilizing an opposite field approach from both sides of the plate. He also began using his legs more, but the power production has not shown yet. He's got decent wheels but nothing special, and his range at short is similar. His glove alone though, will get him to the show. He's got reliable hands, a quick release and strong arm to make those throws from the hole. Style points and web gems are bound to be in his future as well.
Reliever Kraig Sitton had to repeat the Cal League, but in doing so he figured a few things out. The 6'5 190 pound southpaw doubled his strike out rate from last year to 2013, and he allowed 3 less hits per 9 innings this year. He was originally drafted by the Rocks in the 7th round of the 2010 draft, and he posted a 2.93 ERA this year in 67.2 innings. He allowed 61 hits (8.1 H/9), 27 walks (3.6 BB/9), struck out 63 (8.4 K/9), had a 2.33 K/BB ratio and 1.33 GO/AO. He absolutely has LOOGY potential as a fallback with lefties only managing a .160/.208/.190 line. That's a .398 OPS with just six walks and 32 punch outs in 106 left handed batters faced. He's got a funky delivery and a wipe out slider that is completely unfair to a left handed hitter, along with a high 80's sinker.
Sources: Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, VivaElBirdos.com, Rays Colored Glasses