Tampa Bay Rays Top 20 Prospects for 2014
The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2014 Baseball Prospect Book. The book has been delayed by my head injury, but it will come out eventually. Thank you for your patience and we still need pre-orders!
All of these grades are preliminary and subject to change.
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS:
Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a reasonable chance of becoming stars or superstars. In theory, most Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or unanticipated problems don't intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.
Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.
Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Some end up as role players or bench guys. Many don't make it at all.
Also note that there is diversity within each category. I'm a tough grader; Grade C+ is actually good praise, and some C+ prospects (especially at lower levels) turn out very well indeed.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for my full opinion about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.
1) Jake Odorizzi, RHP, Grade B+: This is the same grade as last year and I can’t very well demote him given his fine Triple-A performance. Nothing left to prove in the minors, not a number one starter but should be a solid three or four. Athletic, stays healthy, throws strikes with four pitches, only problem is fly ball tendency which could result in excess homers.
2) Hak-Ju Lee, SS, Grade B: Seemed recovered from knee injury but now out with a calf strain. Assuming good health, impressive defense will get him to the majors. I have been optimistic about his bat in the past, started to lose some faith after so-so 2012 season, but I tend towards optimism again, at least about his ability to hit for a solid average.
3) Taylor Guerrieri, RHP, Grade B: Will miss 2014 with Tommy John surgery and also has a 50-game drug of abuse suspension to deal with. Number two or strong number three starter upside if he returns properly and avoids further off-field troubles. Great reports from Midwest League about his sinker and curveball before he got hurt.
4) Enny Romero, LHP, Grade B: Borderline B-. Will open 2014 in Triple-A. Aggressive grade here given his control problems, but I really like his stuff and he is with a good organization for pitching development.
5) Nathan Karns ,RHP, Grade B-: I think this was a great pickup from the Nationals. He needs some command refinement as brief trial with Nats showed last year, but his K/IP and H/IP marks are strong and reflect his quality fastball and curveball. Development of change will determine if he starts or relieves.
6) Andrew Toles, OF, Grade B-: Very intriguing player, hit .326/.359/.466 with 35 doubles, 16 triples, 67 steals in Low-A. Complication is poor plate discipline (22 walks, 105 whiffs) making OBP extremely dependent on batting average. That’s OK if you’re hitting .326 but not if that devolves to .270 against better pitching. Would be an excellent leadoff man if OBP skills grow to match the speed.
7) Ryan Brett, 2B, Grade B-: I’ve always liked this guy and continue to do so despite some slippage in his performance in Double-A. Runs well, more pop than typical 5-9 player, needs to cut back on errors but has tools to be a fine defender.
8) Riley Unroe, SS, Grade B-: Second rounder from Arizona high school last June, switch-hitter with high walk rate in rookie ball, some speed, chance to stick at shortstop, projected to hit for average with a shot at some power eventually, and was one of the youngest players in the draft class, doesn’t turn 19 until this August. Son of former big leaguer Tim Unroe.
9) Nick Ciuffo, C, Grade B-: First rounder from 2013 draft, gets great scouting reports for offensive potential and good defensive tools. Did not show this power in rookie ball (.259/.296/.308) and struggled with plate discipline, but scouting reports are optimistic and rookie ball stats don’t necessarily mean anything. High school catchers are a risky demographic as the Rays well know.
10) Alex Colome, RHP, Grade B-: I like his stuff and he’s got nothing left to prove in the minors IF healthy, which has been a problem given balky elbow history. Recently suspended for PED boldenone, which is usually used for horses. Umm. Yeah, OK. I just thought of a really horrible joke about that but will let it pass. I bet he winds up as a closer eventually.
11) Kevin Kiermaier, OF, Grade C+: Outstanding defensive player who would be an excellent bench asset. Line-drive hitter but doesn’t have much power; I’m not sure he will hit enough to start regularly for most teams but he has value. Not a bad outcome for a 31st round pick.
From this point, the rankings are very flexible and this should be seen as more of a tier approach than an exact placement. You could order these guys in a hundred different ways.
12) Richie Shaffer, 3B, Grade C+: High-A production (.254/.308/.399 with 11 homers) was disappointing, didn’t show the same feel for hitting that he demonstrated at Clemson. Nevertheless, given the entirety of his track record it is way too soon to give up on him. Transition to Double-A will be crucial.
13) Blake Snell, LHP, Grade C+: 4.27 ERA with 106/73 K/BB in 99 innings in Low-A, 90 hits, 1.89 GO/AO. High-ceiling southpaw arm needs better command, but I remain impressed with his upside potential. Watch for any improvement in K/BB ratio for signs of a breakthrough.
14) Ryne Stanek, RHP, Grade C+: University of Arkansas ace and ’13 first-round pick working his way back from labrum surgery. Placeholder rating and ranking until we see the results. A healthy Stanek could develop into a number two starter or a power closer.
15) Matt Andriese, RHP, Grade C+: Nice acquisition from the San Diego Padres. Posted 3.27 ERA with 105/29 K/BB and 1.88 GO/AO in 135 innings between Double-A/Triple-A last year. Throws strikes, keeps the ball down, avoids homers, has a chance to be efficient fourth starter or bullpen option, sleeper prospect.
16) Curt Casali, C, Grade C+: Former Vanderbilt catcher is solid with the glove and underrated with the bat, hit .316/.404/.488 between High-A and Double-A last year, controls the strike zone very well and is developing power. Deserves a lot more attention than he’s received. Older prospect at age 25 but very intriguing.
17) Jose Mujica, RHP, Grade C+: High-ceiling prospect signed out of Venezuela in 2012, posted 3.09 ERA with 20/3 K/BB in 32 innings in rookie ball. Long way off, needs to refine secondary pitches but already has a good fastball and commands it well at age 17.
18) Oscar Hernandez, C, Grade C+: Excellent defensive reputation and scouts say he has a chance to hit despite .227/286/.364 line in the lower minors last year. Posted a 1.236 OPS in the Venezuelan Summer League in 2011; that was misleading, but at age 20 he has time to develop the offense and his defense will keep the Rays patient.
19) Tim Beckham, INF, Grade C+: Will miss 2014 with torn ACL. I think he’s a utility guy in the long run but a useful one.
20) Kean Wong, 2B, Grade C+: Younger brother of Cardinals prospect Kolten Wong is very similar to his sibling. Hit .328/.377/.390 in rookie ball, good speed and solid defender, drafted in fourth round last year out of high school in Hawaii and more advanced than his brother at the same age.
OTHER GRADE C+: Jeff Ames, RHP; Jacob Faria, RHP; Dylan Floro, RHP; Jake Hager, INF; Mikie Mahtook, OF.
OTHERS: Vince Belnome, INF; Jose Castillo, LHP; Grayson Garvin, LHP; Tyler Goeddel, 3B; Aaron Griffin, RHP; Brandon Guyer, OF; Luke Maile, C; Thomas Milone, OF; Mike Montgomery, LHP; Justin O’Conner, C; Josh Sale, OF; Alejandro Segovia, 1B.
The Rays system is in something of a transitional phase right now. There is a lack of impact players at the top of the system, nobody I see as a Grade A or A- prospect for example, and even Odorizzi’s B+ is higher than many people would grade him. However, the organization is rich in B-/C+ type talent, and several of the younger ones could take large steps forward over the next year or two, particularly on the pitching side.
Among the advanced pitchers, I don’t think Odo is going to be a super-ace type, but he has few genuine weaknesses and has always made the necessary adjustments at each level. Romero and Colome have higher physical ceilings but Romero needs better command and Colome needs to prove his health and stay away from veterinarians. Andriese and Karns look like great trade acquisitions and both should contribute this year or next. The lower-level pitching is very, very interesting: Snell, Mujica, Ames, Floro, Faria, and Castillo are all capable of breakout seasons and ranking much higher next year.
Position players are thinner but there are still players with intrigue. There is considerable strength up the middle with Lee, Brett, Unroe, Casali, Hernandez, Ciuffo, Toles, Wong. I still like Hager despite his offensive fall-off last year. Luke Maile is an interesting sleeper prospect who has thrived defensively and has a chance for more power. While defense and athleticism have been emphasized, the system needs more impact bats. Recent attempts to bring in advanced college hitters haven’t worked out as expected, with Mahtook and Shaffer not living up to expectations yet.