The Rays don’t consider Cole Figueroa a true prospect. He looks to prove them wrong.
In 2010 for Lake Elsinore, the High-A affiliate in the San Diego Padres organization, Figueroa had a breakthrough season, posting a .303/.408/.392 line with 25 doubles, 3 triples, 4 homers, 66 RBI, and 26 stolen bases in 35 attempts in 124 games in his age 23 season. He walked an incredible 81 times compared to just 54 walks, and he also had 7 sac bunts. Defensively, he showed nice defense at second base and in limited time at shortstop making just 5 errors in 124 games (yes, we know that errors are a flawed measure of fielding prowess). Following the season, Figueroa was part of the trade that brought Jason Bartlett to the Padres and joined the Rays organization.
In 2011, the Rays placed Figueroa at Double-A Montgomery and he proved that his strong 2010 in the hitter-friendly California League was no fluke. He posted a .283/.375/.398 line with 20 doubles, 6 triples, 5 homers, 51 RBI, 9 stolen bases in 14 tries, and 11 sac bunts in 114 games. He walked 55 times compared to 41 strikeouts and played well at second base, third base, and in limited time at shortstop, making 7 errors in 106 games.
The major flaw with Figueroa’s game is pretty clear: his lack of power, which makes sense given his 5’10″, 180 frame. But there are plenty of positive’s in Figueroa’s game. Figueroa is an excellent bunter and he hits a nice amount of line drives. According to Minor League Central, Figueroa posted an 18.9% line drive rate compared to the 17.5% league average. It’s clear that his plate discipline and ability to make contact are great as he has walked 136 times compared to 95 strikeouts. And he also is versatile and dependable defensively, although he doesn’t have that great range and his arm is just slightly above-average. Between’s Figueroa’s faults and the Rays’ influx of Quad-A infielders to be stashed at Triple-A Durham (Reid Brignac, Will Rhymes, Matt Mangini, Leslie Anderson, etc.), Figueroa ended up back at Montgomery to begin 2012.
Figueroa is showing the Rays that he deserves to be at Triple-A. He is mashing thus far in 2012, posting a .314/.419/.512 line with 6 doubles, 1 triple, 3 homers, 12 RBI, and 17 walks compared to just 9 strikeouts in 25 games. MLC tells us that his line drive rate has been an incredible 27.9% of his batted balls. Already a proven second baseman, Figueroa has played fine as the Biscuits’ starting third baseman in 2012, making just 2 errors.
Cole Figueroa has the ability to be an impact major league player in a utility role. There is some Jeff Keppinger in him. From 2009 to 2010, Keppinger averaged a .276/.340/.391 line for the Houston Astros with 24 doubles, 6 homers, 44 RBI, and 39 walks compared to 34 strikeouts in an average of 122 games per season, playing third base, second base, shortstop, and a little left field in 2009 before serving as the Astros’ regular second baseman in 2010. Those numbers could be within grasp for Figueroa. Like Keppinger, he doesn’t strike out very often, and he has as much discipline as Keppinger if not more and might play better defense. Granted, the Rays are a much better team than those Astros that Keppinger was a regular for. But in a utility role where he plays a bunch of different positions, Figueroa could be a productive quasi-starter for the Rays who can do a lot of different things and be a difficult out for opposing pitchers. Before long, Figueroa will get his awaited call taking him to Durham. And pretty soon, we’ll see him in the big leagues.