The Rays have named the players who they will send to the Arizona Fall League this fall following the end of the 2012 minor league season. Here are those players along with relevant statistics and scouting information. All the players mentioned will play for the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the AFL.
SS Hak-Ju Lee
One of the Rays’ top prospects, Lee, 21, put together a solid season for the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits in 2012, posting a .261/.336/.360 line with 15 doubles, 10 triples, 4 homers, 37 RBI, 37 steals in 46 attempts, and a 102-51 strikeout to walk ratio in 116 games and 534 plate appearances. That comes one year after Lee posted a .292/.365/.416 line between High-A and Double-A in 2011. Lee has been out since August 18th with an oblique injury and he will make up the playing time in the AFL. Lee, who is 6’2″ and 170 pounds, stands out most for his blazing speed, which he uses superbly defensively to make staggering plays look easy, and which he also has learned to use well on the basepaths and to beat out bunts. The major question with Lee is his hitting. Lee looks like he should hit for some power but that isn’t the case at all right now. Lee shows good bat speed but swings and misses too often for a player who doesn’t hit for power and his plate discipline is solid but not great. The good news with Lee is that he does square balls up, although mostly for singles at this point, and in any event his speed will allow him to manage at least a decent batting average thanks to his ability to beat out bunts and groundballs. Lee’s defensive ability and speed are tremendous and the Rays hope that Lee can continue to work on his hitting in the AFL to round out his excellent package of tools as a shortstop prospect.
SS/2B Tim Beckham
The number one overall pick by the Rays back in 2008, Beckham was suspended 50 games in 2012 for a second positive test for a drug of abuse (not performance-enhancing drugs) and will try to make up for the lost time by heading to the Arizona Fall League for the second straight year. Beckham has posted a .259/.330/.373 line in 59 games and 300 plate appearances in 2012 with 10 doubles, 6 homers, 28 RBI, 5 of 5 stolen bases, and 64 strikeouts against 28 walks. Good news was that in addition to playing 43 games at shortstop (and struggling), Beckham also got into 24 games at second base (where he also still needs work), the first time he has ever played the position as a pro. Beckham, 6’0″, 190, was the number one overall pick back in ’08 thanks to his 5-tool potential, but it looks like that’s never going to happen. Beckham’s only sure plus tool is his arm strength. He has above-average speed but is by no means a burner, and he still needs work using his speed on the basepaths. He shows good bat speed, but he still struggles against offspeed pitches and is overaggressive at the plate. That overaggressiveness makes it hard for him to barrel the ball and saps him of most of the power he still has. And defensively, he has good range at shortstop to go along with his arm strength but he doesn’t have smooth actions and probably is a better fit long-term at second base. Beckham will get a lot of work at second base in the AFL, often with Lee as his double play partner. Beckham may be at Triple-A but has a lot of things to work on moving forward and hopefully we’ll see progress from him in Arizona.
LHRP Chris Rearick
Rearick, who will turn 25 in December, has exceeded expectations since being drafted in the 41st round back in 2010. In 2012 between High-A Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery, Rearick has posted a 4-4 record, a 2.48 ERA, an 11.1 K/9, a 3.0 BB/9, a 0.4 HR/9, and 22 saves in 48 relief appearances and 69 IP. Rearick, 6’3″ and 190 pounds, works with a fastball in the 88-90 MPH range along with a slider and a changeup. His best pitch is his slider in the low-80′s, which Rearick commands well down in the zone with sharp break. Rearick has shown the ability to get both lefties and righties out, but he is especially good against lefties holding them to just a .156/.194/.240 line in 2012. Rearick has the ability to be a lefty middle reliever, not just a situational lefty, and his nice slider makes him a legitimate, if not awe-inspiring, middle relief prospect despite his age. Rearick will work on his fastball command and his changeup in the AFL.
LHRP C.J. Riefenhauser
Another left-handed relief prospect, Riefenhauser, the Rays’ 20th round pick in 2010, is a couple of years younger than Rearick, turning 23 in January, but his pure stuff is a step back and there’s no comparison in terms of performance, although Riefenhauser was given a chance to start. Between High-A and Double-A in 2012, Riefenhauser has gone 8-9 with a 4.65 ERA, a 9.4 K/9, a 3.0 BB/9, a 1.2 HR/9, and 1 save in 15 starts, 15 relief appearances, and 112.1 IP. Riefenhauser works with a fastball with a little more velocity than Rearick, touching 91 MPH, but his command of the pitch isn’t very good at all, making him an extreme flyball pitcher at this point. His secondary offerings are a curveball and a changeup, with his curveball featuring more big depth than dynamic break but he struggles to command it at times, and his changeup still being a work in progress. Riefenhauser has been able to get lefties out in 2012, holding them to a .163/.221/.264 line, but righties have hit him incredibly hard (.304/.370/.518 line) and pending serious improvement to his changeup, Riefenhauser is going to be a situational lefty at best. In the AFL, Riefenhauser will look to tighten up his fastball command and his secondary pitches.
RHRP Kirby Yates
Yates, 25, was a 26th round pick by the Red Sox back in 2005 but did not sign and ended up being a nondrafted free agent signee by the Rays in 2009 after blowing out his elbow in college. Yates has been able to stay healthy and get his career back on track since signing. In 2012 at Double-A Montgomery, Yates has pitched pretty well, going 4-2 with a 2.67 ERA, a 12.4 K/9, a 5.2 BB/9, a 0.5 HR/9, and 15 saves in 49 relief appearances and 67.1 IP. Unlike the lefties, Yates has a power arm, throwing a fastball in the 92-94 MPH range along with a mid-80′s slider with acute break. Both pitches force swings-and-misses, but Yates struggles very much to control and command them. Also, Yates’ arsenal is much more effective against righties as opposed to lefties as righties have managed a .187/.261/.233 line against him compared to .227/.395/.409 by lefties. Yates has toyed around with a changeup that would help him against lefties, but he has never taken to it. In the Arizona Fall League for the second straight year, Yates will continue to work on his command in the hope that his power arsenal could translate to the big leagues someday.
Kiermaier, 22, was the Rays’ 31st round pick back in 2010, although he signed for an above-slot $75,000 bonus. Kiermaier missed most of 2012 thanks to a couple of stints in the DL, posting a .264/.366/.371 line with 7 doubles, 6 triples, 12 RBI, 10 of 14 stolen bases, and 38 strikeouts versus 26 walks in 56 games and 209 plate appearances at High-A Charlotte (he also played 2 rehab games with the Rookie GCL Rays). Kiermaier stands out most for his plus speed which he uses well on the basepaths and in the outfield. He also has an above-average arm for a centerfielder. The problem is Kiermaier’s hit tool. Kiermaier makes a solid amount of contact and has good plate discipline, but he has very little power and depends heavily on beating out bunts and groundballs to hit for average. Kiermaier has a good fourth outfielder skillset, but the Rays would like if he could hit the ball with a little authority. He has shown the ability to hit a decent amount of line drive singles, and at 6’1″, 200, he looks like he should hit for at least gap power. Kiermaier will work on bringing out that power during his stint in the AFL.
RHRP Lenny Linsky
Linsky, 22, was the Rays’ second round pick in 2011 but saw his career get derailed this season thanks to a shoulder injury. Linsky was outstanding in 2011, posting a 9.2 K/9, a 2.1 BB/9, and a 0.6 HR/9 between Short Season-A and Low-A, but in 2012 he struggled mightily. In 15 appearances at High-A Charlotte, Linsky managed a 3.04 ERA, but just a 3.4 K/9, a disastrous 6.8 BB/9, and a 0.4 HR/9 in 15 appearances and 23.2 IP. Lefties obliterated him, posting a .429/.488/.523 line against Linsky, but then again he could get anybody out and it was a very small sample (44 PA’s). Linsky throws a fastball with nice sink in the low-to-mid 90′s to go along with a high-80′s slider that features nice bite, and that arsenal gave him a chance to pitch in the late innings and move quickly through the minors. Unfortunately, the shoulder injury completely threw off his command, leading to an embarrassing season. Linsky will look to get back on track- and back on the fast-track to the big leagues- in the AFL.
And the final player the Rays will send to the Arizona Fall League is their 2012 first round pick, 21 year old third baseman Richie Shaffer. Shaffer has played pretty well albeit in a brief stint at Short Season-A Hudson Valley, posting a .301/.389/.430 line with 3 doubles, 3 homers, 20 RBI, and 25 strikeouts versus 12 walks in 26 games and 108 plate appearances. Shaffer has played well, but he has mostly been a singles hitter and has struck out too often as he adjusts to the pro game. Shaffer stands out most for his big-time power, although it hasn’t come out yet, and his plate discipline. Shaffer has hit the ball hard at Hudson Valley, posting a 20.3% line drive rate according to Minor League Central compared to the 15.7% league average, but most of those line drives have gone for singles. A big reason for that is that Shaffer has been a little tentative, not walking as often as he could and swinging and missing too often. But the great thing is that this is all nitpicking. It’s hard to complain about Shaffer’s .301 average, .389 OBP, and .819 OPS in his pro debut! Defensively, Shaffer may not be able to stay at third base despite being athletic for someone who is 6’3″ and 210 pounds, but he profiles well both in right field thanks to great arm strength and also at first base, where he should be able to profile very well thanks to his power. Shaffer will be a taxi-squad player, meaning he can only play on Wednesdays and Saturdays, but he will take some AFL hacks and look to bring out the prolific power we know he has.
The Rays are sending a very intriguing group of players to the Arizona Fall League, with Lee, Shaffer, and even Beckham being top prospects and the other four all having the ability to make a big league impact someday. Other than the top prospects, I’m most interested in seeing how Rearick and his sharp slider from the left side will perform against higher-quality competition and whether he will continue to get right-handed batters out, but it will be interesting to see how everyone performs. All these players will be worth watching and it will be fun to see them go up against some of the best prospects in baseball this coming fall.