We get back to our look at the 2012 Princeton Rays, one of the Rays’ two Rookie-level affiliates. The story with this team and with Rookie ball remains the same, a ton of talent, but much of it has yet to be realized. Let’s see how talented these players have a chance to be.
When you’re talking about pure upside, James Harris might be up their with anyone. But the chances he ever gets there seem to be getter smaller and smaller. Harris, who turned 19 in August, was the Rays’ final first round pick out of the 10 they had in 2011 at 60th overall in the draft. But he has a glaring critical flaw that will continue to hinder him unless it is fixed as quickly as possible. Harris can’t hit. This season, in 58 games and 196 plate appearances for the P-Rays, Harris posted a .182/.284/.282 line with 6 doubles, 4 triples, 1 homer, 16 RBI, 6 of 14 in stolen base attempts, and 38 strikeouts versus 22 walks. Harris’ plate discipline is good and he has great speed even if he can’t tap into it on the basepaths yet. All of his issues lie in his swing. It gets too long and Harris cannot find ways to get the ball on the barrel. According to Minor League Central, his .282 slugging percentage was lowest in the Appalachian League minimum 180 plate appearances, his .557 OPS is second-worst, and his 9.4% line drive rate is 7th from the bottom. And Harris actually has some raw power! He was able to make a halfway-decent amount of contact, but he hit so many balls into play weakly, especially in the air in the form of pop-ups. Harris needs to start from scratch with his swing and find some way to get it more compact. With his power completely useless at this point, Harris’ best play may just be to put the ball in play on the ground and work on his bunting game to help him get on base and hit for a decent average. Defensively, Harris has great speed that he uses well in the outfield, although he played primarily left field in 2012 in deference to Andrew Toles (who we’ll see in just a minute). Harris simply can’t get his feet off the ground as a prospect as his hitting ability has showed no improvement at all and the Rays have to hope he can figure something out.
Ismel Antunez, 21, is a little 5’7″, 166 tap hitter with great speed and some good defensive skills. In 2012, Antunez posted a .254/.354/.310 line with 4 doubles, 5 RBI, 8 of 11 stolen bases, and 22 strikeouts against 7 walks. He’s basically a groundball hitter but beats out a lot of balls with his great speed. Bizarrely, he doesn’t know how to bunt yet, but expect that to be rectified as soon as possible. His plate discipline is really lacking and that will have to improve because he’s going to need to get everything he possibly can out of himself at the plate to continue moving up the ranks as a pro. Defensively, Antunez moves very well and actually has a good arm. Antunez is a little old for the level and has fourth outfielder upside, but he has some ability and the Rays like his hustle.
Another high pick from 2011, 2nd rounder Granden Goetzman, was excellent for the P-Rays but played in just 12 games because of an injury. The 19 year old Goetzman, who is 6’4″, 200 posted a .298/.346/.468 line with 5 doubles, 1 homer, 8 RBI, 7 of 8 stolen bases, and 7 strikeouts versus 4 walks but in just 52 plate appearances. The Rays are very excited to see what Goetzman can do moving forward, but he has to stay healthy. Goetzman draws comparisons to Jayson Werth for his size (Werth is 6’5″, 225), power potential, and speed. Goetzman shows outstanding bat speed and makes a lot of contact with a good portion coming on the barrel. He has good strength and if he can develop better lift in his swing, he has a chance to be a 30 homer threat someday. He is overaggressive at this point, but he does have good pitch recognition skills and can lay off of breaking balls. Goetzman runs very well for his size and is a 20-steal threat a la Werth and his speed also gives him good range in the outfield, where he has a chance to handle centerfield but profiles best in right field. Goetzman played exclusively left field during his brief time in Princeton deferring to Andrew Toles and Willie Argo. Goetzman has a ton of potential, but the Rays need him to stay healthy and continue to make progress to give him a shot to live up to his high upside.
Finally get to our first 2012 draft pick in a while, 3rd rounder Andrew Toles. Toles, 20, is a smaller player listed at 5’10”, 185 but he has big-time ability that he showcased in his pro debut. In 51 games and 214 plate appearances for Princeton, Toles posted a .281/.327/.482 line with 13 doubles, 3 triples, 7 homers, 33 RBI, 14 of 19 stolen bases, and 36 strikeouts versus 12 walks. Toles has 5-tool potential, and the Rays think he has a real chance to get there. Toles stands out first and foremost for his blazing speed that serves him well on the bases and in centerfield, and he also shows good bat speed at the plate with above-average power potential, especially for a centerfielder. What’s holding back Toles as a hitter right now is sub-par plate discipline and some struggles with pitch recognition, but even with those problems he still has a great season. Between his bat speed and regular speed, Toles has a chance to be a .300 hitter but he’s going to have to get his plate discipline up to par because even his speed won’t offset too much weak contact. Toles also needs to work a little bit on utilizing his speed in games as he could use polish at reading pitchers and doesn’t bunt at all at this point, something he will need to learn to do to help him get on base at a higher clip. Defensively, Toles glides in centerfield and has a good but a little inaccurate centerfielder’s arm, something he’ll also have to work on. Toles gave the Rays a good showing in his debut as a professional and the Rays can’t get enough of his abilities.
Drafted 19 rounds after Toles in this year’s draft, Willie Argo, even though he will turn 23 in October, is a very interesting prospect in his own right. Argo, who is 6’1″, 220, was playing against younger competition as a member of the P-Rays and tore up the competition as expected, posting a .301/.404/.411 line with 15 doubles, 2 homers, 24 RBI, 17 of 23 stolen bases, and 49 strikeouts versus 31 walks in 64 games and 252 plate appearances before finishing the season with 5 games at Low-A Bowling Green. Defensively, Argo played almost exclusively in right field, at least partially because of Toles, but really impressed, notching 8 outfield assists. Argo may have been the Rays’ most interesting pick in this year’s draft. He stands out most for his speed as he’s a very good basestealer and shows excellent range in the outfield, and he also has a plus arm. The interesting thing with him is his pure hitting ability and power. Argo has dealt with wrist injuries the past couple of years that sapped his once-promising power potential. In exchange for that power potential, his swing gets long at times and he could be a high-strikeout player moving forward. But he has good plate discipline and hits the ball hard when he connects. The question for him is whether the real power will ever come back. If not, he’s an Elliot Johnson-type offensive player in the outfield at best, striking out way too much while not hitting for much power. Argo is a player to watch as we see whether his power ever shows up again, but at worst he has a chance to be a speedy fourth outfielder type who does a lot of things well. The Rays think they may found a steal getting Argo in the 22nd round of the 2012 Draft, and he did nothing to disprove that theory in his pro debut.
The P-Rays outfielders were a very interesting group as they had as much upside as any group of players you’ll see and Toles, Goetzman, and potentially almost everyone has a chance to end up as a top prospect if things fall the Rays’ way. We’ll continue with the Princeton Rays’ pitchers tomorrow.