In terms of performance, the Hudson Valley Renegades were the poster child of how the Rays want their affiliates to play, finishing the New York-Penn League regular season with the best record in the league and winning the NYPL Championship in the postseason. But while their present performance is certainly nice, how will the 2012 Renegades affect the future of the Tampa Bay Rays? Let’s take a quick glance at each Renegades player as we try to figure that out.
The Rays love Jake DePew‘s defense, but it’s questionable whether he’ll ever be even a passable hitter. DePew, 20, turned in another poor offensive performance in his second partial season as a pro, posting just a .204/.289/.252 line for the Renegades with 4 doubles, 1 homer, 16 RBI, and 3 of 3 stolen bases in 46 games and 169 plate appearances. He did manage a great 24-16 strikeout to walk ratio, but he could not hit the ball with any authority whatsoever, something that is especially bizarre given that DePew is a pretty big guy at 6’1″, 220. The big issue with DePew right now is that his swing is incredibly compact, helping him make a ton of contact but preventing him from harnessing any power. DePew is going to have to lengthen his swing and succumb to more strikeouts in exchange for at least gap power because his current approach is doing nothing for him. If DePew’s offense ever comes together, he could be an interesting prospect. Defensively, DePew was excellent this season, managing a .994 fielding percentage and a 41% caught stealing percentage, although he did allow 6 passed balls. His arm is outstanding and he moves well behind the plate, but his receiving still needs work. DePew also runs very well for a catcher and shows great hustle, something we know the Rays appreciate. It will be a waiting game for the Rays regarding DePew to see if his offensive ever surfaces, but if that can happen, his defensive talents give him the ability to make it to the big leagues.
Luke Maile, 21, was the Rays’ 8th round selection in 2012 and showed some good signs in his pro debut. Maile signed quickly and got into 61 games for Hudson Valley, posting a .278/.377/.394 line with 10 doubles, 3 triples, 3 homers, 41 RBI, and 36 strikeouts versus 31 walks in 252 plate appearances. The crazy thing about Maile is that he came out of the draft best known for his power, and that was the one thing that didn’t show up at all in his offensive game. Maile spent his first pro season working to get his swing more compact and he did a great job at that, showing great plate discipline with a gap-to-gap approach. Now he has to figure out when to pick his spots to take bigger swings and unleash his above-average power. DePew has a chance to be a 15-20 homer threat, which would be great for a catcher. But while the Rays are confident in Maile’s power potential moving forward, his defense is extremely iffy. He played just 33 games at catcher compared to 28 at first base and that tells you about everything you need to know because it’s not like Jake DePew was doing well enough at the plate to preclude Maile from starting more at catcher. He has a good arm, but his actions defensively are extremely far from where they need to be. Maile has to make huge strides defensively at catcher or he may be stuck as a first baseman or left fielder without enough power to profile as a regular player.
Geoff Rowan, who turns 23 on October 30th, was the Rays’ 39th round pick in 2012 and got into just a few games this season, playing in 9 games, 7 with the Renegades and 2 with the GCL Rays, and posting a .167/.211/.222 line with 1 double, 3 RBI, and 3 strikeouts versus 1 walk. There’s not much to talk about in those stats, but the Rays do think that Rowan has some talent. Rowan actually shows some nice bat speed but has way too many moving parts in his swing, which has given him fits making contact, let alone hard contact. His approach at the plate is way off and he has trouble with most breaking pitches. Defensively, Rowan has a great arm but it’s very inaccurate, and his receiving ability is pretty raw as well. Rowan is about to be 23 years old and he’s a longshot to go anywhere in pro ball, but he’s an upside play as the Rays hope his two interesting tools, his bat speed and arm strength, can carry him as he gets the rest of his game together.
Justin O’Conner seemed primed for a breakout in 2012. But the 2010 first round pick’s season got off to a terrible start as he suffered a hip injury in spring training that prevented him from catching the entire year as he exclusively played designated hitter, and after a hot start, the 20 year old O’Conner completely came apart. O’Conner managed just a .223/.276/.370 line in 59 games with 18 doubles, 5 homers, 29 RBI, and just a 73-18 strikeout to walk ratio in 257 plate appearances. O’Conner’s main issue is an extremely inconsistent approach at the plate. O’Conner’s talents at the plate are plus raw power and at times plus bat speed. But he has continuously struggled thanks to a lack of plate discipline, an inability to adjust to breaking pitches, and because he too often sells out for power, making his swing way too long. His problems were exasperated because he couldn’t find a consistent stance or stride and was fiddling around all season to disastrous results. O’Conner’s hip injury and the fact that he was playing designated hitter regularly for the first time in his life couldn’t have helped matters either. Defensively at catcher (when healthy), O’Conner has a rocket for an arm but it gets erratic at times, and his receiving ability needs quite a bit as well. O’Conner’s upside is still an All-Star catcher with 30+ homer power and great defense, but it seems to be becoming more and more likely that O’Conner never gets anywhere near there. O’Conner was also a great prospect as a pitcher coming out of high school, and if O’Conner falters again in 2013, they may try him out on the mound.
That’s where we’ll stop for today. We see a common thread among the Renegades’ catchers, quite a bit of talent but issues harnessing power and with their receiving abilities behind the plate. DePew and O’Conner have a chance to be top prospects for the Rays if they can find some way to get their offensive games (which go wrong for completely different reasons) on the right track. The catchers are just the start of an interesting group of prospects on the Renegades, and we’ll continue with the infielders over the next couple days.