In the lower levels of the minor leagues, you can find loads of talent but also quite a bit of immaturity. That phrase described the Rays’ Low-A affiliate, the Bowling Green Hot Rods, almost perfectly in 2012. They had their maturity issues, between inconsistency and most notably four drug suspensions, but the talent on the team was remarkable and in this installment we’ll see two former first round picks and the Rays’ Minor League Player of the Year for 2012.
Josh Sale, 21, was the Rays’ first round pick, 17th overall, in 2010 and finally showed signs of putting it all together in 2012 before a 50-game suspension for meth abruptly ended his season. Sale began the season at extended spring training after a horrific 2011 season at Advanced Rookie Princeton, but the Rays decided to challenge him in May by sending him to Bowling Green and he more than held his own, posting a .264/.391/.464 line with 10 doubles, 10 homers, 44 RBI, and a 62-54 strikeout to walk ratio in 74 games and 297 plate appearances. He got after to a staggering start in May before cooling off, but his overall numbers were still very impressive. Sale shows outstanding bat speed and lift in his swing to go with remarkable plate discipline, but the problem for him that his game will be all about his hitting. Sale, who is 6’0″, 215, is not a great athlete and doesn’t have a great arm, limiting him to left field. If he doesn’t hit, he will go nowhere as a prospect. The good news is that Sale has the ability to be a prolific hitter in the big leagues, potentially hitting .300 with 35-homer power and an on-base percentage approaching .400. Sale still has kinks to work out in his offensive game. He is very patient but needs to continue to work on figuring out which pitches to drive (which was the main reason why he struggled so mightily in 2011), and his two-strike approach still isn’t great. He also gets into trouble when he tries to sell out for power as opposed to let his power flow naturally through his great strength and bat speed. And then of course there’s the matter of the drug suspension. The suspension went against everything we thought we knew about Sale as he was known for outstanding character and work ethic, and his father takes pride in being one of the few professional weightlifters who does not use performance-enhancing drugs. Sale vehemently denied that he knowingly took any PED. Hopefully we will be able to look at this incident as an aberration as Sale proves that his intangibles will win out in the long-term. Sale is a strange player in an organization that prides itself most for pitching and defense, but his offensive potential is tremendous and the Rays hope he can build off the positives from his 2012 season while moving on from the suspension that has put everything into question.
Taylor Motter, who turned 23 in September, was the Rays’ 17th round pick in 2011 and after just 148 minor league games over the last two seasons, he has already played every position on the diamond except pitcher and catcher. He also has been decent with the bat, posting a .244/.357/.363 line with 17 doubles, 5 homers, 37 RBI, 24 of 36 stolen bases, and 60 strikeouts versus 50 walks in 99 games and 361 plate appearances. Motter is not the next Ben Zobrist, but he does have some potential. Motter features a compact stroke with average bat speed although very little power, and he has a nice patient approach at the plate. Motter hits way too many balls in the air for his own good at this point, most of them weakly. His best tool is above-average speed, and the flyballs don’t help him at all in utilizing that to get on base. Motter also needs to learn how to bunt and improve at reading pitchers. Defensively, Motter features solid actions, good range, and a strong arm, and he is similar to Zobrist in that he can profile at least defensively just about everywhere. Motter’s .244 batting average in 2012 was just above Elliot Johnson‘s .242 mark, and Motter is a similar player to Johnson but with more consistent defense and better patience but less speed and less power (and considering EJ doesn’t have much power at all, that’s not good). Motter’s biggest concern moving forward will be proving that he can hit at higher levels. Motter fits a solid utility profile and the Rays hope he can hit enough to be a big league contributor.
Todd Glaesmann, who turned 22 in late October, was the Rays’ 3rd round pick in 2009 and their Minor League Player of the Year this year. Glaesmann had a big year in 2012, posting a .285/.336/.493 line with 25 doubles, 7 triples, 21 homers, 75 RBI, 8 of 11 stolen bases, and 124 strikeouts against 30 walks in 127 games, 91 with the Hot Rods and 36 at High-A Charlotte, and 540 total plate appearances. Glaesmann, who is 6’4″, 220, has as much upside as any position player in the system but also considerable risk. He has five tool potential with great pure bat speed leading the ability to hit for average and power, above-average speed, good defense, and a strong arm. But the problems become clear immediately from Glaesmann’s strikeout to walk ratio. Glaesmann swings and misses way too often for a player with his bat speed because he struggles with pitch recognition, getting consistently baffled by breaking pitches. Even on fastballs, he is overaggressive and the power show he put on in 2012 will not continue unless he vastly improves in that regard as well- Low-A pitchers leave a whole lot more fastball right down the middle that Double-A pitchers, let alone big league ones. Glaesmann also gets into trouble when he lets his swing gets long as power becomes the only thing on his mind. Another aspect of his game where Glaesmann needs to improve is stealing bases- Glaesmann has the ability to steal 15 bases annually but is very raw in terms of reading pitchers. Defensively, Glaesmann has good range and a great arm but is a better fit in right field than center moving forward. Glaesmann has excellent upside, with a chance to hit near .300 with 30 homers, 15 stolen bases, and strong defense in right field, but even after an outstanding season, his all-around game remains very raw. Glaesmann’s incredible 2012 campaign highlighted his enormous potential but also put the things he needs to work on clearly into view, and the Rays hope he can continue developing his game to give him a chance to put up numbers like he did this season in the big leagues someday.
Kes Carter, 22, was selected by the Rays with one of their supplemental picks in the 2011 draft but has never been able to get his pro career going. Carter got into just 44 games in 2012 and only 37 with the Hot Rods because of a hamstring injury. The 7 games in the GCL don’t really count, and in the 37 in Bowling Green, he posted just a .228/.363/.346 line with 5 doubles, 2 triples, 2 homers, 16 RBI, 9 of 13 stolen bases, and 34 strikeouts versus 23 walks in 37 games and 158 plate appearances. Carter shows 5-tool potential but can’t stay on the field long enough to develop it. Carter shows nice bat speed and good patience at the plate but still gets fooled a little too often by offspeed pitches and doesn’t use his ability to work deep counts too much to his advantage in terms of materializing his power as he can’t recognize which pitches to drive. Then there’s the whole issue that Carter, a lefty, doesn’t hit left-handed pitching at all, an issue that goes back to his college days, and he went just 2 for 19 (.105) versus lefties with the Hot Rods, albeit in a minuscule. That’s a major issue when it’s coming up this low in the professional ranks and even earlier, in college, although you hope that the Rays will figure out a way to help him get past it. Carter has plus speed but needs more work figuring out how to use it on the basepaths, and his approach at the plate doesn’t do anything to help him use his speed to get on base as he hits a ton of balls in the air. At least Carter is solid defensively, although he needs to work on the accuracy of throws. Carter has interesting ability, but he has to find a way to stay healthy to give himself a chance to rectify his current problems and reach his upside.
Drew Vettleson, 21, was a supplemental first round pick by the Rays in 2010 and was arguably the Hot Rods’ best all-around player this season. Vettleson posted a .275/.340/.432 line with 24 doubles, 5 triples, 15 homers, 69 RBI, 20 of 31 stolen bases, and 117 strikeouts against 51 walks in 132 games and 562 plate appearances. Vettleson isn’t as flashy as some of the players above, but he may have the best chance of becoming a big leaguer regular. Vettleson shows a quick stroke with good bat speed and solid power to all fields. The question on that would be why he struck out so often (20.4% of his plate appearances) but the answer is a combination of some moderate struggles against left-handed pitching, especially getting frozen on a few too many fastballs. Vettleson should be a player who makes a good amount of contact and hit for a good average, and he’ll look to improve on that moving forward. His patience isn’t great, but it’s more than passable and hopefully it will only continue to improve. Vettleson’s power isn’t prolific but he hits a lot of balls to the gaps and should have 15-20 power moving forward. He shows solid speed but needs to work on his basestealing. Defensively is where Vettleson really shined in 2012, racking up 20 outfield assists thanks to his great arm strength, and he moved well in right field as well, albeit while struggling mightily in a brief trial in centerfield. Vettleson shows nice ability and solid polish in all facets of the game while still having room to grow in several regards, and the Rays hope he can continue developing his tools on his way to becoming an above-average right fielder in the big leagues.
There is some chance that among these five outfielders you could have your three outfield starters of the future for the Rays. The talent is certainly there, and although there’s plenty of work still to be done, you’re looking at players with some of the most lofty potential in the Rays system. The Rays are excited to see what Sale, Glaesmann, and Vettleson can do after big seasons and have to hope all of them can continue refining their games, with Sale having to deal with whatever happened this year with the drug issue, Glaesmann needing to work on patience, and Vettleson simply sharpening up his skills across the board. The outfield is not the biggest strength for the Rays right now, but if things break right with these guys, that will not be the case in three or four years.
For more of our analysis on the Hot Rods and the Rays’ other minor league affiliates, check out our Minor League Affiliates Analysis page here at RCG.