Once you get to High-A, these guys aren’t lottery tickets anymore. With two more good years in the minor leagues and continued development, they could very well make the big leagues in September of 2014. Can these prospects continue to improve and make an impact for the Rays someday? We’ll continue to answer that question in Part 2 of our look at the 2012 Charlotte Stone Crabs.
Cody Rogers, who turned 24 in September, is not exactly at his high point as prospect right now after a tough 2012 followed by a 50-game suspension for next season after he refused to undergo a drug test. The struggle of a season and the need to take whatever we he took may have gone hand and hand. In any event, Rogers, who was a 7th round pick by the Rays back in 2009, did not have the type 2012 he was hoping for, managing just a .244/.312/.343 line with 12 doubles, 6 triples, 4 homers, 38 RBI, 22 of 26 stolen bases, and 99 strikeouts against 30 walks in 112 games and 413 plate appearances. Rogers, if he can overcome this suspension, is an athletic 6’2″, 175 outfielder with some interesting tools. Rogers shows above-average speed that allows him to steal bases and profile in both center and left field (he differed to Ty Morrison, Kevin Kiermaier, and Mikie Mahtook and played primarily left field), and he also flashes of nice raw power (he had 11 triples and 12 homers in 2011). However, Rogers three potential above-average tools are counteracted by a series of issues: below average patience and pitch recognition, a swing that gets too long as he sells out for power, struggles pitching up the ball versus left-handed pitching, and defensively he has a below-average arm. Before the suspension it was unlikely things were ever going to come together, and now that’s even more the case. Rogers has enough tools that the Rays will wait on him for now, but the suspension takes his prospect stock, which was already down after a poor season, down another notch.
Steven Tinoco, who will turn 24 in April, was a 34th round pick in 2010 out of Cal State Long Beach, Evan Longoria‘s alma mater, and played a super-utility role for the Stone Crabs in 2012. Tinoco had a halfway-decent season, posting a .281/.318/.323 line with 8 doubles, 1 homer, 27 RBI, 3 of 4 stolen bases, and 24 strikeouts against 16 walks in 83 games and 324 plate appearances while playing first base, second base, third base, left field, right field, and pitcher. In his three professional seasons, Tinoco hit just 1 homer each year, but his batting average stayed very stable as well and actually went up a bit, going from .274 to .277 to .281 the past three years. Tinoco is 6’0″, 200 and played first base in college, but he’s a contact oriented hitter who has never shown any power. According to Minor League Central, 57.9% of Tinoco’s batted balls were groundballs, the highest ratio in the Florida State League minimum 200 plate appearances, and that’s especially alarming considering he isn’t fast. Tinoco didn’t strike out at all but his patience was very poor as well as he walked in just 4.9% of his plate appearances, and his indiscriminate approach prevented him from hitting the ball with any authority. If Tinoco is going anywhere as a professional baseball player, that has to change. Defensively, Tinoco has a strong arm and halfway-decent range and is a good defensive first baseman and left fielder who can fake all the other positions. He wasn’t so successful off the mound, allowing a 6.75 ERA in 3 relief appearances and 4 innings pitched, striking out 1 and walking 1 as well. Tinoco is a utility player at best and doesn’t seem to have a great chance of getting there, but it’s great to see him trying every possible avenue to help the team and keep his career going.
Kevin Kiermaier, who will turn 23 in April, was the Rays’ 31st round pick in 2010 but has been great since the moment he entered the Rays system and the type of player that the Rays can’t get enough of. Kiermaier had a pair of stints on the disabled list but was excellent when healthy, starting the season with the Stone Crabs and finishing the season at Triple-A before tearing up the Arizona Fall League. In the regular season, Kiermaier managed a .260/.363/.359 line with 7 doubles, 6 triples, 13 RBI, 10 of 14 stolen bases, and 41 strikeouts versus 29 walks in 63 games and 230 plate appearances, 212 of which came with Charlotte. In the Arizona Fall League working to make up for some of the lost time, Kiermaier posted a .348/.444/.493 line with 6 doubles, 2 triples, 7 RBI, 7 of 7 stolen bases, and a 12-12 strikeout to walk ratio in 23 games and 82 plate appearances. Kiermaier, an athletic 6’1″, 200, doesn’t feature great power but does just about everything else well. He has well above-average speed that allows him to swipe a few bases, play a great centerfield, and possibly most importantly, beat out a lot of groundballs and bunts. He’ll never be anywhere near a home run power, but he has shown of flashes of gap power and showcased that in the Arizona Fall League, albeit in a very small sample. Kiermaier swings and misses a little too often for a player without much power, but his plate discipline is excellent and he does everything he can to get on base. Kiermaier is also a left-handed hitter with a very little platoon split, hitting .348 against both righties and lefties in the Arizona Fall League (although the OPS difference was .966 versus .879) and was actually a touch better against lefties on the regular season (.743 OPS against .699). Defensively, Kiermaier combines his great range in centerfield with an above-average arm and is a strong defender at all three outfield positions. The Rays named him their organizational Defensive Player of the Year despite all the time he missed, and you can’t blame them. Kiermaier fits the fourth outfielder profile to a T as long as his injury problems are behind him, and he could appear in that type of a role for the Rays before long, maybe as soon as next September. Kiermaier filled in at Triple-A at the end of the season and went 3 for 12, and he could skip over Double-A and start the season back there with a strong showing in spring training.
Mikie Mahtook, who turned 23 at the end of November, was the second of the Rays’ 10 first and supplemental round picks in the 2011 MLB Draft, and he was supposed to spend just a short time with the Stone Crabs before moving up to Double-A, Triple-A, and maybe even the big leagues by the end of the season. Instead, Mahtook was in Charlotte until late July and then struggled after his promotion to Double-A. In 131 games and 555 plate appearances between Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery, Mahtook posted a .277/.342/.415 line with 25 doubles, 8 triples, 9 homers, 62 RBI, 23 of 32 stolen bases, and 102 strikeouts versus 40 walks. Mahtook was really not that bad, but what stands out immediately, especially for a hitter considered to be advanced, was his strikeout to walk ratio. Mahtook, who fits the same physical profile as Kiermaier at 6’1″, 200, stood out before the draft as a 5-tool talent, featuring quick and compact swing, solid power, above-average speed, good range defensively, and an average arm, and he also made his mark at LSU for his passion every time he took the field. We saw all of Mahtook’s abilities come into play, but a lack of patience and bizarre struggles versus left-handed pitching. Mahtook didn’t strike out an awful lot in 2012, whiffing at an 18.4% clip, but he walked at only a 7.2% mark in 2012 and that not only limited his defense but the quality of his contact as well as he hit a lot of balls weakly in the air. Why did it happen? His pitch recognition is fine, but he was overaggressive and didn’t do a good job finding pitches to drive, perhaps as a result of the pressure on him to perform. Mahtook is known as an emotional player, and he may have been too hard on himself after a rough April. Mahtook walked more than he struck out in his last year at LSU, so the hope is that he can relax and get his plate discipline on track to help him get on base more and hit for additional power. More strange was Mahtook’s platoon split in 2012. Mahtook hit to a nice .292/.367/.451 line against righties but just .253/.302/.354 against lefties, proving better in every regard against same-side pitchers. His strikeout to walk ratio, though, was slightly better versus lefties, 2.27 to 1 compared to 2.6 to 1 (lower is better), so that’s hopefully a sign of things to come. While he had his share of struggles offensively, Mahtook did play fine defense, playing primarily right field with a fair amount of time in centerfield and combining for 13 outfield assists between the two positions. Mikie Mahtook failed to live up to the expectations set for him in 2012, but the Rays still really like his abilities and hope that with a full year of pro ball under his belt he’s primed for a breakout 2013 as he starts the season back at Double-A.
Just among the outfielders we discussed today, we could be looking at an outfield starter and fourth outfielder type that could make an impact in Tampa Bay over the next two years. Kiermaier and Mahtook both passed were promoted from Charlotte to higher levels over the course of the season, and a productive year next year could mean a trip to the big leagues in September. Everyone has kinks to work out in their games, but their abilities are real and the Rays know that they could be major pieces of future teams.
For more of our thoughts on the Rays’ prospects at every level of the minors, check out our Minor League Affiliates Analysis page here at RCG.