In 2011, Matt Moore went from the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits’ Opening Day starter to the Rays’ starter in the opening game of the American League Division Series. Few prospects are of Moore’s caliber, but the bottom line is that once you make Double-A, a future in the big leagues could approach rapidly if you succeed. The only Biscuits players who also played for the Rays in 2012 were rehabbing big leaguers. However, after watching just how talented the Biscuits’ roster was this past season, it’s clear that major league reinforcements could be coming as soon as 2013 from the players who spent time at Montgomery last year including a couple of players with the ability to play major roles for the Rays moving forward. Let’s take a more in-depth look at the Rays prospects who spent most of their 2012 seasons at Montgomery and see just how much the Rays have to be excited about as those prospects look to take the next step in their professional careers and crack the Rays’ roster over the next few years.
Overall in 2012, the Biscuits went 74-63 under Billy Gardner, the best record they had managed since Gardner’s first year at the helm in 2007. As a team, they managed a .261/.342/.388 line (.729 OPS), which doesn’t seem so impressive (especially the lack of power) until you realize that the league OPS was just .709 so the Biscuits’ team mark ranked second in the 10-team league. The Biscuits were just in the middle of the pack in terms of home runs, doubles, and walks, but they led the league in triples, stolen bases, fewest strikeouts, and most importantly batting average, on-base percentage, and runs scored. The Biscuits were not a group of sluggers by any stretch- just two players hit two home runs- but they made contact, got on base, and burned the opposition with their speed.
On the pitching side, the Biscuits were not very impressive, managing just a 4.00 ERA compared to the 3.85 league average, a mark that was just 8th in the league. Their 7.5 K/9 and 0.7 HR/9 were exactly league average, but their 4.2 BB/9 and 568 walks were second in the league. How did the Biscuits manage a playoff berth despite that? Excellent defense was a major part of that. Their .979 fielding percentage was third in the league, but the most impressive thing was the work of the catchers, who threw out 43% of attempted basestealers, by far the most in the league, and allowed just 7 passed balls, the second fewest. Speaking of the catchers, we’ll start with them as we begin our analysis of the individual players on the 2012 Biscuits.
The perception is that the Rays don’t have any real catching prospects anywhere near the major leagues. That may not be entirely true- they have one, Mark Thomas. Thomas, who will turn 25 in May, was a 22nd round pick back in 2006, signing for an above-slot $125,000 bonus. Since the moment Thomas made his pro debut, Thomas has stood out for his defense behind the plate. Thomas features a quick release and a strong arm, leading to a 41% career caught stealing percentage and a 46% mark in 2012, and his receiving ability has improved significantly the past several years, dropping from 23 passed balls in 2008 to 12 in 2010 to just 2 in 2012. He’s durable but a little more athletic than your typical catcher at 6’1″, 180, and he might have Gold Glove potential if he hits enough to be a starting catcher. So, will he hit enough? Well, in 2012 Thomas had a decent offensive season for the Biscuits, managing a .254/.323/.383 line (basically exactly league average) with 19 doubles, 5 homers, 42 RBI, 4 of 4 stolen bases, and a 78-29 strikeout to walk ratio in 93 games and 349 plate appearances. Thomas has shown flashes of power in the past, slamming 13 homers at High-A in 2011, but he struggles with pitch recognition especially against right-handed pitching, off whom he managed just a .228/.291/.325 line compared to an incredible .305/.383/.495 mark versus lefties. Thomas features average bat speed and a patient approach against hitters from both sides, but he hasn’t done a good job picking up more advanced breaking pitches from right-handed pitchers. Thomas has a major league future, but whether he becomes a more athletic Jose Molina-esque backup or a starter depends on whether he can become passable against righty pitchers. Especially with backup catching depth at the major league level in the form of Chris Gimenez, Jose Lobaton, and Robinson Chirinos behind Molina, the Rays will give Thomas all the time he needs to prove himself at the plate and mold himself into their catcher of the future almost by default. That the Rays invited Thomas to their big league camp for spring training tells you just how highly they regard him. The Rays can’t get enough of Thomas’ defense and hope that it’s only a matter of time before his offense comes together as well.
Even organizational players can have career-years. Look no further than Mayo Acosta. Acosta, a Venezuelan signee who turned 25 in November, wasn’t anything special at all at the plate from 2007 to 2011, managing just a .243/.311/.364 line in 1065 plate appearances, none above High-A. But in 2012, Acosta mashed at High-A to begin the year, managing an .860 OPS with 8 doubles, 3 homers, and 15 RBI in 22 games before being promoted to Triple-A Durham when injuries to the Rays raided the Bulls’ roster. Acosta wound up being sent down to Montgomery when the Bulls’ need was filled and wound up settling right in, spending from June until his season-ending broken ankle on August 26th as Thomas’ backup catcher. On the year, Acosta managed a .261/.341/.484 line with 14 doubles, 9 homers, 30 RBI, and a 41-22 strikeout to walk ratio in 61 games and 214 plate appearances. The 9 homers were a career-high despite the fact that Acosta received over 100 more plate appearances in 2010 and 2011. Acosta, who is 6’1″, 205, stood out after signing with the Rays for his raw power and arm strength, but was never able to bring his power out on a consistent basis. Acosta’s plate discipline was really the same as always in 2012- his 1.86 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio was not very far from his 2.06 to 1 career mark- but he focused more on getting lift in his swing and was able to hit for significantly more power in the process. Acosta will still have to prove that his plate discipline is good enough for him to continue making quality contact at higher levels. Defensively, Acosta’s arm strength is very good- he has a 41% career caught stealing percentage- but he has very been a consistent receiver and has trouble blocking balls in the dirt at times. Acosta still is very unproven and he’s going to have to continue to prove himself in order to be regarded as any sort of prospect. Acosta will either spend 2013 as Thomas’ backup at Durham or maybe even as Montgomery’s starting catcher for next season.
We’ll stop here for today and continue with the Biscuits’ infielders, most notably Hak-Ju Lee, in our next installment of this series. The Rays really don’t have very many catching prospects, but Thomas is about as good as you’ll find and the Rays are hoping that he can break out offensively to pair with his great defense and give them their first homegrown starting catcher since the forgettableToby Hall. Both Thomas and Acosta gave the Rays optimism for the future of the catcher position in their organization, and they’re hoping that the catcher black hole that has plagued their organization basically every year of their organization except Dioner Navarro‘s All-Star season in 2008 is not far from coming to an end.
For more of our analysis of the Rays prospects at each level of their system, check out our Minor League Affiliates Analysis page here at RCG.