Everything can change in a week. The unstoppable rookie could already have fallen back to earth and the washed-up veteran could have everyone asking why people had ever doubted him. Crazy things can happen in such a short period of time. But as the week ends and another begins, it’s nice to lose the big picture perspective for a second and just talk about all the baseball we saw in the last seven days. Every Saturday here at RCG, we have Shining and Dimming, where we discuss the Rays prospects on both ends of the spectrum, the ones who are red-hot and the ones who have lost their way, and take a snapshot of the state of this Rays organization that we all can’t get enough of. Please head to the comments after you’re done reading with any questions or comments about the Rays prospects discussed below or any other prospect in the system.
Dylan Floro, RHP (Charlotte)- The timing for Dylan Floro’s promotion from Low-A Bowling Green to High-A Charlotte was a little strange. The 22 year old right-hander’s numbers at Bowling Green were outstanding as he went 9-2 with a 1.81 ERA and an 85-19 strikeout to walk ratio in 19 starts and 109.1 innings pitched, but he had allowed 7 runs in 6 innings in his last start, enough to earn him a spot in Diming section of last week’s edition of this. But after Floro’s first start, you had to wonder why he wasn’t promoted sooner. Floro tossed a complete game in his first ever High-A start, allowing 1 run on 8 hits, striking out 5 while walking none, and getting 11 outs on the ground. Floro doesn’t have the prettiest arm action and doesn’t throw especially hard, but the Rays’ 13th round pick in 2013 stands out for excellent command of his sinker and secondary pitches that keep getting better. Right-handed batters have just a .219/.249/.308 line on the season with 56 strikeouts against just 8 walks, and it’s not hard to figure out why. His deceptive delivery makes it extremely hard for them to pick up the ball, and his stuff is good enough to beat them even when they do. Floro throws his sinker in the low-90′s with good sink and run and pounds it down in the zone, and his slider in the low-80′s comes from the same arm slot as his fastball with sharp late break. Floro still has work to do against left-handed batters as his changeup needs work and he loses the deception factor on his fastball and slider, but he has the stuff to start if he keeps improving his secondary pitches. Floro has done nothing but excel since the moment he stepped into pro ball, and while he still has much to prove, his stock as a prospect just keeps getting higher.
Kevin Brandt, LHP (Bowling Green)- The Bowling Green rotation took a big hit when Floro, their ace, got the call up to Charlotte, Luckily for them, though, Kevin Brandt was on the way. Brandt, 23, has gone through a strange journey this season, starting the year in Charlotte as any injury replacement and managing a 4.15 ERA but a 6-6 strikeout to walk ratio in 13 innigns pitched before heading down to Short Season-A Hudson Valley, where he was supposed to have been assigned all along. Brandt pitched great for the Renegades, managing a 2.00 ERA and a 45-11 strikeout to walk ratio in 10 appearances, 5 starts, and 45 innings pitched, and that was enough to earn a promotion to Bowling Green. It was going to be hard for Brandt to outdo when Floro did in his first start, but Brandt arguably did exactly that. Brandt tossed 6 no-hit innings allowing just a walk and striking out 3. He forced 12 groundballs while allowing just 3 flyballs as he was blowing nobody away but keeping hitters off-balance all night. Brandt was the Rays’ 18th round pick last year, slipping that far because of a so-so low-90′s fastball that he left up in the zone too often. Brandt still is far from overpowering, but it appears that he has made a breakthrough with his command over the last year. Brandt doesn’t have a ton of sink on his fastball but is doing a better job keeping it down, and he’s been able to throw it for strikes and get ahead in counts. Then Brandt goes to his slider, which flashes plus and is his only real swing-and-miss pitch but works much better against righties than lefties with its sweeping action. Brandt also throws a changeup that shows some sink when he’s right. Brandt has been much better against righties than lefties this season, managing just a 9-8 strikeout to walk ratio against them compared to 45-10 versus righties, and that makes sense given the nature of his slider right now. Brandt needs to get more movement on his fastball and keep improving his secondary pitches as well before he can really go anywhere as a pitcher. However, despite all the work that he still needs to do, Brandt is looking like a sleeper a prospect and we’ll have to see what he becomes.
Curt Casali, C (Montgomery)- Curt Casali just won’t slow down. Casali mashed in his first two weeks at Double-A Montgomery and has been just has good in his third, managing .400/.514/.700 line with 3 doubles, 2 homers, 8 RBI, and 7 walks against just 2 strikeouts in 37 plate appearances. In 81 plate appearances for the Biscuits, Casali has a .412/.494/.618 line. Casali will not keep that up. The more he does hit, though, the more you have to wonder whether he has really broken through and could turn into more than anyone expected. Casali, 24, was acquired from the Tigers for Kyle Lobstein in March in a trade that looks better for the Rays every day. Casali, a durable 6’2″, 220, doesn’t have nearly the power you would expect from a player his size but makes up for it with basically every other part of his game. Casali shows solid bat speed to go along with strong patience and pitch recognition, giving him a chance to be an above-average offensive catcher. His defense may actually be the more questionable part of his game at this point as he’s a good receiver but he doesn’t move that well behind the plate and has a below-average arm. Casali always profiled as a backup catcher, but on this catching-deprived Rays team, he has a chance to be a player who at least sees the bulk of the time in the type of two-catcher arrangement they have now. But before we take anything for granted, let’s see how Casali reacts when this hot streak draws to a close.
Andrew Toles, CF (Bowling Green)- When Andrew Toles is going strong, there is no player in the system more enjoyable to watch. And this latest run may be the best that we have ever seen him. Since August 5th, Toles has built up a 10-game hitting, putting up a .426/.449/.532 line with 5 doubles, 5 RBI, and 6 stolen bases in 50 plate appearances. He’s not hitting for much power and he isn’t drawing any walks (8-1 K-BB), but he has rattled off five straight multi-hit games with no signs of slowing down. Toles, 21, features as exciting of a five-tool package as the Rays have in their system right now. His ridiculous speed is his best asset, but he shows great bat speed from the left side, flashes of power with more to come, and outstanding range in centerfield to go along with a good arm. The big question is going to be whether he can refine those talents to succeeds at higher levels. Toles has struck out 92 times while walking just 20 times this season, showing weakness against breaking balls and a lack of plate discipline. Toles doesn’t need to be the greatest pure hitter to end up as an above-average big leaguer, but he has a long way to go to become even serviceable. On the basepaths, he has stolen 54 bases, but he has gotten caught 15 times and picked off 10 times (6 of those caught stealings and pickoffs overlap). Even though his numbers look so impressive, Toles has a long way to go in his development. But the Rays will give him all the time he needs, and the end result could be the best Rays outfielder since Carl Crawford.
Hunter Lockwood, LF (Princeton)- The Princeton Rays have a cataclysmic offensive team. Their team OPS is just .601, the worst in the Appalachian League and just one player has a .700 OPS. That player is Hunter Lockwood–and it took him an insane hot streak just to get there. Lockwood had a great week, managing a .355/.375/.774 line, but going back to August 2nd, he has a .320/.382/.780 line with a double, 5 triples, 4 homers, and 12 RBI in 14 games and 55 plate appearances. (If you’re wondering how he has five triples and just one double, that’s Rookie ball for you.) The Rays gave Lockwood, 20, a well above-slot bonus to sign as their 11th round pick in this year’s draft, and the reason was simple: his power. Lockwood isn’t physically imposing at 5’10″, 180, but he features great strength and outstanding bat speed to give him real power. Lockwood was a catcher at Weatherford College in Texas, and while he wasn’t good enough to stay there, he’s athletic for a left fielder and could be a strong defender there. But if Lockwood wants to hit at higher levels, the pressing concern is his plate discipline and pitch recognition, neither of which are close to where they need to be. The Rays saw Lockwood’s power and decided to take a chance on him. He’s looking great right now, and they have to keep honing his abilities to make sure he stays that way.
Joey Rickard, RF (Bowling Green)- Advanced college players like Floro, Brandt, and Rickard often succeed at the lower levels of the minor leagues regardless of whether their careers are really going anywhere. But sometimes you see something spectacular enough that makes you believe that their success is real. That is definitely the case with Floro and could be for Brandt as well. Rickard is another player doing a lot better than we thought he would. Since August 2nd, Rickard has a .348/.456/.500 line with a double, 2 homers, 7 RBI, and 10 walks versus 8 strikeouts in 12 games and 56 plate appearances. On the season, he has a .276/.405/.425 line with 27 doubles, 5 triples, 7 homers, 53 RBI, 22 stolen bases, and a 79-73 strikeout to walk ratio in 488 plate appearances. Rickard, the Rays’ 9th round pick in 2012 after playing centerfield on NCAA champion Arizona, stands out most for his speed. He isn’t a burner but runs well enough to steal a good amount of bases, play centerfield (although Toles has pushed him to right field), and leg out hits. But this season, Rickard is showing better bat speed and a little more pop than we thought he had to go along with excellent patience and pitch recognition. That still may not change the fact that Rickard profiles as a fourth outfielder, but Rickard is looking great we know and you just hope he continues to impress us.
Clayton Henning, CF (GCL Rays)- Henning, 19, looked so raw in his professional debut last season that the Rays sent him back to the GCL Rays for the second straight year. Maybe now, though, everything is starting to click. In his last 6 games, Henning has a .500/.579/.500 line with 2 RBI, 4 stolen bases, and a 5-3 strikeout to walk ratio in 19 plate appearances. On the year, he has a .297/.391/.365 line with 10 stolen bases in 90 plate appearances. It’s a small sample and Henning isn’t hitting for any power at all. But the ball has finally gotten rolling on Hennings’ development and we’ll have to see how far it goes. Henning was a two-sport star in high school, leading to his lack of experience in baseball, but he shows a much better aptittude for the game than your average football player. An athletic 6’3″, 190, Henning shows flashes of great bat sppeed and some power to go along with the outstanding speed he used to play wide receiver. He moves very well in centerfield with a good arm, giving him the complete five-tool package. Of course he remains extremely raw and you never know how long it will take him to get his game together. What we saw this week, though, was a good place to start.
Tim Beckham, SS (Durham)- Beckham was having his big breakout year and was poised to crack the Rays’ roster in September. And then this week, he started slumping. Beckham is now 0 for his last 17, striking out 5 times while walking just once. Every player has his slumps, but what happens next is going to be interesting. Beckham faced failure for years and finally found success this year. How will he react right as everything seems to be slipping away from him again?
Ryan Brett, 2B (Montgomery)- Ryan Brett has really been a great story this year. And then this week, he hit a wall. Brett is in the same situation as Brett after going 0 for his last 18. The good news, though, is that he has struck out just twice and walked twice as well. The hits just aren’t falling. As long as Brett stays calms and remains confident that he really has broken through, he should get right back to hitting out of his mind any day now.
Vince Belnome, 1B (Durham)- When a top prospect like Brett gets into a slump, we’re confident that he’ll be fine. Whne a player who’s been on the fence for years like Beckam gets into a slump, we wonder what will happen next. When a player like Belnome gets into a slump, we wonder whether he’s falling back to earth. Belnome is now just 1 for his last 16, and the plate discipline that has been a huge asset for him all year has disappeared as he has walked just once while striking out 6 times. Belnome’s numbers still look good as he has a .305/.412/.457 line with 30 doubles, 8 homers, 62 RBI, and a 95-75 strikeout to walk ratio on the year, but as a player without great power or defense, he was really going to have to get on base to crack the Rays’ roster and you have to wonder whether he will be able to do that moving forward.
Jeff Ames, RHP (Bowling Green)- Jeff Ames really has great stuff. But his command still needs plenty of work and hitters were bound to start taking advantage of that eventually. This week, Ames had a 7.36 ERA in his two starts, striking out 11 but walking 6 and allowing 4 home runs in 11 innings pitched. Ames’ fastball reaches the mid-90′s and his slider flashes plus as well, but both pitches flatten out at times and stay up. Ames’ slider is inconsistent enough that he has struck out just 6.7 batters per 9 innings despite his electric stuff. If there’s any positive side to his struggles, it’s now that his ERA is a reasonable 3.13 (it was 1.94 six starts ago), we can’t hide behind his ERA and say that he’s a top prospect methodically ascending towards the major leagues.
That will wrap up this week’s addition of Shining and Dimming. Any questions or comments on these prospects or anyone elsewhere in the Rays system? Feel free to comment below and hopefully we can have a nice discussion.