March 12, 2013; Port Charlotte, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Hak-Ju Lee (36) at bat against the New York Yankees at Charlotte Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Down on the Farm: Shortstops

The Rays system shows some real promise at shortstop. Every level except AA has a legitimate prospect. Let’s take a closer look.

DURHAM: Hak-Ju Lee is one of the crown jewels of the Rays system, consistently ranked among the Rays’ top five prospects since coming over from the Cubs in the Mattt Garza deal. Lee is excellent in the field with soft hands, an above-average arm and the speed to cover lots of ground, seeming to make a dazzling play every time you see him. On offense, Lee is a gap hitter and will use his speed to take an extra base or beat out a ground ball. He has also used that speed to swipe 127 bases in his minor league career. This year at Durham, he posted a.422BA/1HR/7RBI/1.136OPS line in 15 games. Yes, it was 15 games into the season when a double play collision with a runner at second base caused him to blow out his ACL. Medical reports following his surgery predict that he will come back as strong as ever and be ready for spring training. However, you never know with that kind of injury, especially when so much of his game depends on speed.

MONTGOMERY: There is not much happening at shortstop for the Biscuits. Shawn O’Malley plays the position most of the time and he’s not much more than a minor league organizational man. He had a cup of coffee at AAA but AA is probably his ceiling.

CHARLOTTE: Things look better at High A. Jake Hager is a solid player with a good future ahead of him. Ranked #17 among Rays prospects, Hagar doesn’t have one outstanding skill but he gets the job done. At the plate, he uses his hands well and shoots the ball to all fields. He’s not a burner but has good base running skills. Hager has been advertised to have above-average raw power for a shortstop, but we’re still waiting for it to come out. He has put up steady, solid numbers at Charlotte with a .269BA/7RBI/.644OPS line. In the field, he has the hands, range and arm to stay a short. Considering he is only 20 years old and playing at High A, Hager is off to a good start, and you have to hope he can begin to tap into his power to real break through.

BOWLING GREEN: Brandon Martin is a defensive whiz and has a chance to be every bit as good as Hak-Ju Lee on defense. In 2012, Martin led the Appalachian League in almost every defensive category. The question is whether he can hit. The answer so far is no. At Princeton in 2012, he put up a .209BA/10HR/31RBI/.605OPS line in 64 games. So far this year, his numbers at Bowling Green aren’t much different. He has a bit of power but his approach at the plate is crude. If the Rays can somehow get Martin together in the batter’s box, he could provide Lee-esque defense with additional power, and that would make him quite a player. He may respond to coaching and like Hager, he is only 20 years old.

Overall, things look good for the Rays at short. However, there are questions. Can Hak-Ju Lee come all the way back from his injury? Can Hager contiue to refine his game at the next two levels? Can Martin hit for average? Stay tuned.

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Tags: Brandon Martin Hak-Ju Lee Jake Hager Tampa Bay Rays

4 Comments on Down on the Farm: Shortstops

  1. Chris Wise says:

    So Tim Beckham is off your radar? 98 games, at AAA level this year, .273/.335/.380. 47 RBI, 15 stolen bases. Yes, 23 errors, but 70 double plays. Pretty big hole in your analysis. Or were you waiting for someone like me to jump in?

    • david egbert says:

      Tim Beckham has been mostly a second baseman this year. I featured him at that position in my review of second baseman. Durham has been using him more as a shortstop lately. I don’t think the Rays see him as the shortstop of the future and may be working on his versatility if he can’t make it as a big league second baseman.

      • Chris Wise says:

        I don’t think that the last 98 games could be considered lately. Compare that to 15 games at 2B, all before Lee’s injury. Several others, Roberts, Figueroa, and especially Fontenot, have been this year’s 2B for Durham. Is Beckham the 2B of the future? Maybe. If so, you’d think they’d tell the Bulls to play him there and give someone else experience at SS. No doubt Lee is better and maybe next year Beckham will move over to 2B. I’d bet on him getting traded, though.

        • david egbert says:

          You are right that he has played mostly at short due to Lee’s injury. I still think the Rays see him as an offensive minded second baseman. For what it’s with, Baseball America agrees. Thanks for commenting.

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