With Evan Longoria signed through 2023, you wouldn’t think the Rays need to worry about developing a third baseman at this time. However, while “you can’t have too many third baseman” isn’t nearly as true as “you can’t have too much pitching,” everything is baseball is fluid so it doesn’t hurt to have an extra third baseman in your back pocket. Prospects can change positions and Longoria could move to first base down the line himself, not to mention that it never hurts to have depth. Do the Rays have that third baseman to groom while we see how the future plays out? Let’s take a look.
DURHAM: In 2013, Cole Figueroa was the Bulls’ primary third baseman. Figueroa came to the Rays from the Padres in the 2010 Jason Bartlett deaand he has been a steady but not spectacular player for Montgomery and Durham during those three years. In 2013, he posted a .286/.361/.367 line with 20 doubles, 3 homers, 62 RBI, and an outstanding 30-54 strikeout to walk ratio in 533 plate appearances. Figueroa drew rave reviews from Joe Maddon in spring training and has a couple things going for him: great plate discipline, an oustanding ability to make contact, and good defense. All of that is nice, but Figueroa’s lack of power will not get him a sniff of a starting third base job in the big leagues. However, he has experience at second base, shortstop, and the corner outfield spots in addition to third base, and he could wind up being a strong utility player for the Rays in the near future.
MONTGOMERY: A guy by the name of Riccio Torrez played most of the games at third base for the Biscuits this year. A 2011 fourth round pick out of ASU, he hasn’t done much at three levels over his three years as a pro. Plus, he lacks the power of a corner infielder. The Rays have been waiting for him to break out, but it hasn’t happened and he looks like an organizational guy at this point. Next year we could see Torrez playing a bunch of positions as the Rays try to see if they can get anything out of him.
CHARLOTTE: Richie Shaffer was the third baseman for the Stone Crabs in 2013. However, the smart money has him as the Rays first baseman of the future. (I profiled him at that position earlier this year.) He has improved defensively at third base, but his lack of range at the position and more importantly, the presence of Longo will dictate the Rays to move him elsewhere. Shaffer had an up-and-down season in 2013, managing a .254/.308/.399 line with 33 doubles, 11 homers, and 73 RBI in 519 PA’s, but he played better in the second half and the Rays think he can be a significant home threat with more refinement. It will be interesting to see if the Rays play him at first, at third, or maybe even in right field in the Arizona Fall League and next year.
BOWLING GREEN: The Rays may or may not have something going here with Tyler Goeddel. Goeddel, a 2011 supplemental 1st round pick, was a high school kid with great scouting reports. He has an athletic, projectable frame that generates great bat speed. He needs to improve his plate discipline to hit for average and power. Goeddel also has good speed and base running instincts, allowing him to steal 30 bases the last two years and potentially do the same in the major leagues. And n the field, he has good hands and a strong arm. That’s the good news. The bad news is the raw talent hasn’t translated all that well in pro ball and it may be partially the Rays’ fault.
For some reason, they decided to start an 18 year kid at Low-A ball, something they almost never do. The 2012 results were just OK as he managed a .246/.335/.371 line, stealing 30 bases but committing 29 errors. Pehaps seeing the error of their ways, the Rays kept him at Bowling Green for 2013 and he produced pretty much the same numbers at the plate and in the field. A mediocre .249 batting average and 7 home runs indicate that he may not have ironed out the flaws in his swing. In the field, 62 errors in two seasons is not acceptable at any level. So what do we have here? A 20 year old prospect who is trying to find his way in the world of wooden bats and better pitching or another over hyped high schol kid who will flame out in A ball? Next year at Charlotte will probably tell the tale. Goeddel remains a high-upside talent, but 2014 has to be the year that he finally starts putting everything together.
The Rays’ minor league third baseman are an interesting group, with Shaffer and Goeddel emerging as potential All-Stars and Figueroa being a utility option for the near future. But only time will tell whether Shaffer or Goeddel can develop enough to give the Rays that baseman in their back pocket. The good news is that Evan Longoria is going nowhere and that the Rays have a good amount of talent behind him if they ever need it.