Every year, prospects will make themselves known through breakout seasons, and Tampa Bay Rays prospects are no exception. Look no farther than the past year–players such as Kevin Kiermaier and Andrew Toles went from being little known to being among the top 10 organizational prospects, and players like Jose Mujica, C.J. Riefenhauser, and Jacob Faria, also made themselves names to keep an eye on. With that in mind, who could break out in the Rays’ system in 2014?
Rickard was drafted by the Rays in the 9th round of the 2012 and had a strong full-season debut in 2013 after a solid collegiate career at Arizona. Playing most of the season as a 22 year old at Low-A Bowling Green (slightly above league average age), Rickard put together a .270/.390/.409 line (131 wRC+). At first look, that line looks nothing too special, especially in the power department, but wRC+ indicates he hit well above league average (a 100 wRC+ would indicate league average). In addition, Rickard swiped 30 bases, although he was caught 10 times. Rickard also followed this performance by putting up a .287/.354/.421 line and going 14-16 in stolen base attempts in the Australian Baseball League over the winter. Speed is a big part of Rickard’s game, which leads to above-average defense. He played most of his games in right field in 2013, but part of the reason for this is the presence of Andrew Toles in Low-A. He should have no problem in centerfield down the line. He is never going to wow you with power, but a good gap-to-gap approach leads to a good amount of doubles and triples, and good plate discipline allows Rickard to draw his fair share of walks. Rickard also receives praise for playing all-out, and is the type of player that helps a team win every night. Overall, if Rickard can build off of his 2013 season as he moves up the ladder he could begin to work himself into top prospect talk. He needs to work on being more efficient on the base paths as well as adding a bit of power, but he could become an average everyday outfielder down the line. Keep an eye on Rickard in 2014.
Garvin has a decent track record, but injuries have kept his pro career from taking off so far. A solid left-handed pitcher at Vanderbilt, Garvin was drafted in the supplemental first round of the 2011 draft, and likely fell this far because of injury concerns. He was expected to be a fast riser if he could stay healthy, but after 11 poor appearances in 2012 he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery. Garvin came back this year and looked to regain some of his old form, throwing to a 1.59 ERA in 28.1 innings between Rookie ball and High-A. The Rays sent Garvin to the Arizona Fall League to make up for lost time, and he responded well, throwing to a 3.76 ERA and a 25-8 K-BB ratio while throwing against some of the baseball’s top prospects. Now that Garvin is healthy once again, the Rays will begin to let him go. Prior to his injury, Garvin featured a nice fastball that sat in the 90-92 MPH range that could touch 94 MPH. He also featured a very good change-up and a solid slider. However, Garvin’s best quality is his command, which allows him to get the most out of his pitches. There is no doubt Garvin has the ability, but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy thus far in his pro career. If he can remain on the field in 2014, he will zoom through the minor leagues. Keep an eye on Garvin because he could become big league relevant very quickly.
Maile is similar to Rickard in that he put together a solid season at Low-A in 2013, but didn’t get too much attention because he has yet to reach the upper minors. A college catcher drafted in the 8th round in 2012, Maile hit to a solid .283/.351/.402 line (114 wRC+). He also posted a solid 54-41 K-BB ratio. Maile was drafted for his bat, and came into the Rays organization with big defensive questions. However, Maile made huge strides defensively in 2013. In fact, Baseball America even named him the best defensive catcher in the Midwest League back in August. In 2013, Maile threw out a stout 51% of base runners and allowed only two passed balls. The Rays always seem to find catchers who can either hit or play defense, but rarely have catchers who can do both, even in the low minors. In fact, I’m surprised that Maile has received next to no attention this offseason in Rays’ prospect talks–but the fact that the Rays game him an invite to big league camp despite his inexperience above Low-A tells you that they think highly of him. He is a bit old, as he’ll play most of 2014 at age 23. However, it is hard to ignore a catcher who hit above league average and was named the best defender in the league. If Maile can continue to improve, he could be just as talked about as players such as Oscar Hernandez, Curt Casali, and Nick Ciuffo a year from now.
Martin, another supplemental first rounder in 2011, has ability, but so far his hit tool has held him back. Soft hands and a solid arm lead Martin to be a great defender at shortstop, and there is no doubt that he will stick at the position long-term. However, Martin has big questions with the bat. So far in his career, he has just mustered a .652 OPS, including a .206/.268/.347 line (72 wRC+) last season at Low-A. He has shown decent power potential, slugging 10 homers in 63 games in 2012 and 7 in 73 games in 2013. However, he simply does not make enough contact for it to show up in games. Martin still has a very poor approach at the plate, which lead to a 22.3 K% and just a 6.3 BB% last season. The reason that Martin is on this list is because if he can fix his hitting issues, he could be a very good player. If Martin can start improving his contact, his power will begin to show up in games and he will enter the Rays’ top prospect conversation. Maybe he gets lost in the fold in 2014 if he cannot hit, but with great defense and solid power potential, if the Rays can manage to develop his hit tool, Martin could become one of the Rays’ top position prospects.
Marquez is a very interesting player. At first look, his 4.05 ERA, 7.6 K/9, and 5.2 BB/9 in the Appalachian Rookie League are nothing to be excited about. However, the scouting report is hard to ignore. At 18 years old, Marquez already consistently throws his fastball at 90-93 MPH, and can hit 95. At 6′ 1”, 184 lbs. he doesn’t have huge projection, but he should add more velocity as he matures and adds strength. Marquez also features an advanced curveball, which is a big reason why he is on this list. He throws his curve at 77-79 MPH with tight spin, and it is a pitch that is advanced well past most other pitchers in the Appalachian League. He also throws a changeup that the Rays can’t wait to improve. Marquez has also been lauded for an advanced knowledge of pitching. He controls his pitches really well, and is great at inducing groundballs–something not too many 18 year olds can say. Overall, Marquez’s stuff and pitchability are beyond his years. His results haven’t been great, but he has only thrown 87.2 professional innings. The Rays obviously thought highly of him to send him to the Appalachian League after he pitched in the Venezuelan Summer League in 2012. Marquez will probably move up to Hudson Valley in 2014, where he will look to translate his talent into results. If he does so, he could start finding his name in organizational top prospect discussions.
Among the Tampa Bay Rays’ prospects, there are plenty of players who could break out in the minors in 2014. The Rays’ system might not be as talented as usual, but there are still plenty of players to keep an eye on. These are just five of the many players who could potentially impress in 2014.