All of the Rays’ full-season minor league affiliates began play on Thursday, and the games featured plenty of notable prospects. The Tampa Bay Rays minor league system is not quite as strong as it has been in the past, but there are still plenty of players to be excited about. Here are some storylines that should you keep an eye on throughout the minor league season.
Kevin Kiermaier‘s progress with the bat
Kiermaier has long been known as one of the best defensive outfielders in the minor leagues, but he never hit enough to receive significant talk as a prospect. That all changed last year, as he put up a solid .307/.370/.434 (134 wRC+) line in 97 games in Double-A before putting up a .263/.338/.423 (112 wRC+) line in 39 Triple-A games. He was thought to be a 4th outfielder before this season, but the newfound ability with the bat leads many to think that he might shake up the Rays’ outfield picture before the season is over. His bat needs to continue to progress in Triple-A to ensure that he does become an everyday outfielder, but to put in into perspective, the projection system Oliver thinks that he would be worth 4.9 WAR in the majors this season despite projecting him to be below-average offensively. Just think of how much value he could provide if he can build off of last season’s success with the bat.
Richie Shaffer‘s ability to bounce-back after disappointing in 2013
Shaffer was drafted with the hype of a bat that could hit for above-average power and progress quickly through the system, but he disappointed in his first season, posting a .254/.308/.399 (99 wRC+) line in High-A. He did not hit near to the power that the Rays thought he could have, and that was largely due to poor plate discipline and pitch recognition. He also had a major flaw in his swing because of a leg kick that caused him to get too wide in his swing, which cost him power. But he has corrected that flaw this spring, which is an encouraging sign going forward. He needs to be significantly better with his discipline and pitch recognition this season, but he still has 25+ home run potential as he moves up to Double-A.
Hak-Ju Lee‘s ability to come back strong from his 2013 knee injury
Lee suffered a gruesome knee injury last season that caused him to miss most of the year. The knee has been causing problems again this spring, and Lee will start the season on the DL, though he isn’t expected to miss significant time again. Lee is a player that lives off of his defense and speed on the base paths, and thus a knee injury was probably the worst thing possible for him. He is going to need to prove that he is healthy and that he hasn’t lost any of his speed if he is going to reach his potential. On top of that, his bat has never really played in the upper minors, so he is also going to need to prove that it can live up to the hype that it showed in the lower minors. He has multiple question marks, but Lee could come back strong and still reach his potential of being an above-average shortstop sooner rather than later.
Grayson Garvin‘s health and chances of reaching his full potential
Garvin was expected to reach the big leagues quickly after being drafted in the supplemental 1st round in 2011., but that did not happen because of a an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. Garvin came back to throw 28.1 minor league innings last year and also pitched in the Arizona Fall League, but more importantly he is healthy and is on the Double-A opening day roster. He is a classic pitchability lefty, and while he will never wow you with his stuff, he could make a living in the middle of a rotation sooner rather than later. He needs to prove he can stay healthy over a full season, and also that he has regained his stuff, but if he can then he could be in consideration for a big league rotation spot by the middle of 2015.
These are just four of the many storylines to keep track of over the course of the minor league season. The Rays have plenty of potential in their minor league system, something that these four players attest to, but as with any system there are also significant questions. The minor league season is finally underway, and we will get plenty of clarity on just what type of players the Rays have in their system as the season continues on.