The Tampa Bay Rays had a record 10 picks before the second round in the 2011 MLB Draft, and it is unsurprising that the first of those picks, Taylor Guerrieri got the highest bonus at $1.6 million. Right behind him, however, was their fifth pick, Tyler Goeddel, at $1.5 million. In Goeddel, the Rays saw a raw talent, but one with the bat speed, power potential, and defensive capabilities to be a superstar third baseman someday. For two years, we wondered whether Goeddel would ever come together, but now he is finally living up to the hype.
The Rays aggressively assigned Goeddel to Low-A Bowling Green in his first professional season in 2012, and it looked like he was more than ready to conquer the level. His career began with a .380/.415/.620 line with 3 homers, 4 stolen bases, and 9 RBI in 53 plate appearances, and Rays fans already wanted to count him among the best third base prospects in baseball. He had struck out 14 times against 2 walks, but that was often ignored in wake of all his success. As it turned out, we should have paid more attention as Goeddel slumped to a .221/.321/.325 line in 327 plate appearances to end the season. His pro debut was not without its highlights. He hit to a .246/.335/.371 line with 19 doubles, 6 homers, and 30 stolen bases, striking out 94 times against 38 walks. But the Rays saw enough concerns to keep Goeddel at Low-A for a second season, and that was where the concerns really began.
The Rays had to hope that Goeddel would get off to a hot start at Bowling Green and force them to promote him to High-A. Instead, Goeddel put up almost identical numbers, managing a .249/.313/.379 line in 427 plate appearances. It was nice that Goeddel was able to put up those numbers without a major hot streak, but his development had not progressed in any observable way. He had not improved his patience and pitch recognition, his defense remained inconsistent, and physically, he was the same player. Goeddel was drafted at 6’4″, 180, and the Rays hoped that he would grow into his frame and harness his power more consistently. Instead, nothing at all happened and he began the year at 6’4″, 180 once again. After his rough season, Goeddel faced a crucial year in 2014 as he moved up to High-A Charlotte. Luckily for everyone involved, he has hit the ground running.
Once again, Tyler Goeddel is on fire to begin the season–but this time, we have reason to believe it can last. Goeddel now has a .339/.424/.596 line in 125 plate appearances, slamming 8 doubles, 4 triples, and 4 home runs. The most important part: his strikeout to walk ratio has been an outstanding 18-15. Goeddel is doing a much better job laying off breaking pitches and finding fastballs he can drive. He has not been perfect in this stretch–he endured a 1 for 19 right in the middle of it. Even in the face of that rough patch, though, he stuck with his approach and was able to ride it back to success. Goeddel has also looked good defensively, managing a .934 fielding percentage compared to .896 in his first two years. Fielding percentage is not a very good statistic, but is does tell us something for young infielders in regards to their consistency in their glovework. Goeddel’s increase is fielding percentage is statistically significant at the 95% level–in all likelihood, he is really doing something right. Finally, Goeddel has also begun the process of adding muscle as is now 6’4″, 186. Goeddel still has a ways to go in that regard, but it is nice to see him putting in the effort in the weight room as well. The beginning of the season could not be looking any better for Tyler Goeddel. If he continues to prove that his breakthroughs are real, we will be able to count him among the Rays’ top prospects before long.
After the way that Goeddel’s first two years as a professional went, it was easy to criticize the Rays for how they handled him. Obviously the Rays were hoping for better results than he delivered, and it was nerve-wracking for everyone watching Goeddel fail to improve. The way Goeddel’s career began reminded us that the Rays’ decisions are not always right. The end result now, however, is a player off to an excellent start at a level where he is 1.7 years younger than the average age. Tyler Goeddel’s development is officially back on track, and the Rays are excited to see just how good he can become.