The Tampa Bay Rays minor league system may be having a down year, but one place they clearly don’t lack is catcher. Curt Casali and 2013 first rounder Nick Ciuffo make up two of the Rays top prospects, Luke Maile is having a great year at Double-A, and other guys like Justin O’Conner, Oscar Hernandez, and David Rodriguez all could turn into good catchers. But one guy not talked about who could soon join this group of names is Armando Araiza.
Araiza stands out for his outstanding defense. Turning 21 in a few days, Araiza already features advanced receiving skills. A quick release and strong arm result in him cutting down baserunners with ease. From watching him in person last week, it is clear that Araiza is a strong pitch framer- something that the Rays surely love. Many catchers his age in the lower minors have the chance to be good defensively, but they are fairly raw at the position and need significant work. Araiza’s solid defense is already turning into numbers- he has a career 44% caught stealing percentage and a 51% CS% at Low-A Bowling Green this year. He has also allowed just 3 passed balls this season. Araiza’s defense is going to carry him through the minors, and he is only going to get better as he continues to mature more and play often.
Araiza’s biggest question comes from his bat. In 223 career minor league games to date, he has a .260/.362/.364 line, including a .255/.343/.386 line (109 wRC+) at Low-A this season. wRC+ indicates that he’s been a slightly above average-hitter every step of the way in the minors. But that is in the low minors, and he is going to have to work hard to keep it up as he works through the system. Mechanically Araiza’s swing shows potential, but at present there is plenty of work to be done. He lets his front side fly open too early, which causes his bat to be in and out of the zone too quick and results in lost contact abilities. He also is too upright in his swing, and he needs to get more down and into his legs if he wants to hit for more power- which has been his biggest problem as a pro. The good news for Araiza is that if he fixes these two issues, then his bat actually could turn out quite nicely. He likely isn’t going to hit for a ton of power in his career, but he should end up hitting for more power than he is currently. If he can stop flying open, he should hit for good contact moving forward. He also has shown an advanced plate approach as a pro, always racking up plenty of walks. He does strike out more than he should, but that is due to his mechanical issues more than him chasing pitches out of the zone. All-in-all I believe Araiza’s bat could end up being decent, and if he can develop it then he could be a big sleeper in this organization.
It is clear the Rays like him, as Araiza has almost evenly split time behind the plate with Hernandez, who is well-regarded in the Rays system. His defense is phenomenal, and in the end it is going to come down to development with the bat. If he can make the necessary adjustments in his swing, then Armando Araiza will add even further to a Rays system with scary catching depth.