Lately we have been hearing a lot about the MLB All-Star game, but also important is the Triple-A All-Star game. This contest is a great way to get a look at the big league talent of tomorrow, and a plus for Rays fans this year is that it will be played at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, home of the Rays Triple-A affiliate. The Bulls will be represented well in the game, as Mikie Mahtook, Wilson Betemit, Merrill Kelly, and Mike Montgomery have all been named to the International League All-Star team that will take on the Pacific Coast League All-Stars on July 16th.
The bid for Mahtook is representative of his great turnaround this season. After being a first round pick in 2011, Mahtook disappointed in his first two seasons as a pro, posting an OPS of .757 and .708 respectively. But this year, he has rebounded in a huge way, putting up a .316/.382/.510 line with 7 homers, 25 doubles, and 12 stolen bases. There is reason to be skeptical about those numbers, as his BABIP is a surely unsustainable .408, so he is going to have to keep putting up good numbers when that inevitably falls. Regardless, Mahtook has out himself back on the prospect map. Given the Rays future logjam in the outfield, he is still likely a 4th outfielder. But, he plays good defense and can play center field on top of the improved bat, so he could be a valuable asset to the club in the near future.
Of the selections, Betemit’s might come as the biggest surprise. The MLB veteran is hitting .227/.310/.412 this season, and has been passed up many times when the Rays needed a replacement for an injury. On the plus side, his 12 home runs are tied for 5th in the International League. He is also a versatile player, having played first base and third base for the Bulls this season and having prior experience at second base and shortstop. Betemit may never see time with the big league Rays, but he has been a good depth piece, and that is what the Rays were expecting when the signed him to a minor league deal last offseason.
Merrill Kelly, meanwhile, has defied odds and put up a great season. In 17 outings, 11 starts, he has put up a 3.16 ERA, 8.6 K/9, and 2.9 BB/9. Kelly’s stuff doesn’t jump out at you- he throws an 88-90 MPH fastball, a good changeup, and a slurvy breaking ball. But, he has good deception that makes his stuff play up, and his improved command also has turned into an asset for him. For some teams, Kelly might have an eventual chance to crack a rotation. But with the Rays, he is almost guaranteed to become a long reliever.
Last but certainly not least is Mike Montgomery. A former top-25 prospect in all of baseball, Montgomery never made the adjustments needed to be successful in the upper minors. From 2011-2013, the lowest ERA he posted was 4.83. But now he has finally taken the next step, putting up a 3.28 ERA, 7.8 K/9, and 2.9 BB/9 in 15 starts this season. He still struggles at times with fastball command, but it has gotten much better this year. His changeup is his best secondary pitch, and it has become more consistent. Then there is his curveball, which is still his weakest pitch, but has also gotten better. Like Kelly, Montgomery might be able to start for some teams, but is likely headed for a long relief role with the Rays.
It is exciting to see the Bulls well represented in the Triple-A All-Star game. With the exception of Betemit, all these players could become solid additions to many future Rays teams. Let’s just hope that they can continue making the strides that got them here in the first place.