This 2014 Rays season has featured a few too many disappointments. The performance of the first-year players on the team has not been one of them. Jake Odorizzi has overcome the problems he faced the second time through opposing order to be one of the the Rays’ best pitchers for the last two months. Kevin Kiermaier cracked the major league roster and has been even better than expected, adding power to his incredible defense in the outfield. You also count the strong hitting of Brandon Guyer and the solid relief pitching of Kirby Yates, plus the dominance of Brad Boxberger in his initial season with the team (although he just exceeded rookie eligibility in 2013). Between them all, the Rays are received plenty of contributions from their new faces and have a lot to be excited about in coming seasons. The numbers and the eye-test say enough, but everyone always likes awards, and now a pair of Rays rookies have those as well.
Baseball America has named Jake Odorizzi and Kevin Kiermaier to the 2014 Major League Rookie All-Star Team. Odorizzi joins an impressive crop of rookie starting pitchers including Masahiro Tanaka, Yordano Ventura, and Collin McHugh, and it is easy to see how he fits among that group. Odorizzi leads all rookies minimum 55 innings pitched in strikeouts per 9 innings at an incredible 10.29, which is actually 6th among all MLB starters. Kiermaier, meanwhile, has a .281/.321/.539 line through 138 major league plate appearances, drilling 7 home runs to tie him for third on the Rays already. Combine that with his defensive skills, and Kiermaier ranks 5th in Baseball-Reference WAR among rookie position players despite placing just 23rd in plate appearances. Congratulations to both Odorizzi and Kiermaier, and the Rays will continue to count on both of them as the season progresses.
In other Rays-related news from Baseball America, Mikie Mahtook has been named a member of the “All-Surprise” Team and the best player in the Rays system now that Kiermaier is in the major leagues. So far in 2014 at Triple-A Durham, Mahtook has a .314/.381/.512 line with 25 doubles, 5 triples, 8 homers, 51 RBI, and 12 stolen bases. Baseball America praised Mahtook for his quality contact at the plate and great defensive work, and what a rebound it has been for him after a pair of disappointing seasons to begin his minor league career. Mahtook becomes another name to watch in an overcrowded Rays outfield picture, and we just might see him in September.
Mike Montgomery, meanwhile, was described as the biggest leap forward in the system after beginning the Durham season 8-1 with a 3.30 ERA, a 7.7 K/9, a 2.7 BB/9, and 0.4 HR/9 in 16 starts and 90 innings pitched. Baseball America praised Montgomery for the strides he has taken with his curveball and his sharper command. Montgomery’s career fell apart after he made a strong bid to make the Kansas City Royals’ roster out of spring training in 2011, but now his big league debut is finally ahead. The 2014 season has not been easy for quite a few Rays prospects, but Mahtook and Montgomery have distinguished themselves, and it will be exhilarating to see who does so next.