With the Rays playing no minor league games today, it was the perfect opportunity to discuss a former Rays prospect, Shawn O’Malley. O’Malley was promoted by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim among their September 1st call-ups, his first taste of the big leagues in his ninth year as a professional. The first eight of those years came with the Rays, and although he never did ascend to the pinnacle with the team, he left an impression.
In his time in the Tampa Bay Rays system, Shawn O’Malley never really stood out, but he always seemed like the type of player the franchise appreciated the most. A fifth round pack back in 2006, it took until O’Malley’s sixth season in 2011 for him to finally crack a .700 OPS. O’Malley never hit the ball with much authority with the Rays, yet he found a way to continue moving up the ranks. He was a solid defensive shortstop who had no issues when he was moved to second base, third base, or the outfield. He was a switch-hitter who drew his walks, rarely struck out, and consistently provided good at-bats. Then, though he was never a burner, he seized his chances to steal bases and helped his team in that fashion as well. Even when he was struggling at the plate, there was something about Shawn O’Malley that made you want him on your team and believe that he still had a chance to make a big league impact.
When you read that paragraph, inevitably there are comparable players that come to mind. But there was something different between O’Malley and a player like Tyler Bortnick or Cole Figueroa. He was a high school draft pick that he was younger and showed us flashes of something more. We saw how capable a defender he was at shortstop and the flair he had for the dramatic. In 2012 for the Triple-A Durham Bulls, O’Malley hit exactly two home runs. When did those homers come? In the two games when the Bulls were playing on MLB Network. A bunch of people who never saw him again thought that he was a great player, an experience shared but plenty of people who saw him on the right day. The only question was whether his bat would come around more frequently, and that question never departed. Baseball America asked it as far back as 2008.
“Those tools should play in the major leagues…provided he hits enough.”
Shawn O’Malley’s Rays tenure came to a sad end. With Hak-Ju Lee and Tim Beckham starting 2013 as the Durham Bulls’ double play combination, O’Malley found himself stuck at Double-A Montgomery after spending most of 2012 with the Bulls. He was never brought back even after Lee got hurt, deferring to more likely big league options like Mike Fontenot. He played relatively well, managing a .702 OPS with 24 stolen bases while appearing in his most games at shortstop since 2009, but it was meaningless in regards to his future with the team. With O’Malley set to become a minor league free agent and the opportunity not there for him with the Rays, his tenure in the system was set to to end. He was too talented to be an organizational soldier for long, at least until all other options were exhausted. Despite being around forever, he was only 25 and deserved a chance somewhere else. He found it with an Angels, and finally he hit this year, delivering a .317/.400/.464 line primarily Triple-A Salt Lake. Just like we had known forever, that was enough for him to make his big league debut.
Congrats to Shawn O’Malley on his first promotion to the major leagues. We will have to see if his improved hitting can persist, but we are well aware of how much he does to help a team, and it is exciting to see him find a place where his services are desired. Instead of continuing an uncertain future with the Rays, he found the right franchise and has made his move to reach the game’s highest level.