Minor League Review: Are the Rays Pushing Mikie Mahtook for a 2014 OF Spot?


Mikie Mahtook, the Rays’ second first round pick in the 2011 MLB Draft, was a pick that was a little unorthodox by the Rays’ standards. In their entire history, the Rays’ have selected exactly two college positions players in the first round of the MLB Draft: Evan Longoria and Mikie Mahtook. The former was a special case. But why did the Rays select Mahtook?

Mikie Mahtook came out of LSU as a relatively polished player with five average or better tools. He possesses a good hit tool along with average power, above-average speed and good fielding ability, and he has a pretty good arm. He stood out at LSU for his outstanding hustle, something that we know the Rays are obsessed with. Mahtook projects as a .285 hitting corner outfielder who occasionally plays centerfield with 15 homers and 20 steals who gets on base at a nice clip. That’s nice, but it’s not the type of all-around upside we’re used to from Rays draft picks. So why did the Rays go with Mahtook? The first thought that has to cross through your mind is B.J. Upton‘s impending free agency.

After the 2012 season, B.J. Upton will become a free agent, and even though he has not been able to put everything together in the majors other than an outstanding 2007, he has nice power and great speed and he will definitely get a multi-year deal out of the Rays’ price range. So how will the Rays replace him?

This season, the Rays have fared without Upton for the season’s first 13 games, and all they have needed to do is move Ben Zobrist to right field and put two of Sean Rodriguez, Reid Brignac, Jeff Keppinger, and Elliot Johnson at the middle infield positions. That hasn’t been great because none of the four infielders are great hitters. But they can survive with that. However, could the real deal with a situation like that for an entire season?

The Rays need another hitter to get their lineup at its best. The good thing about Zobrist is that he can occupy right field or second base. The Rays need another hitter. There appear to be three players with a chance to get a spot: Tim Beckham, Brandon Guyer, and Mahtook. The Rays hope that Beckham or Guyer steps up enough offensively to warrant getting a major league starting spot. Mahtook, on the other hand, gives the Rays an option not for 2013, but for 2014. Mahtook won’t be ready in time for next season, but he gives the Rays a good bet to compete for a starting job in two seasons.

Thus far in 2012 at High-A Charlotte, Mahtook is hitting .244 with just 1 double and 2 stolen bases in 4 tries, but he does have a .340 OBP, walking 5 times and striking out 5 times as well. Mahtook has shown a nice approach at the plate,  but he hasn’t been able to make such great contact so far nor get got reads on the basepaths. His strikeout to walk ratio is the indicator that Mahtook should be fine. If all goes well, Mahtook will get his numbers up to par and get called up to Double-A Montgomery in July. The plan continues with Mahtook starting 2013 back at Double-A before being promoted to Triple-A Durham and then the big leagues in September before challenging for a big league spot in 2014.

The Rays’ usual draft picks take several years to develop. Mikie Mahtook breaks off from that and could be ready for the big leagues after two minor league seasons. As a pitcher, it’s nice to throw breaking balls that have sharp break, but sometimes you just need to locate a fastball on the outside corner and that’s enough to get a strikeout. Mahtook is a sure bet by the Rays standards compared to the high-upside, high-risk prospects that they usually draft. The ideal for the Rays is that Beckham or Guyer breaks out and becomes a star player. But if not, Mahtook can be a nice complementary piece on a contending team. The best-case scenario is that Mahtook is ready and both Beckham and Guyer play well in 2012 in the minors and 2013 in the big leagues. The Rays would love to have too many quality hitters. Hopefully Mahtook can get on track and play to his ability. Mikie Mahtook has the ability to be a fan favorite for the Rays thanks to his all-around talent and all-out hustle. And with Mahtook rising through the minors, things should be interesting for the Rays in 2014.