The Bowling Green Hot Rods were the most polarizing team in the Rays system in 2012, showing plenty of promise but having their season marred by four drug suspensions. Today we’ll continue our look at the Hot Rods with the middle infielders and third basemen including a trio of interesting prospects.
Ryan Brett, who turned 21 in October, was the Rays’ 3rd round pick in 2010 and was having a good season for the Hot Rods before it all came crashing down when Brett was suspended 50 games after testing positive for a banned substance, a suspension he will continue to serve at the beginning of 2013. Allowing that positive test to happen was a major mistake on Brett’s part and it will put the pressure on him even more to perform- and especially as a player previously known for his character, Brett will have to rebuild his relationship with teammates and coaches from the bottom up. On the season, Brett posted a .285/.348/.393 line with 20 doubles, 6 homers, 35 RBI, 48 of 56 stolen bases, and 73 strikeouts against 37 walks in 100 games and 456 plate appearances. Brett stands out first and foremost for his blazing speed, which was clear based on his stolen base total, but Brett shows nice ability at the plate as well. Brett’s bat speed is only a tick above-average, but he has a compact swing and shows flashes of lift that would allow him to hit for some power, although that didn’t happen much in 2012. Brett makes a lot of contact and has a patient approach, but the bizarre thing for him this season was that he struck out swinging in just 8.8% of his plate appearances compared to the 14.4% league average but struck out looking in 6.8% of his PA’s compared to the 5.0% average. The explanation that you want to stay for that is that Brett was trying to do too much on fastballs, and indeed Brett didn’t square up as many balls in 2012 as he did in 2011, but usually that would come with too many strikeouts as well. Brett’s strikeout rate did nearly double from 2011 to 2012, from 8.9% to 15.6%, but it was still good (the league average was 19.5%). What’s going on? The answer is that Brett is still trying to convert himself from a switch-hitter to a purely right-handed hitter and had to face right-on-right fastballs for the first time, something he wasn’t used to. Hopefully just getting more at-bats as a right-handed hitter- something his suspension certainly didn’t help him do- will rectify that problem. Brett still has a patient approach and is very good at recognizing breaking pitches, so as long as he corrects this problem, he’ll be fine. Defensively, Brett shows great range and reflexes, but he needs to continue working on his actions and the accuracy of his throws as his fielding percentage at second base was just .949 in 2012 (MLB average .983), although that was a moderate improvement from his .931 mark in 2011. Brett has an interesting set of all-around abilities and is especially impressive because of his combination of speed, solid pure hitting ability, patience, and some raw power, but his suspension didn’t do any favors to his development and his game remains rough around the edges.
Juniel Querecuto, who turned just 20 years old in September, was signed by the Rays out of Venezuela back in 2009 and had a solid season in 2012 for the Hot Rods, although his defense was much more impressive than his offense. Querecuto posted a .249/.316/.303 line with 17 doubles, 2 triples, 32 RBI, 13 of 19 stolen bases, and 79 strikeouts versus 38 walks in 106 games and 436 plate appearances. Querecuto, a switch-hitter, strangely, like Brett, had some trouble with fastballs from right-handed pitchers, but overall he showed decent plate discipline and flashes of some bat speed, although he has to improve versus breaking pitches and get the good bat speed more often. He has good speed but hits too many balls in the air for his own good right now. Defensively, though, Querecuto, who played primarily shortstop until this season, saw time at second base and third base in addition to shortstop and played very well especially at second base, posting a .991 fielding percentage, just 2 errors in 52 games. Querecuto has good range, nice hands, and plus arm strength, and he profiles fine defensively at shortstop but it’s good that he’s getting experience at other positions because right now he looks like a utility player more than anything else. Querecuto is young enough, though, that the Rays hope that his bat will come along. The Rays like Querecuto’s defensive talents and they hope that more offense is still to come.
Hager had a nice season for the Hot Rods in his full-season debut, including leading the team with 72 RBIs. (Credit: Flickr user White Cap Wendy)
Jake Hager, who doesn’t turn 20 years old until March, was the Rays’ third 1st round pick in their 2011 draft bonanza and delivered a great showing in his first full pro season, posting a .281/.345/.412 line with 22 doubles, 10 homers, 72 RBI, 17 of 28 stolen bases, and 60 strikeouts versus 40 walks in 114 games and 501 plate appearances. Hager, 6’1″ and 170 pounds, is a solid all-around player with the intangibles to make all his tools play up. Hager features nice bat speed and smacks the ball to all fields, although he did get into trouble when he tried to sell out for more home run power. His plate discipline is solid and he makes a ton of contact at the plate, although he may be just a touch overaggressive. As Hager learns which pitches to drive, his power will hopefully come out more naturally. Hager has a chance to be a 15-20 threat in the major leagues, which would be good for a shortstop. Hager also features good speed, although average for a shortstop, but he needs work on reading pitchers to be a real stolen base threat moving forward. Defensively, Hager is a little more polished than your average shortstop coming out of high school, posting a .957 fielding percentage in 105 games there in 2012, and he features smooth actions and a strong arm although his range is only average. Hager has the ability to move more quickly than your conventional high school draft pick, combining good polish with some room to grow as he looks to become an above-average big league shortstop.
Tyler Goeddel, who turned 20 years old in October, received the second-highest bonus among the Rays’ 2011 draft picks behind only Taylor Guerrieri after being selected 41st overall, 9 picks after Hager. Goeddel got off to a scorching hot start to the season before finishing with just decent overall numbers. Goeddel posted a .246/.335/.371 line with 19 doubles, 6 homers, 46 RBI, 30 of 35 stolen bases, and 94 strikeouts versus 38 walks in 103 games and 379 plate appearances. Goeddel’s main issue on the season was strikeouts- he struck out in 25.3% of his plate appearances. Goeddel, a projectable power bat at 6’4″, 180, shows great bat speed with flashes of plus raw power, but he struggled mightily with offspeed pitches in 2012. He actually hit well against left-handed pitching, posting a .281/.379/.404 line in 69 plate appearances, but he was at just .236/.321/.354 versus righties. Goeddel walked at a good 10.1% rate on the season as his patience is solid, but he has to improve against breaking pitches to cut down on his strikeout rate. Goeddel did manage an excellent 9-9 strikeout to walk ratio in his last 15 games, so that was a great sign. Goeddel also got in trouble trying to do too much on fastballs and has to work on figuring out which pitches to drive. The one major positive from Goeddel’s season was how well he utilized his plus speed, stealing 30 of 35 bases, and although Goeddel may lose a step as he fills out, he does have the ability to be a 20 stolen base threat annually in the big leagues. In the Rays’ dream scenario he’s a player who can hit for a nice average with 35 homers and 20 stolen bases per season, which would make him one of the best player in baseball. Goeddel is a long way from anything remotely close to that but the potential is there. Defensively, Goeddel has plenty of defensive ability, showing an excellent arm and great actions while utilizing his speed well for outstanding range, and he has a chance to be a plus defensive third baseman, but especially with Evan Longoria entrenched at third base for the Rays, he could profile just about anywhere on the field, with second base looking like a likely destination. Goeddel did, though, struggle defensively at third base in 2012, managing just a .899 fielding percentage, although a lot of that came from the fact that he got to more balls than the average third baseman, and also because a least a little of his offensive frustration had to go into his performance into the field. Tyler Goeddel will be a project for the Rays, but he has sky-high potential and the Rays will give him as much time as he needs to get there.
In these four infielders, all 23 or younger, the Rays could have four big leaguers including three potential above-average starters and maybe even a star. All four, especially Goeddel, need plenty of development, but if you’re looking for the Rays’ best upside on the infield, you’re seeing a lot of it right here. We’ll continue next time with the Hot Rods’ outfielders.
For all our analysis on the Hot Rods and the Rays’ other minor league affiliates, check out our Minor League Affiliates Analysis page here at RCG.