Down on the Farm: Shortstops

By David Egbert

The Rays system shows some real promise at shortstop. Every level except AA has a legitimate prospect. Let’s take a closer look.

DURHAM: Hak-Ju Lee is one of the crown jewels of the Rays system, consistently ranked among the Rays’ top five prospects since coming over from the Cubs in the Mattt Garza deal. Lee is excellent in the field with soft hands, an above-average arm and the speed to cover lots of ground, seeming to make a dazzling play every time you see him. On offense, Lee is a gap hitter and will use his speed to take an extra base or beat out a ground ball. He has also used that speed to swipe 127 bases in his minor league career. This year at Durham, he posted a.422BA/1HR/7RBI/1.136OPS line in 15 games. Yes, it was 15 games into the season when a double play collision with a runner at second base caused him to blow out his ACL. Medical reports following his surgery predict that he will come back as strong as ever and be ready for spring training. However, you never know with that kind of injury, especially when so much of his game depends on speed.

MONTGOMERY: There is not much happening at shortstop for the Biscuits. Shawn O’Malley plays the position most of the time and he’s not much more than a minor league organizational man. He had a cup of coffee at AAA but AA is probably his ceiling.

CHARLOTTE: Things look better at High A. Jake Hager is a solid player with a good future ahead of him. Ranked #17 among Rays prospects, Hagar doesn’t have one outstanding skill but he gets the job done. At the plate, he uses his hands well and shoots the ball to all fields. He’s not a burner but has good base running skills. Hager has been advertised to have above-average raw power for a shortstop, but we’re still waiting for it to come out. He has put up steady, solid numbers at Charlotte with a .269BA/7RBI/.644OPS line. In the field, he has the hands, range and arm to stay a short. Considering he is only 20 years old and playing at High A, Hager is off to a good start, and you have to hope he can begin to tap into his power to real break through.

BOWLING GREEN: Brandon Martin is a defensive whiz and has a chance to be every bit as good as Hak-Ju Lee on defense. In 2012, Martin led the Appalachian League in almost every defensive category. The question is whether he can hit. The answer so far is no. At Princeton in 2012, he put up a .209BA/10HR/31RBI/.605OPS line in 64 games. So far this year, his numbers at Bowling Green aren’t much different. He has a bit of power but his approach at the plate is crude. If the Rays can somehow get Martin together in the batter’s box, he could provide Lee-esque defense with additional power, and that would make him quite a player. He may respond to coaching and like Hager, he is only 20 years old.

Overall, things look good for the Rays at short. However, there are questions. Can Hak-Ju Lee come all the way back from his injury? Can Hager contiue to refine his game at the next two levels? Can Martin hit for average? Stay tuned.