The Tampa Bay Rays minor league system might be having a down year in terms of top prospects, but it is full of guys that are on the brink of breaking out. Among these players is catcher Luke Maile, an 8th round pick in 2012 out of the University of Kentucky. Maile has shown promise thus far in his minor league career, but has never had the chance at a true everyday job. Even this year, he was assigned to Double-A Montgomery along with Curt Casali, a more highly regarded prospect, and thus was not the Biscuit’s everyday catcher. But with Casali’s recent promotion to Triple-A, Maile finally will receive the everyday opportunity that he deserves.
Maile is almost the exact opposite player that he was expected to be when he was drafted. He came with the reputation of a big bat and had the potential to hit a lion’s share of home runs. However, he has hit just eight home runs and slugged only .393 in 646 career minor league at bats. He has made good contact though, hitting to a .277 batting average since being drafted, and has also kept his reputation as having a great plate approach, which has resulted in a career .361 OBP. When the Rays took him in the draft, they thought that there was a good chance Maile would end up having to move to first base or left field, as his defense at catcher was iffy at best. But he has worked hard to improve his defense, and it has paid huge dividends. Last season with Low-A Bowling Green, he allowed just two passed balls and threw out 51 % of base runners in 64 games at catcher. He was even voted the best defensive catcher in the Midwest league by the league’s coaches. As a 22 year old last year, he was almost a year older than the Midwest’s average age, so there is reason to be skeptical about these stats. Maile was going to have to prove that those numbers were real, and the Rays gave him that chance. It says a lot that they skipped Maile over High-A to Double-A for this season and invited him to big league spring training.
If Maile can take advantage of his first true everyday catching job, though, he can finally cement his status as a legitimate player. He many never tap into the power that he was once expected to have, but he still hits the ball with decent authority thanks to off the board strength and a nice, compact swing. On top of that, his defense is vastly improved, and while he will need to show that he can continue to throw runners out as he moves up the ladder and runners get smarter, he should be at least a tick above average defensively moving forward. He has the ceiling of being an average starter thanks to solid tools across the board. If Maile does pan out, the Rays are going to have a logjam at catcher. Ryan Hanigan will likely be the Rays primary catcher through 2017 unless a significant injury occurs. Behind him, Casali should be ready for a backup or tandem role by 2015, and he will be under big league control for at least six seasons. But, if Maile pans out, the Rays will be more than happy to have three capable big league catchers within the organization. Maile has the potential to be a good player, and it all starts with him showing that he can handle an everyday catching job.
Luke Maile finally has an opening to prove to the Rays that he belongs in their future catching discussions. His strong performance in the lower minors caught the Rays’ eyes, and now he will hope to continue proving himself as he goes up the latter. The Rays have a promising future, and Maile has an opportunity to be a big part of it.