Coming into the year there were plenty of questions regarding the Tampa Bay Rays top prospects. Could Kevin Kiermaier prove his bat was for real? Would Andrew Toles improve his plate discipline? Could Richie Shaffer tap into his raw power after a disappointing first season? Some of these questions and more have started to be answered as we are just over a month and a half into the minor league season. How have some of the Rays top positional prospects fared so far this year?
SS Hak-Ju Lee: .183/.338/.217 in 75 PA’s with Triple-A Durham
The good news for Lee is that he is back on the field and playing everyday. Lee missed almost all of 2013 with a gruesome knee injury, and missed the first part of this season with a calf strain. His bat remains his biggest question, and it has not done much at all this year, though it is hard to blame him after such a long hiatus from the game. Lee just needs to continue to get reacquainted with minor league pitching and his bat will rebound. To what extent it bounces back will determine if he is a utility man or an everyday player in the big leagues, but with the Rays set at middle infield for the time being, they will have no problem taking things slow with Lee.
OF Kevin Kiermaier: .322/.372/.483 in 131 PA’s with Triple-A Durham, .182/.182/.455 line in 11 PA’s with the Rays
We will have more on Kiermaier later today at the site, so I’ll keep this short and sweet. Kiermaier continues to dazzle with his defense, and he is among the best center fielders in all of baseball. His bat still is his biggest question, but he is beginning to show it is for real with great numbers in Triple-A. He doesn’t have a spot in the Rays outfield right now because of their current logjam, but if he keeps hitting like this, the Rays are going to have to make room for him in short order.
C Curt Casali: .314/.500/.429 in 96 PA’s with Double-A Montgomery, .310/.429/.379 in 36 PA’s with Triple-A Durham
Casali keeps defying any expectations that there are for him. He continues to hit, and despite the Rays normally being uber-cautious with promoting prospects, he hit so well that the Rays moved him up to Triple-A after just 57 games with Double-A in 2013 and 2014. He also manages a pitching staff like a seasoned veteran- something the Rays must love. His caught stealing rate this year is decent at 27%, but as he moves up the ladder runners are only going to become smarter, so he is going to have to get better in that area. He has a couple of questions to answer, but if he keeps hitting so well, he will see time in the big leagues at some point this season.
2B Ryan Brett: .321/.363/.438 in 148 PA’s with Double-A Montgomery
The scrappy Brett has impressed with his bat as he moves up the ladder. He is never going to be a slugger, but he has enough gap power as well as contact and on base skills to be a nice piece of a big league lineup. Past his bat, Brett has quite a bit to work on. Despite solid speed, he is just 8-13 in stolen base attempts, and he needs to be more efficient. He has also made 9 errors in the field this season. He has the chance to be a good number 1 or 2 hitter in a major league lineup, but there is plenty for him to work on if he is going to reach that level.
3B Richie Shaffer: .225/.301/.495 in 123 PA’s with Double-A Montgomery
The good news- Shaffer is slugging a great .495 and has also drawn a decent 12 walks. The bad news- he is hitting just .225 and has struck out 29 times in 30 games. With those contact rates, he might not be able to sustain that kind of power level. He still has tons of work to do on plate discipline and pitch recognition, but he still has the raw power that made him a first round pick in 2012. He also has just a .886 fielding percentage at third base, and he has to quickly improve or else get moved to first base or right field.
SS Jake Hager: .283/.351/.408 in 135 PA’s with Double- A Montgomery
Hager continues being average. He doesn’t do any one thing great, but he doesn’t do any one thing poorly. He plays decent defense, and as his triple slash shows he does a little bit of everything at the plate. The most concerning part about this season is that he hasn’t even attempted to steal a base, but that is likely to change in the future. His bat is holding up against higher level pitching, and the Rays might just have a decent future regular or good backup on their hands in Hager.
OF Andrew Toles: .260/.298/.325 in 184 PA’s with High-A Port Charlotte
Toles has not had the start to the season that the Rays were looking for. His contact rates remain decent, and he hasn’t struck out quite as much as last year. But, he has struggled to draw sufficient walks, and he has hit for virtually no power this season. Toles still has ability and it is still early in the season, but he is going to have to change something to get his bat going.
3B Tyler Goeddel: .288/.377/.489 in 159 PA’s with High-A Port Charlotte
The toolsy Goeddel is finally turning his potential into results after two less than impressive seasons with Low-A Bowling Green. He is hitting for average, he is drawing walks, and his power has been solid. He has made 8 errors in 35 games at third, so he will need to improve that. But things are finally coming together for Goeddel, he just needs to work hard to prove it is not a fluke.
1B Patrick Leonard: .302/.376/.568 in 157 PA’s with High-A Port Charlotte
There is not a Rays prospect that has boosted his stock more than Leonard has so far this season. After an underwhelming go around at Low-A in 2013, his hit too has made huge strides, and that has turned his raw power into in-game performance. Like Goeddel he has to prove it isn’t a fluke, but Leonard has been an exciting player so far this year.
Overall, it has been a decent year so far for Rays positional prospects. There are still plenty of questions to be answered, but there have been plenty of breakout seasons this year. Players such as Granden Gotezman, Kean Wong, and Oscar Hernandez have also been good and could quickly establish themselves as top prospects. Mikie Mahtook is also well on his way to re-establishing himself as a legitimate prospect, and there are plenty of other name to keep an eye on in the system. Experts say that the Rays are having a down year in their farm system, but these players have a chance to change that perception this year.