The Tampa Bay Rays minor league system might be having a slight down year this season, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of reasons to be excited. Every year, there are going to be prospects who burst onto the scene and impress despite not previously being ranked among top prospects. Look no further than last year- guys like Kevin Kiermaier, Andrew Toles, and more went from little talked about to ranking in the Rays top 10 prospects. With that in mind, which Tampa Bay Rays prospects are breaking out this year?
OF Mikie Mahtook– .337/.394/.523 (158 wRC+) in 213 PA’s with Triple-A Durham
After being drafted in the 1st round in 2011, Mahtook put up an underwhelming OPS of .758 in his first full pro season, and followed that up with a disappointing .708 OPS last season. He was expected to do a little of everything by hitting for average, some pop, playing good defense, and providing value on the basepaths. Now, after disappointing in his first two seasons, Mahtook is making up for lost time in Triple-A. The 24-year old has been tearing the cover off the ball, and he has also stolen a decent 8 bases in 10 attempts while playing his usual solid defense at all three outfield spots. The Rays do have a crowded outfield picture, both now and in the future, but if Mahtook keeps hitting like this he will get a chance sooner or later.
C Luke Maile– .281/.365/.453 (133 wRC+) in 159 PA’s with Double-A Montgomery
Maile had a good season in 2013, hitting above league average and being ranked the best defensive catcher in the Low-A Midwest League. However, he was old for his league, and thus was generally passed up for top prospect consideration. He skipped High-A to go to Montgomery this year, and has responded well. His bat is not only holding up against higher level pitching, it is getting better, and he has maintained a solid 34% caught stealing rate. If he can keep it up, the Rays will have a logjam at catcher in a year or two with Maile, prospect Curt Casali, and big league veteran Ryan Hanigan.
1B Patrick Leonard– .279/.361/.519 (157 wRC+) in 208 PA’s with High-A Port Charlotte
There might not be a Rays prospect who has boosted his stock more this season than Leonard, the “throw in” in the James Shields-Kansas City Royals deal. Everyone knew he had above-average raw power, the biggest question was whether he’d hit enough to tap into it. This year, his hit tool has made huge progress, and his plate discipline has improved as his 44-22 K-BB ratio shows. His bat is going to have to continue to carry him through the minors because of his limited defensive value at first base. But, the strides he has made this year are exciting.
SP Blake Snell– 2.03 ERA, 9.1 K/9, 4.1 BB/9, 6.5 H/9 in 40.1 innings with Low-A Bowling Green and 4.0 innings with High-A Port Charlotte
Snell came to the Rays in the supplemental 1st round in 2011 with big stuff but poor control, and that showed in his full season debut in 2013. He repeated Low-A to start the 2014 thanks to disappointing there last year, but recently got promoted to High-A after tearing up the competition. His control has made big strides this year, though there is still quite a bit of work to be done there. As his H/9 and K/9 show, he showcases dominant stuff, and now that his control is being honed in it is finally starting to turn into results. There is still plenty of work to do, but Snell has made huge improvements already this season.
OF Granden Goetzman– .323/.361/.497 (137 wRC+) in 208 PA’s with Low-A Bowling Green
It took a while, but Goetzman is finally healthy and proving that his bat is all that it was hyped up to be when the Rays took him in the 2nd round in 2011. He still needs to work on plate discipline, as his 46-9 K-BB ratio shows. Also, he is going to need to prove that his bat will hold up against higher level pitching in the future. But, his ability to hit for contact and power has been encouraging.
C Oscar Hernandez– .270/.345/.460 (125 wRC+) in 143 PA’s with Low-A Bowling Green
Hernandez put himself on the radar with a monster 222 wRC+ in the Venezuelan Summer League back in 2011, but in 2012 and 2013 his bat was not nearly as good. Coming into this year he was known as a defensive whiz, but he needed to answer some questions with the bat. Now it seems as if it might be the other way around. After a slow start, Hernandez has been red hot at the plate and has shown good plate discipline and the ability to hit for both power and average. On the defensive side, he has thrown out a decent, but not great 29% of base runners. However, he has already allowed 11 passed balls, which needs to get better moving forward. As with any 20-year old in Low-A, there is quite a bit of work to be done. But, Hernandez has shown ability both offensively and defensively, and he is quickly making himself known in the Rays organization.
Overall, the Rays have a nice group of breakout players this year. This list doesn’t even include guys like Jake Thompson, who has dominated with a move to relief, Tyler Goeddel, who had a monster start to the season before cooling off, and Dylan Floro, who has dominated in Double-A over the past few weeks. The Tampa Bay Rays system may be having a “down year”, but it is guys like these who have the ability to change that if they keep up the good work.