The Tampa Bay Rays have seen better days, with their major league team facing long odds to make the postseason while their system no longer ranks among baseball’s best. Even with both of those being the case, however, it is now as though all hope is lost. Baseball America recently gave several Rays a series of honors, and there is reason to be excited about each one.
On the All-Prospect Team for July, 2014 first rounder Casey Gillaspie was named the team’s first baseman while Nate Karns was its number three starter. Gillaspie mashed to the tune of a .330/.418/.528 line on the month, with Baseball America praising him for improving his plate discipline in his second month as a professional. Karns, meanwhile, went 4-0 with a 1.62 ERA and a 33-8 strikeout to walk ratio in 33.1 innings pitched. Karns has been extremely inconsistent this season, but it looks like his command is finally making strides and he could be ready to take the next step as a pitcher. Baseball America described Karns as a potential September promotion for the Rays, and if the Rays are contending at that time, he could wind up being an x-factor as they hope to finish strong.
Baseball America has also begun listing the best tools at each level of affiliated baseball, and the Rays were well-representing at the major league level. Some guy named David Price was named the best control pitcher in the American League, but it was a Ray that is still around, Jake McGee, who was said to have to second-best fastball behind only Garrett Richards. McGee has impressed all season with his combination of velocity and command of his heater as he has ascended to the Rays’ closer role. Then, on the defensive side, Evan Longoria and James Loney were both named the second-best fielders at their respective positions while Yunel Escobar was awarded the third-best infield arm. It’s hard to argue with any of those assessments. Finally, Joe Maddon was named the third-best manager in the circuit. If Maddon can help the Rays continue their surge towards relevancy in the AL East, this could very well be his best managerial performance yet.
Rays prospects also took home a quartet of awards at the Double-A and Triple-A levels. In the Triple-A International League, Kevin Kiermaier was named the best defensive outfielder while Mikie Mahtook was praised for the best strike-zone discipline. Kiermaier’s defense receiving accolades is hardly a surprise, but Mahtook being recognized is encouraging as we wonder what his breakout season truly means. Then, in the Double-A Southern League, Dylan Floro was described as having the best control while Ryan Brett was honored as the best defensive second baseman. Floro continues to establish himself as a control artist, walking just 1.3 batters per 9 innings both this season and for his professional career to help make up for less-than-dominant stuff. For Brett, meanwhile, his defense at second base has always been a concern, but he may be finally turning the corner.
From Casey Gillaspie at Short Season-A to Mikie Mahtook at Triple-A, Rays prospects continue to take step forward across the minor leagues. At the majors, meanwhile, the talent on the Rays remains unquestioned, and they will hope to continue tapping into that potential as the season draws to a close. Even if this has not been a perfect season for the organization, there is plenty of reason for optimism both for the rest of this season and for coming years.