This is the second in a two part series about the Tampa Bay Rays hitting prospects who had the best years in 2014. For each position and DH, I have picked the player with the best season. Here is our list of the pitching prospects who performed the best. As before, there are some rules for this review:
1. Career Triple-A players will not be included
2. Players spending a good deal of 2014 with the Rays are not included
3. Player must be selected for his primary position
4. Player must have had at least 250 at bats with full season teams
With that in mind, here are my top players by position.
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Catcher: Justin O’Conner (.278/.316/.466 with 12 HR, 47 RBI between High-A Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery): A first round draft choice in 2010 out of high school with a cannon for an arm, O’Conner struggled through his first four years in the Rays system. He finally broke out in 2014 with Charlotte and Montgomery. He will play in the AFL this fall and will probably start 2015 back with the Biscuits.
First Base: Patrick Leonard (.284/.359/.448 with 13 HR, 58 RBI, 14 SB at High A Charlotte): An extra piece in the James Shields/Wil Myers deal, Leonard struggled at Low-A in 2013 but turned it around in a major way at Charlotte in 2014. One of the few hitters in the Rays system with legitimate power, he will move up to Double-A next season.
Second Base: Ryan Brett (.303/.346/.448 with 8 HR, 38 RBI, 27 SB, at Double-A Montgomery): A 3rd round pick in the 2010 draft, Brett has hit and shown speed at every level . A “Charlie Hustle” type of player, the Rays will have to make room for him in the crowded Durham middle infield picture in 2015, and he could contend for the Rays’ second base job in 2016.
Shortstop: Willy Adames (.271/.353/.429 with 8 HR, 6 RBI, 6 SB between Low-A West Michigan and Low-A Bowling Green): The third piece of the David Price deal, Adames showed good offensive numbers with two different Low-A teams in 2014. Tall and rangy, MLB already has Adames, who turned 19 in September, as the #2 prospect in the Rays organization. He should be fun to watch move through the system.
Third base: Tyler Goeddel (.269/.349/.408 with 6 HR, 61 RBI, 20 SB at High A Charlotte): Goeddel keeps showing enough to stay a prospect but not enough to get anyone really excited. At 21, he has already played three years of full-season ball. He may have shown enough to get the bump to Double-A, but much will depend on what the Rays do with Richie Shaffer.
Mikie Mahtook (.292/.362/.458, with 12 HR, 68 RBI, 18 SB at Triple-A Durham): A 2011 first round choice out of LSU, Mahtook struggled his first two years in the system but broke out with Durham this year. He was solid offensively throughout the year and showed surprisingly good power. The jury is still out as to whether he is a major league regular or fourth outfielder, but either way, the big leagues are not far away.
Johnny Field (.300/.376/.488 with 12 HR, 58 RBI, 23 SB between Low-A Bowling Green and High-A Charlotte): A 2013 fifth round choice out of Arizona, Field had arguably the best offensive season of any Rays prospect. The Rays will probably want to see him do it again in a full season at High-A, but he may be a sleeper. Drafted as a second baseman, it raises his profile considerably that he can play centerfield.
Taylor Motter (274/.326/.436 with 16 HR, 61 RBI, 15 SB at Double-A Montgomery): A 17th round draft choice in 2011, Motter has always been a fringy prospect. He was hurt much of 2013 but the Rays still moved him up to Double-A and he delivered, hitting for power for the first time in his career. If his bat can continue to impress, his outstanding versatility could make him a poor man’s Ben Zobrist.
Designated Hitter: Maxx Tissenbaum. (.288/.327/.399, 6 HR, 51 RBI, at Low-A Bowling Green): An throw-in as part of the Alex Torres deal, Tissenbaum was originally a second baseman but spent 2014 adjusting to the catcher position, DHing plenty as he did so. He swings a nice bat and his versatility may get him a big league utility job some day.
I’m going to round out the list with an honorable mention award to Kean Wong. A fourth round draft choice in 2013 and the brother of St. Louis Cardinal second baseman Kolten Wong, he hit .306 with a .347 OBP with Bowling Green. He has little power and his strikeout to walk ratio needs improvement, but it’s only his second season, and he may have a future as a table-setter in a big league lineup.
As with pitchers, it is interesting to note that only four players on this list were top 30 prospects at the beginning of the season. That is a little misleading, though, because Adames was not yet in the system and players like Leonard and Mahtook had been regarded better in the past. Most exciting, though, may be the players who came out of nowhere to have great years. The chances are that most of them will not make the major leagues, but there may be a Kevin Kiermaier-type player or two hiding among the group. The Rays certainly could use more players with Kiermaier’s late-blooming skills.