When we think of Winter Ball, Australia does not quickly come to mind. Plenty of players head to the Caribbean for their renowned Winter Leagues, and we also know the Arizona Fall League as a place where top prospects go. Of course, the Arizona Fall League takes place in the fall, but it’s about the only other place that we can think of aside for the Caribbean where there is baseball going on between the end of the World Series and spring training. In reality, Australia has also entered the Winter Ball scene with its Australian Baseball League, and Tampa Bay Rays prospects will be involved in it once again this year.
Last year, the Rays had four minor leaguers participate in the ABL: Justin O’Conner, Patrick Leonard, Tyler Goeddel, and Joey Rickard. As it turned out, both O’Conner and Leonard proceeded to have breakout years while Goeddel also put up his best numbers as a pro. The four prospects from this year don’t quite have the upside of that quartet, but they will hope to get additional at-bats in the league and experience similar improvements when they return to the States. Here are the four Rays prospects who will be playing in the ABL for the Brisbane Bandits.
Johnny Field: Field just won the Rays Minor League Player of the Year award, but his reward is not a trip to Disney World but a journey to Australia. He is coming off an excellent season that saw him hit to a .300/.376/.488 line between Low-A Bowling Green and High-A Charlotte with 36 doubles, 12 homers, and 23 stolen bases. However, there is still one immediate question regarding Field: at what level will he begin next season? That was the question that both Leonard and Rickard were facing last year, and Leonard managed to advance to High-A for 2014 despite a rough 2013 at Low-A while Rickard jumped from Low-A all the way to Double-A. Johnny Field’s task will be to prove to the Rays that he deserves the chance to go straight to the Double-A and get on the fast-track to the big leagues if he continues to perform.
Granden Goetzman: Goetzman followed Field’s path by splitting 2014 between Bowling Green and Charlotte, but his results were much different in the latter level. After a .315/.349/.515 line at Low-A, he fell to just .213/.259/.287 at High-A, and now he will hope to pick up the pieces. Goetzman retains the tools that earned him Jayson Werth comparisons when he was drafted, but his plate discipline is a serious concern. He has struck out 195 times against just 39 walks as a professional, and he didn’t improve that at all this year, striking out 106 times against 16 walks. Goetzman’s first priority will simply be to regain confidence, but the Rays would love to see him come back with even a slightly more disciplined approach.
Maxx Tissenbaum: 2014 was Tissenbaum’s first season as a catcher and it went well. He hit to a .288/.329/.399 line with 6 homers and 51 RBI at Charlotte and also threw out 43% of attempted basestealers. Tissenbaum’s time in the ABL, though, may not even necessitate him bringing his catcher’s gear on the plane ride. Tissenbaum was an infielder prior to this season, and we should expect him to get back to that for the Bandits as the Rays hope to craft him into the ultimate utility player. If Tissenbaum can continue his current path as a decent hitter capable of both catching and playing the infield, that could make him a valuable part of a major league team. It should be an adjustment for him going back to playing second base after not playing one game there this season, but we can expect to see him at the keystone much more often next season, when he will presumably be at Double-A.
Thomas Coyle: The Rays organization’s baserunner of the year from 2014, Coyle swiped 30 bases in 34 attempts at High-A. He also played strong defense at second base to give him another promising secondary skill. But none of it will matter if Coyle can’t get back to hitting, and that is what he will hope to start doing this winter. Coyle hit to just a .249/.331/.345 line for the Stone Crabs, showing solid plate discipline but not nearly enough power. Could the Rays use the Australian Baseball League to unveil a new approach from Coyle that could help him hit the ball with more authority? Coyle will battle for a spot at Double-A next season, and signs of promise in the ABL would be a great way for him to start that.
The Rays prospects heading to the 2014-2015 ABL can be best described as sleepers, but Johnny Field is coming off a breakthrough season and the other three are hoping to follow suit. The time difference will make it difficult to watch games, but it should be fun checking in on these four players as the offseason progresses.