Princeton Rays Season Review
By Joe Saunders
The Princeton Rays began their season in mid-June as one of the most intriguing teams in the Rays’ system. The Advanced Rookie affiliate was compiled of several highly drafted players and talented, but raw international players who played a big role in the success the team had. Princeton ended the season with a 40-28 record and won the Appalachian League East division. However, they would go on to get swept in the first round of the playoffs.
Another endorsement of the team’s talent came from Baseball America, who listed four members of the team in their annual top 20 prospect list from the Appalachian League. Even though the players on this team are still years away from making an impact at the big league level, the potential is there for several of these players to become very good major leaguers.
When the Rays drafted Brent Honeywell in Compensation Round B in the 2014 draft, it raised a few eyebrows. Still, Honeywell managed a solid start to his pro career in Princeton. He finished the year with a 1.07 ERA in 33.2 innings pitched with 39 strikeouts and just 11 walks issued. His mid 90’s fastball equipped with the rare screwball has scouts intrigue, and after winning player of the year honors this season for Princeton you should expect to see him on more prospect lists heading into 2015.
2012 6th rounder Damion Carroll posted a 1.59 ERA out of the bullpen with 38 strikeouts in 28.1 innings, but also walked 21 hitters. Carroll’s secondary stuff and command is raw, but he has hit 100 MPH on occasion and that gives him something to work with going forward. Jose Alonzo did a nice job with the team in his 6 starts, posting a 2.67 ERA in 30.1 innings and striking out 29 hitters while only walking 5.
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On the offensive side, Cristian Toribio had a nice season. The 20-year old shortstop put up a solid line of .275/.339/.485 at the plate. He also had 5 home runs and 25 RBIs while going 4 for 4 in the stolen base department. Toribio is an interesting prospect who has shown some nice upside at the plate early on in his professional career, but he will continue to need to work on his defense as he made 14 errors on the season.
2013 first rounder Nick Ciuffo didn’t turn in exactly the season he had hoped at Princeton. His line of .224/.289/.333 at the plate was quite underwhelming, and he had some trouble making contact with 45 strikeouts and 17 walks. Ciuffo is still young and does have plenty of potential still, but it was disappointing to see him struggle at this level. Ciuffo did have a nice season behind the plate. He posted a .987 fielding percentage and threw out 27 of 56 potential base stealers. His defense at catcher is what will keep him near the top of prospect lists in 2015. Ciuffo did suffer a stomach virus at the beginning of the year that caused him to lose over 20 pounds, so that might have been a factor in his disappointing year.
Fellow 2013 draftee Riley Unroe also did not have a great season in Princeton either as he hit just .226/.315/.325. Like Ciuffo, Unroe had some trouble making contact with 47 strikeouts, but he did draw a decent 29 walks. He will need to make more contact in the upper levels to get on base and utilize his speed, but he did show a solid plate approach from just a teenager. Unroe was just 7 for 12 in the stolen base department, and he will need to add the stolen base to his game to maximize his value. In the field he showed good instincts and should be able to stick in the middle infield, though it likely won’t come at shortstop.
This group is still very young and a ways away from making an impact on the big league club, but the potential for some solid players to emerge is there. If a few guys can jump up to Low-A Bowling Green and have solid seasons then you could be looking a couple of top 100 prospects. This team has as much or more potential than any team in the Rays’ system, and these players will hopefully continue making strides in 2015.