Baseball gurus such as Baseball America and Major League Baseball churn out regular reports on the top 20-25 prospects for each team. The rankings are based on talent evaluation and scouting reports and not the immediate value of a player to a team. The number one prospect may be in rookie ball and years away from contributing to the big league team or at Triple-A and a call-up away from the majors. With that in mind let’s see how the Rays 20 top prospects, based on MLB.com’s mid-season top 20 list, will help the big league team next season?
MLB’s current list of top twenty Rays prospects include seven guys who played at Triple-A in 2014. Leading the group is pitcher Alex Colome (#5). Colome is a sure shot to be on the Ray’s 25-man roster next year, as he has shown well in a few major league experiences and is out of options. The only question is how he helps the team most. Colome has been starting pitcher but, barring injuries, there are no openings in the Rays’ starting rotation. That will put him in the bullpen in any number of roles from setup man to long reliever.
The next best Triple-A possibilities to make the team are Nate Karns (#15) and Mike Montgomery (#17). Both have extensive Triple-A experience and could be seen as a starter of reliever. Karns will probably return to Durham and be the first call up if a starter is needed. Montgomery is a bit of a mystery. He has been up and down on the prospect list with both Kansas City and the Rays. Most scouts see him as a reliever, and that’s where he’ll be with the Rays, but he provides the ability to spot start and the Rays may want to stretch him out in the minors for depth purposes. We will see how things go in spring training, but Montgomery seems on the cusp of a big league role.
On the infield, we have #18 prospect Tim Beckham. A former number one overall draft choice, Beckham has been a long-term project. After 2013, he seemed ready to finally get a crack at the big leagues as a lefty-mashing utility man, but an ACL tear derailed him for most of the season season. He will try once again to prove himself in 2015 spring training, but with Nick Franklin on the scene, it looks like he will start the season in Durham. A Ben Zobrist trade could change that scenario, but at worst he’s a call-up option in case of a Rays injury.
The outfield prospect closest to the big leagues is Mikie Mahtook (#11). Mahtook had a breakout year at Durham in 2014 and re-established himself as a top 20 prospect. As this was his best year in the minors, the Rays will probably want to see him do it again in 2015, especially given their outfield depth in the big leagues. However, if there is the need for an outfielder and he is playing well, don’t be surprised if he gets the call given his ability play all three outfield positions.
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The last two Triple-A prospects, despite their high ranking, will probably spend the entire season at Durham. Pitcher Enny Romero (#6) has more upside possibilities than any of the Triple-A pitchers. He has a big league heater in the upper 90s and a nasty breaking ball, but lacks command and consistency. He’s only 24 and the Rays will hope he can finally put it all together next year.
Despite a horrible knee injury in 2013 and a terrible season in 2014, shortstop Hu-Ju Lee is still seen as the #4 prospect in the organization (though MLB.com’s rankings are from the middle of the season). A slap hitter with great speed and terrific range, he was seen as the Rays shortstop of the future before the injury. The Rays will hope that he can bounce back in 2015 back at Triple-A.
It is also possible that a Double-A prospect for this year could make it to the big leagues next season. The Rays have three top 20 prospects at Double-A in catcher Justin O’Conner (#14), second baseman Ryan Brett (#8) and pitcher Grayson Garvin (#19). Brett is the most advanced of the three. With speed and a solid bat, he might see big league action next fall. O’Conner had a break out year at High-A Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery last year and is refining his skills this fall in the Arizona Fall League, but will likely return to Double-A to start 2015. Garvin has loads of potential but can’t stay healthy. As a reliever he could help the team soon but if the Rays want to continue his path as a starter he needs a year or two to build up innings.
The Rays are not a team that can plug holes with high-priced free agents, and it would be nice to see more impact players on the horizon. They have plenty of top prospects that seem on the cusp of making a big league impact in 2015, and as we saw with Kevin Kiermaier this year, one or more of them could have a surprisingly large impact on the the Rays season.