The Tampa Bay Rays did not consider Taylor Motter a good enough player to join their 40-man roster. It is possible that he was their last cut and the choice between Grayson Garvin and him was agonizing, but they did not add him and he proceeded to go unselected in the Rule 5 Draft. While none of this necessarily means that Garvin will be a better player than Motter in the long-run, leaving Motter unprotected was clearly the correct tactical move by the Rays.
In this entire situation, though, there is an assumption people make that isn’t necessarily true. When a player is left off a team’s 40-man roster and proceeded to go unselected in the Rule 5 Draft, we often think that the team and baseball as a whole do not regard him very highly. One clear exception is when a player was left unprotected because he was nowhere near big league-ready, but that doesn’t seem to apply to Taylor Motter.
It is not so difficult to look at Motter’s numbers from last season and see a player capable of sticking on a major league bench next season. In 502 plate appearances at Double-A Montgomery in 2014, Motter hit to a .274/.326/.436 line with 16 homers and 15 stolen bases. He put up those numbers while playing every position but pitcher, catcher, and first base. He pitched in 2013 and played first in 2012, leaving catcher as the only position he hasn’t played.
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Much more important than the positions that Motter plays, though, is the increased power that he showed this past season. His 16 homers were three more than he had put up the previous three seasons combined. Motter always did the little things, complementing his versatility with good speed, hustle, and even bunting. He also doesn’t just play a variety of positions but is learning to excel at them–he spent Winter Ball continuing to improve in centerfield.
All of the little things, however, were never going to be enough if Motter couldn’t hit the ball with authority. In the Rule 5 Draft, you have to keep the player you draft on your roster all season or have to offer him back to his previous team–a soft-hitting utility guy isn’t good enough to warrant such a lack of flexibility. Maybe Motter will be better than that, but he still has work to do to convince evaluators for good.
Unproven commodities are never as valuable as their proven equivalents. If Motter’s bat had inspired more belief, he would be a significantly better prospect. That being said, the Rays will give him every chance to continue developing.
The Rays look at Taylor Motter and they see an undervalued asset, one for whom to continue to wait. Maybe the fact that Motter went undrafted in the Rule 5 Draft is more telling of his future than anything else, but the Rays are happy to still have Motter in their system and get the chance to see what he can become.