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Rays Prospects

Tampa Bay Rays Organization Assessment: Shortstop

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The Tampa Bay Rays have certainly not given up on winning in 2015. However, this coming season will mark the least confident that Rays fans have been about their team’s chances in a long time, making the current status of the Rays’ minor league system even more important.

Especially if further changes are coming this offseason, do the Rays have the prospects to get their team back on track before long? Over the next couple of weeks, we will go position-by-position in the Rays organization in an attempt to answer that question.

We took a break from this series thanks to all of the trades and arbitration signings, but today, we are getting back on track. You can find the evaluations of catcher, first base, and second base here, and now we will talk about shortstop. Good thing we waited because the Tampa Bay Rays’ best shortstop prospect is their newest one.

Major Leagues

It looks like Nick Franklin will get the first crack at the Rays’ starting shortstop job. We know about his potential at the plate, specifically his excellent power and solid plate discipline for a middle infielder, but we have been talking about him as a second baseman for awhile now. Does that mean that it is a bad idea for the Rays to play him at shortstop?

The Rays do have an alternative in Asdrubal Cabrera, but there is reason to believe that Franklin can be just fine at shortstop. He still played nearly half of his games at the position in 2014 and is considered a potential average defender there. Even if he is a better fielder at second base, the Rays need a shortstop more badly now and Franklin can handle the position capably.

If Franklin falters, sits against left-handed pitching, or simply gets a day off, Cabrera will still slide over to the position. He is an established subpar defender there–although still better than what we saw from Yunel Escobar last year–and the Rays are hoping that better results are in store for him at second base.

Tim Beckham could also see some time at shortstop if he makes the team, and Logan Forsythe should play at least a couple of games there.

Assessment: Franklin’s defense (and to a lesser extent, his bat) are no sure things, but the standard is pretty low after Escobar’s poor 2014 and Franklin has the ability to exceed his performance by a wide margin. The Rays are expecting an average situation at shortstop this season and just maybe more.

Triple-A Durham Bulls

The biggest question mark in the entire system right now may be Hak-Ju Lee. Formerly the clear Rays shortstop of the future, Lee missed nearly all of 2013 after knee surgery and was a disaster at the plate in 2014, hitting to just a .203/.287/.276 line in 357 plate appearances. His defense was still strong, as was his plate discipline, but he was unable to drive the ball with any authority.

More from Rays Colored Glasses

The Rays are assuming nothing from Lee at this point, but they are hoping that he can deliver a resurgent season that finishes with a big league call-up in September. With Franklin having the versatility to play a variety of positions, the Rays’ starting shortstop job in 2016–or even later this season–could still be Lee’s if he can find a way to get back on track. At the very least, the Rays are hoping he can hit enough to be in the mix for a big league bench job.

The Rays have not yet signed a veteran shortstop to back up Lee at Durham, but the bottom line is that they are going to play him as much as possible in hopes that he can return to his previous form.

Assessment: This season is absolutely critical for Lee, and he will be worth watching the whole way through. This could be the year that makes him the favorite for the Rays’ shortstop job in 2016 or elucidates the fact that he will never reach the potential the Rays saw in him when he came over in the Matt Garza trade. For this season, Lee is still a real prospect, but there are no guarantees after that.

Double-A Montgomery Biscuits

The Tampa Bay Rays acquired Daniel Robertson in the Ben Zobrist trade, and they were quite excited when they did. Robertson, who will turn 21 in March, is already prepared to reach Double-A after a 2014 at High-A that saw him hit to a .310/.402/.471 line with 37 doubles, 15 homers, and 60 RBI. His plate discipline was also excellent, as evidenced from his 94-72 strikeout to walk ratio.

Robertson is not a flashy defender at shortstop, but he is good enough to stick there and that is significant given his bat. His combination of a mature approach, great bat speed, and power that he is increasingly tapping into make him the Rays’ shortstop of the future. Given how quickly Robertson has moved through the minors thus far, the future may not be so far away.

In our second base piece, we talked about Tommy Coyle starting for the Biscuits at second base, but the addition of Robertson changes things. Now, instead of being the Montgomery shortstop, Jake Hager will see more time at second and third base. We will talk about him more in third base piece, but suffice it to say that Hager will be Robertson’s backup shortstop at Double-A.

Assessment: It’s been too long since the Rays were as excited about a shortstop prospect as they are with Robertson right now, and they are expecting big things from him this season. A promotion to Triple-A Durham is not out of the question, especially if Lee or Ryan Brett can ascend to the major leagues.

High-A Charlotte Stone Crabs

Robertson has clearly stolen Willy Adames‘ thunder, but the Rays are imagining a future with both of them heavily involved. Adames was shockingly good at Low-A as one of the youngest players in the Midwest League, hitting to a .275/.353/.429 line with 19 doubles, 14 triples, 8 homers, and 61 RBI. His strikeout to walk ratio wasn’t quite Robertson’s but was still good for such a young player at 126-54.

Adames is so young–he just turned 19 in September–and the Rays are going to take his development especially slowly. They see a quick bat with considerably more power to come, and they are going to work with him as long as it takes to continue improving his defense at shortstop. Adames isn’t as advanced as Robertson, but in time, he could be just as impressive.

The Rays will also need to find some time for Andrew Velazquez and Juniel Querecuto at shortstop, but their opportunities will be limited given that the Rays will want to see Adames at short as much as possible.

Assessment: Adames gives the Rays another fascinating shortstop prospect, and while he will be playing against competition three to five years older than him, he has the ability to hold his own nonetheless. It will be a treat seeing yet another promising shortstop play in this system.

Low-A Bowling Green Hot Rods

Cristian Toribio has much more to prove that the guys above him, but the Rays are cautiously optimistic about him as well. Toribio, who turned 20 in December (yes, he’s a year older than Adames), managed a .279/.339/.485 line with 14 doubles, 5 homers, and 25 RBI in 183 plate appearances with the Advanced Rookie Princeton Rays last season.

Toribio has looked very good defensively and at least shown flashes of being formidable at the plate. With a strong year at Bowling Green, he could cement his status as a real prospect.

Assessment: Toribio pales in comparison to the others, but when your worst shortstop prospect in full-season ball still has a chance to start at the position, there cannot be many complaints.

Short Season Leagues

We don’t as much about the Rays’ Short Season shortstops, but we do know about Adrian Rondon. The Rays managed to come away with Rondon, considered by Baseball America to be the top international free agent prospect, and he will likely begin next season in the Gulf Coast League before he even turns 17 years of age.

Rondon has the ability to do it all between his bat speed, power, foot speed, and defense, and he has drawn comparisons to Hanley Ramirez and Starlin Castro. The Castro comparison has come along because scouts think that he could zoom through the minor leagues and just maybe crack the Rays’ roster by age 20.

There are always so many questions with such a young prospect, but Rondon is extremely advanced for his age and has a better chance than most of becoming an impact big league player. When the GCL Rays begin play, everyone will be watching to see if Rondon can live up to the hype.

Carlos Guzman, also signed out of the Dominican Republic, is another player whose name is worth mentioning.

Assessment: Rondon’s raw tools are the best of any player we have talked about, and if he can harness his potential on the field, he could emerge as one of the top prospects in all of baseball.

The group of shortstop prospects that the Tampa Bay Rays have now is the best they have seen in a very long time, and the Rays are hoping that multiple starting infielders arise from this contingent. Daniel Robertson, Willy Adames, and Adrian Rondon are all exhilarating prospects, and the Rays can’t wait to see how good they can get.

Next: Why Desmond Jennings Received $3.1 Million in Arbitration

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