The minor league season is just underway, and after speculating after which Tampa Bay Rays prospects would head where for months, we finally know for certain. Over the next couple of days, let’s run through the roster of each Rays full-season affiliate and get a feel for the top prospects at each level and the team as a whole. After we tackled the Durham Bulls yesterday, now we’re up to the Montgomery Biscuits.
The most exciting pitcher in this rotation is going to be Grayson Garvin, but he is currently out with a lat strain. In his absence, Schultz will be the pitcher that Biscuits fans most want to see. Schultz is unlikely to remain a starting pitcher for much longer, but with a fastball that can touch 97 MPH and a pair of impressive breaking pitches, he could turn into a late-inning reliever. Expect him to strike out a lot of guys this season, and the hope is that he will cut down on his walks as well.
Pruitt is another notable guy as a pitcher who is still starting at Double-A despite being just 5’10”, 180 and often sitting in the high-80’s with his fastball. He has gotten this far thanks to excellent command and an above-average curveball, and he also threw 147 innings last year despite his small frame. He will hope to continue eating innings in 2015 and possibly position himself for a future big league relief role.
Jared Mortensen has livelier stuff than Pruitt, touching 95 MPH with his fastball, and he will hope to rebound from inconsistent results at Montgomery last year. Lopez gets the bump to Double-A Montgomery even though his 3.49 ERA at High-A wasn’t supported by his peripherals. Finally, O’Brien has been an organizational arm but is hoping to be more. He will attempt to make it back to Triple-A after appearing there for the first time last year.
Most of the pitchers in this Montgomery bullpen have the ability to be big league relievers if they can improve their command. That especially applies to Reavis, Sappington, Markel, and Marinez, all of whom reach the mid-90’s with their fastballs but don’t always know what it’s going. Reavis was pushed to Double-A after just 15 High-A appearances, and it will be interesting to see what he can do.
An interesting sleeper is Harrison, who doesn’t throw as hard but features good command and a sharp breaking ball. Hagens, meanwhile, has a good cutter but hasn’t been able to complement it well enough thus far. Then again, he struck out 9 (!) in 3.1 innings in his first relief appearance, so the Rays may think that they have something in him as well.
Catchers: Justin O’Conner, Jake DePew
O’Conner is the Rays’ top catching prospect and is hope to continue his progress from last season at the plate. His defense is spectacular, with his arm quite possibly being the best of any catcher in professional baseball right now and his receiving solid and getting stronger. At the plate, however, he needs major improvement to his pitch recognition to keep hitting at higher levels and profile as a starting catcher.
DePew, meanwhile, is an organizational catcher who will back up O’Conner until someone like Maxx Tissenbaum works his way to Montgomery.
Best of luck to the Tampa Bay Rays as they try to figure out playing time among this group. We know that Robertson will be a priority as arguably the top prospect in the system. He stands out for his excellent pure hitting and plate discipline plus his solid power potential. He certainly needs to prove that he can handle Double-A at the plate, but his defense at shortstop may be a bigger question.
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Behind Robertson, Shaffer, Leonard, and Hager all remain solid prospects. Shaffer is hoping that he won’t be at Double-A for too long after he spent all of last season there. He appeared to make a breakthrough in his approach at the plate towards the end of the year, and he will hope to prove that his strides are permanent. Leonard’s bat faces a lot of pressure as he is a pure first baseman, but he has enough power and plate discipline to potentially start at the position. Hager, meanwhile, is a solid defender at shortstop who needs a lot of work at the plate.
Coyle is a clear step back from the others and was mediocre at Charlotte last year, but he may have earned a mulligan after he looked excellent in the Australian Baseball League. Seitzer has run out of goodwill from his solid 2013–he needs a big year–while Reginatto has never been a prospect yet always seems to come up in the clutch (for what it’s worth).
Update: Twitter people pointed out to me that Hager is out for the year with knee surgery. That’s unfortunate for him, and we’ll have to see where his career stands once he returns.
Powell and Field give the Biscuits two of the Rays system’s biggest sleepers. Powell features an excellent plate approach and speed that he will hope to use better on the basepaths, and it will be interesting to see how he hits this year. Field, on the other hand, doesn’t have the same caliber pitch recognition but hits for more pop and is a better basestealers. Both players can play a solid centerfield, and the Rays are wondering whether one of them could eventually profile as a starter there.
Goeddel has been converted to the outfield after beginning his pro career at third base, and the hope is that it will allow him to focus more on his hitting. He still features the bat speed, foot speed, and power potential that made him stand out when he was drafted, and the Rays are hoping that he can turn into one of their top outfield prospects. Carter, meanwhile, has interesting tools like a quick bat, good speed, and the defense for center, but he hasn’t been able to hit consistently enough in his career.
Overall, there isn’t too much going on for the Biscuits’ pitching staff, but their position player prospects will be fascinating to watch. The top prospects like Robertson and O’Conner will hope to make their places in the Rays’ future even more secure while guys like Powell, Field, Goeddel, Leonard, and Shaffer have a chance to move up the organizational depth chart as well.