The Tampa Bay Rays’ minor league system still has work to do. It has improved after the Rays restocked it in trades and made a few good selections in the draft, but it is not all the way back to being among the best organizations in baseball. We saw an example of that this spring as the Rays had decent solid pitchers to resort to in face of their injures, but no one spectacular, no clearly big league-ready starter who was set to return to Triple-A just because there had been no rotation spot available.
Even though the Rays’ system is not quite where the team wants it to be, however, we can still celebrate the successes of individual players. Some weeks are better than others, and this one was among the organization’s best in a while. The Rays were the only team to place three minor leaguers on Baseball America’s Prospect Hot Sheet, which recognizes the best performances from well-regarded players in the minors.
Coming in at number five out of 20 was Tyler Goeddel, the 22-year-old former third baseman who moved to the outfield this season at Double-A Montgomery. In a Rays system with few highly touted outfield prospects, Goeddel is right there with Mikie Mahtook for the best that the team has. Goeddel received the second highest bonus in the Rays’ big 2011 draft to only Taylor Guerrieri, and although he has come along slowly, he has started delivering on his potential in the last year.
Goeddel hit to a .269/.349/.408 line at High-A Charlotte in 2014, and now he has a .364/.444/.545 line with 2 homers, 2 triples, and 11 RBI in 63 plate appearances to begin 2015. Goeddel continues to improve his plate approach as he has struck out in a passable 20.6% of his PA’s and walked 11.1% of the time. Goeddel always had great raw tools, with his bat speed quite possibly being the most impressive part, but he lacked the refinement to tap into them consistently. Now that is finally starting to change.
Goeddel is just 186 pounds as he has yet to fill out his 6’4″ frame. Once that happens, he may lose some of the foot speed that Baseball America describes as above-average, but the Rays believe that enough power will come to him in the exchange to make up for that. Goeddel’s work in the weight room may just as important as his performance at the plate at this point, but it is great that he has started off so well and he will hope to continue the progress that he has made.
At number 11, meanwhile, is a pitcher we have been talking about quite a bit lately, Brent Honeywell. The 20-year-old right-hander was the Rays’ Compensation Round B pick (after the second round) in the 2014 MLB Draft, and he has done nothing but impress since signing. Last week was just the most recent example. After Honeywell put up a 1.07 ERA in 33.2 innings in his professional debut at Advanced Rookie Princeton, he now has a 1.12 ERA in 16 innings thus far in 2015 at Low-A Bowling Green.
The Rays may not be able to keep Honeywell with the Hot Rods for long because his stuff is simply too advanced. In most cases, teams would be happy if their Low-A pitcher pairs his mid-90’s fastball with one secondary pitch that flashes plus and a developing third offering. Honeywell’s heater is joined by a seemingly unhittable screwball, a solid changeup, and even a serviceable curveball. Scouts look at that arsenal and see a potential number two starter, and the Rays will look forward to seeing whether he can get there.
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Honeywell hasn’t been perfect for Bowling Green. His fastball command could use some work and he has been a little uncomfortable against left-handed batters, managing a 5-3 strikeout to walk ratio against them compared to 17-3 versus righties. Honeywell has some adjustments to make before he can move past Bowling Green–his overall numbers will not tell the full story. Even so, it is always a good sign when we have to nitpick to find a player’s flaws, and nothing you could find could make you believe that Honeywell’s potential is anything short of tantalizing.
To complete the Hot Sheet trio, we head to number 14, where Baseball America discussed Jake Bauers. Bauers, just 19 but already at High-A Charlotte, was acquired by the Tampa Bay Rays in the second Wil Myers deal and it looks like the Rays had an adjustment in mind when they acquired him. Bauers entered the system with one thing missing from his game, and the Rays may have helped him find it. Baseball America described the situation quite well.
"“…If this power surge is for real, the rest of Bauers’ game is everything you want from a first baseman—a lefthanded bat, excellent defense at first and an ability to get on base.”"
Bauers drew James Loney comparisons in the past, and first basemen can certainly do worse than that. He hit to a .296/.376/.414 line at Low-A in 2014, with scouts unable to ignore his sweet swing even if it was leading to too many singles. To start 2015, though, Bauers has hit the ball with more authority without losing any plate discipline. Overall, he has hit to a .275/.413/.529 line with 2 doubles, a triple, 3 homers, and 11 RBI in 15 games. His strikeout to walk ratio is just as impressive at 10-12.
2014 first round pick Casey Gillaspie is one level behind Bauers at Low-A Bowling Green, but it is always nice for the Rays to have multiple prospects capable of being their team’s future at a position. Loney’s contract expires after 2016, and the Rays hope that at least one of Bauers and Gillaspie is close to big league-ready by spring training of the following year. At that point, it will be interesting to see where Bauers is in his career and whether he would represent an option for the Rays to stick with a Loney-esque player or something much more exhilarating.