Tampa Bay Rays Mailbag: Examining the Rule 5 Eligibles

By Robbie Knopf
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Oct. 14, 2014; Mesa, AZ, USA; Oakland Athletics outfielder Boog Powell plays for the Mesa Solar Sox during an Arizona Fall League game against the Scottsdale Scorpions at Salt River Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Locks:

Blake SnellSnell has been one of the best pitchers in the minor leagues this season, going 10-3 with a 1.28 ERA and a 119-42 strikeout to walk ratio in 98.2 innings between High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A. He is just about big league-ready, enough so that he could be a September weapon like David Price in 2008 and Matt Moore in 2011. His control still isn’t great (3.8 BB/9), but it keeps improving and it is good enough at this point. With a fastball reaching the mid-90’s, a plus curveball, and a changeup that isn’t much worse, he should be a good big league starter and just maybe a great one.

Richie ShafferShaffer has a .261/.357/.538 line with 21 doubles, 23 homers, and 59 RBI between Double-A and Triple-A this season. He still has major contact issues (27.7% K%), and he enough holes in his swing that he will keep striking out even with improved pitch recognition–he’ll probably never be a high-average guy–but he draws walks and hits for power, giving him a chance to be a regular at first base or in a corner outfield spot. He has enough questions that he isn’t a top-100 prospect, but he is still worth protecting. We will also likely see him in September.

UPDATE: Shaffer just got promoted.

Taylor GuerrieriGuerrieri has come back from Tommy John Surgery as well as anyone could have hoped to this point. He put up a 2.12 ERA and a 44-11 strikeout to walk ratio in 42 High-A innings on a strict innings limit before getting hit hard in his first Double-A start. Guerrieri shows tremendous control and command of his arsenal, which consists of a fastball in the 90 to 94 MPH range, a curveball, and a changeup. He has shown enough after surgery that his previous promise remains within reach, and the Rays certainly won’t let him get away.

The next four guys are a step below the top three, but they also look like players that the Rays will keep.

Jacob FariaFaria isn’t the highest-upside pitcher because his fastball command and secondary pitches have a ways to go. Even so, he is 13-3 with a 1.79 ERA and a 115-39 strikeout to walk ratio in 115.2 innings between High-A and Double-A, and he also touches 96 MPH with his heater. Some team would love to stick him in their big league bullpen next season before continuing to develop him as a starter. Instead, the Rays will almost surely add him to their 40-man roster and see how good he can get in their system.

Taylor MotterMotter went unselected in last year’s Rule 5 Draft, but it is hard to believe that the same would be true this year. He has a .311/.367/.483 line with 33 doubles, 9 homers, 55 RBI, and 24 stolen bases at Triple-A Durham while playing all three outfield spots, third base, second base, and shortstop. Motter doesn’t have as much upside as that might suggest–his .272/.338/.412 line against right-handed pitching is less impressive and he is a poor infield defender–but there is little doubt that he could be a useful big league bench guy next year.

Boog PowellPowell drives you crazy because he has little power and isn’t even good at stealing bases. Even so, he is a strong centerfield defender who has a .304/.395/.389 line between Double-A and Triple-A this season. Powell has his limitations, but even so, he is a potential starting centerfielder and table-setter in a big league order. He is unlikely to unseat Kevin Kiermaier as the Rays’ starter in center and doesn’t profile well in left, but the Rays can’t quibble too much about a guy with the ability to make contact, get on base, and play defense.

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German MarquezMarquez is the least known player of this first seven, but he is worth learning more about. As a 20 year old at High-A, Marquez has a 3.40 ERA and A 76-26 strikeout to walk ratio in 106 innings. Marquez can get his fastball into the mid-90’s to go along with a great curveball and a solid changeup, and he has enough polish that it isn’t out of the question that he can be a serviceable major league long reliever next year. If the Rays leave him off, they would be daring a team to make him into the next Oscar Hernandez, and we know how that went. We have to believe that they will protect him.

Next we have the four guys right on the border.

Luke MaileMaile could be the Rays’ third catcher now that Bobby Wilson has been claimed by the Texas Rangers, but that isn’t sufficient reason for him to make it onto the 40-man. He is a solid defensive catcher with good plate discipline (38-28 K-BB this season at Triple-A), but he has never hit for much power and is doing little other than walking this season, hitting to just a .195/.292/.292 line. He did hit the previous three years–it’s not out of the question that he will be OK–but he hasn’t done enough to be kept as an extra backstop. Maybe a trade can be worked out because there is a good chance that someone would give him a chance.

Patrick LeonardLeonard has rebounded from a rough start to hit to a .266/.348/.437 line on the season, including .308/.394/.500 in his last 241 plate appearances, but it still looks like he will be left off. He is like Shaffer without the same type of power–he can play the corner spots and walk a decent amount, but he strikes out without hitting a ton of home runs at this point. He has more raw power, but he still hasn’t tapped into it, and a disproportionate amount of his production is coming against lefty pitching. The Rays will likely take their chances that he goes unselected.

Tyler GoeddelGoeddel retains considerable upside–his conversion from third base to the outfield has gone very well, and he can even play some center–but he certainly isn’t ready to be a major league player. He has just a .383 SLG on the year even after his three-homer game the other day as he hasn’t bulked up enough to tap into his power potential consistently. He is fast, but not fast enough to make up for his inability to hit the ball with authority. Even if a team selects him in the Rule 5 Draft, the Rays are betting that he won’t stick on their roster.

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Dylan FloroFloro has always been a low-upside pitcher, and the Rays are a little bit lucky that his bad year makes the decision to leave him off their roster much easier. He is 9-10 with a 4.71 ERA and a 72-20 strikeout to walk ratio in 122.1 innings at Triple-A this year. Floro throws strikes and keeps the ball down, but his stuff isn’t good enough to keep hitters from unloading when he makes mistakes. He can has a chance to be a swingman or a groundballing reliever in the majors, but he is a replaceable enough pitcher that the Rays will likely keep him even if he is left exposed to the Rule 5 Draft.

Now a few words on the guys who have almost no chance of being added to the 40-man roster. If you would like to discuss anyone I didn’t mention, feel free to comment.

Granden Goetzman: He still has raw tools and his plate approach has looked better, but he has a .626 OPS at High-A this year.

Jake HagerHager still has a chance to be a useful big league player, but he isn’t talented enough to be selected after missing the whole year following left ankle surgery.

Cameron SeitzerHe’s having a good year, but only in his third try at Double-A. He also doesn’t profile well defensively anywhere except for first base.

Joey RickardI like Rickard more because of his centerfield defense, but you don’t see a 24 year old with fourth outfielder upside who is repeating Double-A get selected in the Rule 5 Draft. For what it’s worth, he was just promoted to Triple-A, but the answer is still no.

Armando AraizaThough he is a great defender at the catcher position, he simply can’t hit.

Maxx TissenbaumHis conversion to catcher is going well, but he also hasn’t hit much this year. At least, unlike Araiza, he has some on-base skills.

Leonardo ReginattoReginatto just has that “It” Factor about him that is going to get him to the major leagues for at least one game. I am convinced (and can elaborate in the comments). However, he simply doesn’t hit the ball with enough authority to be picked in the Rule 5 Draft.

Chris KirschKirsch is a polished lefty who forces groundballs, but he doesn’t have the velocity or the swing-and-miss stuff to be selected.

Jeff Ames/Parker Markel/Matt Lollis/Mark SappingtonAll four are Double-A relievers who can bring it or at least could at one point, but they all have enough control problems and general inconsistency that they will go unselected. Ames was just promoted to Montgomery and has looked sharp, and I would be interested to know where his velocity is at these days. Unless he’s hitting triple digits, though, all four of them will stick around.

Isaac GilHe’s another mid-90’s guy, but he is at High-A and isn’t missing bats.

As of right now, the most likely outcome for the Tampa Bay Rays is that they will add Snell, Shaffer, Guerrieri, Faria, Motter, Powell, and Marquez to their 40-man roster while designating Butler, Elmore, Beliveau, Gomes, and two of Romero, Riefenhauser, Yates, and Garvin for assignment. That would cost them relief depth, but they can get that back through minor league free agency. The Rays can add more players to their 40-man once they can put Cobb and Smith back on the 60-day DL in the spring.

Overall, it is exciting that the Rays have so many talented players that are worth adding to their 40-man, and several of them are even close to the major leagues. The Rays’ system has gotten a lot better, and even guys who they won’t protect or are thinking of designating for assignment may be able to bring back some value in trades. This fall should be interesting once the deadline to protect players starts approaching, but before then, there is a good chance that we will see Blake Snell and Richie Shaffer make their big league debuts for the Rays in September.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays MiLB Recap: Benton Moss Sharp for Renegades