Rays Prospects

Tampa Bay Rays MiLB Recap: Garrett Whitley Takes Over

By Robbie Knopf
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The Gulf Coast League drives us crazy trying to evaluate position player prospects because it is the most pitcher-friendly league in professional baseball. Even outstanding talents can go into the league and struggle because the pitchers tend to be older and more advanced. That being said, when a player does find a way to stand out, that becomes all the more special. Garrett Whitley isn’t tearing up the Gulf Coast League on the surface, but in the context of such a crazy league, he is meeting the Tampa Bay Rays’ expectations in his pro debut and just maybe exceeding them.

Triple-A International League: Norfolk Tides (BAL) 8, Durham Bulls 7

The Bulls nearly overcame a 6-1 deficit only to fall just short. Matt Andriese‘s second inning got off to an extremely unlucky start–after a strikeout to start the frame, the next hitter reached on an error and 2 more hit groundballs that found the outfield grass. After that, he lost his composure and imploded, giving up 6 runs, just 2 earned, after giving up a trio of line drives and a few long flyballs. Andriese rebounded to toss 3 shutout innings afterwards, but unfortunately he couldn’t find himself early enough. He did strike out 5 while walking 1 as he gave up those 6 runs on 8 hits in 5 innings.

Enny Romero made things worse (and proved to be the difference in the game) as he allowed 2 more runs on 3 hits in 2.1 innings, striking out 2 while walking 3, before Dylan Floro had an encouraging outing. Floro tossed 1.2 perfect innings, striking out 1 and forcing 3 more outs on the ground. Floro wasn’t able to cut it as a starter this season, and while the Rays have to hope that he can get back on track, he certainly has the stuff to be a groundballing middle reliever. It certainly isn’t bad to get such a player down in the 13th round of the draft.

Offensively, Nick Franklin, Mikie Mahtook, and J.P. Arencibia all went 1 for 4 with 2 RBI. Franklin had a double and also walked, although admittedly the error in the second inning was his. Franklin has looked more sure-handed since returning to the minor leagues, and it’s unfortunate that this particular error loomed large. He also continues to do quite well at the plate, hitting to a .265/.340/.478 line in 153 Durham plate appearances. Nothing can be taken for granted after how badly he looked in the majors this year, but at the very least, he has done enough to get another year to prove himself.

Corey Brown also went 2 for 4 with a solo homer, a stolen base, and 2 runs scored while Boog Powell went 1 for 3 with 2 walks and 2 runs scored.

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Double-A Southern League: Montgomery Biscuits 4, Birmingham Barons (CHW) 1

Jaime Schultz entered this game having allowed 6.5 walks per 9 innings, but it was other people allowing walks instead. Schultz delivered his third straight good start, tossing 7 innings allowing an unearned run on 7 hits, striking out 7 while walking 2. He now has a 23-7 (3.29-to-1) strikeout to walk ratio in his last 18 innings compared to just 114-72 (1.58-to-1) in his previous 96.1. Schultz got off to a great start to the year before losing track of the strike zone, and it is nice to see him finishing strong. He still probably doesn’t have enough control to start, but we can be a little more confident that he can throw enough strikes to be an effective late-inning reliever.

I wasn’t kidding about the walks. Matt Lollis walked 3 while recording just 2 outs before Brad Schreiber allowed 2 free passes while striking out 1, but Schreiber stranded Lollis’ runners and then the 2 of his own. The run support came primarily from Patrick Leonard, who went 2 for 4 with a solo homer, a walk, and a stolen base, and Johnny Field, who went 2 for 4 with 2 doubles, an RBI, a run scored, and an outfield assist. Dayron Varona also went 3 for 5 while Justin O’Conner had a 1-for-3 game with a double, a walk, an RBI, and a run scored and Thomas Coyle went 2 for 4 with the last RBI.

High-A Florida State League: Bradenton Marauders (PIT) 5, Charlotte Stone Crabs 2

This was a forgettable game for the Stone Crabs. Greg Harris started and gave up 4 runs, 3 earned, on 5 hits in 4 innings, striking out 2 and walking 2 as well. At least his groundout to flyout ratio was 5-2. Kyle McKenzie followed with 3 innings allowing 1 run on 4 hits, striking out 2 while walking none before Isaac Gil worked around a hit to wrap up the game in the eighth. Mike Marjama went 3 for 4 with a triple and an RBI for Charlotte while Justin Williams had his first good game at High-A, going 3 for 4.

Low-A Midwest League: Bowling Green Hot Rods 11, Burlington Bees (LAA) 10

This game marked the first contest for Cade Gotta and Luis Urena at full-season ball, and it was absolutely nuts. The Hot Rods were down 3-0 entering the bottom of the fifth before roaring back with 9 runs, but then they just about gave it all back. Bralin Jackson and Nick Ciuffo had huge games at the plate, with Jackson going 2 for 4 with a triple, 3 RBI, and 2 runs scored while Ciuffo went 2 for 3 with 3 RBI and a run scored. Alec Sole also went 2 for 3 with a walk, a stolen base, an RBI, and 2 runs scored while Riley Unroe went 2 for 5 with an RBI and a run scored.

Sole has come out of nowhere to have a huge year, hitting to a .320/.372/.438 line with 11 doubles, 3 triples, a homer, 18 RBI, 5 stolen bases, and a 23-13 strikeout to walk ratio in 184 plate appearances (4 with Charlotte, the rest with BG). I can’t quote this stat enough: Sole hit to just a .199/.285/.243 line at Hudson Valley last year! No matter what happens with Sole moving forward, getting him to like this for any period of time was a huge accomplishment for the Rays’ hitting coordinators. And if he keeps it up, he has the defensive chops to have a solid MLB career.

Needless to say, the pitching was a mess for Bowling Green. Henry Centeno tossed 5 innings allowing 3 unearned runs on just 1 hit, striking out 3 while walking 5. His groundout to flyout ratio was 8-0. Ryan Pennell then allowed 4 runs, 1 earned, in 2 innings before Urena gave up 2 more runs in his frame. Edgar Gomez allowed 1 more run in the ninth, but he stranded a pair of baserunners to seal the win.

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Short Season-A New York-Penn League: Hudson Valley Renegades 3, Mahoning Valley Scrappers (CLE) 0

Benton Moss was a major sleeper from the moment the Tampa Bay Rays drafted him, and he has shown exactly why since his pro career began. In this game, Moss tossed 6 shutout innings getting past 4 hits and a walk while striking out 7. His groundout to flyout ratio was also a solid 7-3. Moss now has a 2.33 ERA and a 42-9 strikeout to walk ratio in 38.2 innings with the Renegades. He has looked extremely advanced with his four-pitch arsenal–fastball, curveball, changeup, and cutter–and is giving himself a chance to become a legitimate prospect. He is already 22, but will the Rays consider skipping him to High-A for next year to make up for that?

Tim Ingram followed by allowing a hit and nothing else in 2 shutout innings, striking out 1, before Diego Castillo gave up a walk but struck out 1 in a hitless ninth. Offensively, Angel Moreno drilled a solo home run, Taylor Hawkins went 2 for 3 with an RBI, and Manny Sanchez went 1 for 3 with a double and a walk.

Advanced Rookie Appalachian League: Bluefield Blue Jays 11, Princeton Rays 3

The good news is that Brett Sullivan went 2 for 4 with a solo homer while Angel Perez went 3 for 4 with a home run short of the cycle and an RBI. The bad news is that Deivy Mendez got destroyed (3 ER, 0.2 IP) and Noel Rodriguez was terrible (5 ER, 3.1 IP) before Bryan Bonnell and Ruben Paredes were merely bad.

Rookie Gulf Coast League: GCL Rays 10, GCL Twins 3

There was a lot more to like about this game, and leading the way was this year’s first round pick, Garrett Whitley. Whitley went 3 for 3 with a homer, a double, 2 walks, 3 RBI, and 3 runs scored. It was unquestionably the best offensive performance by anyone on the GCL Rays this season, and it makes sense that such a game would come from their best player. On the year, Whitley has hit to a .236/.362/.455 line with 2 doubles, 2 triples, 2 homers, 9 RBI, 5 stolen bases, and a 13-10 strikeout to walk ratio in 69 plate appearances.

The batting average is a little low, but Whitley leads the team in OPS and slugging while ranking third in OBP. On a team that has struck out 2.57 times for every walk and in a league where that ratio is still 2.20-to-1, Whitley’s 1.3-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio stands out. And overall, his .817 OPS is the 23rd-best in the GCL, including 9th-best among players younger than 20. Some hard hits aren’t falling, but his plate approach is as advanced as expected and it is great to see him hitting for power as well. Whitley’s pro career is off to a nice start.

Oscar Rojas also drove in 3 runs while Joseph Astacio went 2 for 3 with 2 walks and 3 runs scored and Ryan Caldwell went 2 for 5 with an RBI and 2 runs scored. On the mound, meanwhile, Ty Nichols started and tossed 6 innings allowing 3 runs on 8 hits, striking out 5 while walking none, before John Williams finished the game with 3 shutout innings allowing just a hit, striking out 3 without a walk.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays: What Kind of Impact Will Desmond Jennings Make?

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