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Tampa Bay Rays: Which MiLB Position Players Had the Best Years?

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In our continuing look at who delivered the best seasons in the Tampa Bay Rays’ minor league system in 2015, today we will take a look at the best performances by position players. As with pitchers, candidates must have played in a full season league and be prospects of some kind rather than career minor leaguers. Today we will look at the best eight position players plus a super-utility man and a designated hitter. Our look at the pitchers is here.

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Catcher: Curt Casali, .205/.326/.348 line, 4 doubles, 4 homers, 13 RBI, 29-17 K-BB at Triple-A

Casali’s numbers at Durham weren’t that great–obviously he took his numbers up a notch in the major leagues–but it was a sorry season for full-season catchers in the system. Justin O’Conner took a huge step back, Nick Ciuffo and Jesus Araiza managed OPS’s of .595 and .535 respectively (Ciuffo hit .258 but showed no on-base skills or power whatsoever), and guys like Maxx Tissenbaum, Mac James, and Jake DePew didn’t do enough to work their way into the mix. Casali, for what it’s worth, hit to a .244/.354/.439 line in his last 96 Triple-A plate appearances entering his strong big league showing.

First Base: Jake Bauers, .272/.342/.418 line, 32 doubles, 11 homers, 74 RBI, 74-50 K-BB between H-A and AA

To start off the infield, Bauers had a great year at Charlotte and then moved up to Montgomery, where he performed nearly as well despite being the team’s youngest player by a year and a half. He was able to tap into more of his power without losing his strong plate approach, and he will also get a look in the outfield in the Arizona Fall League. Bauers still isn’t going hit 25 or more homers like teams ideally want from a first baseman or left fielder, but his odds of becoming a solid if not spectacular big league starting player keep going up.

Second Base: Kean Wong, .272/.319/.332, 14 doubles, 1 homer, 36 RBI, 15 SB, 65-29 K-BB at High-A

It wasn’t a banner year for second basemen in the system, but Wong headlines the unimpressive group. He rebounded from a rough start to deliver a .308/.344/.372 line in his last 275 PA’s that was almost identical to his 2014 output. He continues to lack power but has improved his on-base skills, basestealing ability, and defense to join his good pure hitting.

Third Base: Richie Shaffer, .267/.357/.539, 27 doubles, 26 homers, 72 RBI, 123-54 K-BB between AA and AAA

Shaffer had an outstanding year at Montgomery and Durham, doing enough to earn time with the Rays. His big league time has shown that he still needs to work on his plate approach and make sure that his swing doesn’t get too long, but the Rays would love to put his power in their lineup once he is ready to stick. It is also nice that he is capable of playing first base and the corner outfield spots in addition to third base.

Shortstop: Daniel Robertson, .274/.363/.415, 20 doubles, 4 homers, 41 RBI, 58-33 K-BB at Double-A 

Shortstop was a tough call between Robertson and Willy Adames, especially since Robertson missed quite a bit of time with a broken hamate bone in his wrist. However, Adames’ second half slump and subsequent injury of his own are enough to lift Robertson. The wrist problem cost Robertson a chance to play at Triple-A, but his plate approach remains tremendous while his defense has looked good enough that he should at least start his big league career at shortstop.

Outfield: Joey Rickard, .321/.427/.447, 28 doubles, 2 homers, 55 RBI, 23 SB, 75-69 K-BB between H-A, AA, and AAA
Boog Powell, .295/.385/.392, 16 doubles, 3 homers, 40 RBI, 18 SB, 79-61 K-BB between AA and AAA
Tyler Goeddel, .279/.350/.433, 17 doubles, 10 homers, 72 RBI, 28 SB, 98-48 K-BB at Double-A

Rickard and Powell made incredible progress in 2015 with Rickard jumping from Charlotte to Durham and Powell from Montgomery to the Bulls. They are almost identical twins on the field as both profile as top-of-the-order hitters with good on-base percentages but little power. That isn’t so bad as impending free agent John Jaso has been the Rays’ first quality leadoff man in years. Goeddel fits an entirely different profile as a toolsy corner outfielder who finally began to make his raw power show up in games at the end of the season. He will be an interesting 40-man roster decision for the Rays this offseason.

Super-Utility: Taylor Motter. .292/.366/.471, 43 doubles, 14 homers, 72 RBI, 26 SB, 95-57 K-BB at Triple-A
Designated Hitter: Cameron Seitzer, .312/.382/.477, 27 doubles, 13 homers, 65 RBI, 90-46 K-BB beween AA and AAA

I wouldn’t always put a utility player on my All-Star team, but Motter was too good to be left off the roster. He played every outfield and infield position except for first base while showing a strong bat. His next steps are to improve against right-handed pitching and defensively on the infield, but he looks like a strong future bench player at the very least.

Our designated hitter, meanwhile, is a bit of a mystery. This was Seitzer’s third season at Double-A and, despite holding his own the last two years, he did not get a shot at Triple-A until late this season. He showcased his versatility by playing 5 games at third base this year, and he will hope to ride his solid plate discipline and decent power to the major leagues.

It’s good to see the Tampa Bay Rays finally having promising position players in their minor league system. Casali and Shaffer could play big roles with the team next year while others like Motter and Robertson are not too far away from joining them.

One interesting aside from looking at the system is that the Rays have a glaring lack of left-handed power in the minors, which is especially alarming given that five of their six leading home runs hitters in the major leagues are also right-handed. Beyond minor league veteran Corey Brown, Seitzer’s 13 homers were the most in the organization by a left-handed batter, although the switch-hitting Casey Gillaspie did hit 17. It will be interesting to see if the Rays look to acquire such power in an offseason trade.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays Game 149: Somebody Else’s Bullpen Collapse

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