A league that is home to players drafted just a few weeks prior, the Gulf Coast League can prove pivotal in a young player’s professional career. The Tampa Bay Rays affiliate, the GCL Rays, gave many young baseball players their first taste of professional baseball in 2018.
The Gulf Coast League Rays finished second in the South behind the GCL Red Sox and in front of the Twins and Orioles. The Tampa Bay Rays minor league affiliate finished with a record of 33-23.
The Gulf Coast League is meant to focus on the development of skills and acts as many Latin baseball players’ first taste of professional baseball in the states, playing alongside Americans for the first time. Some draft picks are sent to higher levels of competition but a majority, especially high schoolers are sent to the GCL.
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Statistically, the GCL Rays were a pretty average club offensively. On the mound they did finish fourth in the league with a team earned run average of 3.23 and 475 strikeouts.
Third baseman Kaleo Johnson, the Tampa Bay Rays 32nd round draft pick out of Tulane, began his professional career with a bang. The 22-year-old played in 47 games prior to being called promoted to the Hudson Valley Renegades. The right-handed hitting third baseman hit a team high 7 homers. He also led the team with a .311 average, 32 runs scored, and 25 runs driven in.
Russ Olive, a 29th round pick played in 49 games and finished with a .307 average. In drawing 28 walks, he finished with an OBP of .406. He also drove in 24 runners and hit 15 doubles. The 22-year-old also earned himself a promotion, but to the Charlotte Stone Crabs.
On the mound, the Tampa Bay Rays 1st round draft pick, Matthew Liberatore was dominant. The 19-year-old started 8 games, throwing 27.2 innings and striking out 32 batters. He finished with a minuscule earned run average of 0.98 and held opponents to a .170 batting average. Fully living up to his expectations, he too earned a promotion to the Rookie League Princeton Rays. The 6’5″ southpaw will be fun to watch develop, no doubt.
Shane McClanahan, the Rays other first round pick, only made 2 appearances, but was also promoted to Princeton in time for the Appalachian League playoffs. During his 2 appearances in the GCL, the lefty struck out 6 in 3 innings of work, only allowing one hit.
Rodolfo Sanchez, a right-handed pitcher, was also very good for the GCL Rays. The 18-year-old out of the Dominican Summer League, led the team in innings pitched (47.1) and finished second with 43 strikeouts. He made 10 appearances, 7 of them starts. He too joined McClanahan and Liberatore in Princeton.
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The former top international prospect Jelfry Marte, who the Rays scooped up after the Twins voided his contract due to vision issues, made a strong professional debut as well, hitting .281.
All in all, the 2018 GCL season was a success for the Rays, they saw good returns from early and late round draft picks alike. Liberatore began his hopefully storied career with the Tampa Bay Rays with a solid professional debut. The Rays have reason to be excited, and the results from the GCL are just the beginning.
Previous 2018 Minor League Season Reviews: