This isn’t the Rays minor league system baseball fans have grown accustomed to. While it still has talent, headed by uber-prospect Matt Moore, it isn’t loaded with high end prospects and is no longer the envy of teams around the league. The system has been depleted over the last few years and without the Rays picking at the top of the draft they haven’t had their customary success finding replacements for graduated prospects. That said, this years massive haul of draft picks has a chance to replenish the talent in the system, though the fruits of that developmental effort may not be seen for a couple of years.
1. Matt Moore (LHP)
Fans got a taste of just what Moore was capable of down the stretch and in the playoffs with the Rays, and he might have just been scratching the surface. Moore is the best pitching prospect in baseball and one of the top three overall prospects in the game. He has elite velocity from the left side, a 70-grade hammer of a curveball and a plus change-up. He also discovered a slider that could be a dirty pitch if he works with it more. Moore isn’t just a power guy though as he also offers excellent pitchability and dramatically improved command. He has everything you want in a pitching prospect and I don’t hesitate to throw around the idea that he could be a future big league ace.
2. Hak-Ju Lee (SS)
Lee was acquired as part of the package that sent Matt Garza to the Cubs and he blossomed into one of the systems best prospects in 2011. He is a supreme athlete with speed and a tremendous feel for the game. He is an absolute defensive stud with elite instincts and range to go along with a strong arm. He has a knack for contact and should hit over .300 at the big league level for a long time. What he doesn’t have in home run power he makes up for in doubles, triples, and stealing bases. Lee is probably a full year away from contributing in the big leagues but once he arrives he should be the Rays everyday shortstop without question.
3. Taylor Guerrieri (RHP)
The first of many picks for Rays in the first and supplemental round of the 2011 draft, Guerrieri has a lofty ceiling that could see him evolve into a number two starter. He has good sinking movement on his plus-plus fastball that can touch 97 mph. His curveball shows at least plus potential with hard 11-6 break. He also showed a change-up and cutter after signing but both are well below-average and need considerable work. He’s going to take time, but outside of Matt Moore, Guerrieri has a ceiling that is almost unmatched in the current Rays system.
4. Chris Archer (RHP)
Archer was another piece in the Garza trade with the Cubs though unlike Lee, he had his breakout season before arriving in the Rays system. Archer’s mechanics can get away from him causing the quality of his stuff to dip and his command to falter. He has two plus-plus pitches in his fastball and slider while his change-up is decidedly below-average. Some scouts prefer him in a late inning role with his two dominating pitches while the Rays continue to hold out hope that he can develop into a very nice number three starter.
5. Jake Thompson (RHP)
The Rays weren’t shy with Thompson in 2011. After spending most of the 2010 season in short-season ball he was pushed all the way to High-A for the entire year without missing a beat. At his best he will feature a 93-94 mph fastball that touches higher to go along with a plus slider and change-up that flashes as an above-average pitch. He fails to keep his front side closed at times, causing his command to suffer but he has shown the ability to locate within the strike zone in spurts. If he can gain consistency with his mechanics and change-up, Thompson has the potential to be a solid mid-rotation workhorse.
6. Alex Colome (RHP)
Colome is another in a line of pitchers in this system with quality fastballs and mid-rotation potential. He works comfortably in the 93-94 mph range and he has good life on his heater. His curveball shows tight overhand spin and could be a plus pitch as he polishes it more. Both his slider and change-up tease with potential but are extremely inconsistent. His command is shaky at its best and non-existent at other times, leaving some scouts wondering if he is destined to be a power-armed setup man.
7. Enny Romero (LHP)
Scouts that saw Romero on multiple occasions in 2011 said he really grew on them over time. He has a very fast arm that generates 92-93 mph fastballs with ease and he could add more as he fills out his rail thin frame. His curveball could be deadly if he can tighten up his mechanics as it has true overhand potential from a higher arm slot. He lacks a usable change-up though the developmental staff continues to urge him to work on the pitch. His ultimate projection ranges anywhere form that of a number two starter ceiling to a late inning reliever and it all depends on the consistency he gains with his mechanics and how that translates to improvements in his command, curveball and change-up.
8. Drew Vettleson (OF)
Of the plethora of outfield prospects that garner discussion in the Rays systems, Vettleson offers the highest ceiling of the group. He is a natural hitter with the ability to make contact on all types of pitches in any part of the zone. He has advanced pitch recognition skills and strike zone awareness for his age and that helps his natural hitting ability play up even more. Seeing power in Vettleson requires a little dreaming as he will need to fill out his frame and add strength along with loft in his swing. He is a good defender with enough arm for right field. He will take time to develop but he could be an above-average regular down the line.
9. Mikie Mahtook (OF)
Mahtook was another first round pick of the Rays last year and he is the type of prospect that Is more the sum of his parts than any individually elite tool. He is a solid defender with an average arm that profiles best in left field long term, putting pretty good pressure on his bat. He has the ability to make hard contact on fastballs but struggles with off-speed stuff. His power potential is largely to the pull side and he needs to trust his hands more and use the whole field. Some scouts I spoke with see Mahtook as a bit of a tweener while others see a solid regular.
10. Tim Beckham (SS)
It’s been a long road for Beckham since being the top pick in the 2008 draft. He looked on the verge of being a massive bust at several points to having resurrected his career and standing with the potential of still being a big league player. He is a solid hitter though his lack of advanced pitch recognition skills limits him. He has some power potential but not much more than solid-average in my eyes. He can handle shortstop right now but likely won’t stick there long term. If he can shift to third base and hold his own there, that will be his best chance to become a big league regular, provided he hits enough for the position. He’s still probably two years of development away from being ready for a big league trial.
11. Alex Torres (LHP)
I’m not as high on Torres as some in the industry and that stems from watching him struggle with his command and control on a routine basis. The quality of his fastball, change-up curveball can’t really be questioned as all three flash as plus pitches. His cross-fire delivery frequently leaves his mechanics out of whack and his stuff all over the strike zone. With his problems throwing strikes at times Torres is probably more destined to be a fourth or fifth starter for me, but he could pile up innings in that role, making him a valuable commodity.
12. Derek Deitrich (SS)
Deitrich is not unlike Mikie Mahtook for me in that he is kind of the sum of his parts. No part of his game is worse than fringe-average and that only applies to his defense at shortstop, leaving most scouts projecting him as an offensive second baseman. He can hit for average and power with the potential to be a .280 hitter with 30-plus doubles and 15 home runs. He is a max-effort player whose tools play up as a result and he could move quickly after starting this year in High-A.
13. James Harris (OF)
As I’ve said before I’m a sucker for the raw athlete with the potential for explosive tools, and Harris is no exception to that. He is a premium level athlete that is extremely raw as a baseball player. He has the plus-plus speed to be an impact center field defender and wreak havoc on the bases. Unlike many raw, tooled up athletes, Harris has a clue at the plate with a willingness to work counts at a young age. He struggles with consistent solid contact but scouts hope his athleticism will allow that to develop. He has the natural strength for power but must refine his swing to let it show through. Harris is a lottery ticket with a crazy ceiling but also an extremely high level of risk.
14. Brandon Guyer (OF)
Yet another piece from the Matt Garza trade, Guyer draws mixed reviews from scouts. Those that like him believe he could be a solid regular at any of the three outfield spots, while others think he can be a really good fourth outfielder that helps 4-5 days a week. He offers speed, average power and good contact ability with only his over-aggressive approach to hitting holding him back. If he somehow takes a step forward in his approach he would more easily profile as an everyday guy with the potential to steal 15+ bases and pop 15+ home runs with a good average.
15. Luke Bailey (C)
I can’t seem to quit Luke Bailey. I’ve been a fan since he was drafted by the Rays and after glowing reviews by some last year I had to squeeze him onto the back of my list. He has a chance to be an impact defender behind the plate with the ability to control the game. He looks to make plays from behind the dish and his pitchers love working with him. There are a lot of questions about how much he’ll hit but he has strength and a few scouts I spoke with hold out hope that he can be a 10-15 homer guy with a low average and exceptional defense. If that doesn’t evolve, he can still be a quality big league backup.