Evaluation on the Rays’ Top Prospects 2012: Part 1

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Last year, The Rays Rant evaluated the Rays’ top prospects of 2011. This year, The Rays Rant will break down the top 20 Rays prospects of 2012, once again based off MLB.com’s rankings. Here’s a glance of what some of the Rays’ future players have to offer.

1. Matt Moore

Scouting Report: If anybody’s ready for The Show, it’s phenom pitcher Matt Moore. It’s very rare to discover any young baseball player with the talent like Moore; the kid’s an absolute natural. The young fireballer is considered one of the top prospects in all of baseball, having been ranked No.1 by MLB.com’s top 100 prospects of 2012 list. Moore has been ranked within the top three prospects by pretty much every source, making him one of the most recognized prospects in all of baseball. So, what’s the reason behind all this hype surrounding Moore? First of all, the kid features some wicked wicked stuff, making him a real nightmare for hitters. The young flamethrower lives off of his outstanding fastball, which effortlessly reaches blazing speeds in the upper 90s. He also features a nasty curveball, along with a plus curveball. His curveball has always been a big pitch for Moore, but the changeup is now coming into effect more than ever before. His hard slider and powerful sinker, both above average pitches as well, completing a terrific arsenal. As expected, the 22-year-old lefty enjoyed success in his first Major League season. After pitching ridiculously well during his 27 starts for AAA Durham—12 wins, 1.92 ERA, and 210 K—Moore finally got his chance to shine on the big stage. And shine he did, in most of his 19.1 innings of his 2011 experience. Moore really made his mark when the playoffs started, though. He had an unbelievable outing in Arlington after being called on to start Game 1 of the ALDS—just his second MLB start. He was looking like the ace of the Rays’ rotation, dominating Texas’ big bats by shutting them out through seven strong innings. Moore would finish his brief 2011 season—including playoffs—with a combined ERA of 2.09 with 23 strikeouts.

Conclusion: If Moore is able to stay healthy, he’ll be the future ace of an already-great Rays rotation, which includes David Price, James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson. Moore gives the Rays every reason to believe that their contract extension decision with him was a no-brainer. Moore has a lot of pressure on him, and I’m sure he’ll respond positively, just as he did last October. A lot is expected from him, and I won’t be surprised to see the major rookie impact from him that everyone is anticipating. It looks like the Rays will likely have a second Rookie of the Year winner in a row this season.

2. Hak-Ju Lee

Hak-Ju Lee may not yet be a household name among Rays fans, but it won’t be too long before he gains recognition in professional baseball. The 21-year-old Korean was acquired in the Matt Garza trade and is considered one of the top prospects in baseball. Lee was one of three players that represented the Rays at the MLB Futures Game last July.

Offensively: Lee was promoted in August to Class-AA after spending most of his 2011 season playing for the Charlotte Stonecrabs (Class-A+). His combined stats from his 2011 season included a .292 average with 30 RBI and 33 stolen bases. Some of Lee’s best attributes are part of his offensive game. He has great speed, is a good contact hitter, and is able to put up quality at-bats. However, Lee does have some offensive weaknesses as well. He doesn’t have much pop in his left-handed bat at all, and he also needs to improve his baserunning. Lee will probably never develop into any kind of a power hitter, but wise decisions on the base pads will definitely become a very important part of his game. Last season, Lee was thrown out 16 times out of 49 attempts; a ratio that simply must improve. He’ll likely make good progress in that department, as he already has advanced during his time in the minors.

Defensively: Overall, Lee is a plus defensive shortstop. He’s made huge strides with his glove throughout his pro career, bringing his defense to one of the highest levels in his minor league class. Lee’s quickness provides him with great range at short, and he also features a strong arm. Lee recorded 18 errors last year, which is a drastic improvement from his previous seasons in the minors.

Conclusion: Many believe that Lee has All Star potential in the big leagues, and it’s pretty easy to see why. At just 21, Lee has already convinced scouts he has a Gold Glove caliber future and can be an effective base-stealer in the big leagues. Faults in his game, such as careless baserunning and fielding errors, are not much of a concern at this stage and are very common amongst 20 year-old prospects. At the end of the day, Lee is a very exciting youngster for the Rays’ organization, and appears to be the club’s future shortstop. Excpect to see him arrive sometime during the 2013 season.

3. Chris Archer

Scouting Report: Chris Archer, another top prospect acquired from the Matt Garza trade, has been one of the biggest names in the Rays farm system. With all the pitching talent in the Rays’ farm system, Archer leads the pack of right-handed arms. Archer’s effectiveness is heavily based off his two main pitches; the fastball and the hard slider. He features a very live heater, that reaches speeds in the mid-90’s. Archer’s slider is absolutely nasty, giving him an outstanding secondary pitch. The 23-year-old also includes a changeup in his arsenal, but it’s clear that it needs work to become a reliable pitch. Archer’s overall stuff is pretty impressive, and is definitely not his main issue. Command is by far the biggest thing Archer needs to improve on to take the next step in his career. When Archer struggles, it’s almost always when he’s not able to place his pitches where he wants them. Past command struggles are shown in his stats, as Archer’s high walk rate has hurt his numbers throughout his pro career.

Conclusion: The future looks pretty bright for maybe the Rays’ most intriguing young righty. Archer finished his 2011 season on a high note, being promoted late in the year to AAA Durham after spending most of the season with AA Montgomery. He let in just one run through two excellent starts with the Bulls. Hopefully, Archer can start the season where he left off and improve his 4.09 ERA that he posted last year. His second-half turnaround re-convinced many people that Archer has the potential to become a frontline starter in the majors. At this point it’s pretty clear that only his command is holding him down. Archer may contribute to the Rays bullpen later this season, where he seems like he could fit in pretty well with his dangerous fastball-slider combo.

4. Tim Beckham

Tim Beckham proved a lot last year to remind everybody of the former No. 1 draft-pick he is. Some scouts wrote off Beckham before the 2011 season, but he apparently has made himself noticeable enough to move himself up on the Rays’ prospect list from No. 10 to No. 3 (via MLB.com).

Offensively: Beckham spent his 2011 season playing 107 games for AA Montgomery and 24 games for AAA Durham. He combined for a .271 average with 12 home runs and 70 RBI. Beckham improved his offensive game overall, especially in power and plate discipline. Being a six-foot middle-infielder, Beckham doesn’t feature any real big-time power, but he definitely can hit the ball hard with his excellent bat speed. The biggest thing Beckham has to work on offensively is increasing both his batting and on-base percentage. Besides his appearance at the plate, Beckham also can run the bases well. He increased his baserunning intelligence a lot last year, dropping his caught stealing total by nine while decreasing his stolen base total by just five. Beckham will never become an avid base-stealer, but he probably can be a threat on the bags at the big league level.

Defensively: Defense has been one of the biggest concerns for Beckham in the past. Sloppy defense at shortstop has made many question his future at the position. Fortunately, Beckham has made huge progress with his glove, cutting his error total down by the years. Errors are really the biggest issue for Beckham defensively, as he probably has the tools to become a big league shortstop. He features a strong throwing arm, but it’s debatable how good his range and hands still are.

Conclusion: Beckham has established himself as one of those “Late Bloomers” in the prospect world, but he still hasn’t really ‘bloomed’ to his full potential yet. He may not be the star that he was once predicted to be, but he does have bright potential. This season will be a crucial year for Beckham, as he needs to continue to make strides and rebuild his reputation. He appears to be on the right track, as he inches closer and closer to the big leagues. Beckham could make his MLB debut as early as late this summer.

5. Mikie Mahtook

Former LSU star Mikie Mahtook was drafted by the Rays last summer in the first round. The 22-year-old outfielder is a member of MLB.com’s top 100 prospects, being ranked at 96 on the list.

Offensively: Mahtook is arguably the best offensive prospects in the Rays’ farm system. He was a big-time hitter in college, batting .383/.496/.709 in his final season with Louisiana State. The impressive numbers didn’t stop there, as Mahtook continued his success into his professional baseball debut. Mahtook batted .338 with three homers and 9 RBI through 18 games during his stint in the Arizona Fall League. Overall, Mahtook is a very a good hitter. He has great mechanics at the plate, as well as quick bat speed that allows him to hit for both average and power. Mahtook also excels in the baserunning department, featuring average to plus speed. He’s a very intelligent baserunner as well, the type of player that won’t make too many blunders on the base pads. Mahtook’s power-speed combination can bring excitement to any lineup, and is the reason why the Rays drafted him.

Defensively: Mahtook was a centerfielder throughout his college career, but he’ll likely end up in the corner-outfield positions where he seems to fit better. He’s an all-around plus defender, with good range and a strong arm. Mahtook’s throwing accuracy is probably his most attractive asset in the outfield, something that will help in develop into an MLB outfielder.

Conclusion: The Rays have every reason to believe Mahtook’s bat skills and athletic abilities will make him a solid player at the big league level. His natural baseball instincts and energy will likely translate well when he arrives in the majors. The Rays should be eager to have an emotional and intense player like Mahtook joining them in the near-future.

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