The 2012 MLB Draft is right around the corner, which means the Rays have another chance to shine in something that they’ve had success in during the past years. The Rays have six active Major Leaguers (four with the Rays) currently playing in the big leagues that were picked in the first round, three of them now superstars. In the 2011 Draft, the Rays had 10 first-round picks, seven of them compensatory (or “sandwich”) picks. It’s obviously too early to judge the Rays ‘ draft choices at this point, but nearly a year after the the draft it’s about time to see how these prospects are progressing through the Rays’ farm system. Let’s take a look at where the Rays’ top 10 draft picks from 2011 are found today.
Taylor Guerrieri; 1st (24)
Picking 19-year-old right-hander Taylor Guerrieri as their first pick in the draft, the Rays added yet another talented arm to their stack of starting pitching to their minor league system. Despite any professional baseball experience yet, Guerrieri is considered a top prospect coming into the 2012 season. He’s expected to join the Princeton Rays (Rookie League)—which season starts in mid-June—at some point late this year. At a very young age and playing in an organization with a stacked pitching rotation, Guerrieri’s clearly long ways from any big league push at the moment. However, he’ll surely be one to watch this year at short-season ball. Here’s a full scouting report of Guerrieri that I wrote at The Rays Rant last month.
Mikie Mahtook; 1st (31)
As expected, 22-year-old Mikie Mahtook has had a rather smooth transition into the pros. He shined in Arizona Fall League ball last year, hitting .338/.410/.544 with three homers and 14 RBI through 18 games in his first taste of the pros. Mahtook is playing in his first full professional season this year at Class A+ Charlotte, after a very successful career at LSU. The toolsy outfielder has been considered one of the Rays’ top prospects right from the draft. Mahtook is hitting .284/.360/.338 with the Charlotte Stonecrabs through 21 games and 74 at-bats. He’s also knocked in 10 runs and stole three bases. The power has not shown yet, but it’s likely only a matter of time before it does. If Mahtook progresses well through the minors this year and next year, he might be able to make his MLB debut as early as 2013. Here’s my scouting report on him back from February.
Jake Hager; 1st (32)
Picked late in the first round right after Mahtook, the Rays found themselves a potential future shortstop in Jake Hager. At just just 18 years of age last season, Hager joined Rookie League Princeton not long after the draft. He hit .269/.305/.399 with 17 RBI, four homers, five stolen bases (out of 12 opportunities) and eight fielding errors through 47 games. The sloppy fielding and baserunning is something normal for 18-year-old’s making their pro debut, and shouldn’t concern the Rays too much at this point. Hager’s had a slow start to the 2012 season with Class A Bowling Green; the lowest level full-season club in the Rays’ organization. Through his first 18 games, he’s currently hitting .209 with seven RBI and four fielding errors. Hager clearly has a lot of developing to do in the minors, but fortunately he has plenty of time. Here’s my full scouting report on Hager from earlier this month.
Brandon Martin; 1st (38)
The Rays chose another shortstop in the draft for their first of seven compensatory picks. Like Hager, Martin is a athletic and undersized shortstop with pretty good tools across the board. He played 19 games for the Gulf Coast League Rays last year (Rookie League), batting .255 with five stolen bases and three RBI. Martin’s 2012 season hasn’t started yet, as he’s in extended spring training to start the year. The 18-year-old plans to play in the rookie level later this season.
Tyler Goeddel; 1st (41)
Third baseman Tyler Goeddel is by far the biggest pleasant surprise this season in the lower levels of the Rays’ farm system. In his first season as a pro, the 19-year-old is batting .318/.375/.515 with 11 RBI and three homers through 19 games with Single-A Bowling Green. Although it seems he’s starting to cool off after jumping out to a red hot start, 2012 could a breakout year for Goeddel, who came into the year without much recognition at all. Goeddel is not considered one of the Rays’ top prospects now, but that will likely change once the season ends.
Jeff Ames; 1st (42)
Right-hander Jeff Ames had a rough first go-around in the minors last year, posting a 7.12 ERA through 30.1 innings pitched with Rookie League Princeton. The high strikeout rates he posted show that he still has pretty good potential, but he’s definitely looking to improve the ugly numbers coming into the 2012 season. Along with a handful of the Rays’ draftees, Ames is starting the season in extended spring training. Here’s my complete scouting report on Ames.
Blake Snell; 1st (52)
Ranked one of the Rays’ top prospects right out of the draft, most scouts believe that 19-year-old southpaw Blake Snell has a high ceiling of potential. Snell had a strong professional debut last summer, posting a 3.08 ERA with 26 strikeouts for the Gulf Coast League Rays through 26.1 innings. He also is starting his 2012 season in extended spring training. Here’s my full scouting report on Snell.
Kes Carter; 1st (56)
The Rays’ picked up their first left-handed bat of the draft when they chose Kes Carter. The 22-year-old outfielder made his pro debut last season with Low-A Hudson Valley (short-season New York-Penn League), going .231 with an RBI during his brief 13-at bat (three-game) stint. Promoted up to full-season Bowling Green, 2012 is Carter’s real start to his career. Before landing on the DL earlier this month, Carter was batting .333 with three RBI and two stolen bases through seven games played. Unfortunately, his hamstring injury has sidelined him for over two weeks now.
Grayson Garvin; 1st (59)
The Rays picked a tall left-handed pitcher in Grayson Garvin for the 59th overall pick in the draft. The 22-year-old is making his minor league debut with Class A+ Charlotte this season, and has not had a strong start to the year. Garvin is currently sporting an 0-2 record with a 4.50 ERA and 15 strikeouts through 22 innings pitched in the Stonecrabs’ rotation. Being an overlooked prospect, 2012 is Garvin’s chance to make a name for himself in the Rays’ organization.
James Harris; 1st (60)
The Rays picked outfielder James Harris as their final compensation pick of the draft, as well as their final pick of the first round. A phenomenal athlete, Harris made his pro debut in the Gulf Coast League last summer at just 17 years old (now 18). He batted a low .165/.257/.203 with eight RBI and 13 stolen bases during his 45-game Rookie League stint. The young speedster is starting the 2012 season in extended spring training.
The Rays are apparently on the verge of adding to their offensive depth with another veteran bat. Jack Curry of YES Network reported that the Rays are expected to sign former star slugger and World Series MVP Hideki Matsui to a minor league contract.
Matsui, who played his first season without the New York Yankees in 2011, hit .251/.321/.375 with 12 home runs and 72 RBI for Oakland through 141 games played. Matsui, who turns 38 this June, is obviously out of his prime and his numbers are clearly not where they used to be. However, he did finish the season strong last year hitting .295/.353/.425 in the second half.
Bringing Matsui aboard was definitely a smart move for the Rays, who could use another quality bat on the roster. He’s proven to be a very productive hitter throughout his nine solid years in the big leagues, posting a career line of .285/.363/.467 with a total of 173 homers. His 162-game average of 101 RBI and 23 HR per year is what’s most impressive amongst his overall numbers.
Once Matsui will join the Rays, the question is how he will fit on the roster. Designated Hitter is his primary position now, but he can also play left field. When Matsui gets called up (which will most likely send the newly-acquired Brandon Allen to the minors), there obviously won’t be a immediate starting position for him. The Rays have a solid DH in Luke Scott–who’s also a left-handed batter—and have outfield with no room for him.
What the Rays can do with Matsui though, is platoon, something they’ve fell in love with since Joe Maddon has taken over. The Rays have not yet found an effective hitter to platoon the left-handed bats of Matt Joyce and Luke Scott yet this season—who have never been successful off left-handed pitching—but they may of just found their guy in Hideki Matsui. Although Matsui is also a lefty, he has been much more effective off left-handed pitching throughout his career. His ability to hit decently off lefties is a probably a big reason why the Rays signed him and not Johnny Damon.
His average against both righties and lefties in his career are exactly the same at .285; although he produces a lot more runs against right-handers. Still, it’s probably a better option than Joyce (.199/.274/.329 career against LHP) and Scott (.236/.313/.465 career against LHP). That’s why we can expect to see Matsui get a significant amount of playing time against left-handed pitching this season, as he is probably a better option than the Rays’ DH and corner outfielder (Joyce), who both man positions that he can play. If the Rays decide not to start either Joyce or Scott due to the pitching matchup one day, Matsui and Jeff Keppinger could possibly be the duo to replace them.
No matter how many lefties face the Rays this season, Matsui is probably going to see a pretty good amount of pinch hit appearances. Fortunately, he has had success as a pinch hitter in the past, posting a career .300 average in 50 plate appearances.
Another encouraging split I found interesting from Matsui’s stats is how well he’s hit at Tropicana Field over the years. He’s a career .297/.385/.505 hitter at the Trop, with 43 RBI and 10 homers. In a more hitter-friendly park that Matsui seems to thrive in, I wouldn’t be surprised to see his numbers rise from last year’s.
Another reason why this move makes a lot of sense is Matsui’s ability to be consistent with runners in scoring position. Matsui is a career .298/.382/.477 hitter with the runners in scoring position, something that the Rays should be excited about. Tampa’s biggest weakness is hitting with men in scoring position, finishing third-worst in baseball last year with a .224 RISP. If Matsui can come through for the Rays in big situations like he’s done in the past, their offense could become more potent than ever.
His ability to get runners in is not the only reason why Matsui is known as a clutch hitter. Year after year, he’s been able to turn it on late in the season and into the postseason. He’s a lifetime .289/.378/.454 hitter in September/October (regular season). His postseason stats have been even more impressive, posting a career line of .312/.391/.541 with 39 RBI and 10 HR in 56 games. In the Fall Classic, the “Godzilla” unleashed in his two World Series. He’s compiled a .389/.463/.750 line with 12 RBI and four HR.
With the likelihood of the Rays making their third straight postseason appearance in 2012, Matsui could be a crucial part to their success in October. A clutch hitter like Matsui is a perfect addition to this ballclub, which has lacked some clutch hits in the last couple of years.
The biggest reason why Andrew Friedman went out and made this move may be the fact that Matsui is a good Luke Scott insurance policy. Although a major Scott injury would hurt the team, it would not as big as a blow as it would if Brandon Allen were to replace him. Scott has struggled with injury issues in the past, and hasn’t played over 135 games in a season since 2008 when he played 148 games (the only time he played over 135 games in his career). He was hurt most of the season last year with a shoulder injury, and has already missed a few games this year with a hamstring strain. Turning 34 this June, his chances of a an injury-free season are not getting better.
With the addition of Matsui, the Rays are given offensive security probably better than they’ve ever had. It’s clear that this is another very intelligent move by the Rays front office, and can only make them an even better team.
Desmond Jennings hasn’t played his first full season in the big leagues yet, but it doesn’t seem like he’s too far away from becoming a star. With less than a hundred big league games under his belt so far in his brief career, it’s become clear that the 25-year-old has a bright future ahead of him.
Jennings has all the tools for a successful career, but the million dollar question is when will his talents transform him into a star. He’s a potential five-tool outfielder with excellent speed, great range, some power, terrific baserunning skills, and the ability to hit for average and get on base.
Jennings burst onto the scene as a late-season call-up for the Rays last year, and immediately made an impact putting up some impressive numbers in his rookie season. In 63 games, he batted .259/.356/.449 with 25 RBI, 10 HR and 20 stolen bases.
After 16 games, it looks like Jennings is on the right track to start his 2012 season, batting .262./.319/.385 with 2 HR, 7 RBI and 3 stolen bases. Although his on-base percentage is not as high as it was last year, or probably where he’d like it to be this season, Jennings has gave the Rays the consistent leadoff guy they need thus far. It’s obviously to early to judge anything, but he definitely hasn’t been a disappointment.
Defense is another area of his game that helps show he’s gradually turning into a star in Tampa Bay. Jennings has done an outstanding job in left field ever since he’s been called up to the majors, making highlight reel catches on balls that many outfielders can’t get to. He’s also filled in a bit in center, a position that he has a legitimate future in and would make him an even more valuable player to his team.
In just his second season, there’s only one thing standing in between him and stardom. That single weakness has been contact hitting. Jennings posted a strikeout percentage of 20.6 last year, and has not yet improved this season with a percentage of 20.8. Both ratios are considered below league average, especially for leadoff hitters.
High strikeout totals are normal for young players—even young stars—in their first couple of years, which is why it shouldn’t be too much of a concern for the Rays. With ridiculously good speed and a nice line-drive stoke, good things usually happen when Jennings makes contact with the baseball. Once Jennings starts to cut down on the strikeouts, the other parts of his game will excel more than ever before.
Better contact hitting will not only effect Jennings’ overall numbers, but it can also make a huge difference in the Rays’ offense. Less strikeouts would lead to a higher OBP, which would lead to more stolen bases, which would would lead to more runners in scoring position, which would ultimately lead to more runs scored. Jennings will improve as a player and likely breakout as a star when his strikeout ratios decrease.
Jennings’ scary close similarities between former Rays superstar left fielder Carl Crawford can give us an idea of when Jennings could really start to shine at the big league level.
Both Crawford and Jennings are speedy leadoff-hitting left fielders who came into the league with somewhat similar expectations, making this a pretty good comparison, although Crawford started his career at a younger age. Amazingly, they both played 63 games in their rookie seasons and batted exactly .259. Although Crawford had 10 more RBI in his strong rookie year, Jennings probably had the better season with 11 more stolen bases, eight more homers and a much higher OBP.
Crawford started to emerge as a star in his sophomore year and first full season, stealing a league-high 55 stolen bases while batting a solid .281. Jennings is currently in his sophomore year and first full season, which is why we can expect to see him begin to rise as a young star by the end of this year.
I don’t expect Jennings to turn into one of the top leadoff men in the league as quick as Crawford did, but I would be a bit surprised if he doesn’t reach his All-Star caliber potential within the next year or so. Just like Crawford, Jennings’ great speed will be what separates him from the many talented outfielders in the American League. In addition to that, I believe his natural power could make him really something special, as well as a serious 20-40 threat as early as this year.
A little over a month ago on The Rays Rant, I wrote a full-year stat projection article on Desmond Jennings, predicting all of his major statistics for the 2012 season. Click here to check it out if you haven’t seen it yet.
It will be another hard-fought battle for the AL East in 2012, and the Rays will likely be in the hunt to win it all season long. Tampa’s great starting pitching is definitely good enough to win the division, but the question is whether they will hit good enough.
Offensive production was the only thing that stood in the way of an AL East title and postseason success last year. With all the tough competition in the American League, it’s clear the Rays are going to have to hit better than they did in 2011 in order to be serious title contenders.
There are some good reasons to believe that the Rays’ offense will be better in 2012. For starters, offseason acquisitions have already made an impact in the lineup, and they should make the Rays a better team overall this season. The Rays made smart moves by signing Carlos Pena to play first base and Luke Scott to be their DH, replacing Casey Kotchman and Johnny Damon from 2011.
It’s early, but it looks like the replacement is paying off and the newer combo will produce more runs for the Rays this year. Both Scott and Pena have start the season off on a tear in the meat of the lineup. Scott is hitting .400/.438/.933 with eight RBI and two home runs. Pena has been the Rays’ best hitter after the first nine games, batting .353/.450/.735 with 11 RBI and three long balls.
As expected, Evan Longoria is also hitting very well, starting his 2012 season with a .333/.436/.545 line along with five RBI and a homer. I think Longoria will have his best season yet this year, which is another reason why the Rays will score enough runs to be at the top of their division.
The Rays have a very strong trio of big boppers in Longoria, Pena and Scott, who will likely lead the team offensively. If those three stay healthy and hit to their potential the Rays will have a great shot at winning the AL East.
Jeff Keppinger and Jose Molina are two more additions that could bolster the offense. Keppinger is outstanding contact hitter who should help lower the Rays’ high strikeout ratios, as well as contribute to the bottom of the order. Keppinger’s already been somewhat of a pleasant surprise this season, coming through with some clutch hits. Molina is no All Star either, but he probably is a better offensive option than both Kelly Shoppach and John Jaso—who were the Rays’ two main backstops last year.
Matt Joyce, Ben Zobrist and B.J. Upton are three more bats that will be key to the Rays’ lineup this season, just like they’ve been in the past. Neither Joyce are Zobrist have started to hit well yet, and Upton has been on the DL since the season began. Once Joyce and Zobrist start to get things going at the plate and Upton returns to the lineup, the Rays will instantly become a more threatening team to their AL East opponents.
The three combined for 247 RBI and 62 homers last season, finishing second, third and fourth in team leaders for both categories (behind Evan Longoria who lead in both). Ben Zobrist hit 20 homers with an impressive 91 RBI, while Joyce was selected to the All Star Game and finished the season with 75 RBI, 19 homers and a .277 average. Upton produced his share of runs as well, collecting 81 RBI with 23 home runs while stealing 36 stolen bases.
The Rays should finally have a consistent leadoff man in the lineup with the full-season addition of Desmond Jennings this year. Jennings—a late-season call-up in 2011—stole 20 bases with 25 RBI and 10 homers in his 63-game rookie season. Having an everyday leadoff guy like Jennings is definitely a big help to the lineup that the Rays didn’t really have last year.
The running game has been a big part of the Rays’ offense in past years, and Jennings huge threat on the base pads provides a big boost with Carl Crawford no longer with the team. Like Crawford, he’s a great base-stealer with excellent speed.
The Rays’ running game hasn’t got off to a good start, however, which is a big reason why the Rays are only 21st in the Majors right now in runs scored. It’s really unfair to judge Tampa’s offense at this point in the season, though, as two of the team’s three main base-stealers are out with injury. Both Upton —who lead the team in stolen bases last year— and Sam Fuld (20 stolen bases in 2011) are on the DL.
Injuries have not only hurt the running game, but they have hurt the offense overall. As I said before, Upton was one of the main run-producers last season, and not having him in the lineup is huge. Luke Scott —another huge piece— was also out with an injury for three games last week. The offense still hasn’t been healthy yet this season, which is why I think it will only get better.
Still, the Rays do have some obvious weaknesses in the lineup, mainly the bottom of the order. Elliot Johnson, Reid Brignac, Sean Rodriguez and Jose Lobaton are some names that are a bit of a concern.
It’s safe to say the Rays won’t have the best lineup—or overall offense—in their division when comparing them to the stacked rosters of Boston and New York. They likely won’t have to match their rivals’ big bats, though, with such stellar starting pitching and defense as dominant as they have.
Still, the Rays are going to need to come through for them when needed, just like it did last year in their memorable Game 162. The Rays can expect that from their talented young roster this year, as they definitely have all the ingredients for a functional offense.
Looking back at the first week of baseball, the Rays have to be satisfied with where they stand. They’ve had a very good start to the season, going 4-2 including a sweep of their division rivals the New York Yankees. It’s nice to see a good start to the Rays’ season this year, after a horrendous start in 2011 when the Rays lost all of their first six games. What’s most impressive about the Rays’ first week is that they’ve been able to beat strong teams, despite having numerous injuries. B.J. Upton has been on the DL since the season began, while Luke Scott has missed the whole Detroit series with a hamstring issue. The Rays have also been without their closer Kyle Farnsworth, who’s on the DL as well. Even with three key injuries, the Rays have proven they can contend.
The Rays’ Offseason Acquisition are Paying Off
The Rays picked up Luke Scott and Carlos Pena this winter to replace Johnny Damon and Casey Kotchman, and so far it’s paying dividends. Although Scott is now hurt, both sluggers have had great starts to the 2012 season and have made immediate impacts in the lineup. Fernando Rodney has also proven to be a smart addition to the roster, as he has excelled so far in the closer role for the Rays. Jose Molina hasn’t exactly got it going with the bat yet—although he is starting to hit a little better—but still bolsters the Rays’ defense behind the plate. Jeff Keppinger is one more offseason acquisition that has paid off, as he’s had some big hits during Opening Week.
When Healthy, the Rays’ Offense May Be Better Than We Thought
The Rays’ offense has probably been the biggest surprise so far this season. It’s still very early, but the Rays have hit pretty well considering the key injuries in their lineup. The meat of the order has got the job done, producing most of the team’s runs thus far. Evan Longoria is red hot with the bat, putting up a line of .476/.577/.762 with a home run and four RBI. Carlos Pena is on fire as well, leading the team in RBI and homers (8 RBI and 3 HR) while hitting .429/.556/.905. Matt Joyce has also knocked in four runs himself. Luke Scott—who only played three out of the six games—is 3-6 with three RBI to start the season. Scott has proven that he’s an impact player in the middle of the lineup, which is why the Rays need him back as soon as possible. With the addition of Luke Scott and Carlos Pena, who have both had great starts to the season, the Rays offense is more potent than it was in 2011. With the return of B.J. Upton in the lineup, the Rays could be a serious contender to win the AL East. Still, there are some clear weaknesses in the lineup, mainly the bottom of the order. Both Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac are not getting the job done offensively at the shortstop position. Rodriguez has hit .067/.176./.067 without an RBI to start the season, while Brignac has hit.100/.182/.100 without an RBI as well. Elliot Johnson—who backs up both of them at short—hasn’t had a good start either.
Fernando Rodney Could Become the Rays’ Closer this Season
Fernando Rodney has been absolutely perfect in his 2.2 innings pitched so far this season. With Kyle Farnsworth out with an injury, Rodney has stepped up with three saves without allowing a baserunner yet this season. Rodney has exceeded expectations, and has already established himself as the team’s closer during Farnsworth’s stay on DL. It’s a question how effective Farnsworth will be when he returns, as he’s been experiencing elbow soreness since last season. I would be surprised to see him immediately jump back into the closer role whenever he returns to the ‘pen, which is why I think Rodney will be the team’s true closer this year.
Injuries are Becoming a Nuisance
The Rays have been able to win with big injuries, but it will be hard to win in October with all the tough American League competition. As I said before, the Rays need both Luke Scott and B.J. Upton healthy in their lineup, and a healthy Kyle Farnsworth would also be a big help to the bullpen. On the positive side of things, Scott could return to the lineup at some point during the Rays’ weekend series at Fenway, while Upton should return to the lineup around April 20th. Unfortunately, Upton, Scott and Farnsworth are not the only hurt players on the roster. Sam Fuld will miss most of the season with a wrist injury, and backup catcher Jose Lobaton is now dealing with shoulder soreness. Hopefully, these are just some early-season woes, but a handful of injuries after just one week of baseball is starting to become a pain for the Rays.
Ever since the offseason began, there has been a big discussion surrounding the Rays on whether they would trade their surplus of pitching for a bat. The Rays have been looking to trade a starter for a while now, but apparently haven’t found a deal.
During the winter, the Rays really had three roster holes they needed to fill; catcher, first base and DH. Somewhat surprisingly, they turned to the free agent market for their needs. The Rays snagged veteran backstop Jose Molina, signed left-handed slugger Luke Scott to be their DH and brought back first baseman Carlos Pena.
The front office got the job done, but were there better options on the trade market?
The fact is that the Rays have eight legitimate starters for 2012, and probably more in 2013. James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis, Alex Torres and Alex Cobb could all make an Opening Day MLB rotation on most other teams, while prospect Chris Archer will definitely be in that mix soon. The Rays offense is weaker than their outstanding starting pitching, so it would make a lot of sense to trade at least one starter for a hitter when you have three ‘extra’ starters.
The Rays clearly possess the necessary pieces in order to construct a deal, but who could they have traded for during the offseason. Three names immediately come to mind: first baseman/outfielder Yonder Alonso, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and catcher Yasmani Grandal. The two best prospect first basemen in all of baseball and a top prospect catcher were all traded this winter on deals the Rays could of very easily made.
In the deal that sent Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal to the Padres, San Diego only gave up their No.1 starter (Mat Latos) in exchange for both of them and two more arms (Edinson Volquez and Brad Boxberger) from Cincinnati. With the starting pitching the Rays have, there were plenty of ways the Rays could have traded for both Alonso and Grandal if the Reds were looking for just one good arm to add to their rotation.
As for Anthony Rizzo, he was traded to the Cubs in exchange for minor league pitcher Andrew Cashner. Looking at who Chicago gave away for Rizzo, there’s absolutely no way that Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis, Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, or Alex Torres could not bring this future star first-baseman to Tampa Bay.
This trio’s big bats seem like they would have been a perfect addition to the Rays’ roster, but how would they actually fit on the team? If Luke Scott and Carlos Pena were never signed, we can assume that Alonso and Rizzo would be able to play DH and first base for the 2012 season. With Rizzo being the better defensive first baseman, he would likely man first while Alonso would be the DH.
As for Yasmani Grandal, he would be the backup catcher behind Molina and would get a significant amount of playing time. Looking at the Rays’ catching situation behind Molina, they probably wish they had him now.
The Rays would obviously have to choose either the Rizzo/Alonso combination or the Pena/Scott combination (or possibly a mixture), so which would be the better decision? There are plus sides and negative sides to both decisions. With the Scott/Pena combo (which is having a great start to the season by the way) the Rays have now, there is a bit of a long-term concern. Pena will be a free agent after the 2012 season, and Scott will be a free agent in 2013.
If the Rays signed both Alonso and Rizzo to long-term deals, they would have better security at the DH and first base positions. We know how Andrew Friedman loves to lock up young talented players long-term, which is the main reason why I think this would have been a good deal for the Rays. However, I believe that the Rays’ offense may be a bit better short-term with Scott and Pena in the roster.
It’s too early in the season to say anything for sure, but Scott and Pena have much more experience and have proven what they can do at the big league level. The short-term aspect is why I think the Rays chose Scott and Pena. They’ve made it very clear they’re going for it all this season.
What I find the most surprising in the Rays’ search to trade a starter is that they still haven’t made a deal to bring in a catcher to backup Molina. Not surprisingly, the Rays are still searching for a backup catcher. According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, Tampa has been pushing to acquire Oakland’s Kurt Suzuki, but Billy Beane isn’t very interested in Jeff Niemann or Wade Davis.
The Rays will most likely sign somebody eventually, but it may not be via trade. Ivan Rodriguez is one free agent catcher that the Rays pursue. If the Rays don’t decide to turn to free agency for their catching needs, who could they trade for?
Ryan Hanigan and Travis D’Arnaud could be two future possibilities. Hanigan—who the Rays have already discussed acquiring—has a questionable future in Cincinnati because of the emergence of top prospect catcher Devin Mesoraco. D’Arnaud—who’s also a top prospect catcher—may not have a future in Toronto because J.P Arencibia, who has established himself as the team’s starting catcher there. The Blue Jays have already discussed trading him, which is why I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Rays go after him.
The Rays have waited to find the right deal to trade some of their young pitching talent, but I think they’ll find some better opportunities as the trade deadline nears. It’s still too early in the season to conclude that the Rays have been over-hesitant to trade away their pitching surplus. What matters is what the front office decides to do in the future, and I think we’ll see the trade many have been anticipating once the deadline arrives.
The Rays 25-man Opening Day roster is officially set for today’s game. Josh Lueke has been called up to replace Kyle Farnsworth, who joins B.J. Upton, Sam Fuld and Robinson Chirinos on the DL.
RH Burke Badenhop
RH Wade Davis
RH Jeremy Hellickson
LH J.P. Howell
RH Josh Lueke
LH Jake McGee
LH Matt Moore
RH Jeff Niemann
RH Joel Peralta
LH David Price
RH Fernando Rodney
RH James Shields
The latest Rays news and notes:
- The Rays claimed left-handed reliever John Gaub off waivers yesterday, replacing Matt Bush’s spot on the 40-man roster. Gaub, who went 4-4 with a 3.42 ERA and 7 saves for Triple-A Iowa last season, won’t start the season on the 25-man roster.
- We know how Joe Maddon loves to platoon, be he still surprised most of us yesterday when he set the lineup for today’s game. Elliot Johnson and Jeff Keppinger will start, while Luke Scott is left out of the lineup. With southpaw C.C. Sabathia starting, we see a lineup with only two lefties today (Matt Joyce and Carlos Pena). Keppinger, who has absolutely no power but has good number against Sabathia, will bat in the cleanup spot. Elliot Johnson also has pretty good numbers against C.C., which is why he’s batting in the sixth hole. It’s still a little bit of a head-scratcher, but we’ll see how Maddon’s experiment works this afternoon. Here’s the full lineup below:
- Desmond Jennings, CF
- Ben Zobrist, RF
- Evan Longoria, 3B
- Jeff Keppinger, DH
- Sean Rodriguez, SS
- Elliot Johnson, 2B
- Carlos Pena, 1B
- Jose Molina, C
- Matt Joyce, LF
- Another season of Meet the Rays is underway at TampaBay.com. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times interviews the Rays players one by one. Click here for a trailer.
- Fifty ESPN MLB experts made their preseason predictions on Wednesday, and it seems like they’re giving the Rays plenty of respect. Here’s a breakdown of it over at RaysIndex.com.
- MLB.com’s Jim Hawkins writes an interesting piece on Stephen Vogt’s ‘scenic route’ to the Major Leagues.
This is the fourth and final part of The Rays Rant’s evaluation on the Rays’ top prospects. To view part one of the series, click here. For part two, click here. For part three, click here. All rankings are based off MLB.com’s top organization prospect list.
16. Jake Hager
Offensively: Picked in the first round of last year’s draft, shortstop Jake Hager did not hesitate to start his professional baseball career. The 19-year-old quickly joined Rookie League ball, finishing his short season with a .269 average and 17 RBIs through 193 at-bats. Hager’s a pretty good all-around hitter with a great plate approach and some pop in his bat from a smooth line-drive swing. Base-running wise, Hager is a decent runner with average to above-avergage speed. He hasn’t shown much intelligence on the base paths yet, but he’ll likely become a better baserunner with experience.
Defensively: Hager is a solid overall defender at short, and probably has the tools to stick to the position in the future. He has a strong arm and good reactions, which is why a future at third base is also possibility at the moment. His range is a bit below average, which is one reason why he could have better futures at second or third.
Conclusion: If one thing has been established during Hager’s brief time in the minors, it’s that he is a true hard-worker. Hager puts in 110% into every game and practice and always plays with hustle. His outstanding worth ethic makes him a great fit in the Rays’ organization, and gives him a pretty good shot at a shortstop future. I believe Hager has what it takes to take up the challenge of playing shortstop at the big-league level, but he’ll still be a talented player at second or third.
17. Felipe Rivero
Scouting Report: Yet another hard-throwing arm in the Rays’ system, southpaw Felipe Rivero can whip a fastball up into the mid 90′s. His live heater seems to be very likable amongst scouts, but his secondary pitches—the fastball and changeup—could definitely use some work. The 20-year-old Venezuelan-native pitched 60.1 innings in Rookie League ball last last season, posting a 4.62 ERA with a 3-3 record. Rivero had a great start to the year, and then seemed to lose his touch towards the end of the season. His walk and strikeout ratios were a plus side to his U.S. debut last year; as he finished the season with an 8.5 K/9 and a 1.9 BB/9. His command and pitch selection was pretty good last season considering he was just 19, which is something that will help him as he continues to mature.
Conclusion: The six-foot 151-pounder’s size disadvantage may be the biggest thing holding him back. Rivero increased his strength last year, and needs to continue that while increasing his size and weight. Rivero will be promoted to Class-A Bowling Green in 2012, where he’ll have his first chance to prove what he can do in his first year of full-season ball. He has a long way to go, so it’s hard to say whether his big-league future is as a reliever or a starter. Either way, he’s a prospect to watch in 2012.
18. Justin O’Conner
Offensively: The former first-round draft pick has plenty of potential, he just hasn’t played to it yet after his first two seasons of pro ball. O’Conner moved from 10 spots down from last year’s list; a .157 average with a .234 OBP will do that to you. O’Conner has big-time natural power, which he displayed last season by hitting nine homers with eight doubles and 29 RBI through his 48 games in the Rookie League. He has holes in his swing—78 strikeouts is evidence—and clearly needs to work on making more consistent contact.
Defensively: Drafted as a shortstop, O’Conner is still in the process of learning the art of catching; which is now his now his full time position. The 20-year-old (turned 20 on Saturday) has a strong arm and his athletic skills give him the ability to move pretty well behind the plate. He should be able to stick to the position as he progresses through the minors.
Conclusion: When it’s all said and done, O’Conner is a work in progress. We need to remember that he hasn’t played a season in his twenties yet, so it’s really not fair to call him a bust at this point. Offensively, contact hitting is what he needs to improve on, and is probably his main issue as of now. As I said before, I think he has a future at catcher, as he seems to have the tools. The Rays are very patient with their prospects, which we have seen with O’Conner over the past couple of years.
19. Jeff Ames
Scouting Report: Another first-round draft pick, right-handed pitcher Jeff Ames adds yet another good arm into the Rays’ farm system. He hasn’t proved much at the professional level yet, posting a 7.12 ERA through 30.1 inning pitched with Rookie League Princeton in his first pro season last year. He has some good stuff, though, and has the ability to strikeout batters. Ames has a live fastball with great movement that reaches up into the mid-90′s. His slider can be effective at times, and is still developing as his main secondary pitch. Ames is also working on his changeup, which has been inconsistent. He’ll have to improve the changeup if he wants to be a starter at the higher levels.
Conclusion: At the end of the day, Ames does have pretty high potential. High strikeout rates are a sign that he could be good in the future. The key for him moving forward are his secondary pitches; especially his changeup. His future as a starter or a reliever will be determined by his ability to use his offspeed pitches as he progresses through the Rays’ system. I think his future looks much brighter as a reliever, as he was already a closer during his college baseball career.
20. Wilking Rodriguez
Scouting Report: The Rays have another prospect pitcher with good stuff in Wilking Rodriguez. Rodriguez went 1-4 with a 5.00 ERA in Short Season A Hudson Valley and Low A Bowling Green. The stats aren’t good, but it’s not fair to judge him by them because he was struggling with shoulder issues throughout the year. The young power pitcher has rotation-worthy stuff; including as an excellent fastball that consistently sits in the mid-90′s. He also has a sharp curveball and a changeup that’s developing. Rodriguez is going to have to learn to be more effective with his secondary pitches if he wants to be a starter at the big-league level. Command is another part of his game that he needs to refine, as sometimes Rodriguez tends to overthrow. He has improved his command and has overthrown a lot less more recently, though, and hopefully he will continue that in 2012.
Conclusion: It will be interesting to see how Rodriguez fares in 2012, a year that’s very important for him. He’ll start the season now healthy in Class-A+ ball, where he hopes for better numbers than he had in the past. Whether he’s a reliever or a starter once he’s ready for the big leagues, we can probably expect to see his Major League debut sometime in 2014.
The latest Rays news and notes:
- The Rays tied the Red Sox 7-7 yesterday, as three big home runs avoided the Rays losing their 17th spring game despite some sloppy play. Carlos Pena, Evan Longoria, and Luke Scott all belted solo homers. Some other notable offensive performances came from Jose Lobaton (3-4 with two RBI) and Sean Rodriguez (2-4 with an RBI). Pitching wise, the Rays just did not have it yesterday. Jeff Niemann was scratched from his scheduled start with a nasty blister on his pitching hand, so the Rays went with the bullpen throughout the whole game. Kyle Farnsworth started the game allowing a run through his one inning pitched, then Joel Peralta and Burke Badenhop followed with scoreless outings. Wade Davis pitched three innings and allowed five runs, but only one earned. Still, he let up five hits, which is evidence that he wasn’t on his A-game Saturday. Boston only put out one Major League hitter throughout the entire game, which concerns me a bit. The Rays’ four errors were the biggest reason for the lost, something that’s very uncharacteristic of them. Click here for a full boxscore of yesterday’s game.
- The Rays added to their Triple-A depth yesterday, acquiring outfielder Kyle Hudson from the Texas Rangers for future considerations. Hudson, 25, hit .296 with 41 stolen in the minors last season (A+, AAA, AAA). The 5’11 left-hander has absolutely no power, but he has good speed and some contact ability. I had a feeling the Rays would make a minor league move within this week after hearing Andrew Friedman on a live telecast yesterday saying that he’d like to have a little bit more position player depth. It only took a few hours before Friedman pulled off a deal.
- The Rays continue to narrow down their roster, as Jesus Feliciano and Will Rhymes were reassigned to minor league camp yesterday. The latest round of cuts leaves Jeff Salazar as the front-funner for the backup outfielder job, but of course, Brandon Guyer still has a pretty good shot.