Minor League Keeper Thoughts: Tampa Bay Rays

We will have taken a look at 15 of the systems after today's choice, the Tampa Bay Rays. The goal with each team I look at is to discuss a few players who are likely to have an impact in the Majors in 2012, a few who could be ready by the start of 2014, and a few more who are a long ways away, but could be interesting as well. You can find links to the previous teams below:

Houston Astros | Minnesota Twins | Seattle Mariners | Baltimore Orioles

Kansas City Royals | Chicago Cubs | San Diego Padres | Pittsburgh Pirates | Colorado Rockies

Cleveland Indians | Chicago White Sox | Detroit Tigers | Oakland Athletics | Los Angeles Angels



Overview

Graduations have thinned this system out slightly, but that's really being picky to say it's had a huge impact. The system has seen its' share of top prospects, and while the team has shown success over the past few years at the Major League level, it doesn't seem like it has caused their farm system to suffer dramatically as a result.

2011 Graduates

Jeremy Hellickson, Desmond Jennings, Jake McGee

Ready in 2012

Matt Moore

There's not a ton to be said about Matt Moore that hasn't already been told. He led the minors in strikeouts twice, and finished second last year. He struck out 200+ batters in each of his last two seasons in the minors. He averaged over 12 strikeouts per 9 innings for his entire minor league career. He even started game 1 of the ALDS last year and threw 7 innings of shutout ball against the Rangers. He's clearly shown that he's ready for the big leagues, and the team signed him to a very cost-controlled contract during the offseason. He'll slot into the rotation for the Rays, and I believe he has the potential to be one of the top 25 starting pitchers in all of fantasy this season. Robert ranked him at #37 overall among starting pitchers in his earlier rankings, and while I think that's a lot more likely to be where he finishes the season, you'll likely have to draft him earlier than that in most leagues if you want him on your team.

Chris Archer

Another one of the prospects acquired from the Cubs for Matt Garza, Archer spent most of 2011 in AA, and walking a ton of batters. The biggest flaw right now in Archer's progression to the Majors will be his issue with walks, as he walked 86 batters in 147 1/3 innings last season. This isn't a new problem, as he has posted walk rates over 5 per 9 in 3 of the last 4 seasons. Here's a bit of what Keith Law had to say about Archer:

He is an extremely athletic pitcher whose arm works well, with the downside of a dominant two-pitch reliever. He still has that No. 2 starter upside, but he's not out of the prospect danger zone yet and it wouldn't be inappropriate to project him as a closer.

Archer will likely need most, if not all of 2012 down in AAA if they want to continue to use him as a starting pitcher long-term. It sounds to me like based on some of the scouting reports that if he can't rein in his control issues, he'll likely be very valuable out of the pen for the Rays, maybe as their long-term answer at closer.

Tim Beckham

When the team drafted Beckham #1 overall back in the 2008 draft, I can't imagine that this is how they envisioned his development would go. While they probably imagined it would take him this long to move, his performance level has not improved to what the expectation was. Add in that he has been passed on nearly every prospect list by Lee, and I am curious whether or not Beckham will end up switching positions at some point in the future. Here's what Al Skorupa of Bullpen Banter had to say about Beckham:

Tim Beckham has some solid athleticism and pop in his bat but I don't see him having a future at shortstop. His lower half is just too big and will likely thicken up even more as he gets into his 20's, limiting his already fringy range and actions. One scout remarked to me that Beckham was "maybe the 4th or 5th best SS defensively in the [Rays] system" and thought he'd fit best as a RF. There is definitely optimism Beckham's bat will play elsewhere, but the feeling seems to be that he's a pretty unremarkable prospect at this point.

Not exactly a glowing review at this point, but one that seems to be in line with the industry as a whole. Some point soon the team will need to make a decision as to where he will play long-term, and realistically he will provide some decent value as a fantasy player when he gets to the Majors. He did hit 12 home runs and steal 17 bases last year, but he looks like he might turn out to be an AL-only type when he becomes a full-time player.

Could Be Ready by 2014

Hak-Ju Lee

Acquired from the Cubs prior to the 2011 season, Lee really broke out last year with a .292 batting average, 98 runs scored, 15 triples, and 33 stolen bases. While playing legitimate shortstop defense. Here's a bit of what George Utter of Baseball Instinct had to say about him:

Lee’s offensive skill set isn’t anything flashy, but he does a lot of things right. He has the potential to hit at the top of the order. He’s a plus hitter who controls the strike zone well. He has plus-plus speed, but is still learning how to utilize it better on the base paths.

Defensively, Lee is one of the top SS in the Minors. His outstanding range and plus arm make him comparable to more hyped defensive shortstops prospects

I ranked Lee as my #6 prospect long-term at shortstop back in December, but I also had Xander Bogaerts, Billy Hamilton, and Zack Cozart ahead of him. It's extremely unlikely that Bogaerts sticks at SS, Hamilton isn't a guarantee, and Cozart will likely remain a batting average risk for fantasy owners. Right now, Lee is probably the 3rd best shortstop prospect in the game, given that he's extremely likely to stay there long-term. I think he'll end up providing some excellent batting average and speed numbers, along with runs scored once he is in the Majors.

Long-Term Prospects (Might Not Be Ready Until 2015 At Least)

Taylor Guerrieri

Guerrieri was the Rays' top draft pick in the 2011 draft, taken 24th overall. He did not debut in 2011, but seems likely to head to one of the Rays' short-season affiliates in 2012. Here's what Nathan Rode of Baseball America had to say about him prior to the draft:

At his best, Guerrieri ranges from 93-96 mph with his fastball and can touch 97. He mixes in an 81-83 curveball with sharp break. His fastball has plenty of life to it, sinking and running when he throws to his arm side and showing heavy sink when he goes to his glove side. Guerrieri has a unique grip for his curveball, also a plus pitch.

I'll be very interested to see what Guerrieri can do once he does make his debut, as John Sickels said that he "Has the ability to be a B+, A- or even an A if he lives up to full potential". He was drafted out of high school, so he's likely to be 3 or 4 years away at least, but he's definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Mikie Mahtook

Mahtook was the second draft pick for the Rays from the 2011 first round, and was only able to get into games in the Arizona Fall League. Drafted out of LSU, Mahtook played center field for the Tigers primarily, but it remains to be seen if he could do so long-term. Here's what George Utter of Baseball Instinct had to say about him:

Mahtook does a bit of everything and does it well, with average or better tools across the board. He has good bat speed and has a chance to be an above average hitter with average power. His best tool is his plus speed, while his weakest is his arm which is fringe average but accurate.

Overall, he looks like he could be an interesting prospect long-term, but I'll want to see what he can do in a full season of professional ball before moving him too far up in the rankings.

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