|Original Published Date: Nov. 29, 2013|
According to a Bloomberg study this fall, the Tampa Bay Rays have the lowest financial value of all 30 major league clubs. In fact, their $530M value is over six times less than the most valuable team in all of baseball – the New York Yankees.
As a financially challenged team, the Rays must rely on excellent player development and precise drafting. While that has been the case for most of the past 10 years, they’ve missed on a number of players in recent years and that is starting to challenge their pipeline to the majors. Of course they can continue to trade valuable resources like James Shields and David Price to re-fill their system, the fact is that their misses are starting to show in their system.
Two of their top prospects Taylor Guerrieri and Hak-Ju Lee are both rehabbing from serious injuries and their futures are murky. If he returns healthy from Tommy John reconstructive surgery, Guerrieri is a top-of-the-rotation talent. Lee was expected to see time in Tampa in 2013, but a serious knee injury cost him most of the season and little word has come out on his rehab progress.
Enny Romero and Jake Odorizzi both saw time in Tampa in 2013 and could provide help in 2014 as back-of-the-rotation talents. Romero has the more electric arm, but can’t yet control the arsenal.
The Rays did have two picks in the first round of the 2013 first year player draft and selected high-school catching prospect Nick Ciuffo and collegian Ryne Stanek. I like Ciuffo a lot, particularly his defensive ability but I’m not sold on Stanek.
The Rays are a smart organization and should continue to excel for the next several years. However, they need to hit on a few more Matt Moore’s and Alex Cobb’s to remain competitive for the long haul.
|2014 Age: 21||Ceiling: #2 starter|
|Ht: 6-3 Weight: 195||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2016-17|
Taylor Guerrieri was having an excellent year for the Tampa Bay Low-A affiliate Bowling Green posting a 2.01 ERA and a sub 1.00 WHIP. However, on July 15th, Guerrieri left the game after two innings with elbow soreness only to find out a few days later that he had a torn UCL that would require Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery (TJS).
Taken in the first round of the deep 2011 draft, Guerrieri has a nice arsenal that consists of a fastball that sits 91-93 MPH and can touch higher, a plus curve ball that could turn into a monster pitch, and a fringy change-up that should improve as he matures. With two plus pitches, it was surprising that Guerrieri only struck out a little less than seven batter per nine. I think this will improve as his pitch sequencing improves.
Guerrieri does have elite command as he walked only 12 batters in his 67 innings in Low-A. In reviewing his mechanics, it’s easy to see why. He has great posture and balance with a nice high leg kick that gives him momentum to the plate. The landing is really good and this allows his release point to remain consistent. The negative on his delivery is the arm action is not clean. He has a definite cross fire delivery as he slings the ball across his body.
As with all pitchers returning from TJS, the immediate future is uncertain. If he returns fully healthy, he has a ceiling of a solid number two. Since his surgery was in July, he should be back pitching in the spring and could see game action at some point in 2014. While losing a year of development is bad, particularly when the cause was a catastrophic injury, Guerrieri just turns 21 in December, so youth is on his side.
Fantasy Impact: Guerrieri is a perfect buy-low candidate in a Dynasty League. While it comes with significant risk, the reward could be substantial. Plus, he doesn’t have the same name recognition as fellow TJS survivor Lucas Giolito, and therefore, could be a lot cheaper. I would gamble and invest.
|2014 Age: 19||Ceiling: Role 5-6
|Ht:6-1 Weight: 205||Bats: Left Throws: Right||ETA: 2017|
Taken as the Rays first overall pick in 2013, Nick Ciuffo was rated along with Pittsburgh Reese McGuire as the top catching prospects in the draft.
While Ciuffo’s defensive chops have been admired since high-school, he also has the potential to be an above-average offensive player. He has good bat speed and a simple approach at the plate. The setup is quiet with a small toe tap before driving his swing. It’s currently a classic pull swing but as he matures, I believe he’ll be able to better spray the ball to all fields.
In terms of power, he also has the ceiling for above-average power at the highest level. The power projection could improve as his swing matures and he lets his natural bat speed play.
The Rays will probably take a slow and grow approach with Ciuffo. While his skill-set and draft status suggests he’ll start 2014 in full-season ball, I would not be surprised if he starts the season in the complex league.
Fantasy Impact: Ciuffo is an intriguing prospect with the ceiling of a Role 6 player at the highest level. His defensive ability should allow him to at least make it the major leagues as a backup, so drafting him in a Dynasty League with a deep bench is sensible. Of course, it’s the Rays, so expect a four year apprenticeship before the chance to make it to the big leagues.
|2014 Age: 22||Ceiling: #3 starter|
|Ht: 6-4 Weight: 180||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2016|
Selected in the first round of the 2013 draft, Ryne Stanek had an impressive college career at the University of Arkansas. In his three years, he posted a 22-3 record with a 2.55 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP. While the surface stats were great, he only struck out 7.19 batters per nine while walking 3.65 per nine. The walks really mounted in his junior year as he walked 41 in 97.1 innings.
The arsenal is solid with a plus fastball that sits 92-94 MPH and a curve and change-up that show a lot of promise. While the arsenal has the ceiling of a number two starter, the control doesn’t.
It starts with his pitching mechanics, which have a lot of problems. He throws from a variety of angles with his fastball thrown at a low three-quarters but his curve ball thrown from a higher angle. To throw a curve ball, you need to be at a higher release point, but the difference is pretty telling for a hitter. Secondly, his release point is not consistent and this is contributing to his control problem. Finally, the arm action is not clean as not only is the arm action long, he over-pronates his elbow and has a definitive Inverted-W in his release.
Stanek did not make his professional debut in 2013. While there hasn’t been an official announcement to my knowledge from the Rays as to why they held him back, there has been speculation that the Rays have in fact been working on his delivery. If this is true, it’s a good thing as his current mechanics will not allow him to reach his ceiling and in fact, might not allow him to make it the major leagues.
Fantasy Impact: Stanek has an impressive arm but needs to over haul his delivery. He’s only draftable in very deep leagues.
|2014 Age: 23||Ceiling: Role 5-6
|Ht:6-2 Weight: 170||Bats: Left Throws: Right||ETA: 2014|
22-year-old Hak-Ju Lee was off to a blazing start in 2013 when an ugly play at second base ended his season on April 20th with torn knee ligaments. For a guy that relies on his lateral movements to play defense and his speed on the base paths, it was a devastating injury.
Tall and thin, Lee has great speed and actions at shortstop. He seemingly gets to everything that’s hit near him and has enough arm strength to play on the biggest stage. The speed also translates well on the base path as Lee stole 37 bases in 2012 while only getting caught nine times and was on a similar pace in 2013. While he does have plus speed, the speed plays up as he’s a smart base runner with the ability to read pitchers well.
As a hitter, Lee is a classic slap hitter that is constantly reaching out to make enough contact to use his wheels to get on base. From time-to-time, he’ll be able to get behind a ball and drive it but for the most part, he’ll have very little power. He does understand the strike zone and should be able to have decent on base skills at the highest level.
While not a lot of information has surfaced concerning Lee’s recovery, the hope is that he will be healthy enough to start the 2104 season on time. Assuming that occurs, he is still young enough to recover and have a successful major league career. However, there is considerable risk as knee injuries can cause a player to lose a grade in his speed and if that happens, Lee moves from a Role 5-6 player to a potential utility player at the highest level.
Fantasy Impact: Lee is a classic buy-low candidate, but given the lack of information on his recovery, it’s a risky play. If fully healthy, he has the upside of Elvis Andrus and could be a nice top-of-the-lineup piece for the Rays. I do not expect him to be called up until later in the second half; again, assume he’s healthy.
|2014 Age: 23||Ceiling: #4 starter|
|Ht: 6-3 Weight: 165||Bats: Left Throws: Left||ETA: 2013|
If you’ve ever seen Enny Romero pitch, one thing is for certain – he throws hard. He has a variety of fastballs, but he primarily throws his four-seamer that sits 93-96 MPH and can touch 97 and 98. He also throws a tailing two-seamer and a cutter to mix things up.
Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2006, Romero continued his march through the Rays system in 2013, even getting a spot start in the majors in September. It was a start that had mixed reviews as it illustrated both the good and bad of Romero. He only gave up one hit in 4.1 innings with his fastball averaging 95.23 MPH and his slider showing a nice-tight tilt. However, he also walked four – and therein lies his problem. He just can’t throw consistent strikes. In 140.1 innings in Double-A he walked 4.68 per nine, which was down from his 2012 performance in High-A of 5.43 but still not good.
His control problems can be traced back to his mechanics. His release point is not consistent with his shoulder open way too often causing his pitches to land wide to the glove-side. In fact, his control problems are causing his strikeout rates to drop to a good but not elite rate of 7.05 per nine. However, the 110 hits in 140.1 innings, points to the quality of the arsenal.
Fix the control problems, and Romero has a ceiling of a three or even more. If they are not fixed, he’s a bullpen arm.
Romero should start 2014 in Triple-A with a chance to see action in Tampa in the second half. His success will be contingent on how well he controls his arsenal. At this point, I’m not confident that he will be successful.
Fantasy Impact: Romero has an electric arm but his inability to control his arsenal is making him a risky pick in a Dynasty League. There is clearly upside but with a low confidence of meeting the upside of a mid-rotation starter.
|2014 Age: 24||Ceiling: #4 starter|
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 185||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2012|
Jake Odorizzi was part of the big December trade that sent James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals for Wil Myers and a host of other prospects. It was a lot for the Royals to give up for Shields, who could change addresses after next season. While Myers was the centerpiece, Odorizzi is a nice prospect in his own right and has a chance to profile as a number four or five starter in the big leagues.
Odorizzi has a good arsenal that consists of a four-seam fastball that sits 90-93 MPH, an 84-85 MPH change-up, and a slider that sits in the same velocity level as his change-up. He also throws a slow curve, but that is clearly his fourth pitch. While all of his pitches are solid, there isn’t a plus pitch in the bag which means he really doesn’t truly have an out pitch.
His stats in Triple-A were solid as he posted a 3.33 ERA with 124K/40BB in 124 innings. However, he also gave up 12 home runs and had a 1.05 ground-out to air-out ratio. That combination will put pressure on his ERA as he moves to the majors as he will likely be homer-prone; and without a true out-pitch, his overall effectiveness could be limited.
While there is a lot of competition for the Rays starting five, Odorizzi should compete for a spot at the back-of-the-rotation. His opportunity could rest with what Tampa ultimately decides with David Price.
Fantasy Impact: Odorizzi could be helpful in a deep Dynasty League as a number five or six starter. For 2014, he’s only draftable in an AL-Only League. His upside is league average ratios with 7.0 strike outs per nine.
|2014 Age: 22||Ceiling: Role 4-5
|Ht:5-10 Weight: 185||Bats: Left Throws: Right||ETA: 2015|
Taken in the third round of the 2012 draft, Andrew Toles carrying tool is plus-plus speed that allowed him to steal 62 stolen bases in Bowling Green in 2013. While his slash line of .326/.359/.466 points to an above-average hit tool, the stats were fueled by a .402 BABIP and 16 triples.
Toles swing is not smooth at all. It’s very arm-heavy as he slaps at the balls but with a leveraged pull-side swing. The swing is compact and there is some bat speed, but ultimately I don’t believe he’ll have above-average power although he did hit 35 doubles. His approach at the plate is also very aggressive as he only walked 22 times in 519 at-bats.
As a junior college draftee, Toles will turn 22 in May and will likely spend the majority of the year in High-A. He profiles as an extra outfielder or a regular for a second division team. There is talent as his speed should allow him to post a high BABIP but his aggressiveness and poor swing mechanics will limit his upside.
Fantasy Impact: Because of his stolen base potential, Toles should be owned in all deep Dynasty League formats. His upside is the 2013 version of Eric Young Jr. with his realistic upside the 2010-2012 version of EYJ.
8. Richie Shaffer (3B)
Richie Shaffer was drafted out of Clemson University in the first round in 2012 with the expectation of a plus hit-tool with the potential for above-average power. The college stats were impressive with a .336/.480/.573 slash line with 63 walks and 53 strikeouts. However, the production has not translated yet to professional ball as his hit tool has played down. He does have bat speed and that helped him launch 11 home runs in High-A but he’s struggled with off-speed pitches and has only managed a 78% contact rate – good but not great. Shaffer should start 2014 in Double-A at 23-years-old with a ceiling of second division corner infielder.
9. Oscar Hernandez (C)
Oscar Hernandez profiles to be an above-average to plus catcher but sources are mixed about his ability to hit at the highest level. Those on the positive side see bat speed that will develop into future above-average power, which was on display in the VSL in 2011 where he hit 21 home runs as a 17-year-old. Those on the negative see swing and miss in his bat and question his ability to make enough contact to tap into any power.
10. Mike Montgomery (LHP)
Mike Montgomery profiles as my number 10 prospect and most of those reading this capsule will simple shrug and say he’s done. He very well could be, but I saw him pitch yet again in the 2013 AFL and he still looks like a major league pitcher to me. The arsenal is a step down from his peak in 2011 but he still throws 90-92 MPH with a curve ball and change-up that he can throw for strikes. The mechanics are solid and he is able to repeat his delivery. While he walked a few too many batters in 2013, I think that will improve with tweaks to his delivery. The upside is a league average pitcher capable of seven strikeouts per nine and three and half walks per nine. That’s not an ace, not even a number three, but he has a chance to be a back of the rotation or a bullpen arm.
2014 Emerging Prospect:
Blake Snell had a mixed season as he continued to miss significant bats, striking out over a batter an inning but he also walking over six per nine. His control problems didn’t surface until he moved to full season ball and batters simply didn’t swing at balls outside the strike zone. The arsenal is promising with a low 90’s heavy fastball and nasty slider. The arsenal is also producing excellent ground ball rates. In fact his 3.59 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio was 20th best in all of the minor leagues. As he matures, I believe the control will improve and Snell could develop into an intriguing prospect