This year we decided as a staff to preview each of the team’s preliminary assignments to the 2012 AFL and our goal is to tackle each of the 30 organizations over the next 7-10 days. We hope you will follow along with us, check in several times each day and enjoy reading what we come up with. If you’re not familiar with the eligibility rules or how the rosters are constructed just click here to brush up.
The Tampa Bay Rays will be allocating eight players to the Phoenix Desert Dogs where they will join prospects from the Braves, A’s, Marlins and Brewers organizations. Those eight players happen to comprise an interesting collection of talent.
Tampa is sending a former #1 overall pick, a 2012 1st rounder, a 2011 2nd rounder, a Top-100 prospect acquired via trade and a number of late round picks from recent drafts that have performed well as professionals. It’s an interesting mix of players to be sure and a group that definitely deserves attention as the 2012 AFL season unfolds.
RHP – Lenny Linsky (22) -Rays 2011 2nd Round Pick
2012 – GCL Rays: 0.00 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, 2 H, 0 BB and 1 SO in 3.0 IP
2012 – Charlotte: 3.07 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, 28 H, 19 BB and 12 SO in 29.1 IP
Linsky was held back in extended spring training due to an arm injury* and didn’t see his first game action of 2012 until June 18th when he picked up a save in the GCL Rays opener. After just two appearances in the GCL he made his FSL debut on June 27th. In that appearance, Linsky was a mess allowing 3 hits, 2 walks and 2 runs in a single inning of work. He would give up 5 runs, 5 hits and 3 walks in his next 2.1 innings but then reeled off 16.1 scoreless. Of course that’s a bit misleading since his performance was similar to whistling past a graveyard during a full moon in the dead of night. The lack of runs made his ERA look respectable but his peripherals were all out of whack. In the 10 appearances that made up the 16.1 scoreless inning streak, he allowed 13 hits and 11 walks. Of course the hits and walks were symptomatic of his entire season and a bit of a surprise considering he finished with a very strong 30-7 SO-to-BB in 2011 after signing.
Based on the fact that he missed time early in the season due to injury, it makes sense that the team is sending him to the AFL. However I’m skeptical that his arm is completely sound at this point. Linsky’s walk rate jumped from 2.1 BB/9 in 2011 to 5.3 in 2012 and his strikeout rate plummeted from 9.2 SO/9 to 3.6. These are much larger swings than you’ll typically see out of a pitcher from one year to the next. If it were just the BB or SO rate we could look at it as an aberration, but the loss of control and lack of strikeouts coupled with the early season injury is definitely a red flag here, While the Rays are obviously privy to medical reports that I am not, I still have to question whether having him involved in AFL action in any way is a wise move. Linsky, it would seem to me, would benefit more from a full offseason of rest and rehab.
*There are varying reports on the nature of Linsky’s injury from earlier in the season. Most sources list it as “undisclosed” but others have stated that it was “elbow soreness” that sidelined him while others still indicate that the problem was in his shoulder.
LHP – Chris Rearick (24) – Rays 2010 41st Round Pick
2012 – Charlotte: 1.79 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 35 H, 15 BB and 59 SO in 45.1 IP
2012 – Montgomery: 4.38 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 22 H, 8 BB and 26 SO in 24.2 IP
Rearick was fantastic with Bowling Green in 2011 (1.66 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 89-16 SO-to-BB in 81.1 IP) and put together similar results in the FSL. With the Stone Crabs his H/9 and BB/9 increased 1.5 and 1.2 respectively but he was able to offset that in part by striking out hitters with greater frequency (11.7 SO/9) than he had in 2011. The ERA isn’t all that attractive for a reliever, but he was better for most of his time in the Southern League than the overall stat line would lead you to believe. Rearick really stumbled down the stretch allowing 13 hits and 9 earned runs in his final 4.2 innings. In those last four appearances he served up three home runs which smacks of statistical aberration. We are talking about a guy after all who had allowed a total of four home runs in his previous 186.2 minor league innings.
While he’s spent the bulk of his professional career as a closer – and was a starter as an amateur – his long term role figures to be that of a middle reliever. He fared far better against LHB this past season, but he should be able to carve out a career as more than a lefty-specialist over the long haul.
LHP – C.J. Riefenhauser (22) – Rays 2010 20th Round Pick
2012 – Charlotte: 4.76 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 98 H, 32 BB and 103 SO in 96.1 IP
2012 – Montgomery: 3.44 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 15 H, 8 BB and 15 SO in 18.1 IP
After being drafted, Riefenhauser pitched very well with both Princeton as a reliever (19.0 IP) and with Bowling Green as a starter (2 GS, 9.0 IP). To kick off 2011, the Rays returned him to Bowling Green and he made 18 starts with a 2.31 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 99-25 SO-to-BB. In those 101.1 innings he allowed just 77 hits resulting in an excellent 6.8 H/9. Promoted to high-A Charlotte that July, he found the FSL to be a more significant challenge and saw his hit and walk rates increase and his SO/9 dropped from 8.8 to 5.8. Not surprisingly he ERA with the Stone Crabs jumped to 4.14 in his 37.0 innings of work.
Back with Charlotte to start 2012, Riefenhauser spent time pitching as both a starter and reliever. The difference in his performance between the two roles was staggering:
As a starter: 69.0 IP, 6.26 ERA, 1,51 WHIP, 75 H, 29 BB and 70 SO
As a reliever: 27.1 IP, 0.99 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 23 H, 3 BB and 33 SO
With those results in mind, it’s not surprising that when he was promoted to Montgomery, 8 of his 9 appearances were as a reliever. Once again his “production” as a starter – 4.1 IP, 8 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 8 SO – masks his performance coming out of the bullpen. As a “finesse” pitcher that works primarily off his curveball and 88-91 mph fastball, he seemed destined for a relief role anyway, but his divergent performance in the two roles appears to have sealed the deal for him going forward.
RHP – Kirby Yates (25) – Red Sox 2005 26th Round Pick (did not sign), Signed by the Rays as a NDFA on June 19th, 2009
2012 – Montgomery: 2.65 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 48 H, 39 BB and 94 SO in 68.0 IP
Yates’ performance in his first taste of Double-A was striking similar to his career numbers after four seasons of work. In 229.2 minor league innings he has a 2.78 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 6.7 H/9, 4.5 BB/9 and 11.4 SO/9. This past season he struck out an excellent 12.4 batters per nine but he paired that with a 5.2 BB/9 – his second straight year above 5.0 in that regard.
Yates doesn’t move the needle much as a prospect, and he’s a bit old to just now be reaching Double-A, however there is something to be said for consistently turning in statistically solid seasons. Despite the elevated walk rate he’s maintained a more than acceptable 2.55 SO/BB in his career and he does a good job of limiting hits as well. He’s not a flamethrower but his 92-93 mph fastball keeps him from landing in the “finesse” classification. He complements his heater with a curve, slider and changeup.
This will be his second year in the AFL and figures to improve upon the 6.97 ERA and 6.1 BB/9 he turned in with the Saguaros in 2011. Of course there was nothing wrong with his strike out rate last fall as he fanned 17 in 10.1 innings.
2B/SS – Tim Beckham (22) – Rays 2008 1st Round Pick (1st Overall)
2012 – Durham: 0.256/.325/.361, 10 2B, 1 3B, 6 HR, 6 SB, 29 BB and 71 SO in 323 PA
Once viewed as a legitimate five-tool prospect, Beckham’s minor league performance has been legitimately underwhelming. Even last year when he started to generate some excitement he still wound up with a mediocre – at best – 0.271/.328/.408 slash line while playing with Montgomery and Durham. The only tool that he’s really been able to show off on the diamond is his above average arm. While some folks got excited about a career high 0.736 OPS last season, he slipped to just a 0.686 mark with Durham in 2012. He did nudge his walk rate from 7.3 to 9.0% but his strikeout rate also went up from 20.7% to 22.0%.
The lack of performance on the field, of course, wasn’t the only problem with his latest underwhelming campaign, he also tested positive for a “drug of abuse” early on in the season. It was his second positive test and resulted in a 50 game suspension.
The Rays don’t miss on many picks relative to other teams, but Beckham is looking more and more like he’s going to fall into the bucket. I realize he’s still only 22-years old but at this point you have to wonder if he is capable of being anything more than a utility player at the major league level.
SS – Hak-Ju Lee (21) – Signed out of South Korea by the Cubs on March 29th, 2008
2012 – Montgomery: 0.261/.336/.360, 15 2B, 10 3B, 4 HR, 37 SB, 51 BB and 102 SO in 534 PA
Lee made his way to Tampa along with Chris Archer, Sam Fuld, Brandon Guyer and Robinson Chirinos on January 8th, 2011 when the Rays sent Matt Garza to the Cubs. A fantastic defensive SS, Lee hit 0.292/.365/.416 between the FSL and SL in 2011 with most of his production coming as a member of the Stone Crabs. Heading into this season Baseball America ranked him as the Rays 2nd best prospect and the 44th best in all of baseball. Most sources that did a Top-100 prospect list prior to the start of 2012 also included Lee with Bullpen Banter the only source to omit him that I came across.
His slash stats with Montgomery certainly aren’t going to get him noticed on their own, but his game is about defense, speed and slapping the ball around. I’m not as optimistic as some sources that he will eventually hit for average but even if he simply carries his slash line with the Biscuits to the major leagues, he’s going to be an extremely valuable commodity. In that instance he’d represent an upgrade at the position on most major league rosters, especially when you factor in his elite defensive ability.
3B – Richie Shaffer (21) – Rays 2012 1st Round Pick (25th Overall)
2012 – Hudson Valley: 0.308/.406/.487, 5 2B, 2 3B, 4 HR, 0 SB, 16 BB and 31 SO in 138 PA
Known for his bat as an amateur, the Clemson product made a strong statement with is professional debut in the NYPL. With plus power and the ability to hit for average Shaffer will be an asset to the Rays organization regardless of where he ultimately plays in the field. He manned the hot corner with the Renegades after signing and he has a good chance to stick at the position, but he also profiles well in RF or at 1B if he needs to move.
While there are a number of bigger, more recognizable names making their way to the desert in a week or so, there are few I am looking forward to tracking more than this young man.
OF – Kevin Kiermaier (22) – Rays 2010 31st Round Pick
2012 – GCL Rays: 0.167/.167/.167, 0 BB and 1 SO in 6 PA
2012 – Charlotte: 0.260/.361/.367, 7 2B, 6 3B, 0 HR, 10 SB, 26 BB and 38 SO in 212 PA
2012 – Durham: 0.333/.500/.333, 3 BB and 1 SO in 12 PA
Kiermaier hit 0.303/.380/.431 in 57 games with Princeton after signing back in 2010 and that debut generated some buzz. Unfortunately he was unable to capitalize on that performance and take a step forward in 2011. Instead he hit 0.250/.324/.346 primarily playing in the Midwest League. As you can see from the above he improved his slash stats across the board while spending most of this past year in the FSL (57 of 63 games played) in 2012, but he still fell short of the bar he set for himself during his time in the Appalachian League.
He’s an excellent defensive outfielder with good instincts and plus speed which alone gives him good value as a prospect. He’s also shown progress at the plate and turned in solid 12.3 BB% and 17.9 K% this past year with Charlotte and is looking like a possible 4th OF contributor at the major league level if he continues to develop and recapture some of the “magic” from his debut season.
For more on the Tampa Bay Rays, check out Rays Colored Glasses!