As baseball’s gold standard for player development, the Rays have sent more than their share of stars to the Arizona Fall League. Past Tampa Bay representatives include all stars Evan Longoria, James Shields, Carl Crawford, and Desmond Jennings. This year, none of the premier Tampa Bay prospects such as pitchers Taylor Guerrieri, Alex Colome, or shortstop Hak Ju Lee were selected to play in the league, but the sheer depth of the team’s farm system means that there will still be ample Rays talent in Arizona when the league starts in just three days.
Third Baseman Richie Shaffer is the highlight of this Rays delegation. A first round pick out of Clemson, Shaffer, 22, was ranked by MLB.com as the 8th best prospect in baseball, but he would be listed much higher in a thinner system. He has plus raw power to all fields, and the arm to stay at third or to facilitate a move to right field. Shaffer’s raw tools have yet to translate into statistical success as he hit .254/.308/.399 in the Florida State League (FSL) this year, with only 11 home runs. Its worth pointing out, though, that the FSL is a notoriously poor hitting environment (a young Miguel Cabrera once managed only 9 home runs and a .274 average there, in 124 games), so Shaffer’s stock could be improved simply by a promotion to AA.
Pitcher Mike Montgomery is the other truly intriguing Ray name. A first round pick like Shaffer, the 24 year old Montgomery was consistently ranked as one of the top prospects in baseball from 2010 to 2012 thanks to three above average major league pitches in his fastball, changeup, slider, as well as an average curve. Control and mechanical issues, however, have led to ERA’s of 5.37 in 2011, 6.07 in 2012, and 4.83 ERA this year. The Rays acquired him from the Royals in the James Shields deal this past offseason, hoping he could turn it around, but this October could be his last stand as a starter before management sticks him in the pen.
Where Shaffer has struggled statistically, fellow infielder Ryan Brett has thrived. After serving a 50 game PED suspension, Brett hit .340/.396/.490 in 51 FSL games, before struggling in a brief AA splint. The biggest knock on Brett had been his splits as despite being a right handed batter, he has a career .649 OPS against lefthanders. He seemed to get over that this year though, hitting .379 against them in high-A. AA will be a big hurdle for him this coming season, and if he succeeds, he may finally prove himself as a legitimate prospect.
Outfielder Todd Glaesmann came into the 2013 season off of a breakout season in which he hit .285 and launched 21 home runs between A and High-A. He did not adjust to AA well, as his power evaporated into only 11 home runs and he struggled mightily to get on base, hitting .240 with a scary-low .289 OBP. A player can simply not succeed while striking out 110 times and collecting only 26 walks. He’ll look to regain his 2012 form starting this fall, and next season when he undoubtedly repeats AA.
Catcher Curt Casali was acquired by the Rays in exchange for right handed pitching prospect Kyle Lobstein prior to the season, and looks like the Tigers got the better end of the bargain. Casali hit well .316 with 10 home runs and a .404 OBP in 81 games across A+ and AA, but thats largely due to a fluky .383 average in 35 Double-A games and his future is assuredly a (quality) backup once he reaches the majors. Lobstein, meanwhile, looked like a potential middle of the rotation starter as he pitched to a 3.28 ERA and a 2.85 K:BB ration between AA and AAA. Lobstein will also be in the AFL, so that will be an intriguing should the two ever square off.
Matt Ramsey is your prototypical relief prospect. A hard thrower (he sits 94-97 and touches 98) with a wipe out hammer curve, he misses tons of bats but has difficulty finding the zone, striking out 10.3 and walking 4.4 batters per nine in 50.2 minor league innings in 2013. The biggest obstacle for him is simply health as he underwent Tommy John surgery immediately after the Rays drafted him in 2011, and health is always a lingering issue.
Grayson Garvin has an awesome name that would make Walt Whitman jealous, but his performance is what’s truly noteworthy. He has no standout pitching, coming with an above average low to mid 90′s fastball, and an average curve and change, but he commands all of them well. The Rays weren’t entirely sure what to expect this season as Garvin returned from Tommy John Surgery, but he was stellar, posting a 1.59 ERA in 28.2 innings between rehab rookie ball and a short stint in the FSL. He’ll look to make up some lost innings in the AFL, and could rise quickly through the minors, morphing into a back end starter by mid 2015.
Merrill Kelly is the closest to the majors of any player on this list as he was stellar in AAA this year, going 8-4 with a 3.19 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP over 84.2 innings. He commands a 91-92 MPH sinker, an above average change, and a fringe-average curve ball – a repertoire that could let him fit into the back end of a rotation by next season. Because of his size (170 lbs) and his