Tampa Bay Rays: Breaking Down the Top Prospects Acquired in James Shields Trade
The Kansas City Royals made it clear weeks ago that they were interested in obtaining a frontline starting pitcher. A majority of the ongoing rumors suggested a potential trade between them and the Tampa Bay Rays centered on right-hander James Shields.
Well, the deal came to fruition late Sunday night when the Royals finally acquired Shields and right-hander Wade Davis, as reported by Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. As expected, both players came at a steep, steep price, as the Rays landed a host of high-upside players in exchange for their right-handers.
The package of prospects headed to the Rays is headlined by the Royals’ top prospect, outfielder Wil Myers. However, it doesn’t stop there. In addition to Myers, the Rays will also receive the team’s top pitching prospect, right-hander Jake Odorizzi, a former top pitching prospect in left-hander Mike Montgomery and third baseman Patrick Leonard.
Yes, the Rays will now have a rather large hole to fill in their rotation. And because Davis—a pitcher I have always believed offers substantially more value as a starter—was used strictly as a reliever for the entire 2012 season, he was an expendable add-on to improve both the quantity and quality of the return.
Here’s a breakdown of the prospects headed to the Rays:
Wil Myers, OF (Age: 22)
The Royals selected catcher Wil Myers in the third round of the 2009 draft and lured him away from a scholarship to South Carolina with a well-over-slot $2 million signing bonus on the day before the deadline. He made an immediate impact in his professional debut shortly thereafter, batting .369/.427/.679 in 22 games between two rookie-level affiliates.
It wasn’t until his full-season debut in 2010 that Myers established himself as one of the top prospects in the Royals system, as well as in the game. The right-handed hitter batted .315/.429/.506 with 54 extra-base hits (14 home runs), 12 stolen bases and 94/85 K/BB in 126 games split between Low-A Burlington and High-A Wilmington.
Although Myers was understandably raw behind the plate in his first two seasons, there was every reason to believe that the then-19-year-old would improve enough to stick at the position.
However, it was overly apparent that Myers’ bat was special. And with so much of his upside linked to his highly advanced bat and plate discipline, the Royals opted to move him to the outfield prior to the 2012 season.
While his transition to the new position was smooth, Myers had a down year at the plate, batting .254/.353/.393 with 31 extra-base hits (eight home runs), nine stolen bases and 87/52 K/BB in 99 games for Double-A Northwest Arkansas.
In his defense, Myers did suffer a pretty serious knee injury early in the year when he slipped outside his apartment during a rain storm. The injury resulted in a gash that required both sutures and staples, as he described to John Manuel in a recent interview with Baseball America. He reopened the wound later in the year and subsequently developed a staph infection that led to additional time on the disabled list.
However, Myers righted the ship later that year in the Arizona Fall League by batting .360/.481/.674 with four home runs in 86 at-bats. More importantly, he showcased the raw power and advanced hit tool that was noticeably absent during the regular season.
Repeating at Double-A Northwest Arkansas to open the 2012 season, the 21-year-old batted .343/.414/.731 with 13 home runs in 35 games.
His success at the level earned him a well-deserved promotion to Triple-A Omaha, where he continued to post gaudy offensive numbers for the remainder of the year. Overall, Myers batted .314/.387/.600 with 37 home runs and 140/61 K/BB in 134 games. His career-best home run total was the second highest in the minor leagues.
Exploding from an open and slightly upright stance at the plate, the 6’3”, 205-pound right-handed hitter boasts effortless, plus raw power to all fields thanks to a combination of premium bat speed and bat-to-ball skills.
Although he still has a tendency to drop his back shoulder and cast his hands around the baseball, Myers possesses a simple, wrist-oriented swing; his upper-body is loaded with quick-twitch muscles that allow him to seemingly flick his wrists at the ball but still produce loud contact to all fields.
Considering Myers' age and track record of success, both his hit and power tool should receive above-average to plus grades once he settles in at the big league level.
The one obvious concern stemming from his 2012 season is the plate discipline, previously regarded as one of his assets. Though his 140 strikeouts in 134 games leave something to be desired, it was also Myers' first season implementing a new, more aggressive approach at the plate. As his pitch recognition inevitably improves with experience, his strikeout and walk rates will normalize.
Myers showcased above-average athleticism as a catcher, so it’s not a surprise that his transition to the outfield was swift.
His instincts and consistent first step cause his range to play up, as he played center field in 87 games last season. In the major leagues, Myers would likely suffice at the position in a pinch; his defensive skills, accurate, plus arm and offensive potential are each more projectable at a corner outfield position.
Following the conclusion of the regular season, I ranked Myers as the No. 4 prospect in the game and stand by it. He doesn’t command the same respect as either Bryce Harper or Mike Trout did a year ago—not even close—but Myers is a pure hitter with the potential to be a significant run-producer for a long, long time.
With six-plus years of team control remaining on his contract, the stage has been set for Myers to emerge as the Rays’ next great young player. With Desmond Jennings poised to take over in center field and Matt Joyce capable of playing either left or right field, the potential exists for Myers to break camp as the Rays’ second corner outfielder.
However, the more likely scenario is that the organization will delay the start of his arbitration clock and therefore send him to Triple-A Durham for the first month of the season.
With a history of offering contract extensions to their top prospects—they extended Evan Longoria (six years, $17.5 million) in 2008 and Matt Moore (five years, $14 million) in early 2012—it wouldn’t surprise me if they offered Myers something similar before the start of the 2014 season.
Jake Odorizzi, RHP (22)
Selected in the supplemental first round of the 2008 draft by the Milwaukee Brewers, Odorizzi was headed to the University of Louisville to play both baseball and football (wide receiver) before signing for just over $1 million.
The 6’2” right-hander thrived in his full-season debut at Low-A Wisconsin (Midwest League) in 2011, registering a 3.43 ERA with 135/40 K/BB in 120.2 innings. He was ultimately traded in the offseason—along with Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain and Jeremy Jeffress—to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for the coveted Zack Greinke.
Odorizzi added to his already impressive minor league résumé in 2011 by posting a 3.73 ERA with 157/44 K/BB in 147 innings while reaching Double-A for the first time. And due to the injuries and struggles of former top pitching prospects Mike Montgomery and John Lamb, Odorizzi entered the 2012 season as the Royals’ top pitching prospect.
Beginning the year back at Double-A Northwest Arkansas, the right-hander registered a 3.32 ERA with 47/10 K/BB in 38 innings before a quick promotion—at the same time as Wil Myers, actually—to Triple-A Omaha. And because this past season’s All-Star Game was in Kansas City, Odorizzi received the nod as the starting pitcher for the U.S. squad in the XM Futures Game.
Even though he didn’t miss as many bats in Triple-A, he did post a 2.93 ERA in 107.1 innings—all the more impressive in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.
His highly successful season ultimately earned him a call-up in late September, and he made his first big league start on Sept. 23 at home against the Indians (L, 5.1 IP, 3 ER, 3 K, 1 BB). He again started against the Tribe on Sept. 29 but was pulled after two innings after amassing three walks on 65 pitches.
Due to his overall athleticism and comfort on the mound, Odorizzi has always done a good job of repeating his mechanics; his lower half is explosive, and he understands how to use it on the mound.
His fastball typically sits in the 92-95 MPH range with some late sink to the arm side. He does have a tendency to pitch up in the zone—sometimes by choice, sometimes by mistake—and can struggle to keep the ball in the yard as a result.
His curveball has a nice 12-to-6 shape with good pace, though his command of the pitch is still shaky. The same can be said about his slider and changeup, though they do give him an advanced arsenal relative to his age. Despite his success last season, Odorizzi needs to refine the command of his arsenal and learn how to more effectively sequence his pitches.
With either Alex Cobb or Chris Archer prepared to take over the vacant spot in the Rays' starting rotation, Odorizzi will presumably begin the 2013 season at Triple-A Durham. But given his ability to make adjustments and a relatively advanced four-pitch mix, it shouldn’t be long until he returns to the major leagues.
And once he’s worked through the minor issues holding him back, he should be able to reach his ceiling as a No. 3 starter.
Mike Montgomery, LHP (23)
Drafted by the Royals in the supplemental first round in 2008, Mike Montgomery featured size (6’5”) and polish uncommon in a prep pitcher—let alone a left-hander. After signing for slightly less than $1 million, the 19-year-old posted a 1.69 ERA in 42.2 innings for the Royals’ rookie-level affiliate in the Arizona League.
Montgomery made his full-season debut in 2009 with Low-A Burlington and was bumped to High-A Wilmington after registering a 2.17 ERA in 58 innings. Facing more advanced competition didn’t seem to affect the left-hander, as evidenced by his 2.25 ERA in 52 innings.
Seemingly on the fast track to the major leagues, Montgomery began his age-20 season back at High-A Wilmington, where his dominance (1.09 ERA, 33/4 K/BB in 24.2 innings) earned him a promotion to Double-A Northwest Arkansas.
The lanky southpaw continued to pitch well until he suffered a forearm/elbow injury in June that ultimately cost him two months on the disabled list.
Since his return from the injury, Montgomery has never quite been the same pitcher; he’s gone from a consensus top-50 pitching prospect to one of the most frustrating in the minor leagues—from a developmental standpoint.
After nearly breaking camp with the Royals headed into the 2011 season, Montgomery was sent to Triple-A Omaha under the assumption that he’d reach the major leagues in a matter of months. However, he regressed across the board and registered a career-worst 5.32 ERA and 4.12 BB/9 in over 150 innings.
Amazingly, the left-hander was even less effective upon repeating the level in 2012, as his 5.69 ERA and 4.22 BB/9 in 91.2 innings resulted in a midseason demotion to Double-A Northwest Arkansas, where the downward spiral continued (6.67 ERA in 58 innings).
When Montgomery was dealing, the 23-year-old’s fastball was sitting in the mid-90s with the ability reach back for a few more ticks when needed.
His changeup is arguably his best offering at the moment, as it receives above-average grades and should play even higher with improved overall command. His loopy curveball still causes some hitters to swing and miss, though it’s a pitch that will need to be tightened and thrown with more velocity.
Montgomery’s fall from grace as a Royals top prospect was both sudden and unexpected, and I still can’t put my finger the exact reason(s) behind his ongoing struggles. What I do know is that there’s room left for projection with the 23-year-old left-hander, as well as the underlying hope he regains his pre-2011 form.
Therefore, Montgomery is the wild card in this trade: He has the ceiling of a mid-rotation starter and floor of a late-inning reliever. I wouldn’t be surprised if he benefits from the change of scenery, but he’ll have to compete with a host of other left-handed pitching prospects at their Double- and Triple-A Affiliates.
Patrick Leonard, 3B (20)
The fourth and final prospect acquired by the Rays, third baseman Patrick Leonard, is also a bit of a wild card in the sense that he is fresh off his first professional season. Selected in the fifth round of the 2011 draft and signed for $600,000, the 6’4”, 225-pounder is a physically strong but doesn’t require much projection.
He spent the entire 2012 season playing for rookie-level Burlington in the Appalachian League, where he flashed an intriguing combination of raw power and an advanced plate discipline. The 19-year-old also showed well from a statistical standpoint, as he batted .251/.340/.494 with 14 home runs and 55/30 K/BB in 62 games.
A right-handed hitter, Leonard has an impressive feel for the strike zone given his lack of experience, which, in turn, allows him to utilize his above-average raw power. Even though a majority of his pop is currently to the pull side, his advanced pitch recognition suggests he’ll learn to use the whole field with more experience.
The big question with Leonard is whether he’ll be able to stick at third base.
Given his current size and the likelihood that he’ll lose a step as he matures physically, it’s conceivable that he’ll wind up playing either left field or first base. However, his dependable glove and above-average arm may keep him at the hot corner longer than expected.
With a prospect like Leonard, it makes sense to challenge him as much as possible with impeding his overall development.
There’s a strong chance that the Rays assign him to either Low- or High-A to open the 2013 season, even if only to gauge his skill set against other players his age. If he continues to hit and blossoms at the plate, that’s great; if not, so be it.
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