Tampa Bay Rays' Best Prospect at Every Position at the Start of 2014
The Tampa Bay Rays farm system does not have the talent it once did.
The team used to have an overabundance of talent, particularly starting pitching.
As the beginning of the 2014 season approaches, the reality is that there is no David Price, Matt Moore or Jeremy Hellickson waiting in the minor leagues for the promotion the majors.
The lineup has some promise in the infield. The promotion of Wil Myers to the majors took away the organizations top prospect for years to come.
With all of that said, the Rays have some quality players within their minor league organization with the ultimate goal of developing those players’ skills so they can contribute at the major league level.
Typically, the Rays spend the offseason making moves to add more organizational depth, while teams in the larger New York and Boston markets have the additional means to sign free agents to market-value deals.
Here are the Rays' top prospects in each position.
All statistics from baseball-reference unless otherwise noted.
Pitcher: Jake Odorizzi
Jake Odorizzi is the Tampa Bay Rays' top prospect, according to Baseball America.
The right-hander was acquired by the Rays from the Kansas City Royals in the trade that sent James Shields to Kansas City.
If his remarks to Sam Dykstra from MILB.com are any indication, he seems to be very happy with the move.
You hear things about how good this organization is, and it really lived up to that. Everyone here is great on communication, and the program they put you on is one-of-a-kind. You can see why they're so successful and continue to be that every year.
In 2013, Odorizzi played in seven games for the Rays, including four starts. He finished with a 3.94 ERA in 29.2 innings pitched and even recorded his first major league save.
Aside from his short time in the majors he went 9-6 with a 3.33 ERA in 22 starts for Triple-A Durham.
He isn’t a pitching prospect that you would ultimately expect to be the ace of the rotation. His ceiling is more likely to be a third starter, at best, in a good rotation.
Catcher: Nick Ciuffo
The Tampa Bay Rays selected catcher Nick Ciuffo in the first round of the 2013 draft.
Catcher has been a traditional position of need for the Rays and presents a good opportunity for Ciuffo in a few years.
Prior to the draft, scouts liked his ability both on offense and defense. He received high praises from MLB.com for his hitting ability.
Left-handed-hitting catchers are always a hot commodity, and Ciuffo has the chance to really hit at the next level, both for average and power. Scouts love his strength both at the plate and behind it.
He played in 43 games in the Gulf Coast League with a .258/.296/.308 line in 2013.
First Base: Vince Belnome
First base is the position of least depth in the Rays farm system.
With that said, Vince Belnome is the best prospect available.
To his credit, he has certainly earned the right to be considered a top prospect for the team.
In 2013, Belnome played in 127 games for Triple-A Durham. He finished the season with a .300/.408/.446 line. At the conclusion of the season he was selected as a postseason All-Star for the International League.
He was also named the Most Valuable Player for the Durham Bulls in 2013.
Belnome was acquired by the Rays in 2012 in a trade from the San Diego Padres
Second Base: Ryan Brett
Ryan Brett is a good defensive second baseman drafted by the Rays in the third round of the 2010 draft.
He seemed to be heading in the right direction with his bat when he was promoted to the High-A Charlotte Stone Crabs in 2013. He had a .340/.396/.490 line in 51 games with Charlotte. His production was so high, talks started about his potential as the future leadoff hitter for the Rays.
The offensive production slowed drastically in his 25 games with Double-A Montgomery. His line had a little less gravy with the Biscuits dropping to .238/.289/.400 against tougher competition.
He will need to get his offensive production higher in order to be a productive infielder at the major league level.
Third Base: Richie Shaffer
Richie Shaffer was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in the first round of the 2012 draft.
He spent 2013 with High-A Charlotte. He finished the season with a .254/.308/.399 line in 122 games. He also had 45 extra-base hits and 73 RBI.
Shaffer will likely have to find another position other than third base.
First, there is the fact that Evan Longoria is signed to a long-term deal with the Rays. Also, he may not have the athletic ability to play the position, as described by Kiley McDaniel from Fangraphs in February 2013.
Shaffer has a pro body, a strong, lean, tapered 6’3, 210 pounds with broad shoulders and an above average arm that could play anywhere on the field. That said, Shaffer isn’t a quick-twitch type athlete, as a below average runner with some stiffness and mechanical movements in his defense at third base. He could move to right field but given the foot speed and a body that should only get bigger, first base seem like his eventual home.
Shortstop: Hak-Ju Lee
Hak-Ju Lee’s 2013 season was cut short with torn ligaments in his knee. It will be interesting to see how well he recovers from the injury as his athleticism is a huge part of his game at shortstop.
Prior to his injury, he was having a great start to the season with Triple-A Durham. In 15 games he had a .422/.536/.600 line. His numbers would have tapered down over the season, but he was likely on his way to one of his better seasons in the minors for his career.
If he is healthy, he could find himself in the majors in 2014.
He was acquired by the Rays in 2011 as part of the trade that sent pitcher Matt Garza to the Chicago Cubs.
Left Field: Andrew Toles
Andrew Toles was drafted by the Rays in the third round of the 2013 draft.
The 21-year-old outfielder is arguably the best hitting prospect the Rays have.
In 2013, he finished with a .326/.359/.466 line with Single-A Bowling Green.
His 62 steals led the Midwest League and the Rays organization.
He finished the season as the Rays Minor League Player of the Year and Best Baserunner.
He also earned honors as a Topps Class A All-Star, Midwest League Mid-Season All-Star and Midwest League Post-Season All-Star.
Center Field: Kevin Kiermaier
The highlight of Kevin Kiermaier’s 2013 season was making his major league debut with the Rays for Game 163.
It took a very productive minor league season to get him there.
His 2013 season started with him hitting .307/.370/.434 in 97 games with Double-A Montgomery.
The 23-year-old center fielder followed that performance by hitting .263/.338/.423 in 39 games with Triple-A Durham. He was consistent in Durham, compiling a .327 average with runners on and a .313 average with RISP.
Tampa Bay Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman spoke highly of Kiermaier to Marc Topkin from the Tampa Bay Times.
"He is as good of a defender as there is in professional baseball in our opinion. He is really gifted in the outfield and also has a tremendous arm. We felt he has a chance to be a real weapon for us late in the game.
Kiermaier was named the organization’s best defensive player and the Montgomery Biscuits MVP in 2013. He was also named a Southern League Mid-Season All-Star as well as a Southern League Post-Season All-Star.
Right Field : Drew Vettleson
Drew Vettleson was drafted by the Rays in the first round of the 2010 draft.
The 22-year-old outfielder spent 2013 with the High-A Charlotte Stone Crabs in the Florida State League. He finished 2013 with a .274/.331/.388 line.
He compiled a very efficient .295 batting average against right-handed pitchers. He also hit all four of his home runs against righties.
Prior to the 2013 season, Marc Hutlet from Fangraphs felt Vettleson was the ninth-best prospect in the organization and has some good offensive skills.
Vettleson isn’t a huge player but he carries some big tools. The left-handed hitter uses a smooth batting stroke and outstanding bat speed to generate above-average power. His has simple mechanics in his swing and keeps his hands quiet. When he connects, the ball makes a special sound coming off of his bat.
In high school, Vettleson was a switch-pitcher with his ability to pitch with both hands. He recorded two no-hitters during his junior season.