The Tampa Bay Rays have some sleeper prospects that will be trying to make great impressions throughout February and March.
There will likely not be any fans in the stands wearing their jerseys. In fact, there will probably be a large contingent of the attendance that will have to ask their neighbor for the details of the unknown player with a high jersey number.
That is part of the definition of a sleeper prospect. These are the players that will be at spring training that are not part of the top-10 prospect list provided by Baseball America, as these players have higher current expectations. They are also not currently on the 40-man roster, decreasing the odds of them making it to the majors at the end of the spring.
Some of these players will find their way to the majors at some point this season or contribute significant impact to their minor league affiliates.
Most importantly for the Rays, prospects are the lifeblood of the organization, since they cannot afford to go to the free-agent market to fill all of their vacancies. Talented players have to be developed in the farm system to eventually compete at the major league level without a major league price tag.
Here are four sleeper prospects for the Rays that are worth keeping an eye on during spring training.
All statistics courtesy of baseball-reference unless otherwise noted.
Steve Geltz was originally signed as a free agent by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2008. The right-handed pitcher spent his first year in the Rays organization in 2013.
He finished with a 5-3 record in 41 appearances with the Triple-A Durham Bulls. He had a 2.82 ERA over 67 innings including a 2.08 ERA against left-handed batters.
What is most impressive is that he held opposing batters to a .156 batting average, the lowest among International League relief pitchers.
The Rays have a stocked bullpen currently that includes Grant Balfour, Joel Peralta and Heath Bell. Geltz could provide some value should a reliever need to go to the disabled list this season.
Matt Andriese was acquired by the Tampa Bay Rays from the San Diego Padres as part of a seven-player trade. He is a right-handed pitcher that could see his major league debut this season. Especially so if you consider the impact to organizational depth that the absence of Jeremy Hellickson (expected to be out for at least six weeks) will have.
Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman spoke very highly of Andriese to Marc Topkin from the Tampa Bay Times after the transaction was made.
A guy who has kind of rocketed though the minor leagues. He's a starting pitching prospect that does two things we value quite a bit which is throw strikes and have the ability to keep the ball on the ground. We really like his ability to manipulate the ball, both fastball and secondary (pitches). He's very good at giving hitters' different looks and mixing and matching in terms of eye levels. ... He's got a chance, he should be a starting pitching for us.
He finished 2013 in Triple-A after starting the year in Double-A. His combined record was 11-7 with a 3.27 ERA over 27 appearances between the two levels.
It is not typical to call a player that was drafted in the first round a sleeper but Mikie Mahtook fits the role. He spent 2013 with Double-A Montgomery, hitting .254/.322/.386 with 30 doubles, eight triples, seven home runs, 68 RBI, and 25 stolen bases. With all of this considered, he sits outside of the Rays top-10 prospects on most lists, making him a sleeper for 2014.
The Tampa Bay Rays are short on true outfield depth. Outside of Desmond Jennings and Wil Myers, the depth chart is compiled of primarily platoon players and super utility players including Matt Joyce, David DeJesus and Sean Rodriguez.
Mahtook has enough power to get some extra-base hits, coupled with speed on the bases. A good performance in spring training could get him into the consideration to fill an outfield spot, should one come open during the season.
Luke Maile could be the backup catcher of the future for the Tampa Bay Rays. An opportunity in the future could open, considering the current backup catcher is 38-year old Jose Molina, and trade rumors are building for Jose Lobaton, according to Bill Ladson of MLB.com.
He finished 2013 with a .283/.351/.402 line, including 25 doubles with Single-A Bowling Green. He was also named a Midwest League mid-season and postseason All-Star.
Most impressive is the high ceiling he has as a defensive catcher. Last season, he successfully threw out 36 out of 70 (51.4 percent) potential base stealers. His defensive skills were recognized by Baseball America as the Midwest League’s best defensive catcher.
The Rays need him to continue to develop his defensive skills. If Lobaton is dealt, there will be a need at least for a backup catcher on the major league roster.