Spring Training 2011: 10 Young Tampa Bay Rays Who Are Impressing in Camp
As far as organizational talent goes, very few teams possess the wealth the Tamp Bay Rays do. From the lowest levels of minor league ball to the major leaguers, the Rays boast many of the top prospects in baseball. Coming into the 2011 season, the Rays will see some of their best prospects, both homegrown and acquired, get a chance to make it in the big leagues.
With a multitude of changes coming to the organization this winter, many of the prospects have a chance this spring to prove themselves worthy of making the roster of an AL East contender. Here are 10 of the most impressive.
Robinson Chirinos, Catcher
Just about the only negative thing one could say so far about Chirinos is that, once he makes the majors, he will only be the second-best Robinson in the AL East. Though the one in pinstripes may be one of the best players around, the Rays' Robinson Chirinos has proven himself to be one of the more exciting players in the organization.
Chirinos, acquired in the trade that sent pitcher Matt Garza to the Cubs, is a 26-year-old catcher who has shown a lot of promise. In nine games so far this spring, Chirinos has hit .375 with a home run and six RBI. He has been somewhat of a liability behind the plate with three passed balls, but that can be corrected.
A catcher with the kind of pop Chirinos has is very rare. The Rays already have two MLB-level catchers in John Jaso and Kelly Shoppach, but if one of them goes into a major slump or gets hurt, Chirinos will almost certainly get the nod.
Chris Carter, Outfielder
One of the potential issues for the Rays this season is outfield depth. Now that Carl Crawford is gone and B.J. Upton has a stranglehold on center field, the other two outfield positions will likely be filled by Johnny Damon in left and a platoon of Ben Zobrist and Matt Joyce in right. Desmond Jennings is the outfielder of the future. But behind him, there are some question marks.
One candidate to add some depth in the outfield is Chris Carter, a 28-year-old outfielder who signed a minor-league contract in January. This spring, Carter has been good, posting a .462 average. Though only one of his six hits has gone for extra bases, he has shown great ability to make contact and get the ball in play. He has not struck out in 13 at-bats.
For a guy who played 100 games with the Mets last season, Carter looks like he has staying power in the majors. Though it may not ever be with the Rays, he has shown good potential this spring.
Alex Torres, Pitcher
The value of quality left-handed pitching cannot be overstated. The Rays know all about that. While possessing one of the best lefty pitchers in the game, they have had two perfect games thrown against them by lefties as well. Alex Torres looks like he can be an invaluable left-handed starter.
Acquired in the Scott Kazmir trade in 2009, Torres is small yet durable, possessing a low-90s fastball with good breaking and offspeed pitches. This spring, in only four innings of work he has allowed just two hits, striking out two and walking one. He has shown good command, and with some more work could turn into a fine pitcher.
Already looking like a one-sided trade, the Rays see Torres as one of a few great rewards for trading Kazmir.
Jeff Niemann, Pitcher
I know, I know, he's already in the starting rotation. Many people seem to forget that the Rays' biggest player is still pretty young, and at 28 has plenty of room to grow (not physically, though). After starting 2010 as one of the team's best starters, he battled injuries and command problems in the second half.
But this spring, Niemann has made a statement. With five scoreless innings, Niemann has exhibited the great pitching ability he showed flashes of last year. He has only walked one batter this spring, a sign that his control is back at a high level.
A strong spring for Niemann will go a long way towards a consistent, productive 2011 season.
Tim Beckham, Shortstop
During the Rays' magical 2008 campaign, the MLB draft brought yet another reason to be exciting with the selection of Tim Beckham, a shortstop out of Griffin, Georgia. At 6'1:, 190 pounds, Beckham is an exceptional athlete and was labeled as a potential five-tool player.
Unfortunately, Beckham's development has been slow, with some wondering if he will ever live up to his initial promise. But this spring, the 21-year-old Beckham has finally emerged as a dynamic player with a B.J. Upton-like skill set. He is hitting .357 this spring and has three RBI, and has shown great speed on the basepaths and good range and arm on the field.
With the Rays infield looking very occupied, Beckham will face a tough battle to break into the bigs any time soon. But with another year or two of development, Beckham could be a tremendous middle infield presence.
Chris Archer, Pitcher
Another of the prized prospects acquired in the Matt Garza trade, Chris Archer has been an exciting pitcher for the Rays this spring. At 22, Archer has a very live arm without much control. He has struck out five hitters in 4.1 innings this spring, but has also walked five.
He projects as a starting pitcher, but will need to hammer down his control in order to be a successful major leaguer. His impressive 15-3 season last year in the minors shows that he can be dominant, but until he proves otherwise, his control is his downside. But as far as Rays pitching prospects go, Archer is one of the more exciting ones.
His showing this spring has gotten him much positive and negative attention, but people are talking about Chris Archer.
Sean Rodriguez, Infielder
Aside from being the best (so far) player acquired in the Scott Kazmir trade, Sean Rodriguez holds the distinction as the only Ray to be stung by an actual stingray. When the 25-year-old Rodriguez was stung last year on May 24th, many viewed it as a sign of acceptance. Since then, he has become a mainstay in the Rays' lineup.
This spring, Rodriguez has built on his solid 2010 campaign by showing improvements across the board. He is hitting .400 with one home run and three RBI, and has only struck out twice. He has stolen three bases and has not committed an error in 42 innings of work. He appears more confident, has better bat speed and in general seems to be approaching his potential.
This is a scary thought, as the very potent Rodriguez could be a real threat for the Rays this season and beyond.
Sam Fuld, Outfielder
He is months away from 30, but for these purposes we can consider Rays outfielder Sam Fuld to be a young guy. Another of the fruits from the Matt Garza trade, Fuld is a quality outfielder with a potential to be in the mix as one of the injury replacements.
Though is spring numbers are unimpressive at .143 with no home runs or RBI, Fuld has swung the bat well. He has shown the ability to get the bat on the ball, striking out only twice this spring. For a team that has been plagued by strikeouts, Fuld is a good contact hitter. Combine that with good outfield range, and Fuld seems to be a solid major leaguer.
He will certainly be in contention to be on the Rays roster this season.
Jake McGee, Pitcher
He's big, he's a lefty and he's the Rays' closer of the future. Jake McGee has a lot to live up to, and for Rays fans who enjoyed Rafael Soriano's presence in the ninth inning, he will be your stopper for years to come. He is a powerful arm with a good assortment of secondary pitches to complement his high-90s fastball.
This spring, he has thrown four innings and allowed two unearned runs. Batters are getting the bat on the ball against him, but regardless, McGee has exhibited the ability and poise needed to become a big league closer.
Whether McGee is the Rays' 2011 closer remains to be seen, but his long-term potential is sky-high.
Desmond Jennings, Outfielder
As far as talent goes, there are few Tampa Bay Rays that have more than Desmond Jennings. He is virtually a carbon copy of Carl Crawford, possessing a great bat, speed and range in the outfield. This spring, Jennings has only hit .095, but has shown great patience at the plate and terrific outfield ability.
He is the Rays' prize offensive prospect, and will almost certainly blossom into an invaluable asset in the outfield. Spring numbers only mean so much, and a weak offensive spring for Jennings will not deter him from becoming a great major league outfielder.
The Rays should be extremely excited about Jennings. If he becomes who he can be, it will be as if they never lost Carl Crawford.