Five Big Questions For Rays Prospect In 2013

Apologies for not finishing my top-30 rundown, started it pretty late and then life got in the way. Hopefully I can whet your prospect appetite with a couple features this week. Today: looking at five questions facing some prospects heading into the 2013 season.

1. Just how good is Taylor Guerrieri?
Obviously, the 2012 results were outstanding: A 1.04 ERA and 45 strikeouts against just five walks in 52 innings in the New York-Penn League. And it’s the last part that’s the problem. Heading into the 2011 draft, Guerrieri was described thusly by BaseballAmerica: "He has one of the draft’s best arms, and among preps he ranks behind only Oklahomans Dylan Bundy and Archie Bradley in pure stuff." Dylan Bundy went absolutely bonkers and reached the majors in September. Archie Bradley struck out 152 in 136 innings in the Midwest League. Jose Fernandez, the other high school pitcher to be taken before Guerrieri, posted ERAs under 2.00 at stops in the South Atlantic and Florida State Leagues. Three other first rounders, Robert Stephenson, Joe Ross, and Kevin Matthews, also saw some time in full-season ball. So while the numbers sparkled, it’s important to remember the fact that Guerrieri was the only high school pitcher taken in the first round that year that didn’t pitch above short-season ball.

Then there’s the stuff. While it was comparable to Bundy and Bradley in high school, his fastball was more in the 90-93 range than the 94-97 he showed in high school. This isn’t unusual for high schoolers who are pitching every five days as opposed to once a week, but it’s worth noting. By the same token, the kind of control Guerrieri showed isn’t typical for a high schooler in their first full season, though Bundy and Fernandez threw off the scale by combining both stuff and command. Maybe his velocity returns and we’re talking about a future ace, but maybe it doesn’t and he’s more of a mid-rotation guy. Something to keep in mind as he gets his first shot at a full-season league in 2013.

2. Which hitter from the loaded 2011 draft class will break through?
Mikie Mahtook, Jake Hager, Brandon Martin, Tyler Goeddel, Kes Carter, James Harris, Granden Goetzman, Johnny Eierman. All taken in the top three rounds of the 2011 draft, all given at least $490,000 to sign… only one hit for an OPS over .757 last season, and that was Goetzman, who appeared in just 12 games. That doesn’t mean none impressed — Hager and Goeddel performed decently as teenagers in the Midwest Legaue — but none was beating down the door on their way to top 100 prospects lists. So will there be a big riser in 2013?

Hager might be the best bet; he showed a little bit of everything in 2012 with Bowling Green. If he continues to improve in all facets he’ll be a very well-rounded shortstop prospect, and those don’t come along too often. Mahtook is your low-floor candidate and could work his way into the 50-100 range, but doesn’t have the tools to rank higher. Goeddel would have the best chance to absolutely explode as the toolsiest of the bunch. He got off to a bonkers start in April before cooling off, so maybe a longer hot streak is in him. Carter, Goetzman and Martin aren’t hurting for tools but their track records (of injury for Carter and Goetzman and ineffectiveness for Martin) will hold them back even with a big ceiling. Harris and Eierman are just looking to get their stock back to where it was on draft day.

3. Can Tim Beckham or Hak-Ju Lee put it all together?
Their 2012 lines are more similar than you might think: .256/.325/.361 for Beckham and .261/.336/.360 for Lee. They’ll be teammates for the first time in Durham in 2013, with Lee’s superior defense pushing Beckham to a second base/utility role. Lee’s shown more with the bat in the past, but Beckham has outhit him at double-A and above. Lee has looked overmatched against tougher pitching, though Keith Law remains optimistic that he can hit provided he keeps his hands from leaking out (and in fact Lee did put together a nice on-base streak in the middle of 2012, but he started and ended the year poorly).

4. Will any mid-level pitching surprise?
The triple-A rotation is absolutely loaded with Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Alex Colome, Alex Torres, and possibly Mike Montgomery. And there was plenty of pitching talent in the short-seasons with Guerrieri, Jesse Hahn, Jeff Ames, and Blake Snell. But the pitching in the middle of the system just sort of spun its wheels. Enny Romero’s strikeout rate plummeted in Charlotte. Felipe Rivero has been decent, not dominant. Grayson Garvin was hurt. Ryan Carpenter, Parker Markel, and Jake Floethe were all good for Bowling Green, but none flashed terrific stuff. Wilking Rodriguez, Albert Suarez, and Nick Barnese are just about write-offs at this point. C.J. Riefenhauser pitched much better as a reliever. That’s a ton of names, and while the Rays aren’t necessarily counting on any of those guys, one or two popping up from the depths would certainly be a nice surprise. My best bets? Ryan Carpenter has long been a prospect crush of mine and showed better stuff in his college days with Gonzaga, and Enny Romero has the best pure arm of the group (and has shown an ability to miss bats with the Hot Rods in 2011).

5. What will happen with the hitters from the class of 2010?
We covered the 2011 draftees, but let’s not forgot about the ones from the year prior: Josh Sale, Justin O’Conner, Drew Vettleson, and Ryan Brett. Vettleson had a nice all-around season for Bowling Green: a .275 average, 51 walks, 15 home runs, and 20 steals in 132 games. He was voted best defensive outfielder, in large part because of a plus-plus arm — a pitcher as well in high school, he was among the MWL leaders in assists. Josh Sale had a really, really weird season. He started in extended spring training, then came to Bowling Green in May and mashed. His home run binge stopped, he cooled off, kept drawing walks, and then was suspended 50 games. The end result was a .264/.391/.464 line and more questions than answers. His raw power is very real, but can he translate it to games like he did that first month? He hasn’t struck out exorbitantly but still owns a .238 career batting average. We’ll have to wait about 40 games for him to get back on the field as he serves out his suspension.

Same goes for Ryan Brett, who hit .285/.348/.393 for the Hot Rods, showing off his speed with 48 steals against just eight times caught. A smaller guy, power isn’t going to be his game, so he probably needs to show a little bit more in the batting average/on-base side (such as his first two seasons, when he hit roughly .300 with an OBP close to .370. Then there’s Justin O’Conner. A hip injury limited him to DH-only duty with Hudson Valley, and the good news is he cut his K% more than 10%. The bad news: he still struck out 73 times in 59 games (28.4%). He’s hit just .199/.270/.359 as a pro, and while the discipline and power are nice, he needs to make major adjustments to his swing and his pitch recognition to make enough contact for it to matter. Hopefully he’s able to get back behind the plate and shows some improvement with the stick, but if you fast-forwarded to March 26, 2014 and he was working his fastball command instead of his curveball recognition, I wouldn’t be surprised.

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