Above, you can see the 2014 heat maps plots for each of the outgoing Rays players over this past offseason. Other than Molina’s weak-willed democracy and Zobrist’s switch hitteriness does anything stand out to you? Most of these players show tendencies to pull ground balls and short liners, y’know, the stuff that generally stays on the infield or happens to sneak through. While many of these players have extremely defensible reasons for being traded, released, fed to the wolves, etc… there appears to be a bit of a trend in their batted ball distributions. Using the excellent and highly recommended MLBFarm I’ve pulled together the heat maps of all of the players that the Rays have brought in over this offseason while including the guys that came over in the David Price trade at the deadline:
Outside of Dykstra, and maybe Adames, what you see is that nearly universally the Rays have moved to acquire guys that are able to move the ball around the field. While the Rays have brought shifting to prominence over the last several years I have waited with baited breath for the other shoe to drop. Like most Rays advantages the window of sole usage is very small with other teams using their experiments and then ultimately most teams jumping on board within a few years. The only solution to stay ahead of everyone else is to be the first one to turn to alternatives before the paradigm shifts again. To that end I believe the Rays are attempting to add “ball strikers” that are able to hit to all fields in order to keep a defense honest.
It’s damn near impossible to ask a guy to completely re-tool his swing in order to be able to become less pull-centric, but the thing that a team can do is to accumulate as many guys as possible that already look like they have this swing tailored. Particularly interesting to me is Daniel Robertson who looks like he has a very similar approach to hitting as the recently retired Derek Jeter. It also sounds like he’s a similar fielder, which to many signals a shift off the position, but if the CAPTAIN could do it for 20 years I don’t see why some other selfish player couldn’t force his team to stay there if he has political leverage and the ability to hit.
While most prospect hounds aren’t as jazzed about the Rays acquisitions as we the fans probably are I think this talent accumulation is a signal that the Rays are already shifting (pun totally intended) away from guys that pull the ball almost exclusively and starting to trend toward guys that spray it around. With that completely excellent segue way leading the charge I would like to list my top-30 Rays prospects as it’s that time of year to swallow my pride and admit that I know very little about a bunch of players that I’ve never seen.
I’m going to do this a bit differently than most. I’d like to get a sense for the depth at each position for the Rays so I’m going to make a mock depth chart in the order of who I think will have the most future potential. I’m only going to go as deep as I feel is necessary, but I think this should give us a different perspective than we’re used to seeing. I’ll list all of the position players today, pitchers tomorrow, and then group everything into a nice list of the top 30 players on Wednesday so keep your eyes peeled.
For now, here’s my positional depth chart with players ranked by how I think they compare to one another. Positions are relatively interchangeable. I’m assigning grades almost fully from my gut based on the things that I know about each player. The more I know the more extreme I’m willing to grade and the less I know the closer I will grade towards “C”. The biggest thing to pay attention to with the grades is how players compare to one another and try to get a feel for the the contours of a player. Is he an average over power guy? Vice-versa? Glove-first? Just a few things that I hope I can give a feel for. I look forward to reading your study.
Age and Level are based upon the majority of time in 2015. All grades are my own and follow the following pattern:
A = Great, B = Good, C = Average, D = Bad, F = Terrible
Catcher and Shortstop are probably the deepest positions that we have. Some of the shortstops will go to Third Base which is probably our weakest position and others will end up at Second Base (pretty strong already) or the Outfield (kind of a mixed bag leaning towards being weak). There’s a lot to like throughout the farm, but the Rays are really light on guys that look like sure-thing everyday players, hence the mostly down attitude of the system across the universe of prospect hounds. Several of these guys will most likely turn into useful big leaguers and one or two might develop into future stars, but there’s going to be a ton left on the cutting room floor.
Luckily, the Rays have mostly staggered their talent, including the mercenaries bought and paid for with gold, iron, or blood this past offseason. AAA Durham should function as an offsite storage facility for guys not quite ready for primetime. AA Montgomery should feature a guy you’ve heard of at virtually every position making this arguably the most exciting level to follow this year. A+ Charlotte should have some very exciting players this year, but will also function as the grill that decides which of your hot dogs are good and which will roll off onto the ground to be thrown out. The rest of the low minors might make for a cheap date, but rarely do we find out a whole lot after just the first dinner and a movie.