In this series I'm going to take a quick look at the probable roster of each full season minor league affiliate at the beginning of the 2012 season. I'm going through it position by position. Keep in mind that these projections are very much subject to change (trades could happen, Rays could be more aggressive/conservative with some players, ...). We are going to do more in-depth pieces about the final roster for each affiliate when they are set. This is only to give you a short peek. For more information on the current state of the Rays Depth Chart, check out Doug's great work.
The position I'm going to look at today is Shortstop.
The most bleak locking position right now in the majors is shortstop. Reid Brignac is above average defensively but a liability on offense while Sean Rodriguez shouldn't see any righty and thus should only play short (he is better at 2nd and 3rd) against lefties and Elliott Johnson looks like a major league utility player at best. The best options in the farm system (Lee and Beckham) are at least one year away of the majors as well. Nevertheless, the Rays don't seem to bring in new talent at short with all viable FA options gone and only the Nationals possibly coming to my mind as trade partner (Ian Desmond ... but that would mean a trade of B.J. Upton).
Tim Beckham (R), Shawn O'Malley (S)
Right now it seems as if Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman want to carry Reid Brignac, Sean Rodriguez AND Elliot Johnson once again on their 25 man roster in order to have defensive flexibility. Thus, and because Ray Olmedo and J.J. Furmaniak are gone, the shortstop duo in Durham will be Tim Beckham and Shawn O'Malley. O'Malley, who is a very capable defender will be the back-up at both middle-infield positions with Tim Beckham handling the starting role. While we all have hoped for more when Beckham was drafted 1st overall, he has been improving his defense and offense every year. I'm very eager to see what he can do in Durham next year.
Hak-Ju Lee (L), Matthew Hall (R), Omar Luna (R)
Hak-Ju Lee is excellent defensively. He is nearly complete and very advanced offensively. And he gives excellent interviews. Lee and Tyler Bortnick once again (after '11 in Port Charlotte) will be the bright spots in their teams' infield. With an excellent '12 season, Lee could advance to Durham by mid-season, sharing the MIF with Tim Beckham and Cole Figueroa. Matt Hall and Omar Luna are very valueable players to the Rays because they add defensive flexibility to a roster. Both have already played in AAA and both played most of last season in A+. They will once again add defensive flexibility to the roster, backing Lee, Bortnick and Sexton up at SS, 2B and 3B.
Charlotte Stone Crabs:
Derek Dietrich (L), Robi Estrada (S)
Derek Dietrich is one of the best prospects in the Rays farm system (ranked 20th on the combined prospect list). He projects to have above average power while his play at short (most see him as a 3B/2B-man in the majors) and his ability to limit strikeouts (23.8 K% in '12) will determine his role in the future. Robi Estrada is going to move up to A+ after playing in Bowling Green for 3 years now. He'll back Dietrich up at short.
Bowling Green Hot Rods:
Taylor Motter (R), Juniel Querecuto (S)
Juniel Querecuto, a bonus baby out of Venezuela, and Taylor Motter will handle short for the Hot Rods. Querecuto is very young (19.3 years today) and could very well also play one more season in extended spring training, but I think that the Rays will stay aggressive with him, assigning him to full season ball. Taylor Motter was assigned to Princeton after being drafted last year where he dominated the mostly younger opposing pitching. Together they should complement each other very well and form a potent group.