While Starting Pitching has been THE organizational strength for years now, the minor league depth regarding top starting pitching prospects took a considerable hit over the last year. Top SP prospects like Chris Archer, Alex Torres, Alex Colome and Enny Romero have not (yet) developed the way we all hoped for and a new Matt Moore or Jeremy Hellickson (at least in full-season ball) is nowhere to be found. Nevertheless, I do see the starting pitching depth as clearly above average, comparing it to other MLB teams. Here is my explanation why:
- Despite Alex Torres' struggles and Jeff Niemann's injury, the MLB depth is still solid. Alex Cobb should fill in nicely for Niemann. Wade Davis is always there for insurance. And Chris Archer seems to recover a bit from a slow start to the season.
- While the pitchers in A+ and AA are mostly not playing up to their potential (with the exception of Mr. Riefenhauser), there is at least some MLB-SP potential in there with Alex Colome and Enny Romero.
- Bowling Green has some very intriguing starting pitching prospects with Ryan Carpenter, Parker Markel (both have to improve their K-rates, though) and especially Felipe Rivero.
- The overall organizational pitching, and so also its starters, has been improving since a horrid start of the season.
- There are some very interesting, mostly raw but high potential pitchers parked in extended spring training. Taylor Guerrieri, Jacob Faria or Blake Snell could develop into high-end starting pitching prospects.
Year in, year out, Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon build an above average major league bullpen by identifying potential where nobody else sees potential. Therefore, I'm less concerned about a possible lack of minor league depth in the relief pitching department, then in other areas. Nevertheless, the Rays have traded for cheap and controllable bullpen talent by acquiring young and nearly major league ready pitchers like Josh Lueke or Brandon Gomes and signed power pitchers who highest likely (or at least as a suitable fallback option) project as relief pitchers due the draft (Ian Kendall, Jeff Ames, Jake Thompson, Lenny Linsky, Blake Snell, Jesse Hahn, ...).
With the contracts of most of the Rays late inning saviors (Rodney, Peralta and Farnsworth) being up after this season, the front office will have its work laid out in front of them for the upcoming offseason. But, I'm confident that they find the missing pieces in order to complement the above mentioned pitchers, as well as converted starting pitchers like Jake McGee, Wade Davis (for the long run?) and Alex Torres.
Despite the new CBA being a pain in the ass for the Rays, when it comes to bonus amounts for highschoolers, they should again try to find raw highschool pitchers with starting pitching potential, who could be converted into relievers if not panning out in a starting role. Relief pitching, though, should not be a premiere priority for the franchise entering the 2012 draft (or any draft).
Jose Molina - MLB - .551 OPS
Chris Gimenez - MLB - .491
Jose Lobaton - DL
Robinson Chirinos - DL
Nevin Ashley - DL
Mark Thomas - AA - .542 OPS
Luke Bailey - DL
With the exception of Mayobanex Acosta, no minor or major league catcher stands out for his (offensive) play this year. The already barren prospect pool (with Justin O'Conner struggling heavily in his 1st two MiL seasons and Luke Bailey not fulfilling his potential by draft day) has taken a big hit due to injuries and bad performances. Unfortunately, the Rays don't draft at the top of the draft (in order to land Mike Zunino), nor have they acquired a player like him (still sad about that) during the offseason. Bottom line: What the Rays need most is a FRANCHISE CATCHER. This draft has some highly ranked catching prospects behind Mike Zunino, with Stryker Trahan, Peter O'Brien or Josh Elander. Will the Rays draft a catcher early on, once again, despite having very limited success with the drafting of catchers in the past? Or will they sign someone from outside? Something has to be done.
Much was said about the Rays drafting - what feels like - 10 shortstop prospects every year. The prospect pool should be laden, you might think? Fact is, the Rays don't look very well at short in 2012. While Elliot Johnson and Sean Rodriguez hold the fort with some respectable play in the majors, Reid Brignac looks like he won't make it, Tim Beckham is suspended and Hak-Yu Lee seemengly can't (yet) adjust to AA ball. Derek Dietrich is hitting well, but might have to move off from short and Jake Hager (why no Trevor Story???) is being outperformed in full-season ball.
Summarizing, the Rays do have talent at short in the minors. The talent is mostly not playing up to its potential, though.
With Tyler Bortnick and Cole Figueroa, who both could turn out to be useful utility infielders a la Elliot Johnson, the Rays don't have All-Star caliber, but solid upper minor league depth at 2B. With Ben Zobrist, Jeff Keppinger and Sean Rodriguez already at the major league level, All-Star depth is not necessarily needed either. Therefore, 2B should be okay for the upcoming years, also with players like Derek Dietrich or Tim Beckham possibly moving over and Ryan Brett or Hector Guevara emerging.
The Bowling Green Hot Rods give hope to the - what seems to be for years - weakest point of the Rays' minor league system. Both, Jeff Malm and Tyler Goeddel have the potential to emerge as above average major leaguers. Until they are ready for the majors, the Rays have to continue to look for stopgap options across Evan Longoria, though, as the upper minors only have - a much improved - Henry Wrigley to count for. Therefore, and even despite the 2012 draft looking to be thin at first, the Rays should add one or two potential power bats to Malm, Goeddel and John Alexander in the lower minors.
The best for the end! With Matt Joyce, B.J. Upton, Desmond Jennings and Ben Zobrist forming one of the best outfields in the majors, the Rays look good for 2012. Brandon Guyer could/should take the first spot that opens up in the majors (due to Upton leaving after the season or Zobrist moving back to 2nd) and contribute regularly in 2013. Sam Fuld, Rich Thompson or Stephen Vogt then could compete for a possible last spot in the outfield. Behind them, Kyeong Kang (for a COF spot) and Ty Morrison (for CF) should be in AAA full time next year and provide solid depth, while with Mikie Mahtook, Josh Sale, Drew Vettleson, Kes Carter (if healthy), Grandon Goetzman and Johnny Eierman lots of potential gems have time to grow into future big league roles. Therefore, and while I definitely expect the Rays to select at least one or two athletic SS/CF guys in the draft, outfield is THE NEW STRENGTH of the system and less of a need in this year's draft.