How do Rays' prospects fit Tampa Bay's needs?
Farm system could play a big part in team's 2014 hopes in deep American League East
This series is designed to evaluate the role prospects play in each Major League organization, looking at the short- and long-term needs of each club and illustrating how prospects fit in both scenarios. Here's my look at the Rays:
The Rays made their big splash in the prospect pool last season when they acquired Wil Myers from the Kansas City Royals. He certainly didn't disappoint. But after having given up James Shields and Wade Davis, an injury to starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson will likely cause them to turn to a prospect or two this coming season for the rotation.
The primary candidate to fill a rotation spot is 6-foot-2, 185-pound right-hander Jake Odorizzi. He came to Tampa Bay in the Shields deal and actually pitched for the Major League club last season. Odorizzi threw 29 2/3 innings, pitching out of the bullpen three times and starting four games. He had a 3.94 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP.
Odorizzi throws strikes. He has good command and can get the big strikeout when needed. Odorizzi has a fastball that ranges from 88-94 mph, allowing him to add and subtract velocity as needed. He isn't a "nibbler," but he uses the entire plate and doesn't give in to hitters. Odorizzi has equally effective secondary pitches in his curveball, slider and changeup, and he has a very clean delivery that he can repeat with ease.
Alex Colome is a right-handed pitcher I really like. A native of the Dominican Republic, Colome is 6-foot-2, 185 pounds ... the same as Odorizzi. Colome also has a wide-ranging fastball, which he throws anywhere from 88-95 mph with great movement on the ball. He uses a good curveball to keep hitters off balance and can finish off the at-bat with a slider or changeup. Colome has had elbow issues, and that might be the single factor that holds him back. When he's on his game, the movement he gets on his pitches is outstanding.
It would be foolish not to consider top left-handed pitching prospect Enny Romero for a role with the club as early as 2014. Romero is 6-foot-3, 165 pounds and can touch 96 mph with his fastball. He gets ahead with the fastball and slams the door with a wicked slider. Romero still has some control issues to iron out, and he has to be able to pitch equally well against right- and left-handed hitters. Ironically, he has had some trouble with lefties.
Projected 2016 Rays Lineup
I was at the game in Durham when 6-foot-2, 170-pound left-handed-hitting shortstop Hak-Ju Lee tore knee ligaments last April. The devastating injury cost him a year of development. Lee was a terrific runner before the injury. Speed was his best tool, followed by his defense. If Lee can regain his speed, he can be a force on the bases.
Lee's hitting is a bit inconsistent. At times he's a tough out. Other times, Lee gets himself out by chasing pitches he can't hit. I think his range and arm are both above average at shortstop. Initially Lee may serve as a utility player.
If outfield help is needed, left-handed-hitting Kevin Kiermaier may get the call. At 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, he is becoming a very fine hitter. Known primarily for his defense, Kiermaier has good speed to go along with his quality play in center field.
Switch-hitting second baseman Ryan Brett is a contact hitter with very good bat control. He doesn't have much pop in his bat, and his power is virtually nonexistent, but he can hit for average. At 5-foot-9, 180 pounds, Brett is a scrappy player.
The Rays' best catching prospect is Nick Ciuffo. He is an aggressive hitter that Tampa Bay chose as its first-round selection in last June's First-Year Player Draft. Ciuffo should be able to progress through the system as an offensive-minded catcher with good mechanics behind the plate that will continue to improve. He's 6-foot-1, 205 pounds. The real bonus? Ciuffo hits left-handed.
Taylor Guerrieri, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound right-handed starting pitcher, may become an important rotation pitcher for the club. He had some elbow issues and recently had Tommy John surgery, but he had a solid fastball-curveball combination prior to the operation. If Guerrieri comes back strong, he will once again rely upon his sinking fastball that induces lots of ground balls. He could be a dominant pitcher with excellent stuff.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.