The Tampa Bay Rays have always been a team forged by young talent. Most of the big faces of the franchise today are homegrown stars; such as Evan Longoria, David Price, James Shields, Ben Zobrist, and others that were brought up through the Rays’ prestigious farm system. The list of young stars doesn’t look like it’s going to shrink anytime soon, as the Rays have a wave of high-grade rookies upcoming in these next few years. A few of the exciting top prospects have already seen big league playing time in 2011. Some of those names include Matt Moore, Alex Torres, and Brandon Guyer. MLB.com has ranked the top 10 Rays prospects. Here are the evaluations of the top 5 prospects:
1.) Matt Moore– Out of all the late-season call-ups that made a splash this season, phenom Matt Moore made the biggest. Moore’s brief 2011 lived up to all the hype that was built up. His regular season stats included 9.1 IP, a 2.89 ERA, 15 K’s, and a scoreless start (win) in Yankee Stadium. But the Postseason is where Moore really had his chance to shine, when he was called to start game 1 of the ALDS. Moore shutout the Rangers in Arlington through seven innings in just his second career start. He would end up with a astounding 0.90 ERA through 10 innings for the postseason.
There’s no secret of why the flame-throwing lefty is so effective in the big leagues. His arsenal includes a blazing fastball, plus an effective curveball and changeup. Moore’s outstanding fastball can reach up to 100 MPH, and he’s very capable of going deep into games maintaining speeds up in the high-90’s. The command of his heater is the most important ingredient to Moore’s success, and the improvement is clearly noticeable. The left-hander also has an above-average curveball, which has plenty of movement and break to it. The changeup is another pitch Matt uses to keep hitters off balance, and is a big part of his success versus right-handed batters. The player that Moore most resembles is his teammate David Price. Price was also a top-prospect rookie just like Moore in 2008. He too was called up later in the season and made his impact in the playoffs. Both Moore and Price are fireballing lefties, with future Cy Young-type talent. The 22 year-old already has a collection of accolades; including a Futures Game selection, #3 ranked prospect, the MLB.com Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Year award, and the 2011 Spink Award (Top Minor Leaguer). The Rays are very lucky to have young arm like Matt Moore in their bright future.
2.) Hak-Ju Lee– Hak-Ju Lee is not a household name among Rays fans, but it won’t be too long before he gains recognition in professional baseball. The 21 year-old Korean was acquired in the Matt Garza trade, and is on the top 50 Prospect list at #48. Lee was one of three players that represented the Rays at the MLB Futures Game this July. He was promoted in August to class AA after spending most of his 2011 season playing for the Charlotte Stonecrabs (class A+). Lee’s 2011 combined Minor League stats included a .292 average, 30 RBI’s, and 33 stolen bases. Lee is still adjusting to AA baseball, as he batted a low .190 through 100 at bats up in Montgomery. Lee is a left-handed batting shortstop (throws right) that is still improving in all parts of his game. His plus attributes include great speed, good contact hitting, and the ability to have quality at bats. Although Lee will probably never be a hitter with power, there are other weaknesses in his game that can improve. His defense at shortstop is probably the biggest thing that needs to be worked on.
Like most young Minor League shortstops, Lee played some rather sloppy defense. His error total was too much considering his high expectations as a defensive player. His gradual improvement in the field is noticeable though, and many scouts see Lee as being a good defensive shortstop in the future. Baserunning is another area of improvement for the speedy infielder. Although Lee has great wheels, his decisions on the basepads are not so intelligent yet. He was caught stealing 16 times out of 49 attempts this year in the minors. Just like on defense, these faults are not a rarity at all for 20 year-old prospects. Experts believe that he will get much better in the following years, and baserunning will be one of Lee’s fortes during his big league career. Overall, Hak-Ju Lee is work in progress with a bunch of potential.
3.) Chris Archer– Chris Archer has been one of the biggest names amongst Rays prospects. Archer was another top prospect that was included in the Matt Garza trade, and is ranked at #38 in the top 50 list. With all the pitching talent in the Rays farm system, Archer leads the pack of right-handed arms. He features an impressive fastball, with great movement as well as velocity. The hard slider is the next good pitch in his arsenal, which he also throws very well. Then there is the changeup, which is a pitch that Archer is still developing. Like Matt Moore, Archer’s fastball command is the key to his big league success.
The command was the only main issue Archer had this year, but it is clearly improving as he gains experience. Archer’s stats for the year (in AA Montgomery and AAA Durham) include 4.09 ERA, a 9-7 record, and 130 strikeouts. Archer started 27 games in 2011, two of them in Durham. The best news about Chris, is that he ended the season strong on a high note. After being promoted to Triple-A late in the season, Archer posted an ERA of 0.69 in 13 innings pitched . Archer could be a big help to the Rays bullpen at some point in next season, as that will probably be his best chance to contribute to the team in 2011. With the stable and talented rotation that the Rays have, the ‘pen may be Archer’s best opportunity to earn a spot in the rotation anytime in the near future. Chris Archer is a player destined for a career the MLB, and his potential is sky-high. This is definitely a guy Rays Republic should be excited about.
4.) Alex Torres– Torres is another impressive young arm on the Rays’ prospect list. The 23 year-old lefty was acquired from the Angels in the Scott Kazmir. In his first full season in the Rays organization, Torres started 27 games for the Durham Bulls and pitched 8 innings for the Rays. His minor league numbers in 2011 were pretty good, as he went 9-7 for Durham with a 3.08 ERA and 156 Ks. Torres didn’t do bad in his first crack at the big leagues this year. He posted a 3.38 ERA through 8 innings pitched out of the bullpen. Torres’s main arsenal includes a solid and live fastball, a pretty decent changeup, and a developing curve.
The curveball has been sort of his ‘x-factor’ pitch in the past. When he has a feel of the curve, opposing batters are doing a lot of swinging and missing. Like Moore and Archer, Torres is good at striking out batters. Unfortunately, his command issues are worse than Moore and Archer. Not only does Torres have problems placing his fastball where he wants it, but he also walks far too many batters. Torres knows that his command is not adequate for an effective Major League starter, and is working hard to fix it in Venezuelan winter ball. Torres is preparing to pitch another season in a terrific Durham rotation, but there’s also a chance he’ll be pitching out of the bullpen for the Rays.
5.) Josh Sale– The Rays picked up a big bat in the first round of the 2010 MLB Draft. Josh Sale is a left-handed batter who has some great natural power, and scouts love how the ball explodes of his bat. 2011 was the first professional season for the 20 year-old. Sale played 60 games for the class A Princeton Rays, batting .210 with just 4 homers. Besides hitting, Sale isn’t strong in many other areas. His defensive in left field is mediocre but he has improved a lot as a left fielder this year, especially with his pretty strong throwing arm. Sale isn’t exactly Carl Crawford on the basepaths either, and also needs some work on his baserunning. He is only 20 though, and he has plenty of time to develop into the quality player that the Rays drafted in the 2010 Draft.