It’s hard to argue that any team in Major League Baseball utilizes their prospects as well as the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays have a knack of producing farm-grown starts from their organization, and it looks as if they will continue this trend. It’s pretty well-known across baseball that the Rays have an absolutely stacked farm system. Young talent is the core of the Rays success. Every year it seems, the Rays have have at least one prospect come up to the big leagues to make an impact. Last year, Desmond Jennings, Wade Davis, Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, and Rookie of the Year Award winner Jeremy Hellickson all contributed to the team’s memorable season. So, who which top prospect will make in impact in 2012? Many of the Rays’ top prospects won’t make a big league appearance this season, but let’s take a look at four who could very possibly make a splash.
Matt Moore- If anybody’s ready for The Show, it’s phenom pitcher Matt Moore. It’s very rare to discover any young baseball player with the talent like Moore; the kid’s an absolute natural. The young fireballer is considered one of the top prospects in all of baseball, being ranked No.3 overall (No.1 pitcher overall) by MLB.com’s top 50 list. Moore is also titled as the Rays’ top prospect by numerous sources, including Baseball America’s top 10 list. Moore features some wicked wicked stuff in his arsenal, which is a nightmare for hitters. The young flamethrower lives off of his outstanding fastball, which effortlessly reaches blazing speeds in the upper 90s. He also features a nasty curveball, along with a plus curveball. As expected, the 22-year-old lefty enjoyed success in his first Major League season. After pitching ridiculously well during his 27 starts for AAA Durham (12 wins, 1.92 ERA, and 210 Ks), Moore finally got his chance to shine on the big stage. And shine he did, in most of his 19.1 cumulative innings of his 2011 experience. Moore really made his mark when the playoffs started, though. He had an unbelievable outing in Arlington after being called on to start Game 1 of the ALDS (just his second MLB start). He was looking like the ace of the Rays’ rotation, dominating Texas’ big bats by shutting them out through seven strong innings. Moore would finish his brief 2011 season with a combined ERA (including postseason and regular season) of 2.09 with 23 strikeouts. If Moore is able to stay healthy, he’ll be the future ace of an already-great Rays rotation, which includes David Price, James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson. Moore gives the Rays every reason to believe that their contract extension decision with him was a no-brainer, and will be well worth it. Moore has a lot of pressure on him, and I’m sure he’ll respond positively, just as he did last October. A lot is expected from him, and I won’t be surprised to see the major rookie impact from him that everyone is anticipating. It’s early, but it looks like the Rays are possibly on their way to a second straight Rookie of the Year Award winner.
Brandon Guyer- Brandon Guyer was one of a handful of Major League-quality players acquired from the Cubs in the Matt Garza trade. Guyer was one of three Rays on the top 10 prospect list to get big league playing time in 2011. Out of all three, nobody started off his career with a bang like he did. In his first ever big league at bat, Guyer blasted a solo homer into the seats of Camden Yards. That would be the first of 15 games for the Rays in 2011, as Guyer spent most of the season for Triple-A Durham. In his 107 games in AAA, he batted .312 and knocked in 61 runs. From what Guyer has displayed in his years in the minors, he definitely has the tools for a successful MLB career. Not only is Guyer a tremendous athlete, but he is also a potential four-dementional player. The 25 year-old outfielder has power, speed, good defense, and the ability to hit for average as well. The Rays could really use a guy on the roster like Guyer, who brings the uncommon combination of speed and power to the table. At 25 years old, Guyer is older than most of the Rays’ top prospects. 2012 will probably be the year Guyer will get to prove himself in the big leagues, and emerge as a full-time MLB player.
Chris Archer- Chris Archer has been one of the biggest names in the Rays farm system, swiftly surging through minor leagues . Archer was another top prospect that was included in the Matt Garza trade. According to MLB.com, Archer is the Rays’ third-best prospect and is ranked at No. 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 and velocity. The hard slider is the next good pitch in his arsenal, which he also throws very well. Then there is the still-developing changeup, which can also become an effective pitch. 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 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. Whether he’s pitching out of the bullpen or starting games, I think Archer will impress a lot of people in 2012. Archer is a player destined for a career in the MLB, and his potential is sky-high. This is definitely a guy Rays Republic should be excited about.
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 trade. In his first full season in the Rays organization, Torres started 27 games for the Durham Bulls and pitched eight 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 K. He didn’t do poorly in his first crack at the big leagues this year, either. He posted a 3.38 ERA through eight innings pitched out of the bullpen. Torres’ 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 good chance he’ll be pitching out of the bullpen for the Rays. The front-end of the ‘pen could use as much help as it can get next season, meaning Torres may be an important piece.
Russ Canzler- 2012 will probably be the year Russ Canzler will get his chance to prove himself as a big league quality player. Canzler definitely did his job in AAA Durham last year, winning the International League MVP award. Canzler, another successful minor leaguer out of the Cubs’ farm system, put up some terrific numbers in Triple-A last season. The 25 year-old batted for a high .314 with 83 RBI’s and 18 homers. Considering how well Canzler has hit in his minor league career, it seems a bit strange that he’s not considered one of the Rays’ top prospects. A high strikeout rate (23.5% in the minors last season) and lack of defensive value likely have a big part to do with it. Canzler spent most of his 2011 season at first base, but can also play a little in the outfield as well. Assuming that the Rays acquire a first baseman later this offseason, Canzler will probably be used mostly as a pinch hitter and DH in the majors this year. Although Canzler probably won’t get a huge chunk of big league playing time, his big bat could come through in clutch situations. Timely hitting is something that will play a major part in the Rays’ success in 2012, meaning the Canzler will have his chance to be an impact rookie.