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.
This summer, MLB.com ranked the top 10 prospects of all 30 Major League teams. This is a continuation of my last article, Rays Top Prospects: #1-10. In the previous post I evaluated the top 5 prospects, which included some pretty impressive names. To nobody’s surprise, Matt Moore was #1, followed by Hak-Ju Lee, Chris Archer, Alex Torres, and Josh Sale. Here are the evaluations on the Rays’ top prospects, 6-10.
Brandon Guyer– Brandon Guyer was another Major League-quality player 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 a combination of speed and power to the table.
Alex Colome– Alex Colome is not exactly a well-known name among baseball’s top prospects, or even the Rays’ prospects. He’s one talented arm, and this is his second year ranked at #7 on the prospect list. Colome is a power pitcher, depending heavily upon his hard fastball and sharp curveball. The changeup is another pitch that Colome likes to mix up in his arsenal, but it’s still a developing pitch for a him. Like most of the Rays’ pitching prospects, Colome’s main issue is command.
The 22 year-old right-hander still has a lot of baseball left in his minor league career, as he looks like he’ll be starting in high single-A in 2012. Colome’s 2011 season includes a string of games in both high-A Charlotte and AA Montgomery. His combined stats included a 3.82 ERA, a 12-9 record, and a terrific 9.6 K/9 ratio. The command was what contributed to the mediocre ERA, but Colome showed that he can be a great strikeout pitcher. Despite all this, Colome’s electric stuff is what makes him a hit with the scouts.
Justin O’Conner– Justin O’Conner was the Rays’ second 1st-round draft pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, after Josh Sale (#5 on the list). Unlike most of the Rays’ top prospects in their talented farm system, O’Conner is a catcher. At just 19, he’s the youngest of all the prospects on the list and is just starting his journey through the minors. O’Conner played 48 games this year for Princeton in his first year of professional baseball. He batted .157 but hit 9 dingers and 29 RBIs.
O’Conner has some great natural power and pop in his bat, similar to his draft-mate Josh Sale. There are still many areas in his swing he needs to work on to become a better hitter, and the low average is the proof of that. Defensive is a different story, as O’Conner is surprisingly new to his position. O’Conner’s first year as a full-time catcher was 2011, after moving from shortstop (his drafted position). O’Conner has a great arm behind the plate, and his great athletic skills allow him to move quickly as well. After finishing just his second year as a starting catcher, O’Conner obviously still has many things to learn about playing the position. The Rays aren’t rushing anywhere with a 19 year-old kid straight out of high school, but they see a lot of potential in him over time.
Drew Vettleson– Drew Vettleson may be the most intriguing of the Rays’ prospects. Vettleson was the Rays’ third 1st-round draft pick in 2010, following O’Conner and Sale. Like Josh Sale, Vettleson is an outfielder drafted out of the Pacific Northwest region. What the Rays see in Vettleson is pure, quality baseball player. He has great skills at the plate, and most scouts believe he has the ability to be a good average hitter in the future. He puts up great at bats, and hits the ball hard and often. Vettleson hit .282 through 61 games in his first pro season for Princeton this year. His homerun power has been a debate amongst scouts, but most agree that the lefty can be a double-digit homerun hitter down the road.
Vettleson’s baseball intelligence is another strength he possesses on the diamond. Good baseball instincts is something that the Rays highly value in their prospects, and Vettleson is a great example. His baseball smarts really come in handy on the base pads, as he doesn’t have fast legs. The most interesting part about Vettleson’s scouting report, is that he is a pitcher. But not just any pitcher, a switch pitcher. Vettleson can both pitch with his right and left hand; something that is very rare these days in baseball. Although he could try professional baseball as pitcher, most experts agree that the outfield is where he belongs. His arm is at least average, and he should be able to play pretty good defense there if he’s not in center.
Tim Beckham– Former #1 overall draft pick Tim Beckham comes in at #10 on the list. Beckham is a well-known name within the baseball scouting world, and he’s slowly building his way up the Rays’ farm system. The young shortstop started his career a couple of years ago with high expectations, and Beckham has definitely needed time to adjust. His slow start to his professional career has caused many experts to overlook him, but the Rays know the value of patience. 2011 was a crucial year for Beckham’s development, who spent most of the season playing for AA Montgomery.
He played a total 131 games in 2011, including finishing the season with 24 games as a Durham Bull. He batted .271 and scored 94 runs, and was one of three Rays to be selected into the 2011 Futures Game in Phoenix. Beckham is a player with leadoff hitter-type talent; a guy with little power and pretty good speed. 2011 was a big year in the development of Beckham’s defensive game too. Fielding has been a problem for him in the past, and addressing it in 2011 was one of his main priorities. Second base may be his starting position in the future, but for now Beckham is working on becoming a better shortstop. A lot of people tend to forget that Beckham is just 21 years of age, so he’s still well ahead of the pack. At such a young age, the Rays should still have plenty of confidence in him.
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.
It’s this time of year again. Four full months of waiting to hear that sound of the crack of the bat. Before the Rays and their young stars take the field in March, the Rays have some work to do. There are some tough choices they know that they must make this winter. Here are the top five main questions on the Rays Hot Stove:
What’s B.J. Upton’s fate? Let’s start with maybe the biggest topic on the Rays Hot Stove. B.J. Upton has been in the mix of baseball rumors since last year’s Trade Deadline. Today, he’s known as one of the premier trade pieces in the league. With Upton up for arbitration again, it is very possible that he could be traded away. Keeping Upton, who hasn’t reached his potential in the last few years, would mean paying him about $7 Million in 2012 (experts predict). The debate here is wether he is worth keeping or not, and who can he be traded for. Upton has underachieved so far in his career, but many believe that the best years are ahead of him. What I think the Rays should do, is only trade Upton if they know they can get someone good for him. The Rays could really use this opportunity to use B.J.’s phenom-talent to their advantage on the market.
One good thing about possibly losing Upton, is that the Rays good outfield depth will be able to replace him in centerfield pretty well. Desmond Jennings is probably the top candidate to take over there if Upton is gone. Even with all this, B.J. Upton’s terrific defense in CF will be dearly missed. Whatever the Rays decide to do with B.J., I’m very confident that Andrew Friedman will make sure there will be incoming talent if Upton is leaving Tampa Bay. It will really be interesting to see how this one plays out.
Will “Big Game” James stay? James Shields was really the team’s MVP this year, leading a terrific pitching staff with a 2.82 ERA and 11 complete games. After an incredible Cy Young- caliber season, Shields will have a high price tag for the 2012 season. The Rays seem like they’re going to make some efforts to keep Shields on the roster, as they just recently have picked up the club option on him. Shields will be making $7 million next year if he stays. His situation is similar to Upton’s in some ways. Like Upton, he won’t be testing free agency this year and is a potential blockbuster-trade piece (the highest trade value on the team). When it comes to James’ situation, I think it will most likely end up as a win either way. I think that trading Shields is the best opportunity to fill in the offensive holes they need. A trade to the Marlins for Logan Morrison and other good hitters is a big rumor at the moment. Centerfielder Grady Sizemore is another possibility up in the air.
I think trading Shields may be the best choice for the team here. Last year’s Matt Garza trade was a great example of how this could effect the Rays. If Friedman can pull another one-sided trade like that out of his magic hat, we could be looking at a really well built team in Tampa. Last year the Rays acquired Brandon Guyer, Chris Archer (top prospect), Sam Fuld, Russ Canzler (AAA MVP), and more just for Matt Garza (who did nothing this year). Not only did that not hurt the great pitching rotation, but it even boosted the offense and fielding. If Shields is traded, the Rays still have Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer and Alex Torres in their future. When you have four arms like that in your farm system, you can easily replace an ace down the road. Overall, the Rays have a real tough decision to make in the following months. I believe it’s a matter of how much the organization trusts their young pitchers. If they think that the young guns can ultimately replace Shields, than they should trade him. On the other side of things, if Shields stays on the team it’s also great news. I’m pretty optimistic that only good will come out of this one.
What will result in Kotchman’s and Damon’s free agency? What a terrific comeback year it was for Casey Kotchman in 2011. After stunning everyone with a great year, the Rays are really looking forward to re-signing Kotchman who is a free agent. Kotchman will obviously be asking for a raise here, as last year’s offseason contract was virtually nothing for a MLB first-baseman. To me, it’s a no-brainer to re-sign Casey. The Rays are truly not going to get a better deal on a first-baseman than this slick-fielder. Besides that, Kotchman is a perfect fit for the club. He’s a hometown boy that completes a terrific infield, plays with heart and hustle, and hits more for contact rather than power. Sound like Tampa Bay Rays player to me. Johnny Damon is a whole different situation. Also a free agent, Damon will be payed more than Kotchman if he stays on the team next year. Even though I think Damon suits the team well and is a great clubhouse-guy, he’s simply not as valuable as Kotchman. For an American League DH, Damon is not really up to par. Johnny is in the final years of his great career and is not a contributor in the outfield anymore; and not much either on the basepads like he was. At the end of the day, I think what the Rays should do is let Damon walk. The newest member of the free agent group, who just joined yesterday, is Dan Johnson. Johnson hasn’t played much baseball in his years in Tampa, but he’s probably hit two of the biggest clutch hits in the franchise’s history. Yesterday, the Rays designated Johnson for a minor league assignment. Dan declined it, and now he’s a free agent. I was a bit surprised to hear this because the Rays don’t exactly have the first base depth like most teams. Johnson’s future in a Rays uniform doesn’t look good at all, and I have to guess that he unfortunately won’t be a Ray anymore.
How will the bullpen be addressed again this offseason? The Rays bullpen is still a work in progress. Last year’s pretty good ‘pen surprised a lot of people, as almost none of the relievers had any high expectations. This winter, Friedman’s going to have to do a lot of arranging once again with insecure relievers. Juan Cruz and Joel Peralta are both free agents, and closer Kyle Farnsworth was just recently exercised his 2012 option. First I’ll start with the pair of free agents. Let me make it simple and clear: Let Cruz go, sign Peralta for a multi-year deal. Cruz didn’t do a bad job last year, but the Rays need to build their ‘pen with young arms. Peralta is a great young reliever, who I believe has the best future out of any of the Rays relief pitchers. With the potential I see in him, I think there’s a good chance that he’s the future closer.
Farnsworth is a different story, and is more at risk for leaving the team. The Rays did pick up the club option for him, increasing the chances of him staying. Farnsworth will be paid $3.3 Million next year. The Rays have a tough choice in deciding wether that’s worth it or not, and I’m not really sure on this one myself. Farnsworth is not exactly a young player and ended last season with injury problems. Re-signing Farnsworth could be a big risk, even after the terrific season he had in 2011. With Farnsworth, I think it’s mostly a matter of his health status. Whatever the Rays chose to do, I still think they need to search the market this winter for some available relievers. The main source for bullpen relievers will be the farm system though, as the Rays have some good arms up in Durham. If the Rays can utilize their minor league pitchers well in the bullpen, I don’t think there will be too many issues next year.
What will be done to fill in open holes? Besides the bullpen, the Rays do have some other areas of need to tend to this offseason. Probably the biggest issue is the catching situation. Unlike Farnsworth and Shields, Kelly Shoppach was declined his 2012 option. Even though Shoppach was the team’s best defensive catcher last year and got some big clutch his down the stretch, I don’t think the Rays are willing to pay him $3.2 Million next year. With Shoppach gone, the Rays could have some serious catching issues. John Jaso, Robinson Chirinos, and Jose Lobaton are all options. Unfortunately, all three of them still need a lot of developing to do defensively. Out of the three, only Jaso can frankly hit at the Major League level.
With the Rays farm system not abundant in catchers, it looks like turning to the free agent market or making a trade will be necessary here. The second area of need is first base. If the Rays re-sign Kotchman it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. But besides Casey, there isn’t anyone that is a true everyday first-baseman. Sean Rodriguez can play there, but that’s not the guy you want playing first base everyday. The free agent market isn’t really an option for the Rays to pick up a first-baseman. That’s why I think signing Kotchman is pretty much necessary. The third main area, is Designated Hitter. The Rays haven’t had a solid DH for years, and have always had issues at that spot. Once again the free agent market is not much of an option. Some names like David Ortiz are probably too expensive to afford. If the Rays lose Johnny Damon (their 2011 DH), than they might have to deal with makeshift Designated Hitters throughout the season.
As of early May this season, it seemed like a new legend may have been born in Tampa Bay. Although there was plenty of talent expected out of the Matt Garza trade, Sam Fuld wasn’t exactly a highlighted name when the trade was publicly announced across the nation. For a matter of fact, Samuel “Sam” Babson Fuld was many times given the title of “….and a minor league player”. Going into Spring Training, Fuld had a lot to prove. Although Fuld wasn’t a big name, the expectations weren’t so low. Without Crawford the Rays didn’t know who their left fielder would be. They knew they had options, but they were also aware that it was very unlikely they were going to have a close replacement to Crawford in the near future. Crawford was a big blow to the Rays at first, no Ray outfielder could potentially do all the things Crawford did in the previous year. Fuld took this opportunity, and made the best out of it. Although he only batted a mild .277 in Spring Training, Maddon liked what he saw and Fuld became the Rays Opening Day starter out in left. Fuld responded to this by starting of the season with a bang, exactly the opposite of the team. As the Rays continued to struggle in April, Fuld went on a tear with a 28-hit month. His name started to grab national attention in a heart-beat, and the Rays had another young player rise up in the baseball world.
His name really started to get notice when he made a nearly impossible catch against the White Sox in Chicago. In didn’t take long at all before he was dubbed “Super Sam”. Amazing catch after amazing catch was made across ballparks in America, and it was clear that his glove was going to be his signature tool in the big leagues. As his career was building, so was the Rays win column. The Rays would keep on winning, but Sam Fuld average was rapidly dipping. Fuld cooled off offensively in May, hitting a low .157 average. But his speed on the basepads and his glovework in left field kept him in the lineup, and his legend alive. Although these things continued through the season, Fuld was just not getting it done at the plate. Maddon was pretty much forced to remove him from his everyday-starter role, and the legend began to slowly disintegrate. Then there were injuries and things got even worse for Fuld. Then phenom Desmond Jennings was called up, and ultimately took over the job in left field.
Jennings’ call-up was a big boost for the team, but Fuld was almost totally forgotten at that point. Here we are in a tight race in mid-September, and Fuld is out with a hurt wrist and hasn’t played a game since late-August. Desmond Jennings is now the everyday-starter in left field, and Sam Fuld’s legend has virtually disappeared. Fuld still has a bright future ahead of him, and I truly believe that he will eventually restore the legend. Although his bat wasn’t so great in ’11, his glove and speed was still impressive. It wasn’t a bad rookie year at all, not many can light up the highlight reel like that guy. Hopefully he’ll be a Ray for a long time, and we’ll always have a fearless outfielder to count on. Wether he’s crashing in to walls, warming up on the mound, or wearing a cape; Sam Fuld was meant to be a Ray.