This list was harder to make than I originally thought it was going to be. Tampa Bay has so much young pitching talent with very similar qualities. Even though not all of them will end up a middle of the rotation arm, there are a few who have some real promise. The worst part about being a pitcher in the Tampa Bay organization is not competition at the minor league level; it’s the fact that their rotation is nearly set in stone with five young quality arms. There may be a bit of a battle for the 5th spot in the rotation with Jeremy Hellickson having a less than stellar 2013 campaign, but unless someone like Jake Odorizzi or any of the other pitchers mentioned below have a fantastic spring and Hellickson implodes, there will only be room in the bullpen or the minors.
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Tampa doesn’t exactly have a plethora of big bats in their system but they do have some young talent that could make an impact in the near future. Like all prospects, only time will tell. There are very few “can’t miss” players that come around and even when they do, well, sometimes they miss. With a history of taking their time with young players and letting them develop in the minors, don’t expect the Rays to throw anyone into the fire unless an injury forces them to do so.
1) Jake Odorizzi (SP)
Odorizzi has the best chance of any of Tampa’s pitching prospects to win a job out of spring training. He doesn’t strike a lot of out but has the talent to be a number 3 man in a rotation. The only problem with Odorizzi is not his talent, but his competition. Tampa’s “worst” projected starter is Jeremy Hellickson, which will make it very tough for Odorizzi to earn a rotation spot out of camp. Chances are he will be up in September or maybe earlier depending on team needs/injuries but it would not be a surprise if he comes up mid-season to be a long reliever.
2) Hak-Ju Lee (SS)
Known for his defensive prowess at SS, Lee started to show everyone he was no slouch at the plate last year before a knee injury ended his season early. He came out of the gate hitting .422 while slugging .600 in 15 games before he tore ligaments in his knee. Though those numbers are obviously unsustainable, it made scouts realize he had the potential to me more than just a glove. He will probably need some more time in AAA and chances are he will be a September call-up. If they Rays decide do cut ties with Yunel Escobar after the 2014 season Lee could be the starting SS for the club in 2015.
3) Taylor Guerrieri (SP)
Though many consider Guerrieri to be the shining star of the Rays farm system – and he very well might be – one has to remember that he is still recovering from Tommy John surgery and not available to pitch until at least June. He is said to have a plus fastball with good sinking movements that induces a lot of ground ball outs. He has good control which is key for young pitchers but his injury and his questionable character (he will serve a 50-game suspension for non-performance enhancing drug use) are the reasons he is not ranked #1 on this list.
4) Enny Romero (SP)
With a fastball that sits in the mid-90’s, Romero shows big time promise as a young lefty. He has an above average curveball and is working on fine tuning his changeup which will lead to more swings and misses. His major downfall is his walk rate, as he issued 75 free passes in less than 150 innings pitched. If he can regain his control, the 22 year-old lefty has starter potential. Keeping the ball in the zone on a more consistent basis will keep him from being a career long reliever.
5) Alex Colome (SP)
Colome joins the list of hard throwing youngsters in the Rays organization who’s status is up in the air. He has a plus fastball that can touch 97 mph and backs it up with an above average curve. His third pitch, a slider, is not as fine-tuned as his curve but if he can put it together and learn to mix up his pitches well his fastball will keep hitters honest and on their toes.
6) Nick Ciuffo (C)
Tampa’s first round pick in 2013, Ciuffo, 18, got a chance to play only 43 professional games last season. He didn’t show much at the plate, but Tampa has confidence in their young backstop and isn’t worried. He is still very young and has time to develop into a reliable catcher not only for the organization but for future fantasy teams as well. Tampa doesn’t have a whole lot of talent keeping Ciuffo back so he could climb through their minor league system rather quickly.
7) Mike Montgomery (SP)
Montgomery came over to Tampa as part of the trade that sent James Shields to Kansas City. In KC, he was a highly touted prospect and considered one of the best lefty prospects in the game. He became a bit of a disappointment when he lost his control and started to walk too many batters. Though he has plenty to work on, he still possesses four major league pitches that project to be above average. He still has some time to develop in the minors but he’s not getting any younger. At 24, he has over 650 innings pitched and needs to get his stuff together soon if he wants to be a major league starter. 2014 will be a make-or-break season for Montgomery.
8) Richie Shaffer (3B)
Shaffer, though drafted as a third baseman, will probably end up in the outfield at some point. He has a great arm and the power to do so. Shaffer also has a knack for getting hits when it really counts as he has 99 RBI’s in his first 155 professional games. The 22 year-old from Clemson could also see a move to 1B if he continues to hit well.
9) Blake Snell (SP)
Yet another lefty with a fastball that sits in the mid-90’s, Snell is another young talented arm in the Tampa farm system. His changeup is said to be better than his slider but they both project to be average to above average pitches. He knows how to mix up his pitches well which helps him strike batters out at an above average rate. Last year he ended up with a 9.6 k/9 ratio but his 73 walks in 99 innings shows that he still needs to mature. Like many young talents, control is the name of the game for Snell and if he learns to develop it he will be another name in the mix for a future rotation spot.
10) Kevin Kiermaier (OF)
Considered by some to be the best defensive player in the organization, Kiermaier doesn’t have much power but makes up for it with his legs. With 550 AB’s he has the ability to steal 30 bases at any level. His slugging percentage will look inflated for someone who doesn’t hit a lot of home runs but last year he smacked 21 doubles and added 15 triples on top. He has the potential to be a starter at the top of the order for Tampa in the future. He may be a bit of a long shot to be up this season but he could force the Rays to bring him up at some point during the season.