It's been a while since we visited with the Rays minor leaguers, so it seemed like a good idea to see what happened in the minors in the month of May. Monthly samples aren't any more telling in the minors than they are in the majors for projecting forward, but it is at least somewhat illustrative in trying to see how guys are responding. Many of these prospects are in a new league facing a higher level of competition than they have before and seeing them make adjustments from the first month could be a sign that they're growing or getting more comfortable.
- Desmond Jennings is knocking on the door. He's been excellent all year in Durham, but he was lights out in May. He's posted a wOBA of .369 in large part due to a huge power surge. His Iso on the month was .254 as he hit 6 HRs, 4 2Bs, and 2 3Bs. Nearly half of his hits went for extra-bases as he sported only a .278 BABIP. His K-rate reduced to 14.7% which is more in-line with career norms while maintaining a BB% over 10. His .275/.353/.529 line reflects the power potential that Rays' fans hope he'll carry to the big leagues, and it gives us a glimpse in to the Andrew McCutchen comparisons people throw around.
- Jennings' Bulls' teammate Brandon Guyer started off HOT in April, and that left us all clamoring for him to replace Sam Fuld in left for the big squad (or at least manning the right-handed part of a platoon). Well, perhaps he does need some more seasoning considering he has come back to earth a bit in May. He still posted a .340 wOBA, and he reduced his K-rate which bodes well. When comparing it to his April it looks bad, but that's largely due to the strength of an April that produced a .449 wOBA. Like Jennings, he hit for power (4 HRs and a .198 wOBA). His BABIP was a big culprit as it dropped from .444 in April to .241 in May. Hopefully, that's due largely to luck, and he'll carry the power and lower K-rates forward.
- Robinson Chirinos was Guyer's foil in April. He was striking out at a rate that far exceeded career norms, his BABIP was in the hole, and he had Rays' fans everywhere questioning what it was that had us calling for him to bury Shoppach. His slash line of .178/.253/.191 was as bad as the big league catchers were performing. May's been a completely different story. His BABIp is up helping his May line to get up to a .330/.380/.424 with a .359 wOBA. His K-rate has dropped under 20%, so perhaps he's adjusting to the AAA pitching. I'd like to see him produce when his BABIP comes back to earth, but if he's seeing the ball well and punishing it he may see these gains continue when the ball isn't dropping for him (or he borrowed the #magicofkotch).
- Down in Montgomery, Tim Beckham has gotten off to a nice start in his first shot at AA. Generally, AA is the true litmus test for a prospect, and Beckham's early success bodes very well. As a shortstop that is the third youngest position player in the Southern League, Beckham's .788 OPS (season to date) is 6% above league average (as is his wOBA). While his season line is impressive, his May really stands out. His slash-line of .306/.368/.450/.818 has lead to a wOBA of .358. The great thing, though, is that he's improved a number of his peripherals as well that really lead me to think he's making some real progress. His K% is down under 20% for the month, and he's never posted that rate over a full season in his minor league career. His BB% was up to 8.8% which is down from last year, but he's showing gains there since April. Despite limiting strike outs and increasing his walks, he's also shown an increase in power. His Iso of.144 would also be a minor league career high. All told, his batting profile seems to be finally lining up with the tools that he's always shown with his good batspeed. The much mired former number one pick has also seen gains in his fielding percent on the year that bode well for his future at sticking at short. While many panned Beckham going in to the season, even dropping him out of the Rays' top 10 prospects, he's shown the kind of gains some of us were waiting for given his tools and work ethic. If he continues this progress (which he's built on so far in June posting a wOBA of .363 so far in the month), then one could easily see how he will not only vault back in to most top 100 lists but maybe even the top 50.
- Beckham's teammate Kyeong Kang is a much less heralded prospect without the pedigree, but after a great 2009 campaign that saw him post a .881 OPS and a .384 wOBA he looked to be building a decent profile as a future corner outfielder (maybe only 4th OF in the bigs). A disastrous 2010 led many (including myself) to consider him a non-prospect. Well, his 2011 may put him back on the map. His May was especially strong as he posted a .379 wOBA and a .298/.400/.447/.847 slash-line. His power (Iso of .145), strike-out rate (16.4%), and walk rate (9.1%) are all good signs. Posting these numbers in his first taste of AA add another good position prospect to the mix in AA.
- The highest regarded prospect for the Rays in AA going in to the year was Matt Moore, and many were intrigued to see how he would fare against the good competition in AA. He got off to a rough start in April due to a newfound homer problem. He did show positive signs keeping strong strikeout rates and improved walk rates, but the homers were a bit of a concern. In the past he got off to rough starts, so it wasn't a huge surprise; but he didn't show the typical control issues. Well his May has put any concerns to rest. He didn't give up a single home-run in May, and he kept the insane strikeout rates (13.1 K/9) while limiting walks (3.1 BB/9). As such, he posted a 1.05 ERA and 1.33 FIP on the month. If he continues to strike-out over a third of the batters he faces while keeping the walk-rate under 10% and limiting the homers, he could be the top pitching prospect in baseball going in to next year.
- Down in Port Charlotte, there is really only one position prospect I concern myself with on a daily basis. Hak-Ju Lee, acquired in the Garza trade, got off to a phenomenal start when he returned from chicken pox in April. He hasn't quite kept the scorching pace he posted in April (.505 wOBA in 62 plate appearances), but he's still been a force at the plate. His .346 wOBA and .307/.375/.412/.787 are still very good numbers for a shortstop who's one of the youngest players in the league. His power was down in the month (.105 Iso), as were his walks (7.8%), but he's posting good strike-out rates (14.8%). All the while, Lee continues to be a terror on the basepaths with 10 stolen bases in 27 games (a pace that would lead 55 in 150 games) and get rave reviews on his range and future defense. Lee and Beckham couple to form perhaps the best prospect shortstop tandem of anyone in baseball.
- The last prospect we'll take a look at today is Cody Rogers. A toolsy outfielder in Bowling Green, Rogers really struggled to start the season. He's raw, and his approach is still bordering on atrocious (19.7 K%/4.9 BB% in May). The power is there, though, and it's strong. He hit 6 homeruns, 2 triples, and 7 doubles in 29 games in May leading to a crazy .259 Iso. The slash-line of .295/.352/.559/.914 and wOBA of .385 is the kind of production we'd love to see from this raw prospect. He's not yet on the radar for big time national lists, but he's a really intriguing prospect going forward.
May was a good month for many of the Rays' prospects, and it could bode quite well for our player development going forward (especially of the much needed positional variety).