Hak-Ju Lee ended 2011 with the Biscuits and will be back in 2012 (credit: Jim Donten)
Continuing with our look at how the lineups might look for the Rays affiliates. If you missed Durham's, you can find it here. This week: Montgomery Biscuits.
Catcher - Mark Thomas, Craig Albernaz, David Wendt
Thomas was the regular catcher last season with Charlotte, where he hit .237/.299/.393. His name came up on a few Rule 5 preview pieces, but that had more to do with the shallow pool of talent in this year's draft than Thomas being a big prospect. He has decent defensive skills -- he's thrown out 41% of basestealers in his career and could've probably stuck in the majors as a defense-first backup, had he been selected -- but his bat hasn't taken the necessary steps forward since an .867 OPS in his 2007 debut with Princeton. He knocked a career-high 13 home runs with the Stone Crabs in 2011, but he doesn't hit or get on base enough to provide any real value with the stick. He's still young, entering his age 24 season, so he still has a shot to make the bigs as a back-up someday; failing that, he has a future as the next Nevin Ashley. Albernaz and Wendt are both org players, ready to be deployed wherever the Rays have a need for a catcher.
First Base - Henry WrigleyWrigley could conceivably move up to Durham after a .274/.309/.464 campaign with the Biscuits last year, but the presence of Juan Miranda (and Leslie Anderson) at first base, Matt Mangini at third, and Stephen Vogt as the corner-utility guy leaves little room. Wrigley's power has come on in the past two years, hitting 38 in 2010-11 after 25 in four seasons prior. He's hit .270 and .274 the past two seasons, but his on-base percentage remains a problem: it's below .300 for his career (.296) and his season-best is just .312, in 2010. While he's played 1B, 3B, and LF, he remains primarily a 1B/DH type, and his bat probably doesn't have enough juice to make it in the show. Trivia: Wrigley is one of just two players from the Rays' 2005 draft still with the organization. The other, of course, is Jeremy Hellickson.
Second Base - Tyler Bortnick, Shawn O'Malley
Since being drafted in the 16th round in 2009, Bortnick has been quite a consistent performer. His batting averages in three seasons: .300, .295, and .306, while his OBP has improved each year, up to .428 in 2011 with Charlotte. While his power was down from Bowling Green, he walked more than he struck out (79-66) while being ruthlessly efficient on the basepaths with 43 steals and only four times caught. A shortstop in college, he's a good defender at second base but also has played 3B and even 1B in the Arizona Fall League (where he hit .267/.353/.400). O'Malley was covered in last week's Durham edition, and seems most likely to get stuck in Montgomery because of the numbers crunch.
Shortstop - Hak-Ju Lee
The team's consensus top positional prospect, Lee fought off a spring training bout of the chicken pox to hit .318/.389/.443 with the Stone Crabs before fading with Montgomery, where he hit just .190 in 24 games. He'll be back with the Biscuits, and the big question will be if his late-season slump was due to fatigue or if the more advanced pitching was able to overpower him. Good news: Lee hit five times as many home runs in 2011 than he did in 2010. Bad news: 1 x 5 = 5. He doesn't have the body to project for big home run power, but he can drive the ball into the gaps and with his speed, that means lots of doubles and triples (17 and 15 respectively in 2011). Lee stolen base numbers were down in 2011, as his 33-16 ratio meant he stole four fewer bags and was caught twice as often as the prior year,
Third Base - Greg Sexton
Sexton was up with the Biscuits to close the 2010 season, but a .212/.336/.310 line in 33 games had him sent back to Charlotte for 2011. With the Stone Crabs, he hit for a career-high-in-all-three .313/.382/.438 line in 77 games, but fell back once again with the Biscuits, hitting .222/.290/.314 to close out the season. With Matt Sweeney gone in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft and no obvious candidate to be promoted in-season from Charlotte, the Biscuits 3B job should be Sexton's for the year.
The Biscuits will inhereit the 2010 Charlotte speedster outfielders (plus Velasquez), although all four saw their stolen base numbers decline, a combination of injuries and not being managed by steal-happy manager Brady Williams. Nommensen had the most success of the group at the dish in 2011, hitting .292/.404/.413, although he hasn't come close to replicating the big power numbers he showed at Eastern Illinois. Morrison has the best tools, but he got a late start due to injury and his .264/.306/.309 line was a huge letdown after he seemed to improve each month with the Hot Rods in 2010. In particular, his K-BB rate imploded: A not-terribly-good 43-133 in 131 games in 2010, he drew just 11 walks and struck out 67 times in 67 games last year. Here's hoping to a fresh start with the injury in his rear-view mirror.
Acquired for Juan Salas way back when, Velasquez was limited to 63 games last year, but he did hit for a .749 OPS when healthy with the Biscuits. A middle-infielder with the Indians and his first year in the Rays system, he's moved to the outfield and has the legs to cover center. Anthony Scelfo, a former QB at Tulane, pulled the opposite switch in 2010, moving from the outfield to 2B, but he was back in the outfield in 2011. Murrill played in just 45 games last year, and his only extra-base hits were five doubles.
Random stab at an opening-day lineup:
SS Hak-Ju Lee
2B Tyler Bortnick
1B Henry Wrigley
RF Brett Nommensen
C Mark Thomas
3B Greg Sexton
DH Anthony Scelfo
LF Isaias Velasquez
CF Ty Morrison