What to look for in the Instructional League

Jim Donten

Highlights of who is and who isn't on the Rays' 2012 Instructional League roster.

With today's Instructional League game at Tropicana Field, it's a nice time to look at some of the players participating in the off-season action. For those that aren't familiar, instructs are an extra few weeks of practices and games for mostly low-level minor leaguers. Like minor league spring training and extended spring training, the games are pretty informal and more about player development rather than wins and losses. With no stats or many reports available, it's not much more than a list of players participating in anonymity, but here are some of my key takeaways from the roster. The full list of players can be found at Rays Prospects, courtesy of Jim Donten.

Fruits of the 2011 draft

It wasn't that long ago that the Rays were the talk of the draft with 12 of the first 89 picks. The brief careers of the 2011 picked have been a mixed bag so far, and that draft is well-represented at Charlotte Sports Park. 13 picks from that draft, including 10 of those first 12, are participating. The two that aren't are Mikie Mahtook and Grayson Garvin. As an AA player, the extra reps probably aren't necessary for Mahtook. Garvin's season ended in June with elbow surgery after 10 mostly ineffective starts. This comes on the heels of Garvin receiving a below slot bonus due to concerns about his medicals at Vanderbilt.

Several 2011 picks that were injured during the 2012 season are getting extra reps this fall. Before heading out to Phoenix for the Arizona Fall League in two weeks, Lenny Linsky is making a stop at instructs. The former Hawaii Warriors closer pitched 32.1 innings between the GCL Rays and Stone Crabs where he didn't show any command or the strikeout stuff necessary for relief prospects. In the outfield, while Kes Carter's injury history is well-known at this point, he's actually had 64 more career plate appearances than Granden Goetzman, and both hope to get much-needed plate appearances to begin their off-season. Goetzman is listed as an infielder, and although he played shortstop as an amateur, it's more likely a mistake than anything to keep a serious eye on.

Across the infield, the 2011 draft is represented at each position. The middle infield has plenty of potential with Brandon Martin and Jake Hager. Although it's possible he has to move off shortstop eventually, Hager had an impressive turnaround after a slow start with Bowling Green, finishing with a .757 OPS, 35 extra base hits and 17 steals in 114 games. Martin's season was just the opposite; after a hot start in June, he finished the season with a .426 OPS in his last 10 games. However, the talented defender was still ranked as the 11th best prospect in the Appalachian League by Baseball America, ahead of names including Gavin Cecchini and Daniel Norris. Tyler Goeddel is at the hot corner, and his season was quite similar to Martin's. After posting a .853 OPS in April, he didn't post an OPS over .700 in any other month. First baseman John Alexander limped to a .613 OPS for Princeton, but he did have a 1.029 OPS in his last 10 games with seven doubles.

Oscar

After an incredible Venezuelan League season and an off-season of optimistic speculation, the 19 year old Oscar Hernandez made his U.S. debut with Princeton, and he leads an impressive P-Rays contingent in instructs. He only batted .231 in 49 games in the Appy League, but it was still a quality debut. He managed a .742 OPS which was above the league average, a .171 ISO, 11.4 BB% and 15.2 K%. He likely has the highest ceiling of any catcher in the organization, but he's certainly very far away from the majors. Another year in short-season ball wouldn't hurt.

Another key Princeton bat in attendance is Andrew Toles. Although he slowed down at the end of the season, the 3rd round pick performed well enough and has enough tools to be ranked the 15th best Appy League prospect. He needs to work on his approach, but he has the athleticism to be a quality player. He stole 14 bases, and he uses his speed to play a good center field too. He wasn't expected to hit for power, but he hit seven home runs in 51 games with a .184 ISO. With his SEC and junior college experience, he should be prepared to move to Bowling Green in 2013.

The top pitching prospect in the Appy League was Princeton lefty Blake Snell. He only pitched 47.1 innings but made quite an impression in them. He struck out 53 batters, and he held opponents scoreless in seven of his 11 starts. He works with an above average fastball and an average curveball and changeup. While his stuff doesn't jump off the page, he knows how to pitch and generally throws strikes. His turn in the rotation was skipped a couple times, so the instructional innings will help him cap off his season.

Who's not there?

Maniacs like me not only look at the list of players playing but those that aren't there. It's possible that any of these players were simply mistakenly left off the list, and there's nothing to read into it. The name that jumped off the page (or didn't jump off in this case) to a lot of fans was Josh Sale. His 50 game suspension will carry over into next season, but Ryan Brett's presence in instructs suggests there's no rule prohibiting him from participating. He was plagued by minor injuries throughout the season, so perhaps the Rays decided rest would be better for him.

One of Sale's teammates at Bowling Green, Alejandro Segovia, is not playing. He could probably stake a claim as the top catching prospect in the organization, and since he's only in low-A, the extra experience would be good for him. He only batted .269, but with a strong plate approach and 15 home runs in 70 games, he finished with a .888 OPS. He needs to improve his defense, but he's certainly a name to keep an eye on.

Other organizations often bring their top international signings in for instructs before going home for winter ball. The Rays were very active in the July signing period in 2012, but fans will have to wait another year to see the new additions to the organization. Those include righty Jose Mujica, lefty Jose Castillo and catcher David Rodriguez. These signings, all among Baseball America's top 20 July 2nd prospects, pushed the organization to the brink of the new $2.9 million cap on international signings.

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