Last week I had the opportunity to pay my first visit to Talking Stick, home of the Diamondback and Rockies during the Spring, and the Salt River Rafters during the fall.
This year, the Rays sent eight prospects, including two worthy of being in the team's top ten: SP Mike Montgomery (if he can put his control back together) and INF Richie Shaffer. During my visit last week I saw both players in action -- Montgomery pitching in relief and Shaffer starting at first base -- along with starting prospect Grayson Garvin.
Also featured in Arizona are pitchers Merrill Kelly and Matt Ramsey; infielder Ryan Brett, outfielder Todd Glaesmann and catcher Luke Maile. This is how they've done through
Saturday, the Salt River Rafters lit up their competition, putting together 17 hits, __ walks, and 20 runs. At the middle of each rally was the Rays' first round pick of 2012, No. 25 overall, Richie Shaffer.
A third baseman by trade, Shaffer has been working out at first base this winter to add defensive flexibility and lok for a faster track to the majors. In his first season of major league play, Shaffer hit .254/.308/.399 with 11 homers in 122 games for HIgh-A Charlotte, which was an aggressive assignment. Over his first eight games against the mixed bag of Class-A to Triple-A prospects in the AFL, Shaffer has a .417 OBP with 7 hits, 7 walks, and 10 K's.
Much of Shaffer's success over his 34 plate appearances came from Saturday's victory, where he went 3-4 with two walks and two extra base hits. A power hitter working on patience and pitch selection this winter, his first double came with a runner in scoring position, while his second went to deep center for a ground rule; meanwhile, his second walk of the evening came with the bases loaded, his second RBI of the night.
Shaffer said it was, "probably the best game individually I've had." Four of his hits and five walks have come against same handed pitching this winter.
Second baseman Ryan Brett has played 11 games for the Rafters thus far. He played 51 games for High-A Charlotte and 25 games for Double-A Montgomery after serving a 50-game suspension for a banned substance (amphetamines -- the result of taking an energy pill) handed down at the end of last season. Brett had a strong OBP in the former (.396), but was less fortunate in his promotion (.289). He's in the AFL to make up for lost time.
Known for his speed, which is considered his best tool, Brett has swiped a bag in each of his last four appearances, and has struck out only five times thus far, to go with five walks and six hits. Five foot nine and the Rays third round pick from 2010, there have been no complaints as to Brett's fielding. At the plate he's a contact hitter with a quick, short swing, but he has yet to make much contact in the AFL, which looks more like a slump than an actual problem.
In a rough turn of events for the Rays, catcher Curt Casali, who performed above expectations at Double-A Montgomery this season, left the Arizona Fall League due to right elbow inflammation. He was replaced on the roster by catcher Luke Maile, who has yet to make an appearance. Casali went 1-4 with two walks in his only game.
Last but not least, Montgomery outfielder Todd Glaesmann is making a bid for the 40-man roster and playing in left field for the Rafters. They've given him five games and 21 plate appearances thus far, with four strikeouts, two hits and a walk.
Awarded the 2012 Minor League Player of the Year by the Rays, he crashed hard this season with a .289 OBP, .240 BA, and only 11 home runs after flashing some serious power the year before (21 HR, 32 XBH). The Rays are hoping he can continue to sort things out this winter while facing some upper-level pitching.
Mike Montgomery was added to the Fall League to develop a cutter, and has had good days and bad days as he plays with the pitch. Most recently, he joined the Rafters' 20-run effort by helping shut out the opposing team.
Five games is not enough of a sample size to make heads or tails, but when I saw him live, the cutter had all the action on it you'd want it to. To his disadvantage, batters should always know what's coming as he looks to reign in his wild delivery and control; on the other hand, the eight strikeouts can be seen as even more encouraging. Montgomery also has a strong fastball, a slider, and a change up in his arsenal.
Grayson Garvin hasn't made an appearance since I last saw him. After Tommy John surgery, he's been working toward consistency in his delivery, which looked textbook last week. The results aren't telling of his success thus far (3 Games: 12.1 IP, 5.11 ERA).
25 year old Merrill Kelly was a breath of fresh air in Durham last season, and earned a promotion from Montgomery after 13 games of holding batters to a near-.200 average. He started 14 games at Triple-A in the midst of injuries and promotions to the bigs, settling into a 3.19 ERA, 3.47 FIP, and career high 19.4% strikeout rate for at least 73 IP at any level.
He's here to prove it wasn't a fluke, and in six games and six innings, has struck out five and allowed 11 hits and one walk. Two base runners per inning is not encouraging, but without having the advantage of scouting on this one, I'm unsure how much of that is BABIP-related.
Last but not least is Matt Ramsey, a reliever promoted to High-A in 2013. In 6.2 innings he's limited damage to five hits and two runs, with no walks and three strikeouts of six appearances -- which is a pleasant surprise. As he develops, he'll live and die by his mid-90's fastball, which has decent command.
When I saw Ramsey had been named to the roster, I wasn't expecting much in the direction of success against many teams' top-10 prospects, but he's gotten results thus far. The former closer from University of Tennessee was drafted in the 19th round in 2011, the same season he underwent Tommy John surgery. He's in the fold for the same reason as Garvin: to get a closer look at his mechanics, as he missed the entire 2012 season.
The AFL isn't the only home of Rays prospect this winter. About 80 players are on taxi squads, and others in the Dominican and Caribbean. We'll dote on them later in the off-season.