One of the bonuses of having a strong farm system is the ability to rely on top prospects during the season instead of washed up replacement players who have little future with the club. In 2013, the Rays are expected to receive key contributions from their top two prospects: Wil Myers and Chris Archer. While their impact may be minimal compared to those two, several other top prospects could receive major league time with the Rays in 2013.
Jake Odorizzi, RHP, AAA
The second best prospect in the Wil Myers trade, Jake Odorizzi went from an organization where he was expected to make the opening day rotation to a team where he is arguably the 8th starter in line. However, a few injuries or poor performances could quickly push him up the depth chart and he could see time with the Rays in 2013.
Unlike many of the Rays' top pitching prospects in recent years, Odorizzi does not blow hitters away with tremendous stuff. Some even question if he has a single plus pitch. Instead, he gets batters out by mixing up his four solid pitches and moving them in the zone. Because of his lack of overpowering stuff, there is less margin for error.
When he heads back to AAA Durham to start the 2013 season, Odorizzi needs to show improvement in several categories. Though his strikeout and walk rates in AA were excellent (11.1 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9), those rates both worsened upon his promotion to AAA (7.4 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9). Those rates would not be as worrisome if it were not for his fly ball tendencies. In 2012, his ground ball rate was 29.4%, down from an unremarkable 33% the year prior.
Why is this such a concern? Consider this: In 2012, zero qualified MLB starting pitchers posted a rate that low. If he is not compensating with a high strikeout rate, a high proportion of plate appearances will conclude with a flyball, which usually leads to a high home run rate.
Alex Colome, RHP, AAA
With Hernandez/Niemann, Archer, and Odorizzi all ahead in line for the starting rotation, Alex Colome's chance of cracking the rotation this year is slim. However, should he continue to hone his craft and prioritize efficiency, playing time will manage to emerge.
Always regarded as a pitcher with immense upside but a lack of feel for pitching, Colome began to make strides in the pitchability department late last season, especially with Durham before his injury. Instead of trying to hurl his fastball by every hitter, he began to develop and mix up his secondary pitches. His change up has advanced to the point where it is a usable pitch, and his much improved slider has a knack for inducing weak contact.
Consider his first start with the Bulls. After throwing fastballs with 10 of the first 11 pitches, only 48 (55%) of his final 88 pitches were fastballs. For the game, he threw his fastball 60% of the time, his slider 20%, his changeup 18%, and his curveball 3%. In 2012, MLB starters threw some variation of a fastball 62.3% of the time on average. For a guy who has a great fastball, 60% is a relatively low rate. He only threw his plus curve ball, which is regarded as his finest off-speed pitch, three times during the entire start. As the game progressed, the focus he put into his pitch sequencing became clear. Instead of using the change up or slider as a chase pitch, he would throw it to start an at bat. There were a few times when he threw the same pitch multiple times in a row. In an eight pitch at bat in the final inning, Colome started the batter off with a slider for a called strike. It was proceeded by a 96 mph fastball, which the batter fouled off. Colome then threw one of his three curves in the game, leading to another foul ball. A slider and fastball both produced foul balls as the batter tried to stay alive. Next, Colome threw a fastball and then a changeup out of the zone, trying to induce a weak swing. Unfortunately for him, the batter refused to give in. Instead of going back to his fastball, Colome placed a perfect 89 mph slider on the outer edge of the strike zone, fooling the hitter badly.This is only one example of a change in approach that shows signs of him transforming from a thrower into a pitcher.
Baseball America noted this change, writing in their report:
Colome made the transition from a thrower to a pitcher in 2012 after trying to strike out every batter earlier in his career. He struggled at the beginning of his starts early in the campaign before he improved his pitch selection and command.
A continued progression in this area in 2013 will give hope for him developing into an above average starter. Either way, there is a significant chance that he finds his way onto the Rays roster, whether it is due to multiple injuries in the rotation or as bullpen help late in the year. If he continues to fulfill on some of his promise, Rays fans should be excited to see him pitch.
Tim Beckam, SS/2B, AAA
For the fifth consecutive year, the story for Beckham is that it is a big, important year in his developmental path. The 2009 season was supposed to be important because people were curious to see if he would rebound after a weak first season. 2010's importance was that it was his third year, an arbitrary cutoff for evaluating a player's post-draft worth and performance. In 2011, the question was whether he could make the jump to AA while maintaining or improving upon his rising walk rate. In 2012, it was whether he could build upon an encouraging late season showing the season before. This year is important because he will be shedding the "he is young" label (23 in AAA is not old, but it isn't very young for a prospect). There is a distinct pattern in each preview of Beckham's seasons. Instead of optimism, there are questions and doubts. It is a reflection of our continued fixation on his draft placement and his potential, a failure on our parts to recognize and accept the player that Beckham is.
Though Maddon and company may be blowing smoke in their eternal optimism of Beckham, there still are reasons to be encouraged about him as a player. His defense at shortstop is fringy but playable, and his defense at second base is positive. Though his statistics are unremarkable, scouts still see raw power and a quick bat. The timer for Beckham to live up to his draft day billing has already rang, with Buster Posey collecting two World Series titles and an MVP award. But the clock has not yet struck midnight for Beckham to be a solid contributor for the club. Stardom may be out of reach, but that does not make Beckham any less intriguing of a prospect. So instead of thinking that maybe this is the year Tim Beckham breaks through, Rays fans should accept Beckham for who is he and understand that he does not need to be a star to help the team.
Part 2 features previews of Hak-Ju Lee, Mike Montgomery, and Alex Torres.