Season previews for Hak-Ju Lee, Mike Montgomery, and Alex Torres.
To quote from part 1..... 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.
Hak-Ju Lee, SS, AAA
To say this is an important year for Lee career is a drastic understatement. After a poor 2012, he needs to rebound offensively and show that there is enough oomph in his bat for him to profile as an everyday player. With the acquisition of Yunel Escobar, Lee is no longer in a position to merely inherit the starting shortstop job in the next couple of years. Instead, he has to instill confidence within evaluators that he is not only capable of handling shortstop, but that he can handle it well.
Simply put, Lee's value comes from his glove. He is regarded as a plus defender at shortstop with good range, great instincts, and a good arm. But while the reports have been positive, Lee has still struggled with committing errors, as seen with his high total this spring. Many young shortstops commit many errors despite displaying strong defensive tools. The assumption is that as they grow older and receive more repetitions, their defense will improve. Even though Lee's defensive reputation is impressive, he is still committing a high amount of errors. In 2012, his fielding percentage was only .954 as he committed 24 errors.
In order to see if the high error total is normal for a defensive minded shortstop, I took a look at the Fld% of the current top 10 defensive shortstops in baseball (per UZR/150) during their age 21 season.
Alexei Ramirez was not state-side during his age 21 season, and MIke Aviles did not play in the major or minor leagues until his age 22 season.
As seen, a low fielding percentage at a young age is nothing to be concerned about. As long as the reports remain positive, there is every reason to believe that he will cut down on the errors and be a good defensive shortstop. It is the bat that fans need to worry about.
Mike Montgomery, LHP, AA
When the Rays acquired Mike Montgomery in the James Shields and Wade Davis trade, they accepted the challenge of fixing a pitcher who went from being rated higher than Wil Myers last year (by Baseball America) to struggling after a demotion to AA. At times, he has tantalizing stuff. At times, he has some semblance of command. At times, he is dominant. But for Montgomery, a complete lack of consistency has prevented him from being one of the most promising young pitchers in baseball.
The train of thought is that if any organization in baseball can fix a pitcher, it is the Tampa Bay Rays. That very well may be true. But when it comes down to it, it is going to take a significant work on both Montgomery's and the Rays part to help him rediscover the formula that brought him success.
So far, it looks like the Rays' first step is making Montgomery more comfortable and confident. MLB.com quoted Montgomery as saying, "The guys have brought me in and made me feel comfortable. I want to learn from these guys. I haven't had a couple of years I've wanted to, but I feel confident about this year, confident about the new setting, the new team."
Joe Maddon believes another key to success for Montgomery is pitch selection. In the same article, Maddon said, "The biggest thing that stands out to me is pitch selection, what to throw in different moments. I just think to me, he seems to be pigeon holed into throwing his fastball when he might be behind in the count. He has all the ingredients, he just doesn't know what to do with them yet. As he learns how to pitch better and is less predictable, I think you're going to see the results become better."
Whether or not Montgomery can take a step forward in his new organization remains to seen. So far this spring, the results have been downright ugly. He could very well start the minor league season off poorly as well. A complete transposition does not always occur overnight. Hopefully, if given enough time, the Rays coaches can find a way to revert Montgomery back to form.
Alex Torres, LHP, AAA
Montgomery is not the only southpaw in need of a major turnaround in 2013. For as dreadful as Montgomery's season was, Torres' failure was of a comparable level. Both posted ERA's over 6.00 and K/BB rates of less than 2.0. While Montgomery walked 3.8 batters per nine, Torres walked an astounding 7.5 batters per nine. The only positive of Torres' season is that he still managed to strike out a (very) high rate of batters, but that is probably more of an indication of AAA hitters lack of discipline as opposed to successful pitching on Torres' part.
Just as was the case with Montgomery, Torres has a high ceiling but no clear easy fix. Some suggested mechanical issues led to the total loss of command, and Torres did say that he was working on his arm slot heading into the season.
Prior to his disastrous year, Torres consistently walked 4-5 batters per nine innings, struck out around a batter inning, posted a good ERA, and did not give up many hits. If he can revert back to that form this year (his last year with an option), he profiles as a 3-5 starter or a late inning reliever. A pitcher with his kind of stuff is valuable, either in the rotation or the bullpen, down the stretch run.
Torres has given fans some reasons for cautious optimism. In 60 innings this winter in the Venezuelan Winter League, he posted a 86/27 K/BB rate, totals much more reminiscent of the pre-2012 Torres. So far this spring training, in a very small sample size (4.2 innings), he has struck out six batters without issuing a walk. Small steps for sure, but progress nonetheless. Whether or not he can harness his stuff this year should determine whether he makes the major league club or finds a new home in 2014.