Before the recent surge, Rays fans were once again left lamenting a lack of offense. For the Nth straight year, it seemed like the bats were unable to consistently support a strong pitching staff with poor at-bats and gaffes with runners in scoring position. Naturally during these struggles, fans look to the farm to see if improvements could be on the way. Whether Wil Myers should be up or not has been and will continue to be debated to death, but organizations go deeper than just one hitter.
To see how the Rays' position player prospects stacked up against the rest of the league, I utilized the incredibly useful stat pages on Baseball America and Baseball Reference. I compiled totals and calculated rate stats for each team's hitting prospects still in the minors among their top 30 combined to get a feel for how each team's prospects were performing. To account for differences in quantities of players and at-bats so far, I adjusted the counting stats to what they would be over the course of a season with 500 plate appearances.
While I could correct that, I could not correct the following: park factors, level of competition, age compared to level or positional scarcity. That means a team with mostly highly rated middle infielders that play in leagues that suppress offense could artificially appear worse than teams with highly rated corner hitters in organizations with Cal League and Pacific Coast League affiliates. With all of that in mind, here is how the organizations stack up, sorted by OPS. I'll go into some detail on how the Rays compare in individual components like hitting for average and reaching base, power and speed. All stats are current through Sunday's games.
Hitting: .253 average (22nd); 19.79 K% (8th)
While the prospects aren't hitting for a great average, it's apparently not due to a lack of putting the ball in play. This could indicate that perhaps the balls just aren't dropping in for the top hitters, and their luck could soon change. 15 hitters factored into the Rays' stats here, and four of them are currently batting .200 or worse, including two top 10 prospects, Richie Shaffer and Drew Vettleson. Both have BABIP's below .230, and Vettleson's strikeout rate is a very manageable 12.6%.
Ryan Brett returning from suspension should be able to boost the organization in this area. Despite having a down 2012, he still batted .285 with a low strikeout rate. On the negative side though, Andrew Toles is almost certain to cool off a bit, and as players accumulate more and more plate appearances as the season moves along, Hak-Ju Lee's hot start will be less of a factor in the totals.
On-base ability: .312 OBP (25th); 7.31 BB% (24th)
On-base percentage is often tied to batting average (as a .200 hitter that walks a lot could still finish with a lower OBP than a .320 hitter who doesn't), but the organization's walk rate indicates they just haven't been as patient compared to other teams so far. Teams like the A's, Red Sox and Yankees are near the top of the leaderboard as one might expect as their hitting philosophies permeate throughout the entire organization, but Rays prospects have not been as patient as their major league counterparts. Only Myers and Lee have walked more than 10 times this year, and players like Vettleson, who's typically very patient, Shaffer and Toles are all posting walk rates under 5%. This is another area that could be aided by Brett's return, especially if he performs better than he did last year.
Power: .385 SLG (20th); .132 ISO (18th); 6 HR (T-28th)
Slugging percentage is another stat that can be closely tied to batting average, but isolated power (SLG-BA) provides a similar ranking for the organization's power. It's quite clearly not coming from home runs though as the team is in the basement with six homers per 500 plate appearances. Seven of the 15 Rays hitters used don't have a home run yet this year, but that's including Granden Goetzman who only played one game at the time stats were collected. Why does overall power appear to be better than the meager home run totals? Rays hitters lead the league with 10 triples per 500 PA, and their doubles rate isn't quite as dreadful either.
Josh Sale should add some punch when his suspension is over, and Charlotte's lineup could definitely use it. Four of the 15 hitters used are playing in high-A, and two of them, Curt Casali and Jake Hager, are in the group of seven without a home run yet this year. Hager will never be confused for a power hitter, but the Stone Crabs also feature Vettleson and Shaffer who have combined for just three homers so far. Todd Glaesmann is the only hitter among the 15 with more than two dingers as he looks to show last year's power surge was no fluke.
Speed: 18 SB (8th); 73.68 SB% (11th)
This is one area the Rays have excelled in. Their stolen base rate is among the best in the league so far, and their efficiency isn't too far behind. This is one strength Lee always brought to the table, but other players appear capable of filling the void left by his injury. Toles is among minor league baseball's leaders with 10 steals, and it's only taken 11 attempts for him to get there. Tyler Goeddel was an effective 85.7% base stealer in 2012, and he's off to another good start this year, swiping seven bags in eight tries, although his recent groin injury could slow him down a bit. Once again, this is an area the Rays hope can be maintained or even improved after Brett's suspension.
Overall, fans hoping for power bats will probably be disappointed looking at these numbers. It's important to again note that there are a lot of factors not seen in these numbers that make it difficult to take them at face value. The leagues the organization plays in are all generally known as pitcher's leagues, but that's not the reason players like Vettleson and Shaffer have gotten off to slow starts. They're among several hitting prospects that have not improved their stock on the young season, but there's plenty of time to do so.