Under the radar minor leaguers

Mike Montgomery has struggled since his no-hitter, but he still has seen many worse days - Leon Halip

Teams can get plenty of help from players not heralded as prospects

After reviewing performances from the organization's top 30 hitters and pitchers last week, it was time to shine a spotlight on the players that didn't make the cut.  Some of them are older players who could carve out a major league niche, some fell off of previous lists, and some will be looking to make it for the first time.

Stats are as of Sunday's games.  This is beneficial to one player on particular here but hurts a couple.  Obviously small sample size caveats apply, especially to the relievers.

LHP Jeff Beliveau

Player/split

K%

BB%

Jeff Beliveau v. LHB

34.1

8.1

Jeff Beliveau v. RHB

31.3

11.8

Despite not really possessing overwhelming stuff, Beliveau has nearly struck out one out of every three batters he's faced over the course of his career with three organizations.  He's only been a top 30 prospect once (Cubs, pre-2012) and has less than a half year of ML service time over three years, but it's hard to ignore the strikeout rates he's posted in his career.

The last two years, he's been even tougher against lefties, striking out 40 out of 91 lefties (44%) he faced.  He has trouble throwing strikes sometimes, but in 2011, he actually faced 100 lefties without walking any of them.  From the little video I could find of him, between pitching from the first base side of the rubber combined with a pretty low arm slot, Beliveau uses a lot of deception to get outs.

RHP Jake Faria

Faria's inclusion here may be a bit cheap because I included him on my personal top 30, but he just missed making the writers' poll.  He wasn't on Baseball America's list either, but he's been one of the better performing pitchers in the organization since last year with Princeton.

He was only a 10th round pick, but at a projectable 6'5 and 175 pounds (he has apparently shrunk two inches since BA's pre-draft report), he had promise.  In 2013, among pitchers with 50 or more innings in rookie leagues, his 3.6% walk rate was ninth lowest, and his 28.6% strikeout rate was fifth highest.  For the most part, that success has continued this year with Bowling Green with a 21.4 K% and 4.8 BB%.  Reports on his stuff last year were modest, so he'll have to keep proving he can have this success at every level to break through in rankings.

IF Cole Figueroa

Player/age

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

K%

BB%

Cole Figueroa, age 25

347

0.286

0.344

0.386

6.3

7.5

Cole Figueroa, age 26

533

0.286

0.361

0.387

5.6

10.1

Cole Figueroa, age 27

140

0.301

0.397

0.469

11.4

13.6

I've considered Figueroa for my top 30 for a while now thanks to his patient approach, bat to ball ability and defensive flexibility.  However, between being a member of Brandon Guyer's generation and never being taken in the Rule 5 draft despite numerous opportunities made me wonder what his value really was.  With a sudden outburst of power, his offensive stats look much better, and he's on his way to setting a career high in homers.  His strikeout rate is the highest it's been since 2009, but he's still walking more than he strikes out.

What stands out to me most though is the Rays' apparent confidence in his defense.  With Hak-Ju Lee's late start, he was Durham's shortstop to start the season.  He has 16 games at shortstop this season after playing 24 total in his three prior seasons in the organization.  If he can play the position competently, I still think he could provide some value in the majors thanks to his solid left-handed bat and ability to play the infield.

OF Granden Goetzman

Player/age/level

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

K%

BB%

Granden Goetzman, ages 18-20, R-A

436

0.208

0.254

0.315

20.4

5.3

Granden Goetzman, age 21, A

133

0.331

0.376

0.556

21.1

5.3

Fans have been waiting for Goetzman to break out since he was drafted in the second round of the Rays' big 2011 draft, but a number of injuries, especially to his back, limited his time on the field as well as his performance.  I personally lost patience, but those that stuck with him are looking good so far this season.

It's tough to evaluate the first two and a half years of Goetzman's performance.  Was this a player not able to adjust to the pro ranks, or a player not able to develop any rhythm because of constant health disruptions?  If this season is to be believed, it's the latter.  His plate approach needs to improve, but that's not really a revelation for a player who needed two and a half years just to hit 400 plate appearances.  Going by his size and pre-draft scouting reports, the sudden power is not a surprise.  He could have five average tools or better, and that's why it's so nice to see him on the field regularly.

1B Patrick Leonard

Player/age/level

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

K%

BB%

Patrick Leonard, age 19, R

268

0.251

0.340

0.494

20.5

11.2

Patrick Leonard, age 20, A

493

0.225

0.303

0.345

23.9

8.5

Patrick Leonard, age 21, A+

132

0.293

0.371

0.526

18.9

9.8

Leonard struggled in his first year in the organization after coming over in the James Shields trade, and he dropped off all top 30 lists.  He had shown some nice power making his pro debut with the Burlington Royals, but that was nowhere to be found with Bowling Green in 2013.  I wasn't sure if he would be promoted to Charlotte this year, but the Rays decision makers show why they're working in baseball, and I'm... doing whatever it is that I'm doing here.

The power, as well as some new bat to ball ability, is back in 2014.  I wouldn't say he was a second half player last year, but he did have a .714 OPS after the All-Star break compared to .581 before it.  Since he's played with Tyler Goeddel both years in the organization, Leonard has been relegated to first base, and this is how he's going to have to hit if he's going to be a legitimate prospect at the position.  Since he's striking out less and hitting the ball harder (in terms of extra base hits), maybe he can sustain this average even if his .341 BABIP comes down.

RHP Matt Lollis

Player/age/level

IP

WHIP

K%

BB%

Matt Lollis, age 19, A-/A

89.0

1.00

19.9

6.1

Matt Lollis, ages 20-22, A+/AA/AAA

293.1

1.63

19.9

9.7

Matt Lollis, age 23, AA

19.0

1.11

25.3

7.6

At 6'9 and 250 pounds, it didn't take long for Lollis to get attention when he pitched 50 or so good innings in the Midwest League.  That was in 2010, and he has not been good since.  The Rays picked him up in the Alex Torres trade this winter, and his prospect status may have a pulse again.

Lollis bounced between the rotation and bullpen in the middle three years, unable to find the strike zone no matter the role or level of competition.  Even in his good season in 2010, it's not surprising his strikeout rate might be a bit lower since he was starting.  If he can keep this up, it would be the first time he's had success above A ball.  Maybe he's the change of scenery guy that's actually panning out.  The Rays could have made an adjustment to help him throw more strikes or drop one of his breaking balls to have more success.

LHP Mike Montgomery

Player/age/level

IP

WHIP

K%

BB%

Mike Montgomery, ages 20 and 22, AA

117.2

1.46

17.9

9.1

Mike Montgomery, ages 21-23, AAA

351.2

1.53

17.4

10.2

Mike Montgomery, age 24, AAA

35.2

1.40

21.0

9.6

I'm certainly still not inclined to put Montgomery on a top 30, but he's generated some discussion this year so far. Despite his rough outings since the no-hitter, this is still his best start to a season in the upper minors.  Even with his good stuff, his strikeout rate has actually been below average since his breakout 2010 season, and 21% is closer to where it should be for a strikeout pitcher.  With his fastball/changeup combo, his reverse splits have been even more pronounced so far in 2014.

RHP Jake Thompson

Player/age

IP

WHIP

K%

BB%

Jake Thompson, ages 20-23

439

1.40

15.2

8.6

Jake Thompson, age 24

20.2

1.31

21.3

5.6

Before the season, I wondered if a move to the bullpen for Thompson would help out his career.  Despite his good stuff, he never really struck out too many batters as a starter, so maybe in shorter bursts, his stuff would tick up a bit and allow him to miss more bats.

In a tiny amount of innings, that's been the case so far, and he quickly earned a promotion to Durham's bullpen.  He has to maintain his early success, but he could be getting back on the map as a future major leaguer.  Also before the season, I ruled him out as a potential Rule 5 pick after Baseball America's J.J. Cooper speculated he could be, but if a team wanted him in the bullpen, he could have been.

2B Kean Wong

It's rare for the Rays to offer a full-season assignment for a high school hitter in their first season, but they did just that with Wong.  Over a month into the season, he's shown that he deserved the opportunity.  When he was drafted in the fourth round, he was billed as an advanced hitter for his age, and he has lived up to that billing.

So far in his career, Wong has played in 75 games, and he has hits in 63 of them.  He's batting .332, and even though his BABIP is in the high .300's, he may be able to sustain that to a degree because he doesn't strike out and sprays line drives.  He's mostly been a singles hitter and doesn't own a professional home run yet, but he's expected to develop a little power down the road.  If he keeps off this success, he shouldn't have a problem cracking a future top 30.

RHP Kirby Yates

Player/levels

IP

WHIP

K%

BB%

Kirby Yates, R-AA

229.2

1.24

30.2

11.9

Kirby Yates, AAA

77.1

0.93

36.5

9.4

Yates was #31 on Baseball America's top 30 list, the community voted him #30, but he didn't have a single vote in our writers' poll.  His 2013 season earned him a spot on the Rays' 40 man roster, and with the early struggles of the big league bullpen, has to be considered for a spot.

His strikeout and walk rates in 2014 are each a little bit worse than 2013, but they're still similar.  His comically low WHIP of 0.70 is fueled in part by a .156 BABIP, but the prevailing point is he's been great.  He took a step forward when he reached Durham last year when he reduced his walk rate to single digits, and his strikeout rate improved too.  It would be nice if he improved his 62% strike rate, but at this point, despite being undrafted and his short size, it's pretty clear he's able to get batters out, especially via strikeout.

Other players that stood out to me looking through stats: C Luke Bailey (Montgomery), IF Pat Blair (Bowling Green), RHP Merrill Kelly (Durham), LHP Adam Liberatore (Durham), LHP German Marquez (Bowling Green), RHP Victor Mateo (Montgomery), IF Leonardo Reginatto (Charlotte)

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