Checking in on the Rays' top 30 hitting prospects

After a mediocre repeat performance in the Midwest League, Tyler Goeddel is on fire with Charlotte to start 2014 - USA TODAY Sports

One month into the season, how do the organization's top prospects stack up to previous performance?

Sample sizes are still small, but now that we're a month into the season, there's at least some new information to talk about.

I made a quick spreadsheet of the players on the writers' top 30 with some stats from 2013 and 2014 for comparison.  They're not league adjusted (if you want some recent league numbers for reference, check out the prospect primer from this off-season), and don't account for changes in role (such as Brandon Guyer going from playing every day to being on the big league bench.)

Nearly 1/3 of the list hasn't even appeared in a game this year because of injury, suspension, both, or just not being ready for a full-season assignment, but there's still a lot to look at here.  Stats for 2014 are through Sunday's games.

Rank

Name

2013 level

2014 level

2013 BA

2014 BA

2013 OBP

2014 OBP

2013 SLG

2014 SLG

2013 K%

2014 K%

2013 BB%

2014 BB%

2

Hak-Ju Lee

AAA

AAA

0.422

0.120

0.536

0.267

0.600

0.160

15.8

30.0

19.3

16.7

6

Andrew Toles

A

A+

0.326

0.248

0.359

0.294

0.466

0.299

19.0

13.3

4.0

6.3

7

Kevin Kiermaier

AA/AAA

AAA

0.295

0.294

0.362

0.344

0.431

0.447

15.2

18.1

7.9

7.4

9

Ryan Brett

A+/AA

AA

0.305

0.306

0.360

0.342

0.460

0.417

12.1

20.9

6.5

4.3

10

Curt Casali

A+/AA

AA

0.316

0.314

0.404

0.500

0.488

0.429

14.9

16.7

11.9

24.0

11

Nick Ciuffo

R

XST

0.258

0.296

0.308

23.7

5.3

14

Riley Unroe

R

XST

0.246

0.376

0.341

21.3

16.3

15

Oscar Hernandez

A-/A

A

0.227

0.238

0.286

0.324

0.364

0.476

13.0

19.7

6.8

9.9

16

Richie Shaffer

A+

AA

0.254

0.228

0.308

0.304

0.399

0.500

20.4

21.6

6.7

9.8

17

Tim Beckham

AAA

DL

0.276

0.342

0.387

20.7

8.4

18

Jake Hager

A+

AA

0.250

0.282

0.318

0.347

0.305

0.435

16.3

14.6

7.6

7.3

23

Brandon Guyer

AAA

MLB

0.301

0.200

0.374

0.226

0.458

0.233

15.3

28.1

7.2

3.1

24

Mikie Mahtook

AA

AAA

0.254

0.315

0.322

0.382

0.386

0.446

18.0

26.5

7.6

7.8

26

Josh Sale*

N/A

A+

0.264

0.253

0.391

0.354

0.464

0.373

20.9

25.0

17.2

13.5

27

Tyler Goeddel

A

A+

0.249

0.306

0.313

0.393

0.389

0.520

19.7

13.4

8.0

11.6

28

Justin O'Conner

A

A+

0.233

0.256

0.290

0.284

0.381

0.422

25.3

30.5

7.1

3.2

At the top of the position players is Hak-Ju Lee who has not been good since coming off the DL last month.  Since it's only 30 plate appearances, there's not much to take away from this other than he really has to stop striking out.  Combined with his time in Durham last year, he has a slash line of .314/.442/.443 with an 18.4% walk rate and 20.7 K% in 87 plate appearances.  Lee has not yet attempted a stolen base, perhaps a part of the process coming back from a serious knee injury.

One of last season's biggest risers, Kevin Kiermaier, has maintained his offensive breakout nicely, even finally earning his first actual day of ML service.  His OBP is down, not primarily because of his slightly lower walk rate, but because he hasn't been hit by a pitch this year after being hit 10 times last season.  Last year, he posted a .733 OPS against lefties compared to a .667 OPS this year in 24 plate appearances.  He has eight stolen bases in nine attempts.

The other big riser in 2013 was Curt Casali, and he's done nothing that would reduce some of the excitement he generated last year.  His ISO is down about 100 points, but he's making good contact and still isn't striking out much.  He also has the highest walk rate of all minor leaguers with more than 90 plate appearances.  I'd imagine that's not sustainable, but in the past he's shown the ability to stay patient and take pitches.

Looking to rebound after a disappointing 2013, Richie Shaffer has had an interesting start.  His strikeout rate is largely unchanged, he's walking more, and his power seems to be back, although part of his ISO is being driven by his weird four triple season.  With a .256 BABIP, maybe he can bump that average up a little bit and be a little closer to the hitter he was supposed to be coming out of Clemson.

Jake Hager has been much better early in the season.  While his walk and strikeout rates are essentially the same as last season, a big difference is the modest power he showed in 2012 with Bowling Green is back.  These numbers are also similar to his 2013 season, pre-injury.  Before a shoulder injury cost him a couple weeks in June, he was batting .290/.344/.353 with a 7.4% walk rate and 14.9% strikeout rate.  It seems that whenever Hager is healthy, he performs at roughly the same level.

Mikie Mahtook's start seems to be pretty unsustainable.  His strikeouts have jumped up, he's not really walking any more than usual, and he's not showing any additional power.  However, his BABIP is .446 which is likely a big factor in why his batting average is by far the highest its been since he reached the upper minors halfway through 2012.  So far in his career, Mahtook has hit righties better than lefties, but in the early going with Durham, he's showing the usual platoon split for a left-handed batter.

Obviously there were no 2013 stats available for Josh Sale, so I used his 2012 numbers from Bowling Green.  Unlike 2012, he hasn't gotten off to a hot start with Charlotte.  In his first 22 games with the Hot Rods, he had a 1.167 OPS and more walks than strikeouts.  It's pretty understandable that a player who missed a year of competitive baseball wouldn't be strong out of the gate with great timing in his return, so we'll have to see where things are later in the season.

Tyler Goeddel is blowing his 2013 stats out of the water, but he's done this before.  In each of his first two professional seasons, April has been his best month, although neither of them have been this good.  I can't imagine there's an actual reason he gets off to good starts, so I'm not sure what to make of this one.  The really optimistic view would be that the light has gone on for him, and the Rays suddenly have a really good hitting prospect.  I don't think I'm willing to go out on that limb yet, but it's never a bad thing when a prospect has a good month.

I was originally going to have hitters and pitchers in one post, but this ran a bit longer than expected.  Pitchers will come later in the week.

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