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Thoughts on Instructional League 2013

Some things to note on this year's instructs season

David Rodriguez is one of several intriguing lower level catching prospects
David Rodriguez is one of several intriguing lower level catching prospects
Jim Donten

The regular season may be over, but organized off-season work for many prospects is underway. In Charlotte, players reported early in September, and the games began a few days ago. They'll play until the first week of October or so, and the Rays usually finish up their schedule with a game at Tropicana Field. However, they have not released a schedule that I've seen, so I can't say that for certain. These are some of my thoughts on the roster, and you can view the complete roster here, courtesy of Stacy Long.

Impressive catching depth

I haven't followed the Rays' minor league system since day one in team history, but in the years I have, I don't remember them having this much potential behind the plate. Catching has not been their strong suit, especially when it comes to developing their own. That could be changing very soon with one of the eight participating in instructs.

The Instructional League is typically for younger players, but the catching contingent is led by Curt Casali, perhaps the biggest breakout player in the organization this year. It'll be a long off-season of work for him since he's also scheduled to catch in the Arizona Fall League. Out of the 51 players in instructs for the Rays, he's the only player who has played above high-A, and having that experience behind the plate will be helpful for the young pitchers.

Long reports that the top seven signings from the 2013 draft are in camp, and of course that includes first rounder Nick Ciuffo. His pro debut wasn't great, but he leads a trio of young, high potential catchers joining Casali. Two Venezuelans who have stood out in Venezuelan Summer League seasons will be there, but one may be very limited. Oscar Hernandez is in attendance, but the right leg injury he suffered late in the year with Bowling Green is still affecting him. David Rodriguez dominated this summer after signing for $600,000, and he's one of five players from the VSL or Dominican Summer League to participate in the program in Charlotte.

The other catchers include Justin O'Conner, Luke Maile, Taylor Hawkins and Jesus Ariaza. This group of four is certainly behind the other in prospect rankings, but they still represent quality minor league depth. Mark Thomas entered the season as the team's best catching prospect according to Baseball America, and he wasn't even in the top 30. The Rays turn that around this off-season and could have four catchers in the top 30.

Stanek pitches

In addition to Ciuffo, the team's second first rounder, Ryne Stanek, will be in instructs. It was reported several times after he signed early in July that he would make his pro debut with Hudson Valley, but it never happened. I don't know if injury concerns materialized at some point or if they just wanted to give him a break, but he's a rare draftee in the new CBA to not make his debut the year he was drafted. I'd expect to see him in Charlotte this year and hopefully not limited to an ultra-conservative innings plan.

Among the other 2013 picks in camp are infielders Riley Unroe and Kean Wong, the team's second a fourth round picks respectively. SB Nation's Matt Garrioch recently ranked Unroe among the top hitters in the Gulf Coast League this season, and he had a respectable pro debut with a .718 OPS. Wong was very good in his first season and was pretty hot to end the season. He did a great job putting the ball in play and getting on base with a .328 average and .377 OBP.

2011 draft question marks

With about a million extra picks give or take a few thousand, the 2011 draft was expected to bolster the farm system and leave them loaded for years to come. Now, I'm wondering if it's fair to be concerned if that's not happening. They selected 13 players in the top three rounds, and only one of them, Taylor Guerrieri, will be appearing on any top 100 list. Of course, he's going to be missing all of 2014, but it's not the team's fault this happened. Mikie Mahtook is experienced enough that he doesn't need to be in instructs, but a lot of other high picks do still need instructs and haven't shown much progress.

Eight of those 13 players were drafted out of high school, and only Jake Hager has reached high-A. Two of them, James Harris and Johnny Eierman, haven't even reached low-A, and another, Granden Goetzman, doesn't have much time with Bowling Green himself. These are still very young players and could break out, but the odds appear to be very much against them right now. One player I find to be on the bubble between making progress and not showing enough is third baseman Tyler Goeddel. I was hoping to see better results repeating low-A, but his second season with the Hot Rods was very similar to his first.

Where is Josh Sale?

For the second straight year, Sale is not in instructs. He was suspended at the end of last season, but Ryan Brett participated last year, so it's not because of the suspension. This year, after not playing at all between the two suspensions, I assumed he would be the perfect player to get some extra time this fall, but he's not listed on the roster. Was he seen anywhere near the Springfield Mystery Spot recently?