On January 13th of this year, the Tampa Bay Rays made one of many big trades of the offseason, sending franchise player Ben Zobrist and useful infielder Yunel Escobar to the Oakland Athletics. The key piece of the return for those players was clearly Daniel Robertson, who was acquired to be the shortstop of the future for the club, but the team also picked up outfield prospect Boog Powell in the deal. While he was not nearly as hyped as Robertson at the time, a solid 2015 season has him on track to be a big league contributor in the near future.
Powell came over to the Rays after a controversial 2014 season. While his numbers had been solid over his first two years in the minors, the outfielder was suspended for 50 games on July 7th, 2014 after testing positive for methamphetamines. He would only appear in three more games during the season, and he ended the year having played just 14 games above the Low-A level. Add in questionable power and inefficient base stealing despite solid speed, and it was easy to not to get excited about his prospect status.
Despite all of that, the Rays are now looking smart for getting him as the lessor piece in such an important deal.
It would have been easy for the Rays to send Powell to High-A Charlotte to start the year given his inexperience at the level, but he impressed enough in the Spring to be sent to double-A Montgomery right out of the gates. Powell went on to slash .343/.431/.394 in his first 25 games.
He never slowed down, going on to hit .328/.408/.416 with a 139 wRC+ in 61 games with the Biscuits. Some of that was due to a high .385 BABIP, but nonetheless Powell showed that his advanced plate approach could hold up against higher-level pitching as evidenced by his 10.6 percent walk rate and 13.9 percent strikeout rate. The organization decided that they had seen enough of him at double-A, and thus they decided to give him an even bigger challenge by promoting him to triple-A.
Powell made his debut with the Durham Bulls on June 27th, and he started off hot at the new level, going 5 for his first 12. His numbers with the Bulls would not end up being quite as good as the double-A stats, but he was still solid. Across 56 games at the level, he hit .257/.360/.364 with an above-average 114 wRC+ despite a BABIP drop to a much-more normal .309.
His raw power did see a slight increase at the new level as his .107 ISO was higher than his .088 mark at Double-A. Powell's approach also remained solid as he increased his walk rate to 13 percent and saw his strikeout rate only slightly rise to 16.7 percent.
With his season, Powell went from unheralded acquisition to potentially being able to impact the team in 2016. There is still certainly plenty for him to work on. For starters, he needs to hone in his ability on the basepaths as he stole just 18 bases in 32 tries this year (56 percent). Also, while he will never be a power threat, a bit more gap power would be nice to see.
That said, there is plenty to like about Powell heading into next season. His advanced plate approach will serve him well in the big leagues, and he is capable of playing good defense at any of the three outfield spots. It is looking more and more like he can find a way to be a low-end regular in the big leagues, and even if he cannot do that, he figures to profile as a very good fourth outfielder.
Barring something unforseen, it is unlikely that Powell will be able to initally crack a Rays outfield corps that already includes Desmond Jennings, Kevin Kiermaier, Steven Souza Jr., Brandon Guyer, Mikie Mahtook, Daniel Nava, and Joey Butler, not to mention any potential offseason acquisitions. Still, if there is any team that values Powell's defense and on-base skills, it is the Rays.
Powell will almost surely start next season at triple-A, but with some continued improvement, we could see him patrolling the outfield at the Trop before the end of next season. That is certainly not bad for a guy who had plenty of question marks just nine months ago.