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Rays prospect spotlight: outfielder Mikie Mahtook

Mikie Mahtook was the weird exception to the rule this season.

Mahtook showed he has a future on this team
Mahtook showed he has a future on this team
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Mikie Mahtook was a weird player this year. He bounced between Triple A and the major leagues, starting out the year with one game at Durham before a brief promotion to the majors. He was quickly demoted to Triple A again after appearing in just four games. He then got a promotion in June for about a week and a half, only to be demoted again. Once again he got teased with the majors for a few days at the end of July and beginning of August; the same old song and dance, my friend.

Then September happened. And my, oh my, did it happen. Before September, Mahtook had hit only .189 with Tampa Bay in 42 plate appearances, although he had hit three home runs. After September call-ups this kid was on fire. He had a .353/.397/.706 line with six home runs in 73 plate appearances. His ISO was .353! Eventually Kevin Cash just had to start putting Mahtook in the starting lineup.

What was so strange about Mahtook's season was that he didn't hit nearly that well in Triple A. At Durham, Mahtook carried a .249 average and hit just four home runs. Meanwhile in less than half as many games in the majors, he hit more than double the amount of home runs and raised his batting average by 46 points. Normally, minor leaguers struggle a bit in their first season in majors, but Mahtook flipped that rule on its head.

The 31st overall pick of the 2011 draft has solid average raw power, but according to Kiley McDaniel, formerly of Fangraphs, it doesn't show up in games because of "a more line drive approach". While McDaniel (hats off to being hired by the Braves) is often a great analyzer of prospects, I don't think he expected Mahtook to break out like he did. When he was called up Sep. 1, there wasn't a whole lot of excitement surrounding the news.

While it isn't one of the five tools, Mahtook displays strong plate discipline. So much so that Baseball America ranked him having the "best strike zone discipline" in the International League in 2014. That being said, his strikeout rate was just as high as last year. It could be just a matter of facing better pitching, but obviously we hope to see it decrease at least back to the 18- to 22-percent range  instead of being around 25 percent if Mahtook is going to continue being a power hitter.

In the field, Mahtook projects out to a solid corner outfielder. His arm, glove, and speed are all graded around solid average. While Mahtook has spent time in center field and has played about as well as you could hope, he is obviously not to the level that Kevin Kiermaier is at (then again very few, if any, are). Even still he could get you a relatively strong performance in center in the event Kiermaier is hurt or resting.

In Mahtook scouts see a fourth outfielder who busts his butt, so "he makes average look very good", as Bernie Pleskoff of puts it. Coaches always like seeing hustle, so that is a plus for Mahtook's case to stay in the majors. There was speculation he could grab a starting job out of spring training, but alas he had to go through the aforementioned bouncing between Triple A and the majors. Next season, Mahtook could make the team off hustle and his bat alone rather than give a roster spot to Grady Sizemore again.