Taylor Motter has been an unknown player throughout his tenure in the Tampa Bay Rays system. Drafted in the 17th round in the 2011 draft out of Coastal Carolina, he was hardly expected to be anything more than an organizational player, but a breakout 2015 season now adds some intrigue to the 26-year-old.
Are his improvements real? And will it be enough for him to play a role for the Rays in 2016?
Motter first showed signs of being a decent player at High-A in 2013, batting a .290/.359/.419 line with a 124 wRC+ though only 67 games. He moved up to Double-A in 2014 and was solid, albeit unspectacular. He appeared in a full season of 119 games, hitting .274/.326/.436 with a 111 wRC+ and showing off some decent raw power with 16 long balls. Still, he was hardly an exciting prospect given where he was drafted and his age (he was 25 by the end of the 2014 season).
Motter kept chugging through the system, and was promoted again, as he should have been, opening 2015 as a 25-year-old at Triple-A Durham, and it turned out to be his best season yet.
Playing in 127 games, Motter slashed a robust .292/.366/.471 with a 142 wRC+ that ranked second in the International League, and his .332 BABIP was not too crazy. While his 17.0% strikeout rate was nothing impressive, he walked at a 10.2% clip, his highest since 2011 at Low-A. Motter also continued to show off impressive versatility, appearing in 72 games in the outfield (primarily in right), 25 at third base, 14 at shortstop and 12 at second base with good reports.
One has to wonder if there is anything left for Motter to prove in the minors, but that does not necessarily mean he can break camp with the big club in 2016.
Kim Klement -- USA Today
The biggest problem just might be need for his skill set on the big league roster. Motter has been a much better hitter against lefties in his minor-league career, slashing .341/.419/.510 against them compared to .260/.336/.391 against righties. The two players currently penciled in at the corner spots for the Rays, Desmond Jennings and Steven Souza Jr., are also better against lefties than righties. The same goes for reserve outfielders Brandon Guyer, Mikie Mahtook and Joey Butler (a non-tender candidate). The Rays need help on the other side.
While it would likely take a trade to open up a spot for him, Jennings is coming off an injury-riddled season and his value is not at its peak, and Guyer provides more value from being around for depth than he would on the trade market. If anyone is going to crack the Rays outfield picture past Guyer, it seems more likely to be a left-hander, like Daniel Nava, a potential off-season acquisition, or a prospect like Boog Powell.
Even if the Rays elect to have a second right-handed hitting outfielder on the bench, Mahtook had a great September and has always been considered a better prospect than Motter. With that said, Motter does have a distinct advantage.
Helping his case is that Motter can play just about any position on the diamond as he saw time at all three outfield spots this season on top of playing at short, second and third. Over the couple times I have seen him play, his infield defense has been fairly underwhelming. Though I do not see other sources saying that, the fact that he has seen much more time in the outfield than infield may confirm he is more suited for an outfield role.
Still, in the event of an injury at just about any position, he could be one of the first players in line for a call-up. He will be able to play solid defense in the outfield and at least be passable in a pinch if needed at one of the infield spots, and we all know how the Rays value versatility.
Motter will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft this off-season for the second time. While he was not selected last year when left unprotected, it is unlikely that would happen again. The Rays will almost surely add him to the 40-man roster this off-season.
Given the fact that he is one of many when it comes to lefty-mashers the Rays posses, we probably will not see Motter open camp with the big league team unless injuries in spring training force the team's hand. That said, the Rays certainly have to be pleased with how he turned out, and it would seem that he is ready to impact the club as a versatile bench piece, even if his chance will likely not come until mid-season.