With the minor league season behind us, it's time to choose the best of the best in 2015.
We're asking readers to vote on the best at each position in the minors. You don't have to choose the best prospect, but if that's how you want to vote, it's your prerogative. The criteria you use to make a decision is solely up to you.
To my knowledge, we have never done this at DRaysBay. We'll take the player most used at a position from each domestic affiliate, so each poll will have roughly seven choices.
However, this benchmark to include players leads to some omissions, such as Boog Powell, who was not the primary at any outfield position for Montgomery or Durham due to a midseason promotion. To determine if a player merited extra inclusion, I stacked him up against the players at his position that did qualify and asked, "could a person reasonably support this player instead of the seven who did qualify?"
Let's kick it off with catcher. I'm not sure if this poll prohibits you from voting twice, but if it does not, please don't.
Armando Araiza (.203 batting average/.259 on-base percentage/.275 slugging, 23 runs, 4 home runs, 24 runs batted in, 1-for-2 in stolen base attempts, 22.7% strikeout rate, 6.7% walk rate, 45% caught-stealing rate in 300 plate appearances with Class A-Advanced Charlotte)
The 22-year-old Araiza moved up a level in 2015 and stepped out of Oscar Hernandez's shadow with the majority of the time behind the plate for the Stone Crabs. He still did not hit a lick, and may have even hit fewer licks than 2014. Although he was not named the best defensive catcher in the Florida State League like he was in the Midwest League, he was still presumably good behind the plate.
Nick Ciuffo (.258/.269/.326, 30 R, 1 HR, 32 RBI, 2-of-5 SB, 14.9 K%, 1.9 BB%, 45% CS in 370 PA with Class-A Bowling Green)
Ciuffo, 20, missed setting a career-high batting average by percentage points as his bat continued to lag behind his glove in his first season in a full-season league. However, in the second half, he did bat .295, albeit with a .300 on-base percentage. He controlled the running game with another strong caught-stealing rate, and the Rays hope his second half at the plate was not a BABIP-driven fluke but a sign of development.
Taylor Hawkins (.253/.291/.404, 15 R, 2 HR, 20 RBI, 1-of-3 SB, 28.8 K%, 4.4 BB%, 44% CS in 160 PA with Short-season Hudson Valley and Class-A Hudson Valley)
Hawkins had his best season at the plate in 2015 when his raw power at least came through in the form of doubles, as well as the first triple in his career. The 22-year-old just completed his third full season and showed no signs of improving his extremely aggressive plate approach. He threw out a nice percentage of basestealers but was charged with 17 passed balls.
Mac James (.257/.312/.328, 33 R, 3 HR, 32 RBI, 2-of-3 SB, 13.7 K%, 7.0 BB%, 30% CS in 357 PA with Class-A Bowling Green)
Although he was behind Ciuffo, a much more highly regarded prospect, on the depth chart, James still saw plenty of action behind the plate for the Hot Rods. While Ciuffo was a better hitter in the second half, it was the 22-year-old James who appeared to be the better option in the lineup during the early months of the season before slowing down. Baserunners had some success against him.
Rafelin Lorenzo (.191/.246/.298, 9 R, 2 HR, 15 RBI, 6-for-7 SB, 17.6 K%, 5.6 BB%, 31% CS in 142 PA with the GCL Rays)
Lorenzo was one of the Rays' higher-priced signings in the 2013 international period, the first time the Rays faced spending limitations due to going over their allotted amount the year before. The 18-year-old was very good in the Dominican Summer League in 2014 but struggled his first year stateside. He had a meager CS% despite a reported strong arm and offered little at the plate.
Luke Maile (.207/.298/.296, 38 R, 5 HR, 29 RBI, 1-for-1 SB, 14.8 K%, 10.4 BB%, 34% CS in 337 PA with Triple-A Durham)
Maile is lauded for his work behind the plate, and that earned him a cup of coffee this September. His 34 percent caught-stealing rate was better than the league average and was charged with just two passed balls. Unfortunately, after providing solid offense throughout his pro career, the 24-year-old did not hit at all with Durham despite a patient plate approach.
Justin O'Conner (.231/.255/.371, 50 R, 9 HR, 53 RBI, 10-for-12 SB, 29.1 K%, 2.9 BB%, 48% CS in 444 PA with Double-A Montgomery)
O'Conner, 23, commanded the running game from behind the plate as usual, but he could not build on his breakout 2014 season in the batter's box. His already aggressive plate approach was maybe more aggressive, leading to an increased strikeout rate and the worst walk rate of his career. His raw power was not present in games as often, but he still showed modest in-game pop.
David Rodriguez (.258/.327/.376, 20 R, 4 HR, 27 RBI, 1-for-2 SB, 19.9 K%, 7.7 BB%, 51% CS in 196 PA with the Rookie-level Princeton)
Once a high-profile signing from Venezuela, the 19-year-old Rodriguez went on a surge late in Princeton's season to post another modest line at the plate. He improved his walk and strikeout rates in 2015 and showed more power, hitting his first four home runs since coming to the U.S. His caught-stealing rate was much better with Princeton than in previous seasons.
Maxx Tissenbaum (.257/.337/.318, 25 R, 1 HR, 33 RBI, 1-for-1 SB, 11.5 K%, 7.9 BB%, 28% CS in 278 PA with Class A-Advanced Charlotte)
In his second season with Charlotte, the 24-year-old Tissenbaum provided the same level of offense he did in 2014, relative to the rest of the league. It was also his second season behind the plate, playing roughly 70 more innings as a catcher than he did in 2014 when he made the transition. His caught-stealing rate dropped 15 percent, but he otherwise improved his defense.