Seven Rays prospects are playing for Peoria in the Arizona Fall League, and it’s proving to be an advantageous experience for the Rays as the prospects are being coached by a soon-to-be familiar face.
Here’s a break down of everyone the Rays have sent to Phoenix:
MGR Jared Sandberg
Triple-A Durham's manager Jared Sandberg is managing the Peoria team in the AFL this off-season, giving him important first hand experience with several budding Rays stars. Their path to the major goes through him, and he should relay valuable information to the front office.
He is managing prospects from Tampa Bay, Baltimore, Cincinnati, San Diego, and Seattle.
C Nick Ciuffo
The Rays minor league defensive player of the year is in Arizona, catching Rays pitchers and building valuable experience with (at a minimum) future star pitcher Brent Honeywell, and gunning down runners who should be aggressively attempting to steal in this instructional-league environment. Ciuffo had a near 60% CS rate in 2016.
OF Justin Williams
Players are typically sent to the Fall League when they are in need of development for missed time, but for Williams, it may simply be the fast track. Last off-season he was sent to the Australia League, where he got exposure to pitchers up to eight years older than him. After retooling his swing this season, he’s getting that exposure again.
Last off-season, Williams was called the best player in the ABL by Michael Johns. This off-season, he is at least the best player in Peoria, and could earn the same honor again. Williams has nine hits and three walks through six games played, including six extra base hits.
INF Kean Wong
Younger brother to the Cardinals second baseman, Wong has long been considered a breakout candidate for the Rays system but has yet to do so. He’s in the AFL to show he’ll do just that, and so far is passing the eye test, writes Neil Solondz:
Kean Wong was sharp at second base, and also had a well-struck opposite field double that one-hopped the left-field wall. Wong, who has played second and third base in the AFL, is also expected to play again tomorrow
#Rays prospects Kean Wong & Nick Ciuffo w/ @DurhamBulls manager Jared Sandberg at the @MLBazFallLeague pic.twitter.com/Hr4vmHOgH9— RaysRadio (@RaysRadio) October 24, 2016
LHP Kyle Bird
A 2014 late round draft pick out of Florida State, Bird was not turning heads prior to his selection for the AFL Roster. He’s one of few southpaws in the Rays system, and there’s hope that he’ll become something more, given the team’s already aggressive distribution of his time around the minors.
Bird held a 0.50 ERA in 11 games for Class A+ last season before earning a full season promotion to Montgomery, where he posted a 2.94 ERA in 49.0 IP, including four saves but not a lot of K’s.
RHP Diego Castillo
Castillo aced his time in the bullpen in Class-A but struggled in a late season promotion to A+ last season. He has the ability to be a strikeout pitcher, and the AFL is a great place to put that to the test.
RHP Greg Harris
Harris threw a remarkable 150 innings in 2016, earning him the MVP award for the Class-A+ Stone Crabs and one start with the Durham Bulls, and he’s still pitching. The 17th round pick from 2013 was named a deep sleeper by the KATOH projection system heading into the season, and that was a great call.
RHP Brent Honeywell
Tampa Bay’s minor league pitcher of the year, Honeywell is everything.
A screwball pitcher who flashes a major league fastball and change, with bloodlines and ability that indicate an easy major league projection. He’s in the fall league to try more advanced things, like using that screwball as an out pitch against top flight prospects.
We have been, and will continue to be, writing about him throughout the off-season.