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2017 Season Review: Montgomery Biscuits Top 10 Prospects

Tampa Bay Rays Photo Day
Nick Ciuffo
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The Montgomery Biscuits managed the second best record in the Southern League (76-64) despite being the league’s youngest team by nearly a year at 23.4.

Montgomery bats put up a .263/.339/.392 line and had the third highest OPS in the league. They scored 4.62 runs per game which was good for second. The offense was quite solid. The caliber of prospects isn’t on the level of the Durham Bulls, but there are some interesting role players.

Biscuit pitchers allowed 4.19 runs per game, and lacked the strike-out power of their Durham counterparts.

To be eligible for my top ten prospect list, a player must maintain rookie eligibility, which is 130 plate appearances for position players and 50 innings pitched for pitchers. For players that played at multiple levels I generally put them where they had more playing time, and all players will only be eligible for one list.

Other Top 10 Lists:

Durham Bulls Top 10

#1. Justin Williams, OF

In the past I have been critical of Justin William’s batting profile. Coming into this year he swung at anything that moved, which contributed to a walk rate hovering around 3%. Much like Corey Dickerson he was able to put enough balls into play to put up respectable lines, but he hit a lot of ground balls.

This year, everything changed. Williams looked confident at the plate. He missed a couple weeks to an undisclosed injury, but raked upon his return. In 326 plate appearances after his return he hit .300/.374/.484 and put up a 147 wRC+. His walk rate was up to 10.4% while keeping a very good 15.0% strikeout rate. He was able to reach more of his raw power by swinging at a higher percentage of drivable balls.

Williams was the second youngest player in the Southern League to get at least 250 PA, trailing only Nick Gordon of the Twins.

I wrote more in depth about his approach changes in late August. If he can keep this going he has the potential to be an impact bat by 2019.

#2. Genesis Cabrera, LHP

At 6’1” 170 lbs, Genesis Cabrera isn’t a large pitcher, but he has a live arm. He brings a fastball that sits 93-96. A mid 80s slider is his breaking ball of choice. His changeup isn’t consistent, but it’s a workable third pitch.

Cabrera threw 134.1 innings split almost evenly between Port Charlotte and Montgomery. He put up a 3.22 ERA and 3.73 FIP with a 19.5% strikeout rate and 9.1% walk rate.

To take Cabrera to the next level you’d like to see a few more strikeouts and a few less walks.

#3. Nick Ciuffo, C

Nick Ciuffo was drafted in the first round of the 2013 draft as a bat first, high school catcher. Over the years he had developed into a very good defender. He caught 23 of 60 baserunners (38.3%) and has become a very good receiver.

Much like Williams, Ciuffo has been a free swinger. In the previous two seasons he walked a total of 18 times in 629 plate appearances (2.9% walk rate). Along with the walks came more power. His seven homers in 2017 bested his five total homers he hit from 2013-16. His 29 doubles were also a career high.

Ciuffo’s bat heated up to end the season hitting .279/.368/.424 and put up a 131 wRC+ over his final 190 plate appearances dating back to July 1.

It’s very likely that Ciuffo becomes a platoon catcher. His left handed bat should see him capable of getting 100-120 starts a year. He showed rather large splits this year putting up a .741 OPS versus right handed pitchers and .599 OPS versus left handed pitchers.

#4. Jake Cronenworth, SS

Jake Cronenworth was drafted in the seventh round in 2015 out of the University of Michigan. He played first, second, and third while also being the closer.

Most scouts liked him on the mound as a fast moving relief prospect, but the Rays drafted him as a position player, and developed him as a shortstop. With his strong arm he has thrived defensively in that role.

He started the season in Port Charlotte, but was promoted to Montgomery in mid July. For the season he hit .274/.364/.354 and put up a 116 wRC+. He has a solid approach and hits for a lot of contact. His power is very limited. He won’t hit more than a handful of homers, but gets his fair share of doubles and triples.

Cronenworth’s left handed bat would seem to make him a good platoon candidate. He put up a .767 OPS vs right handed pitchers while putting up a .586 OPS vs left handed pitchers.

Cronenworth’s history of playing every position in the infield makes him perfect for a bench role in the majors. I’m not sure he’ll hit enough to force his way into the lineup everyday against right handed batters, but his defensive versatility should make sure he has a MLB career.

#5. Joe McCarthy, 1B/OF

Joe McCarthy fell to the Rays in the fifth round of the 2015 after missing most of his junior year at the University of Virginia due to back surgery. This caused him to play more 1B than outfield while his back strengthened. This season he split time evenly between left field and first base.

McCarthy is athletic enough to play corner outfield. He doesn’t hit for the power you typically expect out of a corner bat. He’s an on base machine. He hit .284/.409/.434 and put up a 149 wRC+. He hit seven homers and stole 20 bases.

McCarthy showed a very small split putting up a .849 OPS vs right handed pitchers and a .815 OPS vs left handed pitchers. There isn’t a lot of room for error for corner bats without power, but McCarthy can hit and get on base.

#6. Hunter Wood, RHP

Hunter Wood was the Rays 29th round pick in the 2013 draft. He was added to the 40 man roster last winter and got his first cup of coffee this year. He faced one batter in his MLB debut out of the bullpen.

Wood throws a 90-94 mph fast ball with the ability to touch 96 out of the bullpen. He flashes a plus change up. His curve is average to above with tight spin.

Wood started the season in the Montgomery rotation and put up a 4.76 ERA and 3.58 FIP in 70 innings and 12 starts. In the middle of June he was promoted to Durham and made six starts before transitioning to the bullpen.

In 23.0 innings across 13 appearances Woods showed effectiveness out of the bullpen in a multiple inning role. He allowed a 1.96 ERA and 3.90 FIP. His strikeout rate surged to 26.9% and held a 8.6% walk rate.

#7. Dalton Kelly, 1B

Dalton Kelly was 38th round pick in the 2015 draft by the Seattle Mariners before being acquired by the Rays in the deal that send Taylor Motter and Richie Shaffer to Seattle.

After his mid-season promotion to Montgomery he went on a power surge. After putting up .106 ISO while at Port Charlotte that ballooned to a .214 ISO with Montgomery. For the season he hit .304/.399/.458 and put up a 153 wRC+. The average isn’t sustainable as it required a .392 BABIP, but the results are at least intriguing.

I’m not generally a fan of first base only prospects, but there could be something there.

#8. Greg Harris, RHP

Greg Harris was the 17th round pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2013 draft. He was acquired as part of the Joel Peralta trade before the 2015 season. Harris’s fastball sits 92-96. His best secondary is a mid 80s changeup that is above average. He also throws a curveball and cutter that are fringe average.

Harris has an awkward delivery that causes him to lose the zone at times. For this reason it is largely believed that he’ll end up in the bullpen. He ended the 2017 season pitching out of the Montgomery pen.

Overall, Harris had a 4.90 ERA and 4.62 FIP over 97.1 innings. He had a little bit of a homer problem with an elevated 12.0% HR/FB rate and 1.39 HR/9. The final 20.0 innings he threw was out of the bullpen in 13 appearances. His strikeout rate stayed relatively the same, but he walked a few more in the very small sample.

Harris’s transition to the bullpen is something to watch if the Rays continue down that road in 2018.

#9. Ian Gibaut, RHP

Ian Gibaut was the Rays 11th round pick in the 2015 draft out of the Tulane University. Gibaut battled control problems in college, but brought big strikeout totals. Much of that is still the same today.

Gibaut’s fastball lives in the 93-96 range. He has a power slider sitting in the mid to high 80s. He also throws an average changeup.

Gibaut had a 2.21 ERA and 3.47 FIP over 61.0 innings. He started the season in Port Charlotte, but was promoted to Montgomery before the end of April. He posted a 30.6% strikeout rate and 10.7% walk rate.

Gibaut is a reliever who is unlikely to be a high leverage option, but should be able to give you innings out of a major league bullpen.

#10. Jose Mujica, RHP

Jose Mujica was Baseball America’s top arm in the 2012 international free agent market out of Venezuela. The Rays signed him for a $1MM bonus.

Mujica’s fastball lives in the low 90s and his changeup is his best secondary offering. He throws a curveball and slider that run from below average to fringe average.

Mujica started the year in Port Charlotte, but made two starts before being promoted to Montgomery. In 165.2 total innings he put up a 3.04 ERA and 4.40 FIP. He rarely strikes batters out (13.5%) and limits walks (6.7%).

Mujica continues to put up results, but the peripherals are disappointing for a player of his initial pedigree. He’s done a good job limiting damage, but at some point that probably isn’t enough.