When we think of the Rays and second base, we look back at the performances put up by Ben Zobrist, Akinori Iwamura, and most recently Logan Forsythe. It’s always tended to be a position of strength within the organization, something that has helped keep the lineup productive despite some offensive deficiencies at other positions, most notably catcher and first base.
The Rays have invested a fair amount at 2B over the years, through the draft, trades, and international signings. The 2015 draft saw them spend $697,500 on 3rd rd pick Brandon Lowe and $198,900 on Jake Cronenworth (now a shortstop) who was selected in the 7th round. In 2013, they spent $391,000 on Keon Wong and $247,500 on Johnny Field (now an outfielder) who were selected in the 4th and 5th rounds respectively. In 2010, they spent $341,100 on Ryan Brett (whose major league debut was derailed by injury), and 2009 had them attempt to nab LeVon Washington in the 1st round - albeit unsuccessfully.
In terms of trades, that’s where the Rays have been most successful in finding their better 2B options. They sent Aubrey Huff to the Astros in 2006 and got Ben Zobrist as part of the return. He holds the majority of the records at the position, and was followed up by Logan Forsythe who was acquired from the Padres in 2014. They also had Sean Rodriguez there for some time after acquiring him from the Angels in the Scott Kazmir trade.
The honourable mention on this list is Robbie Tenerowicz, who certainly put himself on the map with a surprising season for Princeton. With a good 2017 season, he could easily place himself within the top 3 on this list.
With those notes on the Rays 2B investments, let’s take a good look at what they coming through the pipeline in hopes we can find the next big thing.
#5: Miles Mastrobuoni | 21 - SS | 5’11” 175 lbs
2016 MWL Stats: 61 G | 221 PA | 0 HR | 9 SB | 10 BB% | 16.4 SO% | .333 wOBA% | 110 wRC+
A relative unknown to many, Mastro was a big part of Hudson Valley’s success in 2016. Even through the playoffs, he was one of the few highlights in their run as he definitely set the table well for them going 2 for 4 with a triple in the final game and 4 for 8 in their series loss to State College. All this while leading off, something that fits his toolset perfectly.
From mid-August on, Mastro hit .344 with 6 doubles, 2 triples, and 5 SB (2 CS). He was driving the ball hard consistently and showed off some of his speed. And while he may never hit you double-digit HRs, he’s should be able to develop into a pesky utility player that can cause havoc on the bases.
As another strength, Mastro hit .301/.375/.391 vs RHP. As something to work on in 2017, he hit .185/.264/.231 vs LHP. Oddly enough, he spent the majority of the season hitting 3rd for HV and barely lead off during the regular season, something that may change in 2017. With his plus speed (stole 68 bases while being CS only 8 times in College), he should produce more on the base-paths as he gets more aggressive and comfortable stealing bags as a pro.
Although he spent all of 2016 at 2B, there’s a chance he’ll see time elsewhere going forward to have him increase his possible use as a utility player. He’s an athletic defender with sure hands and decent arm that was drafted as a SS, and he only made 2 errors in 2016. He should get a shot at full-season play with Bowling Green in 2017.
Next up is the Rays prospect version of ZZ Top......
#4: Ryan Brett | 25 - DNP | 5’9” 180 lbs
Scouting Grades: Hit 20/50+ | Power 45 | Speed 60 | Field 45/50
2015 AAA Stats: 84 G | 354 PA | 5 HR | 4 SB | 4.2 BB% | 18.1 SO% | .296 wOBA | 83 wRC+
Brett was recently non-tendered by the Rays and then re-signed with the team (minor league deal) only 8 days later. While that sequence of events may seem to make Brett a lesser 2B prospect than he used to be for the Rays, do not fall for that at all. He simply needed the time off in 2016 to recover from TJ surgery, something he should be fully recovered from. The re-signing by the Rays - those who know his health and skills best - should be viewed as a vote of confidence in his ability to rebound in 2017.
There’s a good argument to be made that if he had been healthy in 2016, Brett could have been the current solution for the Rays at 2B after Logan Forsythe was dealt to the Dodgers. Instead, he faces a long road to getting a shot, including development as a utility defender, and will need every bit of his determination to jump ahead of his competition for the major league roster.
So why include him on this list?
When healthy and chugging along, Brett has 60 speed, can hit at an above-average rate, and could project well both in CF and at 2B. With the seasoning he already has under his belt, he’ll begin the year in AAA, and a hot start could have him get a look off-the-bench in TB before season’s end.
Brett was an Mid-Season and Post-Season All-Star for Montgomery just 2 seasons ago, in 2014, after hitting .303/.346/.448 for them and stealing 27 bags. When healthy, he’s a top notch asset, and we’re not betting against him in 2017.
Next up is Sweet’n Lowe, a Rays prospect who had an intriguing start to his career....
#3: Brandon Lowe | 22 - LoA | 6’0” 185 lbs
2016 LoA Stats: 107 G | 449 PA | 5 HR | 6 SB | 13.4BB% | 17.1 SO% | .335 wOBA% | 113 wRC+
As any minor league player will tell you, it’s a rough road on the bus at times during the season, and Lowe - who is very active on Twitter btw - sums that up best here:
Nothing like watching the sunrise from the side of the highway in your broken down bus #milbproblems— Brandon Lowe (@Sweet_n_Lowe5) August 22, 2016
Lowe doesn’t do anything flashy but does everything very well. There are things he accomplished in 2016 that are encouraging and should be noted.
On the season, he hit .272/.373/.364 vs RHP and .177/.307/.281 vs LHP, and showed similar power and BB rates against both. The discipline he showed at the plate (walked 60 times in 2016) is of note, something he improved throughout the season, actually managing more walks (14.5%) than SO (14.1%) from July on. It’s important to note that because on the surface, his .248 avg doesn’t seem all that enticing.
Lowe also improved the majority of his numbers from July on, improving his ISO to .141, wOBA .345, and wRC+ of 119. The ISO in particular is intriguing because he had only managed a .060 ISO to that point and it shows how much better he was at driving the ball once he got comfortable. He also chipped in with a 2 for 6 performance for BG in the playoffs, adding a BB and a SB.
Take note of how well Lowe begins the 2017 season as he likely heads to Charlotte and continues to build on an encouraging 2nd half.
Next up is a Rays prospect that few know of right now, but will learn to love in 2017..
#2: Vidal Brujan | 18 - A | 5’8” 155 lbs
Signed: as int’l FA by Rays Oct. 17, 2014
2016 GCL Stats: 49 G | 222 PA | 12 DBL | 5 TR | 1 HR | 6.3 BB% | 6.8 SO% | .356 wOBA% | 125 wRC+
2016 A Stats: 2 G | 9 PA | 1 R | 2 SB | 1 BB | 1 SO | .082 wOBA%
A switch-hitter with surprising strength for his size, Brujan is someone every serious Rays fan needs to know about. He topped my list of Rays 2B prospects this offseason, and he’s one of the most promising middle-infield prospects the Rays have ever signed as an international amateur.
Here’s a video dedicated to showing off his talents before he signed with the Rays.
The thing that should first strike you as being promising with Brujan is his contact abilities. Having started the year at only 18 years old, he showed maturity at the plate, only striking out 6.8% of the time while walking at almost the same rate, 6.3%. That’s impressive when you consider that he only faced a pitcher that was younger than him for 17 PA.
Despite being one of the younger players in the GCL, he was productive enough to lead the GCL in runs, place 3rd in the GCL in hits, 4th in triples and TB, and 6th in doubles. He also finished 12th in SB with 8 on the season.
How impressive was that performance? It put him in the vicinity of two of his team mates you may know well by now in most categories: Jesus Sanchez and Rene Pinto. It would seem to me that such a performance should have placed him in BA’s Top 20 GCL Prospects list, but sadly he missed the cut.
Let’s dig down a little deeper in his performance to get to know him well before the 2017 season. Before 2016, he spent time at 2B/SS/3B in the DSL, but got to focus on 2B in 2016. Here are some of his highlights:
- hit .294/.373/.437 vs RHP (.810 OPS)
- hit .282/.344/.406 vs LHP (.750 OPS)
- hit .318/.348/.447 when leading off
- hit .292/.393/.583 late in close games
- hit .205/.279/.282 with runners in scoring position
- hit .309/.361/.463 with bases empty
- Made 10 errors at 2B while showing good range
Those are some of the most notable statistics he put up last year. The ability to perform vs RHP and LHP was encouraging and may be part of the reason he got a quick look in Hudson Valley before the season ended.
Other notable items include his performance when leading off and an ability to perform with the game on the line. However, he did struggle to drive in runs with RISP and will need to limit his errors going forward.
Topping our combined rankings is a prospect that could be thought of as a wildcard option for the Rays at 2B at some point in 2017....
#1: Kean Wong | 21 - AA | 5’11” 190 lbs
Scouting Grades: Hit 20/55 | Power 45/45+ | Speed 50/50+ | Field 45/45+
2016 AA Stats: 117 G | 492PA | 5 HR | 10 SB | 6.3 BB% | 14.6 SO% | .321 wOBA% | 101 wRC+
The younger brother of Cardinals 2B Kolten Wong, Kean comes from a talented baseball family. Unlike his brother, however, Kean has been marching up the minors system in an under-the-radar fashion, with too few taking note of what he could offer the Rays depth wise in 2017.
Just to prove the point, how many of you knew he made the SL All-Star game in 2016?
Normally, having a good enough season to made a AA All-Star team would put you at the top of the list in people’s minds when your team deals away its starting 2B. But for the Rays, Wong doesn’t seem to get talked about much - if at all.
The first thing that makes his 2016 season noteworthy is the fact he made it into the AS game on the back of a .256/.312/.326 line with 13 extra-base hits and 9 SB and actually improved on that by a great margin in the second half. He hit .299/.338/.417 with 16 extra-base hits in the second half.
Another notable item about Wong is his ability to hit both LHP (.273/.318/.364) and RHP (.277/.325/.369) at an almost identical rate, something that enhances his profile as a potential regular. As Tampa Bay director of Minor League operations Mitch Lukevics noted:
"What Kean offers is that bat-ball ability; he really puts the ball in play," Lukevics said. "He's a line-drive gap hitter that can hit the ball out of the ballpark, but he really puts the bat on the ball."
On the field, Wong got a significant amount of playing time at 3B as well as 2B, something that had been predicted long ago by many as his range is limited at 2B. His arm works well at 3B and there’s nothing wrong with improving his versatility. He has the work ethic and ability to make it work at either position.
Wong’s efforts in 2016 earned him an Organizational All-Stars award from MiLB.com and he should get a shot at AAA in 2017, albeit with split time once again between 2B and 3B. With low strike out numbers, an ability to hit the ball vs both LHP and RHP, good speed and D, he could be a factor in TB before season’s end.