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Best Rays affiliates: Gulf Coast League

A look at the best affiliates in Rays history, starting at the bottom of the organization.

Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

With no minor league games this season, there are no recaps to write, and there aren’t a lot of reasons to update prospect lists.

Prospects are about the future, but I thought I’d take a look back at the past. I looked at every domestic Rays affiliate on Baseball Reference and totaled up the major league wins above replacement (prior to the 2020 season) to try and determine the best affiliates in franchise history. I did my best to filter out rehab appearances and zeroed out negative-WAR players since reaching the majors shouldn’t count against them.

I was originally going to do a top-10 countdown, but since Durham occupied a few too many spots on the list, I thought it was probably best to highlight at least one affiliate at each level, starting with the Gulf Coast League.

2011 GCL Rays — 16.4 WAR (four major leaguers)

LHP Blake Snell (10.3)
C Omar Narvaez (5.4)
RHP Jake Faria (.7)
RHP Roberto Gomez (0)

The Rays had a historic quantity of picks in the 2011 draft, including seven high school picks in the top 100. However, only three of those reached the majors, and two of those — Taylor Guerrieri and Tyler Goeddel — didn’t debut in 2011 because they didn’t sign until the middle of August.

Even more never made the majors. Jake Hager, Brandon Martin, James Harris, and Granden Goetzman were all top-75 picks, but only Hager and Goetzman were still active in affiliated baseball in 2019.

All-Star Kirby Yates and Alberto Suarez also pitched in the GCL that season, but since they both pitched extensively at higher levels in prior seasons, I interpreted those to be injury-related stints.

Despite having a future Cy Young winner and several highly touted draft picks, the 2011 GCL Rays demonstrated that prospect talent doesn’t always equate to on-field success. They finished last in the division despite finishing fifth in the league in ERA, with all three future major leaguers turning in good performances. The offense was 13th out of 15 in runs per game. Narvaez batted .221 with an OPS 129 points below the league average.

Snell and Martin represented the team on Baseball America’s Rays top 30 following the season.

Compared to other affiliates, 16.4 WAR is an underwhelming total, but there’s some growth to be had. Snell is a Cy Young winner in his prime, and even though the Rays lost Narvaez long before he became one of the better hitting catchers in the league, he should still have a few more years to accumulate WAR for this affiliate.

Another factor that affects the GCL Rays — as well as the other short-season levels — is that they just don’t get every player who comes through the system. College players will rarely appear in the Gulf Coast League. Players who prove to be ready for full-season ball may skip Princeton or Hudson Valley.

In 1998, the GCL Devil Rays won their division. The Rays didn’t field a GCL team for the next 10 seasons. That means this level missed a lot of high school picks from early in franchise history, like Carl Crawford, Josh Hamilton, and James Shields.

With Snell and Narvaez continuing to add to the WAR total, the 2011 team could lead the GCL Rays for years to come. The 2014 team featured Jose Alvarado, Rangers lefty Brock Burke, and Padres lefty Jose Castillo, but they might not be able to overtake Snell.

The 2016 team only has Mike Brosseau in the majors so far, but that’s going to change. That lineup also featured Vidal Brujan, Josh Lowe, and Marlins outfielder Jesus Sanchez, and Austin Franklin and Moises Gomez were also on the roster that season. The 2018 team also has some promise with Cardinals lefty Matthew Liberatore as well as Shane McClanahan and Nick Schnell.