On Thursday, November 12, 2015 the Bowling Green Hot Rods introduced a new visual branding package for the seven year old franchise. The new look was created by SME Branding, a New York based design firm. The new colors and logos provide a modern update to the Hot Rods look from it’s previous identity. Learn about the new look for the Hot Rods by checking out this video or visit our website for full logo and uniform detail.
On this “Flashback Friday” we are going to take a look at where members of the 2009 Hot Rods team are today. The inaugural Hot Rods finished with an overall record of 64-74 in their lone season as a member of the South Atlantic League. The roster included 2008 overall #1 MLB draft pick, Tim Beckham.
Disclaimer: When looking at the list of players, we only list their current team if they are still playing affiliated baseball. Many of these players have continued their careers with Independent League teams.
Andujar, Chris – Retired
Bagley, Jamie – Retired
Barnese, Nick – Retired
Callendar, Joey – Retired
Cruz, Joseph – Retired
De La Rosa, Jairo – Retired
Dyer, Shane – Retired
Echeverria, Diego – Retired
Fleming, Marquis – Retired
Hayes, Tyree – Retired
Jarman, Michael – Retired
Mavarez, Deivis – Retired
Moore, Matt – Tampa Bay Rays
Rafferty, Tommy – Retired
Santana, Juan – Retired
Satow, Josh – Retired
Schenk, Neil – Retired
Hauschild, Tyler – Retired
Jefferies, Jake – Retired
McCormick, Michael – Retired
Mollicone, John – Retired
Beckham, Jeremy – Retired
Beckham, Tim – Tampa Bay Rays
Estrada, Robi – Retired
Sheridan, Michael – Retired
Velasquez, Isaias – Retired
Corder, Jason – Retired
Kang, Kyeong – Retired
Scelfo, Anthony – Retired
Tweedy, Jason – Retired
Wrigley, Henry – Retired
Matt Quatraro (Manager) – Cleveland Indians
Hector Torres (Hitting Coach) – Tampa Bay Rays
RC Lichtenstein (Pitching Coach) – Tampa Bay Rays
Total Players: 32
Team Awards: 2 South Atlantic League All-Stars
It has become customary for Major League teams to send their top talent in the lower levels of their farm system to play baseball in Winter Leagues for continued development. Most teams stick with the tradition of the Arizona Fall League and Dominican and Venezuelan Winter Leagues. However, in recent years, the Tampa Bay Rays have begun investing in the resources of the Australian Baseball League. We previously highlighted that former Hot Rods manager, Michael Johns, would be joining the coaching ranks of the Brisbane Bandits and this week, we look at the group of Hot Rods heading to Australia to join Johns and the Bandits.
Riley Unroe – The former 2nd round draft pick (2013, Desert Ridge High School, AZ) was the Hot Rods primary second baseman during the 2015 season before he earned a promotion to High-A Charlotte following the conclusion of Bowling Green’s season. The switch hitter played in 116 games (of 138) and hit .255.
Nick Ciuffo – Ciuffo was the first round draft pick of the Rays in 2013 out of Lexington High School (South Carolina). He split time with fellow catcher, Mac James, appearing in 94 games during the 2015 campaign. Ciuffo finished the year with a .258 average and is currently ranked as the 20th best prospect in the Rays farm system.
Bralin Jackson – Patrolling the outfield for the Hot Rods this season, Jackson appeared in 116 games, hitting .274, good for the second best average on the team. He was drafted in the 5th round of the 2012 MLB draft out of Raytown South High School (MO) where he was a two sport athlete in baseball and basketball.
Justin Williams – Williams was a former 2nd round draft pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2012 draft. The Rays acquired the outfielder prior to the 2015 season when they dealt Jeremy Hellickson. The lefty led the Hot Rods in batting average, hitting .284 in 99 games with Bowling Green before being promoted to High-A Charlotte on August 11th. Williams is currently the 22nd best prospect in the Rays system.
The Brisbane Bandits are set to open their season on Friday, October 23 against the Canberra Calvary. The Bandits season runs through January 24, 2016. To stay up to date on your Hot Rods in Australia, visit the Bandits official website (BrisbaneBandits.com.au) or follow them on Twitter (@BrisbaneBandits).
The Arizona Fall League (AFL), founded in 1992 by Major League Baseball, is a premier offseason league that features some of the top prospects in Minor League Baseball. The league is comprised of six teams, each with prospects from five MLB clubs. With the 2015 season set to kickoff on October 13th, the Tampa Bay Rays are sending a strong contingency of players, and coaches, to Arizona.
This season, the Rays, along with the Los Angeles Angels, Oakland Athletics, Chicago Cubs and Miami Marlins, will be sending prospects to the Mesa Solar Sox. Sloan Park, a 15,000 seat stadium, and largest in the AFL, is home to the Solar Sox. The 38-man roster features seven Tampa Bay Rays, with four being former Hot Rods.
Breaking down the former Hot Rods…
Dan DeMent – The 2015 season marked the second straight season DeMent oversaw Hot Rods hitters. Under his guidance in 2014, the Hot Rods were fourth best in the Midwest League with a .260 batting average. Consistency returned in 2015 with the Hot Rods hitting .262, again best for fourth in the MWL. The 2015 season featured the promotion of 11 players; five of them being position players. This will mark DeMent’s first time in the Arizona Fall League as a hitting instructor.
Casey Gillaspie – The former first round draft pick (2014, Wichita State) put up big numbers this season for the Hot Rods earning him Midwest League All-Star honors and a mid-season promotion to High-A Charlotte Stone Crabs. The switch-hitting first baseman led the Hot Rods with 16 home runs and 44 RBI and was named the team MVP by the Tampa Bay Rays. Despite missing most of July and August with a broken hand, Gillaspie helped lead the Stone Crabs to the Florida State League title and finished with a .253 average on the season.
Hunter Wood – After making a return to Bowling Green in the 2015 season, the former starter who was converted to a relief pitcher, stifled opposing batters all season. Wood posted a 1.82 ERA and 0.81 WHIP in 20 games with the Hot Rods and struck out 81 batters while only walking 16. He earned Midwest League All-Star honors and was promoted to the Charlotte Stone Crabs in July. Once promoted to the Stone Crabs, Wood appeared in nine games, starting seven of them.
Mike Franco – The right handed pitcher played for the Hot Rods during the 2015 season and appeared in 23 games, all out of the bullpen. Franco converted four of his five save opportunities while in Bowling Green and posted a 1.87 ERA. His strong work ethic earned him a promotion to the Charlotte Stone Crabs on July 15th. Franco continued his dominance out of the bullpen posting a 2-1 record and 0.75 ERA.
Brad Schreiber – Schreiber was a member of the Hot Rods bullpen during the 2014 season under the guidance of pitching coach Bill Moloney. Schreiber struggled early before finally settling in during his lone season with the Hot Rods. He appeared in 30 games, posting a 3.57 ERA in 68 innings. Schreiber was assigned to High-A Charlotte to start the 2015 season where he was later promoted to AA – Montgomery. Schreiber showed great improvement this season where he was the anchor of the Stone Crabs bullpen converting 18 of 20 save opportunities which was complimented by a 1.83 ERA.
In addition to the players highlighted above, the Rays will also be sending talent from their High-A and AA clubs.
Daniel Robertson – Robertson, a shortstop, was acquired by the Rays in January of 2015 in the trade involving Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar. He played in 78 games for AA-Montgomery where he posted a .274 average under former Hot Rods manager, Brady Williams. Robertson is currently ranked as the Rays’ 5th best prospect.
Buddy Borden – Borden, a right handed pitcher, was also acquired in the offseason prior to the 2015 season. He was previously with the Pirates organization before being dealt in the Sean Rodriguez trade. Borden shined for the Charlotte Stone Crabs during the 2015 season with a 2.97 ERA. He also threw a no-hitter for the Stone Crabs on May 13; the same day the team turned a triple-play.
Jake Bauers – The former 7th round draft pick of the San Diego Padres was acquired by the Rays in a 3-team trade in December of 2014. Bauers, a first baseman, began the season with the Stone Crabs and hit .267 before his promotion in June. With the Montgomery Biscuits, he continued lighting up Southern League pitchers posting a .276 average.
Kris Russell – The 2015 season marked Russell’s fourth season as the Montgomery Biscuits’ athletic trainer. Russell was named Athletic Trainer of the Year for the Southern League during the 2014 campaign.
For more information on the Arizona Fall League, visit their website at http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/events/afl/index.jsp or follow them on Twitter (@MLBazFallLeague) for all of the latest updates.
Fresh off winning the 2015 Florida State League Championship with the Class-A Advanced Charlotte Stone Crabs, 2014 Hot Rods skipper Michael Johns was named to the Brisbane Bandits (Australian Baseball League) coaching staff. Johns will serve as the first base coach. The Bandits will kickoff their season on October 23rd and will play until January 24th.
For the full article on Johns’ hiring, please visit the Brisbane Bandits official website here.
The 2015 season marked the Hot Rods 7th season in Southcentral Kentucky. The Hot Rods welcomed new manager Reinaldo Ruiz to the helm as he was accompanied by pitching coach Bill Moloney and hitting coach Dan DeMent, both returning to the Bluegrass State for the second consecutive season. Once again, the Tampa Bay Rays sent top talent to the Hot Rods which led to success both on and off the field.
Let’s take a look back at the 2015 season in the way baseball fans can truly appreciate…in numbers.
.262 – Team Batting Average good for 4th place in the Midwest League
.308 – Batting Average by team co-leaders Coty Blanchard and Alec Sole
1.28 – WHIP of Hot Rods pitchers
1.65 – Best ERA of Hot Rods pitchers posted by reliever Edwin Fierro
2 – Pitchers that had a WHIP under 1.00 (Miller – 0.94 and Wood – 0.81)
3 – Latin American countries represented on the Hot Rods roster
3 – Players that hit at least 10 home runs during the season (Conrad – 10, Lockwood – 11, Gillaspie – 16)
3.39 – ERA posted by the Hot Rods pitching staff
4 – Players ranked in Baseball America’s Top 30 of Rays Prospects
6 – Longest winning streak of the 2015 campaign
7 – Seasons affiliated with the Tampa Bay Rays
8 – Players named Midwest League All-Stars; the best in the entire league
10 – Wins credited to Hot Rods starting pitcher Chris Pike
11 – Hot Rods players promoted during the season – Nine were promoted to the Charlotte StoneCrabs (High-A) and two were sent to the Durham Bulls (AAA)
12 – Shutouts thrown by Hot Rods pitchers
14 – Innings played during the longest game of the 2015 season
17 – States represented by Hot Rods players
69 – Wins for the 2015 campaign
73 – Total number of home runs hit by the Hot Rods (4th in MWL)
494 – Total franchise wins for the Hot Rods
533 – Total number of runs scored by the Hot Rods
6,377 – Fans in attendance for the Hot Rods season finale on September 4th; the largest home crowd of the season
200,777 – Total number of fans that enjoyed a Hot Rods game at Bowling Green Ballpark
Marc Topkin has been covering the Rays for the Tampa Bay Times since the team’s inception. He’s a great read both during the season and in the winter months. He sat down with us to talk about the Rays off-season, the outlook for 2015, and some of his favorite memories covering the Hot Rods’ big league club. You can follow Marc on Twitter or keep up with his articles by clicking here.
A.K.: The Rays have been very active on the trade market this off-season. What deal stands out the most to you (Reader note: The Hot Rods stand to gain from a few of these deals, as noted here)?
M.T.: The two deals that I found most surprising – and thus come with the biggest risk – were trading Wil Myers and Ben Zobrist. In both cases, because the Rays could have waited.
Wil had an impressive second half of 2013 and a poor 2014, though with an injury in the middle that cost him half the season. So I thought they would use this season to get a better sense of what they really have – he is only 24 – and then if they didn’t like what he did or how he did it trade him after the 2015 season. That they did so now makes you wonder if they were concerned he would have another bad year and his value would be significantly diminished.
As for Zobrist, I would have thought they would have played it out like they did last year with David Price – trade him in July if they are out of the race, keep him if they were in and take the draft pick. And while John Jaso will help the team this season, Daniel Robertson is considered a big-time prospect and Boog Powell has some value, it did not look to be an overwhelming return. But for the Rays to be so proactive, you again wonder if they were concerned about Zobrist’s dropoff in power.
A.K.: The promoted management on the baseball side has not been shy so far. Not many new faces and it’s very early on, but what are your thoughts on Matthew Silverman and his start as the guy in charge?
M.T.: The first thing people – including me at times – have to remember is that Matt is not new to the team and the decision-making process, just the role as having the final say. As team president, he was essentially Andrew Friedman’s boss for the previous 9 seasons, and was certainly closely involved in much of what they did. Plus, his top two assistants have also been with the Rays and part of the inner circle for a while, Chaim Bloom and Erik Neander.
That said, it’s different being in charge, and Matt has shown himself to be willing to be bold, to take risks, to be emotionless, and to be creative. All elements that typically make for a good baseball exec.
A.K.: David Price was such a big part of the fabric and the success of the Rays, even though you’re technically in an objective role, how odd was it to not see such a staple of the franchise on a daily basis?
M.T.: There certainly was a void, and while the players and fans noticed it most on the mound, I did in the clubhouse, as David was one of the players I had a very good rapport with, talking in some fashion on just about a daily basis. He is a player that I saw grow up, meeting him when he first signed with the Rays, and I’ve gotten to know his parents, I’ve been in his house in Tennessee, I’ve met his girlfriend and brother. And, he often was a good quote. You always miss those guys!
But this is still a business, so while it was odd to not have him around in the final two months of the season, it was only slightly different than seeing Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton and James Shields leave as well. The only difference was that Price left during the year so it felt more sudden as the other were off-season moves.
A.K.: The return haul for Price saw immediate dividends (Drew Smyly, Nick Franklin) but the biggest prospect of the trade was 18-year old Willy Adames, a relatively unheralded infielder entering 2014. He enjoyed a meteoric rise last season, capped by a one-month stay in Bowling Green. How much have you heard from Rays brass regarding Adames?
M.T.: I think the Rays, and many others around baseball, are quite high on Adames. Farm director Mitch Lukevics told me that they not only have high praise for his baseball skills – arm, glove, bat, legs, etc. – but also his makeup and personality, saying Adames has “it.” For him to do as well as he did being as young as he is, the future seems incredibly bright. And I get the sense that under the new management they may be a bit more aggressive in moving players up through the system. At this stage, Adames definitely projects as a major-league regular.
A.K.: Tim Beckham arrived in Bowling Green with significant hype in the inaugural season of 2009. What prospect grabbed your attention the most from his arrival in the system to his debut in Tampa Bay?
M.T.: This may not be the answer you were looking for, but the draft pick that turned out to be the most fascinating to follow never played for the Rays, and that would be Josh Hamilton, whom they made the top pick in 1999. Obviously that run of top of the draft picks that they had made for some hyped prospects, such as B.J Upton, Delmon Young, Jeff Niemann, Evan Longoria and David Price. Another one that was interesting to follow was Dewon Brazleton.
A.K.: Building on the last question, with Tampa Bay being such a MiLB-driven organization, how often do you glance at how the affiliates are doing?
M.T.: Honestly, I try to at least look at the box score or a story summary every day (or at night during the Rays game). The value of prospects (and the money they get) makes them worth following, and the interest from fans requires it. They truly are the future, especially in this organization. And I will admit that it’s a low moment for me when I get a question from a fan, via email or Twitter, about a minor-leaguer and I don’t know who they are talking about, so I try to make it a point to get as familiar as I can with all the players in the system.
A.K.: It may not be Thursday, but we have a throwback question for you. You’ve covered the team since its inception and endured all of the growing pains. How rewarding was it to go from covering 90+ loss clubs to the 2008 World Series and subsequent winning seasons?
M.T.: Even though as reporters we don’t pull for the team to win, we do root for interesting and exciting stories (in other words, the worst team to cover is a mediocre one; really good or really bad is much better). And I had seen plenty of bad, wondering during the 2002 season if I had had enough. But they hired Lou Piniella after that, which at least made it interesting, for the next three years. And then the transformation of the Rays, going back to Stuart Sternberg’s purchase of the team in October 2005, was a remarkable journey to chronicle, from putting Andrew Friedman in charge to hiring Joe Maddon, to rebranding the team and changing the uniforms, and then, of course, winning games and making the 2008 run to the World Series. It was exciting, exhilarating and exhausting, as the Rays became THE story locally and nationally. It is quite fun to the be the beat writer on the hottest story in town. And while there certainly have been some exciting moments since – Longoria’s Game 162 homer in 2011 to clinch the wild-card berth, and the 2013 end of season march from winning on the final day in Toronto to Game 163 in Texas to the wild-card game in Cleveland and then on to Boston for the ALDS – nothing will match the intensity of the 2008 ALCS finales, when Aki Iwamura stepped on second base to clinch the pennant.
A.K.: Some predict a temporary slowdown of the recent Rays success in 2015 (aka building for 2016), others see a competitive year. Where do you think the Rays fit in this year’s version of the AL East?
M.T.: As we sit here today, I think the Rays have taken a step back, but still have a chance to compete. Primarily that’s because they have the best starting rotation in the AL East, and have a chance to have one of the deepest bullpens, assuming Jake McGee is back, and as effective, within the first month of the season. There are some legitimate questions about the offense, especially in the power department, and still some uncertainty over the infield defense. They upgraded at catcher with Rene Rivera, and a good season from Asdrubal Cabrera could match what they would have gotten from Zobrist. So to me the keys look to be Nick Franklin, who may get the bulk of the playing time at second, and Steven Souza, whom they are counting on to be as good as Wil Myers was supposed to be. A prediction? 85 wins.
We’ve reached the finale of the Baseball America countdown, but fear not, we’ve an exciting interview that we’ll be posting on Monday. Marc Topkin was gracious enough to take some time with the Tune-Up Blog. Topkin has been the Rays beat writer for the Tampa Bay Times since the club’s inception. He has some great insight and observations into Tampa’s active off-season. That’s on Monday, but for now, the Rays’ Top 5 prospects according to Baseball America.
#5 – Justin O’Conner, C
It’s hard to say a first-round draft pick “vaulted” onto the scene, but after three sub-par years that’s just what O’Conner did with the Hot Rods in 2013. That year, he launched 14 home runs and drove in 56 in just 102 games. His bat finally caught up to the defensive prowess that made the Rays select him 31st overall in 2010 out of Cowan High School in Muncie, Indiana.
O’Conner took another leap forward last season, batting .282 in 80 games with Advanced-A Port Charlotte. That represented a nearly 50-point rise from his season with Bowling Green, and it led to a promotion to Double-A Montgomery at the end of the season. He held his own with the Biscuits in 21 games, collecting 21 hits and batting a respectable .263. O’Conner singled off fellow Rays prospect Enny Romero in the Futures Game, and he batted .303 in the Arizona Fall League. We’ve profiled a few other catchers that were on this list earlier, but O’Conner is the cream of the crop and could find himself behind the plate at Tropicana Field in late 2015.
#4 – Alex Colome, RHP
Colome found himself in the news for all the wrong reasons thanks to a suspension following a positive PED test. It was especially disappointing considering many considered Colome a favorite to crack the Opening Day roster for the first time since being signed by Tampa out of the Dominican Republic in 2008. He posted a 3.09 ERA with Durham in ’13, and was impressive in three starts with the big league club to end the season.
The suspension proved tob e just a bump in the road, and Colome won seven games in 15 starts with Durham last season. He appeared five times (three starts) for the Rays, compiling a 2.62 ERA in 23.2 innings. Tampa figures to have the best rotation in the American League East, so it’ll be awfully hard for Colome to crack it. However, there’s a great chance he’ll end up in the bullpen with the Rays to start the season.
#3 – Willy Adames, SS
Very few guys exhibit the “wow” factor at the Class-A level, but Adames did just that. Even more impressive, he did it as an 18-year old in his first stateside season AND after being dealt to a completely new team at the trade deadline. That’s a lot of culture shocks to experience for anyone in a six-month period, but Adames handled it flawlessly. He was signed for just over $400,000 by the Tigers, but was the prize asset coming back from Detroit in the David Price trade last July. His Hot Rods career lasted just one month, but it was one to remember.
Adames made the rare jump from the Dominican Summer League to full-season baseball, and showed no signs of needing time to settle in. He hit .269 with 32 extra-base hits and 50 RBIs in 98 games with West Michigan. By the deadline, he was a fast-rising name on prospect lists, and the Rays were able to acquire him by dealing Price. Even though he had to settle in with a new team, he improved his average by nine points, and helped keep the Hot Rods in the playoff chase during the month of August.
#2 – Daniel Robertson, INF
Acquired from the Oakland Athletics in the Ben Zobrist trade, Robertson is yet another first-rounder in the Rays farm system. He was selected 34th overall in 2012 out of Upland, California, and his rise has been a quick one. He hit .277 with Beloit in 2013, driving in 46 runs and tallying 111 total hits. He turned 20 before the start of last season, and enjoyed a career year.
Robertson made the move to Advanced-A Stockton, and set career-highs across the board. He hit .310 with 15 home runs and 60 RBIs, not to mention the 37 doubles he clubbed. All of these numbers being showcased from the shortstop position. He went on to hit .301 with 12 RBIs in the Arizona Fall League. Robertson is young which makes you think the Rays will allow him to play at Double-A Montgomery all year, but another step forward like he had in ’14, and Robertson just may force himself into the annual Durham playoff chase.
#1 – Steven Souza, OF
Souza was an interesting choice for the top spot, Personally, I would’ve placed Robertson or Adames in this spot, but the Rays clearly feel Souza can help this year. They had to trade away Wil Myers after just two seasons to get him, and Souza’s journey to Tampa is an unorthodox one. He was the 100th overall selection in 2007, and toiled as an infielder in the lower minors for five seasons before the Nationals moved him to the outfield. Since that change, he’s been a steady climber.
Souza enjoyed an outstanding 2014 campaign with Triple-A Syracuse, blasting a career-high 18 home runs to go along with 75 RBIs. He also stole 26 bases in 96 games, and made his way to Washington as a September call-up. In 21 games with the Nats, he only received 23 at-bats, but did club a pair of home runs. After 722 games in the Minors, Souza figures to be an everyday player with Tampa Bay in 2015.
Part three of our four-part countdown continues here on the Tune-Up as we profile the first half of Baseball America’s Top 10.
#10 – Brent Honeywell, RHP
Unless the Rays plan to be super cautious with the young right-hander, Honeywell could very well end up as Bowling Green’s Opening Night starter on April 9 in South Bend. He was selected with the 72nd overall pick in last year’s draft by Tampa Bay out of Walters State Community College. He has professional pedigree, his father (also named Brent) was signed out of Saint Leo University in 1988 by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Honeywell enjoyed one of the best debut seasons of anyone in the 2014 class. He made nine appearances (eight starts) with the Princeton Rays in the Appalachian League. Honeywell conceded an absurdly low four earned runs in 33.2 innings, good for a 1.06 earned run average. He struck out 40 while issuing just six free passes, and he allowed only one home run. For his efforts, Honeywell was named the Most Valuable Player for Princeton.
#9 – Ryan Brett, 2B
Selected in the third round in 2010, Brett has steadily risen through the Rays MiLB ranks. Hot Rods fans probably remember his BG days in 2012. That year he clubbed 29 extra-base htis, 35 RBIs, and hit for a .285 average in 100 games. His speed was greatly impressive, as he swiped 48 bags. 2013 saw him hit .340 in 51 games with Advanced-A Port Charlotte, which earned him some time at Double-A Montgomery.
Brett returned to the Biscuits for his first full season there in 2014. In 107 games, Brett hit an impressive .303 with 25 doubles and 38 RBIs. He also stole 27 bases in 34 tries. Brett is just 23, but could be knocking on the door of the big league club later this year. The biggest obstacle to that would be the emergence of Nick Franklin, and if Hak-Ju Lee enjoys a breakout season.
#8 – Mikie Mahtook, OF
Mahtook made the rare jump from college to High-A, skipping over Bowling Green. He was picked 31st overall in 2011 out of LSU after slamming 28 home runs and driving in 106 his final two seasons on campus. He found it tough to adjust to the pro ranks power-wise at first, but he did hit a cool .290 in 92 games with Port Charlotte in his debut campaign of 2012. He ended that year in Montgomery, and went on to play all of ’13 with the Biscuits.
He ascended to the Triple-A level for the first time with Durham last season. He knocked 51 extra-base hits in 132 games, and drove in 68 runs with 18 stolen bases. While Mahtook did strike out 137 times, he also posted a .292 average and .350 on-base percentage. The big league outfield is crowded with the addition of Steven Souza (profiled later on his list) and the emergence of Kevin Kiermaier, but he’ll get a shot at making the roster in Spring Training.
#7 – Nathan Karns, RHP
Karns put up modest numbers his junior year at Texas Tech, but after the Washington Nationals took him in the 12th round in 2009, he excelled as a pro. The right-hander put up ERA’s of 2.05 with Hagerstown, 2.25 with Potomac, and a 3.25 mark with Double-A Harrisburg. He was in the deal by the Nationals to the Rays before last season for Jose Lobaton, Drew Vettleson, and Felipe Rivero.
He made two starts with the Rays last season, but struggled most of the season at Durham. With the Bulls, he went 9-9 with a 5.08 ERA in 27 starts. He did posses quite the swing-and-miss stuff though, fanning 153 in 145.1 innings of work. It was the third season in Karns’ career that his strikeout total reached triple digits. Like prospects listed earlier on Baseball America’s list, he’ll head to Port Charlotte in a few weeks to compete for the fifth spot in the Tampa Bay rotation.
#6 – Adrian Rondon, INF
At 16, it’s incredibly rare to be gracing the Top 10 of any prospect list. That’s just how talented scouts think Rondon is. He was the top international prospect in last season’s signing period, and the Rays shelled out $2.95 million to get him. At 6-2 and 180 pounds, he’s already big enough to contribute at a high level. Scouts who had Rondon high that were surveyed by Baseball America think he can be a fast-riser much like Starlin Castro.
The Rays risked quite a bit on Rondon. Besides spending nearly $3 million bucks, they went well over their bonus pool which severely limits them in the 2015 signing window. This will obviously not matter if Rondon is the real deal and develops into what many have billed him to become. One has to wonder how soon Rondon will play stateside, although it’s high unlikely he’ll see action in Bowling Green until at least 2017.
#20 – Richie Shaffer, 3B
Shaffer was drafted as a big slugger in 2012, chosen 25th overall out of Clemson. The Rays opted to push Shaffer, and he subsequently did not spend any time in Bowling Green. After a hitting a combined 15 home runs in his first 155 professional games (spanning two seasons), he broke out with the power in ’14 with Double-A Montgomery. Shaffer blasted 19 home runs, and drove in 64. The two biggest concerns in his game are strikeouts (119 in ’14) and his low contact rate, he hit just .222 with the Biscuits last season.
#19 – Tyler Goeddel, 3B
A first-rounder in the huge 2011 draft class, Goeddel made his professional debut with the Hot Rods in 2012 as a 19-year old, and repeated with BG in ’13. He combined to hit 13 home runs and drive in 111 runs with the Hot Rods, but he also stole 60 bases and slashed 14 triples. The Rays deemed him ready to move up to Port Charlotte this past season, and he did not disappoint. Goeddel posted a career-high .269 average, drove in 61 runs, and collected 39 extra-base hits in 113 games. At 6-4 and 180 pounds, Goeddel posses has the frame to support a speed/power combination. Many are expecting a breakout year from him in Montgomery.
#18 – Jose Dominguez, RHP
Acquired in the Joel Peralta trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Dominguez is a fireball right-hander that posses a fastball that can hit 100+ miles her hour. He made his big league debut with Los Angeles in 2013, tossing 8.1 innings over nine contests. He competed in five more big league games last year, but spent most of his season closing games for Triple-A Albuquerque. He pitched with Great Lakes in the Midwest League in 2012, and will be competing for a spot in the big league bullpen in Tampa during Spring Training.
#17 – Nick Ciuffo, C
As is to be expected with a high school catcher, Ciuffo was slow out of the gate, hitting a respectable .258 in the Gulf Coast League in 2013. He spent all of last season with Princeton, batting just .224 with four home runs and 20 RBIs. Those numbers aren’t a huge cause of concern, as offense is usually the last skill to “click” in young catchers, especially those chosen out of high school. Ciuffo was picked up with the 21st overall pick in the ’13 draft, just a few slots before 2014 Hot Rod, Ryne Stanek.
#16 – Justin Williams, OF
Williams is a name Hot Rods fans should be absolutely thrilled about for the 2015 season. He was acquired from Arizona in the trade that sent Jeremy Hellickson to the Diamondbacks. The 19-year old figures to at least start the season in Bowling Green, and he’s already a feared hitter at the Class-A level. In 28 games with South Bend last season, WIlliams hit .284. That was a cameo appearance as he hit .386 in 46 contests with Missoula en route to the Pioneer League batting crown. While Williams has connected for just five home runs as a pro in two seasons, many are excited by the power potential he possesses. He’ll be a part of a middle order that may just be the best in all of the Midwest League next season.
#15 – Jake Hager, SS
Hager enjoyed the best season of his professional career so far with the Hot Rods in 2012, blasting 10 home runs and driving in 72. He hit just .258 in Port Charlotte during the 2013 campaign, but he did rebound last season with Montgomery. As a Biscuit, Hager hit .271 with 47 RBIs. His glove has carried him thus far in his pro career (excluding the eye-popping ’12 campaign), but he’s poised for a big year at the plate this year. The big question will be whether he’s back in Montgomery, or on his way to Durham.
#14 – Taylor Guerrieri, RHP
The 2011 first-rounder was putting up historic numbers with Bowling Green in 2013, but his season ended early when Guerrieri underwent Tommy John Surgery. Before going under the knife, he owned a 2.01 earned run average in 14 starts with the Hot Rods. That was coming off a 2012 campaign with Hudson Valley that saw the South Carolina native establish a ridiculous 1.04 ERA in 12 starts. He was able to throw in five games for the GCL Rays in 2014, so most think Guerrieri will be ready to go for ’15, probably in Port Charlotte.
#13 – Casey Gillaspie, 1B
The former Wichita State Shocker could be another piece in Bowling Green’s order in ’15 after a respectable debut with Hudson Valley last season. He starred at Wichita State, blasting 34 home runs over three seasons, including 15 his junior campaign. He was Tampa Bay’s top draft choice (20th overall) in ’14, and hit seven home runs while driving home 42 with the Renegades. Despite a slow start, he hit .262 and drew 42 walks in 263 at-bats. His older brother Conor is a regular for the Chicago White Sox, and fans could see Casey at Bowling Green Ballpark to start the year in ’15.
#12 – Andrew Velazquez, INF
Tabbed the Midwest League’s prospect of the year while with South Bend last season, Velazquez was the other piece of the Hellickson trade along with Williams (#16 on this list). He’s an electric infielder who batted .290 with 42 extra-base hits and 56 RBIs. He also stole 50 bases, and was one of the best defenders at the shortstop position. Many speculate Velazquez will be changing positions thanks to a deep shortstop pool in the Rays system, but it’s hard to imagine Velazquez returning to the MWL, but the Hot Rods would sure welcome him to the top of their order.
#11 – Blake Snell, LHP
Snell returned to Bowling Green in ’14 to get a handle on his control, and he did just that by controlling Midwest League competition. In eight starts with the Hot Rods, the lefty posted a 1.80 ERA, and struck out 42 in 40.1 innings while issuing just 19 free passes. He was promoted to Port Charlotte in late May, and he went on to strikeout 77 more batters in 75.1 innings with the Stonecrabs. His big highlight came on August 2 when Snell tossed the first no-hitter in Port Charlotte franchise history. It was rain-shortened, but he was nearly perfect as well (just two walks). Snell was the 52nd overall pick in 2011, and while a return to Port Charlotte would make sense to start ’15, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in a Montgomery uniform.