In part one of a three-part series, the Tune-Up Blog will take an in-depth look at Baseball America’s Top 30 prospects in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. It’s a list that has changed multiple times this off-season with the big league club’s wheeling and dealing. The result? A resurgent Minor League system that features several big-time prospects. In our first edition, we take a look at who Baseball America says is #30-21.
#30 – Patrick Leonard, INF
Acquired in the trade that sent James Shields to Kansas City, Leonard posses very good power that is beginning to take shape. He blasted 13 home runs last season for Advanced-A Port Charlotte, up from the nine he hit while in Bowling Green in ’13. The biggest advancement he put forth was actually his batting average. It skyrocketed 59 points to a career-best .284, along with a .350 on-base percentage. He quieted down a bit in his Arizona Fall League campaign, but Leonard should find himself with Double-A Montgomery to start the season.
#29 – German Marquez, RHP
Marquez made the leap from Princeton to Bowling Green in 2014 as a 19-year old, and after a slow start, it really paid dividends in the second half. His 3.21 earned run average is very good, but consider he posted a remarkable 1.67 mark in five starts during the dog days of Summer, and it’s easy to see why Marquez is flying up the prospect charts. Marquez ended the year touching the upper 90’s with his fastball. He should be fun to watch this year in Port Charlotte.
#28 – Ryne Stanek, RHP
Stanek was a top 10 prospect a year before the 2013 draft, but a hip ailment sent his stock downward just a bit. That was good news for the Rays, who selected Stanek with the 29th overall pick out of the University of Arkansas. He arrived in Bowling Green with much fanfare on May 8 of last season, striking out six batters over five innings in his professional debut. He tied the franchise record for strikeouts in a game (12) in his final Hot Rods start at Lake County on July 2, and was subsequently promoted to Port Charlotte. He made three starts there before being shut down because of an injury, so he should feature with the Stonecrabs to start 2015.
#27 – Burch Smith, RHP
The three-team trade with the Padres and Nationals netted Smith from San Diego, and he’ll have a shot at the fifth-starter role this upcoming season. Smith started his career at Howard College (same school as 2014 Hot Rod Hunter Wood), and reached the big leagues just two years after being drafted out of the University of Oklahoma. A 1.16 ERA at Double-A San Antonio in ’13 put him high on the radar, but he’ll look to stay healthy after injuries limited him to just two starts last season.
#26 – Luke Maile, C
Maile is a name familiar to folks across the bluegrass. Before he starred at the University of Kentucky, he was lashing line drives for Covington Catholic High School. Maile batted .283 in 95 games with the Hot Rods in ’13, and hit .268 with Double-A Montgomery. The performance was enough to warrant a promotion to Triple-A Durham for the playoffs. He’s a great defensive catcher who’s on the cusp of being big league ready.
#25 – Kean Wong, 2B
It took less than two weeks for people to get over the “Oh Kean, not Kolten” thing with the younger brother of a certain Cardinals contributor. Wong was just 18 when he played in his first Class-A game last season, and never looked his age all season. He ended the campaign with a .306 average, good for second in the Midwest League. Wong batted below .300 in a month just once, and he was voted as the best defensive second baseman on the circuit. He should have another standout year in Port Charlotte this season.
#24 – Hak-Ju Lee, SS
Injuries have stalled Lee’s career, but at one time he was the highlight of the Matt Garza trade. He could join Chris Archer in Tampa Bay in 2015, but he’s only played in 108 games over the past two seasons. He owns a solid glove with quick feet, but many wonder if he’ll have to move down the road with the log-jam of shortstops behind him. With Nick Franklin cemented in a role at Tropicana Field, it looks as if Lee will return to Durham to start 2015.
#23 – Enny Romero, LHP
Romero was selected to his second consecutive Futures Game this past season, and he’ll battle for the fifth rotation spot in Spring Training. The lefty went 5-1 with a 4.50 ERA in 25 starts with Durham in ’14, but he does have one big league start under his belt, which came on Sept. 22, 2013. Romero struggled at times with Bowling Green in 2011, but a solid 2013 season has vaulted his name up prospect lists. Despite his many innings in the Minors, Romero will be just 24 when the season opens, wherever that may be for him.
#22 – Tim Beckham, INF
He’s about to “age out” so this will be the final year you will see Beckham on any prospect list. He was perhaps the hottest name in Minor League Baseball when he was a part of the inaugural Hot Rods club in 2009, and batted .275 that year. Beckham experienced many ups and downs after, but finally put it together in 2013 with Durham, earning a big league call-up at the tail end of the season. He was set to battle for a roster spot last year, but a knee injury shut down most of his campaign. Beckham will once again have to battle to avoid the bus rides in 2015.
#21 – Jake Bauers, INF
For those who listened to our radio coverage last season, I enjoyed numerous “24” puns at Bauers’ expense. While he’s not being tasked with saving the world, Bauers is considered a surging name. He’s just 19, and batted .296 in 112 games with Fort Wayne in ’14. At one point, his average was well above .400 before he cooled off after his arrival. Despite this relative cool-down, Bauers still managed to drive home 64 runs and amass 120 hits. Sadly I will probably not be able to make any “24” references this year, which is good for Bauers. He’s likely destined for Port Charlotte in ’15.
That’s our short synopsis of prospects #30-21 according to Baseball America, keep an eye out next week when we dive into #20-11.
Much like the players who have competed for the Bowling Green Hot Rods (Class-A/Tampa Bay Rays), the managing spot has been one featuring rising names in the Tampa Bay system. The latest to add his name to that list is 34-year old Reinaldo Ruiz, who was named Bowling Green’s fifth manager on Wednesday. He spent the past three seasons as the hitting coach with the Princeton Rays (Appalachian League), and succeeds Michael Johns, who was promoted to Advanced-A Port Charlotte (Florida State League). Pitching Coach Bill Moloney, Coach Dan DeMent and Athletic Trainer Nick Flynn return after serving in those roles for the Hot Rods in 2014.
“We’re thrilled to welcome Reinaldo and his family to South-Central Kentucky,” said Hot Rods Chief Operating Officer and General Manager Adam Nuse. “He arrives with great praise across the Tampa Bay Rays organization. We’re also excited to welcome back Dan DeMent and Bill Moloney, who both did a tremendous job last season with the Hot Rods.”
Ruiz arrives in Bowling Green with an impressive resume. At just 34, he will be one of the youngest managers in affiliated baseball this season. He spent the past three seasons as the hitting coach in Princeton, helping oversee league-best 40 wins and a berth in the Appalachian League playoffs last season. Prior to his time with Princeton, Ruiz was the hitting coach for short-season Hudson Valley in 2011, and a coach for the Gulf Coast League Rays in 2009.
“I am very excited and very happy that I have been promoted to manager of the Bowling Green Hot Rods,” said Ruiz of his new post. “It’s a new challenge in my coaching career, but I am looking forward to that challenge. We are going to give our 100% to help develop the players that go through BG, to have a competitive team, and bring excitement to all the fans this year.”
Signed to a professional contract by the Houston Astros organization, Ruiz began his stateside playing career in Martinsville Appalachian League) in 2001. That same season, he was promoted to another affiliated club in the state of Kentucky, the Lexington Legends. He would go on to play a total of 32 games with Lexington during the 2001 and 2002 seasons. Ruiz would then spend a total of three seasons with Advanced-A Salem (Carolina League) in the Astros system before retiring from his playing career.
The 2015 season will mark Moloney’s third in Bowling Green. He’s been with the Rays organization since 2008, having tutored pitchers for Port Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery in addition to the Hot Rods. In 2014 Moloney led a staff that posted a respectable 3.69 earned run average. He helped prospects to numerous mid-season promotions, most notably starters Blake Snell and Ryne Stanek, and closer Colton Reavis. Moloney enjoyed a well-decorated playing career, spending parts of three seasons at the Triple-A level with the legendary Pawtucket Red Sox.
DeMent returns for his second season as coach with the Hot Rods. He mentored a young offense in 2014 that finished fourth in the Midwest League in batting average despite losing key pieces of the lineup throughout the campaign. Hot Rods hitters finished with a .260 average and 337 extra-base hits. DeMent was previously the hitting coach at Hudson Valley during the 2012 and ’13 seasons. DeMent reached the Triple-A level as a player, and was originally signed by the Rays in 2000.
Flynn was awarded the 2014 Midwest League Trainer of the Year, and he will defend his crown as he begins his second season with the Hot Rods. The 2015 campaign will mark Flynn’s sixth in professional baseball, five of those years have been with the Tampa Bay organization. Flynn interned with the Toronto Blue Jays during the 2009 season. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of South Florida, and his master’s degree from Georgia State.
Rumblings that made ripples around the Twitter-sphere were proved true on Thursday afternoon when the Arizona Diamondbacks made 2014 Hot Rod Oscar Hernandez the first selection in the Rule 5 draft. We’ve profiled the Rule 5 before, but the quick summary is a Rule-5 selection has to either be on the Major League roster the entire following season, or be on the disabled list with (a legit) injury. If Oscar makes it, he’ll be a rare Low-A to big league story. It certainly is a fantastic professional opportunity for Hernandez.
Oscar made a name for himself in 2011 when he put up insane (but verified) numbers in the Venezuelan Summer League. He won the circuit’s triple crown that year, blasting 21 home runs, driving home 66, and hitting at a ridiculous .402 clip (nearly 40 points higher than his nearest competitor that season). He struggled to find his offensive grove in his stateside debut in Princeton in 2012, but did fare a bit better in the ’13 season that included a very brief stint in BG.
Hernandez showed flashes of his 2012 VSL self with the Hot Rods this past season. He ended the season as the club’s RBI leader with 63, and he accounted for 32 extra-base hits. His nine home runs were second on Bowling Green, and his five triples (as a catcher!!!) surprisingly ranked second on the squad. He did not make the Midwest League All-Star team, but he was poised to crack Tampa Bay’s Top 20 prospect list in most publications.
It’s clear what the Diamondbacks see in Hernandez. He threw out over 40% of would-be base thieves. His powerful (but still developing) bat, rocket of an arm, and athletic ability prompted Arizona to give up a 40-man spot. Now, the road is still long for Hernandez to make the big league roster in the desert. He has to survive cuts in Spring Training, and can be returned to the Tampa Bay organization (who would NOT be required to place him on the active or even 40-man roster) at any time. A pick built high on potential for Arizona, who could sit him behind a big league starter and develop him with an unconventional method. The Tune-Up Blog certainly enjoyed having Oscar on the club this season, and we wish him the best of luck on this new journey!
The Tampa Bay Rays gave Kevin Cash a big birthday present of the employment variety by naming him manager last week. Upon seeing this news, you may have been wondering how many puns you could work into everyday conversation. Before you take those puns to the bank, (see what we did there? Get it? Cash is stored in banks…) the Tune-Up Blog gives you a brief history of the youngest manager in the Major League Baseball.
Cash is widely considered one of the up-and-coming bright minds of baseball. At just 37, he has been tutored the past couple of seasons by Terry Francona, who famously broke the curse of some candy bar guy in Boston in 2004, and led the Red Sox to another title in 2007. It was pretty clear from the get-go the Rays wanted a young voice to lead the clubhouse, in fact Raul Ibanez was a finalist along with Cash, and he hasn’t even been out of playing the game for more than a few months. On top of the knowledge he gained from Francona, Cash has deep Tampa Bay and Rays connections.
He starred at Tampa’s Gaither High School, where he followed up former San Francisco Giant, Chad Zerbe. The catcher turned a successful high school career into a commitment to baseball-powerhouse Florida State. He blasted 27 home runs over three seasons while in Tallahassee, including 14 his junior year. He signed with the Toronto Blue Jays prior to the 2000 season, and quickly advanced to the big leagues with Toronto in 2002. He made his big league debut as a pinch hitter on September 6, 2002. The man he replaced? Why that was Ken Huckaby, who spent 2014 as the hitting coach for the Lansing Lugnuts. Side note: Huckaby is also the guy who hurt Derek Jeter.
After 101 games in the big leagues and 160 at Triple-A Syracuse, Cash was traded by the Blue Jays and to his hometown Rays in 2005 for Chad Gaudin (Fun fact: I had the pleasure of meeting Gaudin this past season while he dined with 2014 Hot Rod lefty, Stone Speer. In fact, Gaudin threw out a first pitch at Bowling Green Ballpark earlier that evening). Cash spent most of the season in Durham, but did appear 13 times for his new employer. After spending all of 2006 in Durham, Cash inked a minor league deal with the Red Sox in ’07 and added a World Series ring to his trophy cabinet. He became the personal catcher for Tim Wakefield in 2008, and would go on to see action in 61 games for Boston that season, a career best.
In 2009 he collected another ring with the Yankees (and played for my previous employer, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre). He split 2010 between the Red Sox and Houston organizations before retiring with Round Rock, Texas’ Triple-A squad in 2011. Shortly after, he joined Toronto’s front office as a scout, helping discover and sign players for the team that signed him originally.
After a short scouting career, Francona took Cash under his wing in Cleveland, and was on the staff that turned around the Indians in 2012 before falling to (you guessed it) Tampa Bay in the playoffs. The Rays’ managerial search came down to Kansas City bench coach Don Wakamatsu, Cash, and Ibanez. By giving the reigns to Cash, Tampa seems to be signaling a fresh voice to coincide with typically youthful Rays clubhouse. While games are not won with the hiring/firing of a manager, combined with the veteran leadership of guys like Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist, Cash seems to be a money in the bank kind of hire for the Rays. Pun intended.
On Tuesday morning, the Australian Baseball League published their rosters for the upcoming ABL All-Star game. As expected, the former Hot Rods currently playing for the Brisbane Bandits are well represented. 2014 Tampa Bay Rays MiLB Player of the Year Johnny Field started his 2014 success in BG, and he’s continuing that “down unda'” and headlines the All-Star list. 2013 Hot Rod Tommy Coyle, and former Fort Wayne TinCap and current Rays MiLB’er Maxx Tissenbaum also made the cut, but our friend (and ’14 BG man) Granden Goetzman needs your help:
Goetzman enjoyed a breakout season with the Hot Rods, batting .315 with seven home runs and 31 RBis in just 60 games before being promoted to Advanced-A Port Charlotte following the Midwest League All-Star game. He was also present on the MWL Mid-Summer classic squad, and he hopes to add an ABL All-Star nod to his resume. He’s currently tied for fifth in home runs with five, tied for third in stolen bases with six, and he’s launched exactly half of his hits for extra bases. To vote for Goetzman in the “Final Vote” for the ABL, visit their Facebook page by clicking here. Perhaps the leaders of the G-20 can give Goetzman a vote as a token of appreciation for his shoutout last month.
Field is tied for third in the ABL in homers with sxi, and like Goetzman, he has also driven in 11 runs and swiped six bases. Field owns a .371 on-base percentage, and like he did in BG, he’s made some highlight reel plays with the Bandits. Tommy Coyle finds himself in the batting-title race, he owns a .373 mark and is in fifth place. Coyle also leads the Bandits with 13 RBIs, and has complied nine extra-base hits. Tissenbaum may have never worn a Hot Rods jersey (perhaps acquired by Tampa just a year too late for BG), but the Tune-Up Blog counts him as one of our own. Maxx (that’s two X’s mind you) is hitting .321 with three home runs of his own.
Full disclosure: No mother was actually yelled at during the making of this weekly update.
We have yet to reach Winter Meetings on the baseball off-season calendar, but the hot stove sure is cooking as we approach Thanksgiving! In case you missed it, the Hot Rods’ parent club dealt Jeremy Hellickson to the Arizona Diamondbacks for a pair of prospects. Those prospects happened to frequent Bowling Green Ballpark for the (then) South Bend Silver Hawks.
According to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, Andrew Velazquez and Justin Williams just may be headed for Bowling Green in 2015. Williams is a clear choice to be in the outfield for BG in ’15, as he only joined South Bend later in the second half, and he’s only 19 years of age. Velazquez would be a curios addition to what is shaping out to be a powerful potential Opening Night roster. He was named the Midwest League’s Prospect of the Year after batting .290 with 56 RBIs and 50 stolen bases.
For further breakdown, we dive into the careers of Velazquez and Williams:
Velazquez- He stands just 5’8”, but anyone that has seen him play will tell you he plays much bigger than that “on-paper frame” and stature. He was selected in the seventh round by the Diamondbacks in the 2012 draft out of Fordham Prep in New York City. He turned 20 on July 14, so another year (at least to start) at the Class-A level would certainly not be a step backward.
He was the everyday shortstop for South Bend in ’14, and one has to wonder if the Rays are contemplating a move given how deep the position is within the organization, most notably, the acquisition of Willy Adames from the Tigers in the David Price trade. As a hitter his talents are clear, he piled up 42 extra-base hits, 15 of them triples, and swiped a whopping 50 bases in 65 attempts.
He reached base in 72 consecutive games this past season, which is an official (or unofficial depending who you ask) Minor League Baseball record. He did strike out 136 times, but also drew 62 walks and scored 94 runs. All this while being a switch-hitter at the plate, creating a matchup nightmare for opposing managers.
Williams- A second-round pick (52nd overall) in 2013, Williams turned 19 on August 20 this past season, and celebrated a few weeks later when he clinched the Pioneer League batting crown despite a late-season promotion to South Bend. He hit .386 (73-189) before arriving in South Bend, and ended his season with 28 games with the Silver Hawks, despite playing in nearly half the contests, he had the same RBI total in both cities (23).
At 6’2”, most scouts think he’ll develop into a power-bat with room to grow. The Diamondbacks sure thought that when they gave him a signing bonus north of seven figures. He’s played primarily left field in his professional career, but one would think he’ll have a comfortable home in the middle of the order for the Hot Rods come Opening Night 2015.
Hellickson was dealt after a sub-par year (4.52 ERA in 63.2 innings pitched), although he was battling back from a major elbow injury. It frees up a 40-man roster spot for a prospect, many think that could go to someone like former Hot Rod Justin O’Connor (2013) to protect him (and other prospects) from the upcoming Rule-5 draft.
The leaves may be falling in most places around the baseball world, but that hasn’t stopped 2014 Hot Rod Jaime Schultz from continuing his success on the diamond that he started with the Hot Rods. The Arizona Fall League named Schultz, now a starter for the Peoria Javelinas, the premier prospect league’s Pitcher of the Week.
Schultz dominated Surprise (Seriously…it’s a city in Arizona) over five innings on Halloween. He conceded just three hits and one run, while striking out seven batters in the process. The seven whiffs bumped his total to 23 through 18.2 innings pitched, ranking him first in the entire AFL as of Tuesday afternoon. It was Schultz’s first win on the fall tour, and his latest in a season of abrupt stops thanks to an appendectomy in Spring Training and a DL stint with BG in June.
“Being only my second year, I wasn’t sure what to expect [about the AFL],” said Schultz in an interview with Don Ketchum of MLB.com. “You can tell it’s a good atmosphere, kind of relaxed, but the intensity really picks up for the games. It’s a huge learning experience when you see how hard everybody works and the adjustments they make.”
Jaime posted a 1.95 ERA with the Hot Rods over nine starts, and he tied a franchise record by fanning 12 batters in his May 22 start against Lake County at Bowling Green Ballpark. He finished with 58 strikeouts in just 37.0 innings pitched with BG, and he amassed 21 more strikeouts in five starts with Advanced-A Port Charlotte following his promotion.
A blockbuster trade can beef up any position, and with David Price dealt at the deadline by the Tampa Bay Rays, the prospect list took quite a shuffle. The addition of Willy Adames surged the Hot Rods into playoff contention in the month of August after a series of earlier promotions, and Adames found himself the hottest name in the system.
Hot Rods – Willy Adames and Juniel Querecuto
The Hot Rods were in South Bend, Ind. taking on the Silver Hawks when the clubhouse (painted in pink by the way) went buzzing on July 31. The news leaked out David Price was Detroit bound, and many speculated West Michigan’s star prospect would be joining the Rays organization, and even the Hot Rods. That was confirmed hours later, and Adames joined BG in Lake County.
Adames experienced a meteoric rise in 2014 well before he was traded. He entered the season ranked as the 30th prospect in the Tigers system, still an impressive feat for an 18-year old who was making his stateside debut. Not only did he settle in a new country, he did so by completely skipping over three levels to join West Michigan in the Midwest League. After batting .214 in April, he hit .294 in May and never looked back.
Upon joining BG, Adames was hitting .269 with six home runs and 50 RBIs. He was second in the league in triples, and had already piled up 32 extra-base hits. In 27 games with the Hot Rods, Adames hit at a .278 clip with nine extra-base hits and 11 runs batted in. He went on a nine-game hitting streak from Aug. 20 until Aug. 29. Overall, Adames drove home 61 runs and batted .271 against competition that was usually four years or more older than him.
It’s easy to see why Adames was placed as the second-best prospect in the Rays system after the trade. He has power to all areas of the field, a good eye (despite a high strikeout rate), and he’s very advanced for his age. It’s hard to see a ceiling for Adames at this point, and it will be fun to see what he does as he rises through the system.
Lost in the shuffle of Adames’ arrival was the excellent season put together by Juniel Querecuto. Many were expecting some rust after the Venezuela native missed all of 2013 due to injury, but he showed no signs of it while hitting at a .291 clip with the Hot Rods in 88 games. The roster lacked a true lead-off man, but Querecuto filled the role well and batted .290 when hitting first in the order.
“Q” is a traditional contact hitter, but it was a bit surprising when one looked at his career statistics and saw zero home runs. That all changed on June 22, when after 1,065 professional at-bats, Querecuto lined a homer to right field on June 22 in Lansing, Mich. against the Lugnuts. Even more crazy was that just five games later, he hit his second.
He played his final game for the Hot Rods on July 28 against Quad Cities, and as the bus loaded up for South Bend, Ind., Querecuto was given a plane ticket to Port Charlotte for a promotion to the Stone Crabs. His production dipped just a bit in Port Charlotte, but he collected 18 hits and eight RBIs in 27 games while in the Florida State League.
Triple-A Durham – Hak-Ju Lee
Adames isn’t the only shortstop acquired via blockbuster trade. The Chicago Cubs sent Hak-Ju Lee over in the Matt Garza trade in January of 2011. That trade also netted Tampa Chris Archer, Brandon Guyer, and Sam Fuld. Lee cracked the top 100 of nearly every prospect list from 2011-13, but injuries have plagued his campaigns the last two seasons.
He saw action in just 15 games in ’13, but managed to play in 93 this past season. He batted just .203 with 14 extra-base hits, but the Rays were probably just relieved to have Lee back on the field healthy again. He hit .318 in ’11, and batted a respectable .261 with Montgomery in ’12, so one would expect Lee to return to that form with health concerns (mostly) becoming a thing of the past.
Double-A Montgomery – Jake Hager
Hager has been one of those “quiet prospects” his entire career. He’s produced solid results nearly every summer, but has yet to earn recognition from most publications. He was selected with the 32nd overall pick in the famed 2011 draft out of Las Vegas, and he played his first full-season with Bowling Green in ’12. That year, he batted .281 for the Hot Rods while driving in 72. His 10 home runs hit that year still rank as his career-best total.
He did experience a bit of a drop-off in ’13, only hitting at a .258 mark in 113 games for Port Charlotte, but the Rays elected to move him along to Montgomery this past season. He looked a lot like the Hot Rods version of Hager, pushing his average back up to .271 and forcing across 47 RBIs. The extra-base hits returned to his game as well, as Hager accounted for 35 total.
At just 21 years old age, Hager could easily be back in Montgomery, but his results have certainly earned him an opportunity to move to Durham. This creates a bit of a log-jam in the upper levels of the system that is now being felt below with the presence of Adames and Querecuto. It’s a good “problem” to have, and Hager will have the chance to continue to develop at whatever affiliate he ends up with in ’15.
Advanced-A Port Charlotte – Leonardo Reginatto
The Rays’ patience with Reginatto is now paying high dividends. He hit just .198 in 2011 and had to repeat with short-season Hudson Valley in ’12, but he broke out with the Hot Rods last season. Reginatto finished just one point behind teammate Andrew Toles in the Midwest League batting race, ending his campaign with a .325 clip.
The 24-year old did not slow down this past season with the Stone Crabs, as he amassed 115 hits in just 94 games. His .316 average and .384 on-base percentage were amongst the Florida State League’s best, and he showed drastic improvement on the base paths. He was thrown out seven times in ’13, but he stole 14 bases in just 16 tries with PC.
Those results earned him a late promotion to Montgomery (in part thanks to injuries), but he was a quiet 7-54 in 17 games with the Biscuits. That won’t scare Reginatto or the Rays, and he very well could be the opening day shortstop for Montgomery if Hager moves to Durham. Otherwise, we could see some position shuffling going on at the Double-A level.