Midseason additions Fulenchek, Hu participating with Whitley, Rondon
By Mike Rosenbaum
The Tampa Bay Rays' farm system isn't as loaded as it has been in previous years, but it's still plenty deep, featuring a combination of both high-ceiling and high-probability prospects.
While highly touted talents such as Willy Adames, Blake Snell, Brent Honeywell, Taylor Guerrieri and Daniel Robertson headline the Rays' prospect contingent, the organization also houses several lesser-known prospects -- a group comprised mostly of recent Draft picks as well as trade acquisitions -- who are participating in the instructional league.
A second-round Draft pick of the Braves in 2014, Garrett Fulenchek's season began in mid-June with an assignment to the rookie-level Appalachian League, where he would pitch for roughly two weeks before being traded to the Rays in early July. The Rays' No. 14 prospect was used sparingly over the final two-plus months of the regular season, logging just 17 2/3 innings over 12 appearances (four starts) between the Atlanta and Tampa Bay affiliates in the Appy League.
The 19-year-old right-hander's limited workload was a product of his control issues, as Fulencheck walked 30 batters and recorded a 2.72 WHIP on the season. However, he did prove to be difficult to barrel when around the zone, evidenced by the 18 hits allowed -- none of which left the park -- and 19 strikeouts in that span.
Rays No. 16 prospect Chih-Wei Hu was another notable midseason acquisition, coming over from the Twins at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline in the Kevin Jepsen deal. A 21-year-old from Taichung, Taiwan, Hu spent most of the season pitching for Class A Advanced Fort Myers, where he posted a 2.44 ERA, a 1.16 WHIP and a 73/19 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 84 2/3 innings (15 starts). He also picked up a win in a May 19 spot start for Triple-A Rochester, allowing one earned run on two hits in six innings.
The 6-foot-1, 230-pound Hu was strong in his first two starts for the Class A Advanced Charlotte Stone Crabs -- allowing a combined two earned runs in eight innings -- but he ran into trouble down the stretch, going 0-2 with an 11.32 ERA in 10 1/3 innings spanning his final three starts. Hu ended his season on a positive note, though, firing a career-high eight scoreless innings in a 1-0 win over Daytona to open the Florida State League playoffs. The right-hander scattered five hits, walked one and struck out nine in the outing, and he also generated 10 ground-ball outs compared to just two in the air.
Stanek making up lost time
Rays No. 23 prospect Ryne Stanek was viewed as a potential Top 10 Draft pick headed into spring 2013, but a disappointing junior campaign at Arkansas combined with injury concerns caused him to fall to the back end of the first round, where Tampa Bay grabbed him with the No. 29 overall pick.
The 24-year-old right-hander underwent right hip surgery shortly after signing, which delayed his professional debut until the following year. Stanek ultimately logged just 58 2/3 innings in 2014, also missing a month late in the season with shoulder fatigue.
Finally healthy for the 2015 season, the 6-foot-4, 180-pound Stanek began to progress through the Rays' system, working a career-high 112 1/3 innings (25 appearances, including 17 starts) between Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery. Though he finished the season with a 3.04 ERA, Stanek fared considerably better in the Florida State League, where he pitched to a 1.78 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP in 50 2/3 innings (nine starts).
If all goes as planned this fall (and next spring), Stanek should return to Montgomery to begin the 2016 season.
Hot commodities: Whitley and Rondon
Both Garrett Whitley and Adrian Rondon are participating in instructional league this year, offering a glimpse of the organization's bright future.
Whitley, Tampa Bay's No. 4 prospect (No. 69 overall), made a strong impression this summer after being selected with the No. 13 overall Draft pick, showcasing loud tools and advanced secondary skills between the Gulf Coast and New York-Penn Leagues.
The 18-year-old right-handed hitter struggled to hit for average in his professional debut, batting just .174 in 42 games, but he did show promising raw power (10 extra-base hits) and reached base at a respectable .293 clip (21 walks, 37 strikeouts), highlighting his plate discipline. The 6-foot, 200-pounder also received rave reviews for his athleticism and defense in center field.
The Rays shelled out big bucks to land Rondon, the club's No. 7 prospect, during the 2014 international signing period, targeting the Dominican Republic native both for his offensive ceiling as well as his potential to remain at shortstop long term. However, given Rondon's age and lack of stateside experience, it was widely believed at the time of his signing that he would need considerable time to develop in the Minor Leagues. Yet the Rays offered an early vote of confidence in the 17-year-old by assigning him directly to the Gulf Coast League for his professional debut, rather than an assignment in the Dominican Summer League.
Rondon's inexperience showed during his time in the GCL, as the 6-foot-1, 190-pounder batted just .166/.256/.234 with 24 hits and 57 strikeouts in 43 games. He committed nine errors at shortstop in 37 games.
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.