Snell, Guerreri and Faria among Tampa Bay's talented upper-level arms
By Mike Rosenbaum
Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the season ahead. Some are competing for jobs in big league camp, others are prepping for the season as they vie for spots at Minor League affiliates up and down a team's system. MLBPipeline.com will be visiting all 30 camps this spring. Today, we check in on the Tampa Bay Rays.
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla -- The Tampa Bay Rays pride themselves on their ability to develop young pitchers, but since the arrivals of Matt Moore and Alex Cobb, the organization hasn't produced many homegrown arms.
That could soon change, however, as the Rays head into the 2016 season with an impressive core of highly touted pitching prospects at or above the Double-A level, many of whom are already on the club's 40-man roster.
Headlining that group is Blake Snell, MLBPipeline.com's No. 14 overall prospect, who participated in his first big league Spring Training this year on the heels of arguably the best campaign of any pitching prospect in 2015. The 23-year-old lefty opened the season with 46 consecutive scoreless innings en route to finishing with the lowest ERA (1.41) in the Minor Leagues as well as the fourth-best strikeout total (163). While he'll open the year back at Triple-A Durham, it goes without saying that Snell is on the cusp of making an impact at the highest level.
"He's come such a long way from last Spring Training to this Spring Training," said Tampa Bay's Director of Minor League Operations Mitch Lukevics. "He came in really focused last year and the work ethic picked up, and he went on to have a banner year. We were really pleased because it was him who made that adjustment and matured on his own. And despite all of that good he has, there's still room for him to become a lot better."
Following Snell's path are right-handers Taylor Guerrieri (Rays No. 6) and Jacob Faria (No. 9), both of whom finished 2015 with strong showings at Double-A Montgomery and have continued to make strides this spring in their first big league camps.
"Guerrieri is another high school guy who has matured in our system. He came back from Tommy John surgery last year and pitched well at Double-A down the stretch, and he's ready to go this year. His fastball command has always been very good, as well as his overall stuff, but now that he's reached Double-A, he needs hone in on refining his secondary pitches so he can be more consistently effective against left-handed hitters," said Lukevics.
Faria, like Snell, broke out in a big way in 2015, when he led all Minor League pitchers in wins (17), ranked third in ERA (1.92) and sixth in strikeouts (159) between the Class A Advanced and Double-A levels. In his first big league camp this spring, the right-hander yielded just one run and one hit while fanning seven hitters in 5 1/3 innings.
"He's put himself on the radar, and obviously he's already on the 40-man roster," remarked Lukevics. "He was always a good worker with good makeup and OK stuff, but he grew up physically last year and the stuff jumped forward along with it. It's 'now' stuff, and he knows how to compete."
No. 21 prospect Kevin Padlo may be new to the organization, coming over from the Rockies in January as part of the Jake McGee-Corey Dickerson trade, but it hasn't taken the 19-year-old third baseman long to make a positive impression on the Rays' coaching staff. Padlo struggled with the jump to full-season ball early last season, but he rebounded following a demotion to the more age-appropriate Class A Short Season Northwest League, where he led the league with 22 doubles while finishing second with 33 steals and a .502 slugging percentage.
"I talked with Kevin for the first time after we traded for him, and we had an intellectual conversation about the maturation process. He loves to play baseball and is mature beyond his years, and there's obviously some pop in that bat. He's pretty quick too; he's already told us how he stole 30-something bases last year. He fits right in in our system," said Lukevics.
No. 18 prospect Ryne Stanek, the club's first-round Draft pick in 2013, is another player whose stock is on the rise this spring. After battling injuries to begin his pro career, the Arkansas product made up for some of the lost time in 2015, when he dominated over nine starts at Class A Advanced Charlotte and reached Double-A Montgomery in late May.
"We think Ryne turned the corner last year," Lukevics asserted. "We used him in relief at Montgomery to keep him healthy, but he'll move back to starting this season. Our pitching coordinator Dewey Robinson tweaked a couple things with him -- his arm stroke wasn't quite where we wanted it -- and he's made some nice adjustments on his own too. He's throwing the ball really well in camp and was up to 95 mph with a hard slider in his first outing. It's a carryover from last year into Spring Training, and he's right where he should be."
No. 14 prospect Justin Williams spent two seasons in the Diamondbacks' system before joining the Rays as part of the Jeremy Hellickson trade in November 2014. He reached the Class A Advanced Florida State League in his first year with the organization, and then built on that success this past offseason in the Australian Baseball League, where he paced the circuit in OPS (.980), tied for second in home runs (10) and finished with the third-best average (.342). The Rays believe that his offseason success has him poised for big things in 2016.
"He's come back from Australia a more mature young man, both mentally and physically. He has raw power with the hittability to get to it, but, with him, it's just a matter of learning to be more patient at the plate," Lukevics said. "We think his experience in Australia helped in that regard, and we're really excited to see him play on an everyday basis this season."
No. 19 prospectJaime Schultz has downright impressive raw stuff, with a mid- to upper-90s fastball and power breaking ball that helps him pile up strikeouts. A 2013 14th-rounder, Schultz led the Double-A Southern League last year in strikeouts (168), but also in walks (90), which speaks to his ability to dominate but also highlights his considerable room for improvement. He's impressed in big league camp so far, firing 3 2/3 hitless innings with four strikeouts, and the Rays believe he's a few adjustments away from truly breaking out.
"Jaime has off-the-charts stuff. The command hasn't been there, but he has all the right raw resources for molding. He's still in Major League camp but will start out at Triple-A Durham, and he's not on the 40-man roster," Lukevics said. "That's a nice scouting-player development model. Right now, we have the luxury of continuing to develop him as a starter, which we hope will lead to better command of his breaking ball and changeup."
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.