Top 5 fantasy prospects
1- Matt Moore, SP
Moore is part of a trio of prospects that includes Bryce Harper and Mike Trout that have a legitimate argument for the honor of being called the top prospect in all of baseball. In fact, Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus ranked him atop his top 101. Moore has always been a well thought of prospect, but he took it to a whole new level in 2011 by making strides in leaps and bounds to his control and command. He went from a passable 3.79 BB/9 at High-A in 2010 to an oustanding 2.68 BB/9 in 2011 across three levels (Double-A, Triple-A and the majors). He has always been a strikeout machine, and that didn't change while moving up levels. In 2011 he sported a drool inducing 12.32 K/9 striking out 225 batters in total.
Moore has the goods necessary to find himself heading Cy Young ballots in short order. He's a southpaw that throws hard, really hard. His fastball sits in the mid-90s with a couple more ticks in reserve when he needs to reach back for a little something extra. His delivery is described as mechanically sound, and easy. He has three other pitches in his repertoire, all of which are above average. He throws a filthy curveball, a dominating slider, and an above average change-up. All of his scouting reports are overwhelmingly positive, and he is the most desirable fantasy pitching prospect to own.
2- Hak-Ju Lee, SS
Lee looks like the best prospect the Rays received in return for Matt Garza last year. He is an above average defender, and is the shortstop of the future for the organization. He doesn't project to hit for more than gap power, but he has the tools necessary to work his way into one of the top two spots in the lineup down the line. Lee hit High-A pitching hard, but struggled to hit above his weight in Double-A.
He walks at a healthy rate, and makes lots of contact. He has plus to plus-plus speed, and could end up stealing 30 or more bases in the majors. That type of stolen base production with a batting average above .290 would make him a major asset at the shortstop position in fantasy. Lee will begin the year back in Double-A, where he should play much better in his second turn there. I expect to see him in the bigs in late 2013.
3- Mikie Mahtook, OF
What Mahtook lacks in superstar tools, he makes up for with an advanced approach and a lack of glaring weaknesses. He was selected in the first round of the draft last June out of Louisiana State University, where he hit for power in spite of the change to less potent aluminum bats. He should be able to hit 20-25 home runs annually at peak maturity. Mahtook also runs well, which helped him net 29 stolen bases as a junior last year. He's not a burner, but as a good athlete, he could best 20 stolen bases in the majors.
He signed too late to play in the minors last year, but he did get professional experience in the Arizona Fall League (AFL). Mahtook received 78 plate appearances hitting .338/.410/.544 with three home runs, five stolen bases (only one caught stealing) and a sound walk-to-strikeout rate (BB:K) of 7:16. Because he is an advanced hitter, the Rays will challenge him with an assignment to High-A to begin the year. He shouldn't need much time in the minors, and could debut in the majors as soon as 2014.
4- Enny Romero, SP
A left-handed pitcher with a mid-90s fastball in the low minors that needs to improve his control and command, but already strikes out batters at an alarming rate. Rays fans must be having deja vu. Romero has a longer ways to go than Matt Moore did, but it's easy to see why Keith Law drew the comparison in his Top-100 prospect write-up for Romero. Some scouting reports suggest Romero would be best suited in the bullpen. However, for now, he'll continue to be developed as a starter.
In 114 innings at the Low-A level, he had a 5.37 BB/9, 11.05 K/9, 4.26 ERA, and 3.66 FIP. High-A will be his next challenge. Prospects like Romero have a tendency to move fast when they harness their stuff and find the strike zone with more frequency. It's not always a quick process getting to that point, though, and some never do.
5- Taylor Guerrieri, SP
I went back and forth between ranking Guerrieri fourth or fifth. Ultimately, his lack of pro data landed him behind Romero. Guerrieri was yet another first round pick of the Rays in 2011. He was drafted out of a South Carolina high school, and signed away from a University of South Carolina college commitment. He's not as polished as the other prep arms in this past year's loaded crop of arms, but his ceiling is also that of a front line starter.
Guerrieri throws a plus velocity heater that he parks in the mid-90s and dials up to the upper-90s on occasion. His best secondary pitch is a plus curveball. He also throws a developing change-up and cutter that he didn't use often in high school. He'll also need to tighten up his command. The Rays are expected to take it slow with Guerrieri, meaning he'll debut in a short season league sometime over the summer.
Bonus- Ryan Brett, 2B
The Rays stumbled onto a nice find in the third round of the 2010 amateur draft when they took undersized high school second baseman Ryan Brett. He hit the ball in the Gulf Coast League in 2010, and followed it up by hitting more at Rookie level Princeton in 2011. Brett slashed .300/.370/.471 in 240 at-bats with doubles power and a great approach that resulted in a 26:24 BB:K. He caused terror on the base paths stealing 21 bases at an ultra efficient 87.5 percent clip. Standing just 5-foot-9, and lacking the range to play shortstop, he'll need to succeed at second base to reach the majors. His defense needs work, but if it becomes passable, his bat may carry him.
Top 5 in 2012
1- Matt Moore, SP
The Rays are in the enviable situation of having more than five starters worthy of a rotation spot. Moore will force his way in.
2- Chris Archer, SP
Archer was supposed to be the top prospect the team got back from the Cubs in the Garza trade, but the combination of Lee's stellar year, and his own regression made it so that wasn't the case. Archer has plenty of stuff, including a mid-to-upper-90s fastball and a slider that Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus calls the best in all the minors. His command and control, as well as a below average change-up have slowed down his development. His fastball/slider combo would make him a lethal end game option. The Rays already have a loaded rotation, and weren't shy in moving Jacob McGee from starting pitcher prospect to reliever. There is a reasonable shot they'll do the same with Archer. Kyle Farnsworth had an excellent season closing games for the Rays in 2011, but his track record of success is much shorter than his track record of futility. He also missed time late in the season with elbow soreness. If injury or ineffectiveness were to rear their ugly head, the door could open to some save opportunities for Archer should the team move him to the bullpen.
3- Tim Beckham, SS
Rays shortstops were putrid in 2011. They did nothing to address the position in the offseason, and Beckham is now just one level away finishing last year in Triple-A. He doesn't possess the same star level tools he did when the Rays took him first overall in the 2008 amateur draft, but he flashed enough power to suggest he could be a slightly above average offensive contributor at a position where the bar to do so is quite low. His plate discipline needs work, and he's likely to spend most of the year in Triple-A. That said, if the Rays shortstops continue to struggle, and Beckham starts of the year hot, he could force their hand sooner. With Lee coming up quick, the window is going to be small for Beckham to prove he can be an everyday major league shortstop.
4- Matt Bush, RP
Get past Bush's ugly 4.83 ERA in Double-A, and you'll see he was quite unlucky (2.98 FIP). The former shortstop prospect, and first round pick of the San Diego Padres has reinvented himself as a pitcher after years of struggling on and off the diamond. He throws hard, 96-98 mph fastball, and backs it with a wipeout slider. That pitch pitch mix helped him strikeout Double-A batters at a 13.77 K/9 rate in 50.1 innings. His 4.29 BB/9 is a little higher than ideal, but isn't awful in relief. Bush has earned rave reviews from manager Joe Maddon, and should find himself in the Rays bullpen sometime in 2012. He's behind a few others in the vulture saves pecking order, but anything is possible. His ability to miss bats alone could make him rosterable in large leagues.
5- Brandon Guyer, OF
Yet another prospect the Rays received from the Cubs in the Garza deal. Guyer has had back-to-back solid seasons in the high minors, and should be a reserve outfielder for the Rays this year. He can back up all three outfield positions. He offers moderate power and speed, but lacks patience. Guyer doesn't strike out at a high rate, and his ability to make contact should serve his batting average well. With steady playing time, he could be a glue guy/fifth outfielder type in large mixed leagues.