7 Rays prospects to watch this spring

Snell leads group that could bring special spark to camp

February 11th, 2016

ST. PETERSBURG -- Every spring, hopefuls dot Major League rosters.

Any good organization has a crop of talented prospects pushing the players on the Major League roster. Count the Rays among those with such a crop.

Here's a look at some of the Rays' top prospects fans will have a chance to watch once camp opens in Port Charlotte, Fla.

1. Blake Snell, LHP

Snell, 23, is ranked by MLB.com as Tampa Bay's No. 2 prospect. He made a huge leap forward in 2015 by starting the year with 46 consecutive scoreless innings and pitching across three levels.

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Snell has good movement on his low-to-mid 90s fastball and has developed a good feel for his offspeed stuff. He has cut his walk rate the last two years, but his control remains below average.

Though Snell put up a dominating season in 2015, there's still room for improvement, both physically and on the mound. The Rays' patience for developing pitchers has reaped significant rewards in the past, and he could eventually give them a similar payoff.

It will be fun watching Snell perform for the Major League club this spring, but it's unlikely that the left-hander will break camp with the team. Tampa Bay has depth in the rotation, so unless somebody gets hurt, Snell could spend a lot of time polishing his act at Triple-A Durham.

2. Richie Shaffer, 3B/1B/OF

Rays fans got a look at Shaffer during his two stints with the team in 2015. He was named the organization's Minor League Player of the Year after leading the team's Minor Leaguers with 26 home runs and tying for second with 73 RBIs between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham. Combined with Shaffer's Major League numbers, he hit a career-high 30 home runs in 467 at-bats.

Tampa Bay has crowded situations in the outfield, at first base and designated hitter. Evan Longoria is the team's third baseman. Thus, unless injuries or trades take place, Shaffer appears headed to Durham to begin the season, since he is not out of options. He is too good of a talent to be a bench player at this point of his career.

3. Mikie Mahtook, OF

Mahtook had six stints with the Rays in 2015, making starts at all three outfield positions. After logging only 24 days combined in his first five tours with the team, he joined them for good on Sept. 1 and wound up leading the team in batting average the rest of the season, with a .353 mark. Mahtook also led the team with six home runs and a .706 slugging percentage.

Tampa Bay's outfield situation is a crowded one headed into Spring Training, which likely means Mahtook will start the season at Durham. Based on what he did in 2015, he appears to have the talent to become a solid Major League player.

4. Justin O'Connor, C

O'Conner found his footing in the Florida State League in 2014 and parlayed his breakout into a selection to the All-Star Futures Game. His bat regressed with the move to Double-A in 2015, though he showed signs of a rebound in the second half.

O'Conner has big raw power that he has only just started to tap into. He's an aggressive hitter, and his pop comes with a lot of swing-and-miss.

5. Daniel Robertson, SS

Robertson is the Rays' No. 5 prospect, according to MLB.com. Tampa Bay picked him up in January 2015 as part of the deal that sent Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar to Oakland. Robertson was having a solid first season in the organization when he broke the hamate bone in his left hand in early June.

Robertson employs a mature approach at the plate. He has a short swing, uses the whole field to hit and is adept at working walks. Robertson's bat speed and feel for hitting give him solid power potential that he is just starting to tap into.

Despite having below-average speed, Robertson has proved to be a steady defender at shortstop, thanks to his instincts, arm strength and soft hands. He's earmarked to be Durham's shortstop in 2016, but he could be called up during the season if things break right.

6. Taylor Guerrieri, RHP

Guerrieri started the 2013 season strong at Class A Bowling Green and was selected to the Futures Game roster. But he was injured before he could appear in the event and eventually had to undergo Tommy John surgery. Guerrieri missed almost all of the 2014 season as a result.

Now healthy, Guerrieri is showing the electric stuff that made him a top Draft prospect out of high school. He throws his fastball in the low-to-mid 90s, with late sinking action. Guerrieri's curveball has good depth, giving it the makings of an out pitch. He has made strides with his changeup, giving him three average-or-better offerings.

7. Ryan Brett, 2B

Brett made his Major League debut in 2015, his sixth professional season. He appeared in three games with the Rays before getting injured and later being optioned back to Durham.

Brett has a compact swing and quick hands, which allow him to make consistent hard contact. He can occasionally turn on a ball and drives the gaps well, but power is not a big part of his game. Brett knows how to take advantage of his plus speed and can be disruptive on the basepaths. He has made significant strides with his defense and profiles well at second base.