Rays' moves net huge prospect return for club
Souza, Velazquez among more than a half-dozen young players acquired via trades
There's a good amount of subjectivity regarding baseball prospects. With the evaluation of talent being in the eye of the beholder, finding consensus is often difficult. Even Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLBPipeline.com don't always see eye to eye. They discuss their viewpoints regularly in a feature called Pipeline Perspectives. Submit a topic for them to debate.
While everyone is eagerly anticipating the start of a new baseball season, watching the very early stages of another Spring Training, there's no question that this offseason was one of the busiest in recent memory. Sure, nothing beats watching games on the field, but as counting down the days to another season goes, this was pretty action-packed.
Perhaps we all should send a thank-you note to San Diego general manager A.J. Preller for keeping us engaged, but it wasn't just the Padres who were busy. There was a whole lot of talent that changed teams and that's this week's Pipeline Perspectives topic: Which team acquired the most prospect talent this offseason?
Jim Callis' choice, the Atlanta Braves, certainly are worthy, after adding a current Top 100 prospect, a top-10 third-base prospect and a lefty who was on the Top 100 (and could be again), just to name a few. But I think in terms of what a system has now, compared to what was there before, the Tampa Bay Rays have brought in as much new talent as anyone.
Three trades -- ones that sent Wil Myers to the Padres, Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar to the A's and Jeremy Hellickson to the Diamondbacks -- were responsible for bringing in seven prospects, all of whom will almost certainly be on the new Rays' Top 30 prospects list, coming soon. The Myers deal, a three-team trade that involved the Nationals, brought in the most players.
Steven Souza came from the Nats and he's the prospect who will impact the big league roster first. He has the chance to be in the Opening Day lineup in right field. Right now, he's best known for saving Jordan Zimmermann's no-hitter, but Souza has a good power-speed combination that we at MLBPipeline.com admit we may have under-appreciated in the past.
First baseman Jake Bauers and right-hander Burch Smith were the other two prospects in the deal, both coming from the Padres. Like Souza, Smith has big league experience, albeit in 2013. His 2014 season was a wash because of a forearm strain (he did return to play in the Arizona Fall League), but he's just shy of turning 25, so if he's healthy, he could contribute to the big league staff this season. Bauers is further away, but he has a chance to hit for average and some power.
The best prospect the Rays received this offseason came in the Zobrist deal. Daniel Robertson was the shortstop the A's had who made them feel comfortable trading Addison Russell to the Cubs last July for Jeff Samardzija. Now he's a Ray and he comes in at No. 65 on the current Top 100, just a few slots behind new organization-mate Justin O'Conner. Tampa Bay also got Boog Powell in that deal, and I am curious to see what 2015 brings for him. He did nothing but hit in 2014, but he also got popped for a 50-game amphetamine suspension. Powell came back and hit well in the Fall League, so I want to see what he does to follow up.
Finally, there's the Hellickson deal, which brought in Andrew Velazquez and Justin Williams. Velazquez is the one who reeled off a 74-game on-base streak in 2014. He also stole 50 bases while showing good skills at shortstop. Williams won't turn 20 until late August and lit up Pioneer League pitchers a year ago, then held his own in the Midwest League, where he's likely to start this season.
This exercise doesn't even count Willy Adames, the prize of the David Price trade last July, who gives the Rays a third member of the Top 100. That means from the last year's July 31 Trade Deadline to now, Tampa Bay has added eight new prospects who will figure into its Top 30. If that's not the epitome of restocking the system, I don't know what is.