Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check in
Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check in on the Rays.
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Rays farm director Mitch Lukevics has been part of the Rays front office since 1995. Needless to say, he's seen it all. As he surveys the players on the Minor League side of the facility here in Port Charlotte, the ones that make up MLB Pipeline's No. 4 farm system, he finds it tough to say this is the strongest farm system he has seen here.
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"It's hard to say best; it's one of them," Lukevics said. "In addition to the Draft, international scouting, the guys have made some nice trades to acquire some really good young players to go into our farm system. With the combination of that, we're where we need to be for our Major League club.
"As we've said for the last 20 years, we're not like everybody else because we need to be self-sustaining to help our club with our Minor League players to make it a go. If not, our Major League club will not have success and that's not what it's all about."
That model has turned things over more than a time or two, with established big leaguers sent away in return for prospects. Lukevics saw Aubrey Huff go to the Astros in 2006, Matt Garza go to the Cubs in 2011 and David Price go to the Tigers in 2014. So while it wasn't easy to say goodbye to Evan Longoria, Lukevics certainly wasn't shocked.
"This is how we go about our business," Lukevics said. "This is the Tampa Bay Rays business model. It's no different today than it was in 2006. People forget Chris Archer pitched in Double-A for us and Ben Zobrist was a Minor League player before he became the Ben Zobrist. And we acquired them in trades.
"Now we had to trade Evan, we get players back. You try to do with them like you do with your draftees, your international players. Everybody upstairs has an idea of what they're doing and they're executing it. Will we hit on everything? Who does in baseball?"
The Price and Longoria trades should pay big league dividends soon. The key prospect in the Price deal was Willy Adames, who was in A ball at the time. The shortstop is ready to contribute now. So is Christian Arroyo, the third baseman who was the top prospect in the Longoria trade this past offseason. It might surprise some that neither is breaking camp with the big league club, but they'll be in Triple-A Durham waiting for the chance to help out, something Lukevics knows will come soon.
"We have two guys on the left side of that infield that are right where you want," Lukevics said. "When we went to the World Series in 2008, everyone on that Major League team other than Aki Iwamura got hurt. Where do you get players from? From your Minor League system. We're at the stage now with where we are, with the development and acquisition of players, that we feel really comfortable with the guys coming up. Not just coming up, but making an impact when they come up. That's pretty cool stuff."
Sanchez ready to take next step
Want a prospect poised to make a leap to the top of MLB Pipeline's Top 100? Jesus Sanchez might be a very good horse to bet on.
Currently ranked No. 57, the toolsy outfielder is coming off of a full-season debut at age 19 that saw him hit .305/.348/.478 in the Midwest League. That average was good for second in the league and he topped the organization in home runs (15) and RBIs (82).
And he's barely scratching the surface. Sanchez had a good offseason and showed up in Port Charlotte in outstanding shape. He's even gotten some looks in Grapefruit League action, going 3-for-7 with a double and triple, opening many eyes.
"He's bigger and stronger," Lukevics said. "He's a little more baseball savvy. We put him in big league games because he can handle it mentally. He has the physical skills. You see him out there and say, 'Who is that guy?' He looks the part. He's 20 years old and he looks like a big leaguer right now. He has the right raw skillset to become a good Major League player."
Arroyo may have been the best prospect acquired in trades prior to this season, but he certainly wasn't the only one. Sending Jake Odorizzi to the Twins brought back shortstop Jermaine Palacios. The Corey Dickerson trade brought in infielder Tristan Gray and the three-team trade that sent Steven Souza Jr. to Arizona netted the Rays second baseman Nick Solak from the Yankees, who has spent considerable time in big league camp. This is the first time the Rays staff has been able to see these acquisitions for an extended period of time, and they have impressed.
"They fit right in and they stand out," Lukevics said. "Palacios is a true shortstop. Gray is really intriguing and can hit a baseball. I would include Nick Solak in this group, but he's been on the other side of the building. I haven't really seen him much.
"We're happy to have them and we're anxious to see where they go this year and put them in with the other pretty good players we have here. When you get these three guys to come into our system, it's pretty exciting. This is how we have to do it."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.