The Arizona Fall League season began on Tuesday, with seven players representing the Tampa Bay Rays in Surprise, Arizona. The league is designed for some of baseball’s top Minor League prospects to refine their skills, and perform in game settings in front of major and minor league baseball scouts and team executives, who will be in attendance at almost every game.
Four pitchers and three position players will spend the next six weeks challenging themselves in Arizona. Neil Solondz (Rays Radio) gave a brief primer of the seven players representing the Rays, which you can read below:
Spencer Jones — a 10th round 2016 selection out of the University of Washington, Jones just completed his first full year in the Rays system. The 6–5 righty split time between two A-ball levels. Between Bowling Green and Charlotte, Jones was 2–4 with a 2.25 ERA over 36 outings while saving five games. In 68 innings, Jones allowed 57 hits and 21 walks while striking out 74.
Benton Moss — After missing the first half of the season due to a back injury, Moss will be picking up additional innings in the AFL. Moss, a sixth round pick in 2015 out of UNC, was 5–6 with a 3.21 ERA in 15 appearances, 14 as a starter with Charlotte and Montgomery. Moss worked 81.1 innings, after throwing 138 last year. We featured Moss in 2016 in a Prospect Spotlight profile.
Roel Ramirez — the righty was a late replacement for lefty Dalton Moats, who was to go to the AFL but was unable to because of a hand injury. Ramirez split time between Bowling Green and Charlotte. Ramirez made two appearances for the Hot Rods, going 1–0 with a 3.00 ERA. He pitched the rest of the year with the Stone Crabs, and was 2–3 with a 5.52 ERA, making 26 appearances, six as a starter. The 22-year-old Ramirez was an eight round pick in 2013 out of high school in Laredo, TX.
Burch Smith —Smith, like Moss, also is making up for lost time. After missing all of 2015 and 2016 recovering from Tommy John surgery, Smith returned to the mound this year, and finished in Triple-A Durham. Smith, who pitched in the GCL, Charlotte and Durham, was 5–3 with a 2.40 ERA over 56.1 innings and 13 appearances (12 as a starter). That doesn’t include innings Smith threw in extended spring training or the Triple-A playoffs for Durham. The Rays will decide whether to protect Smith in the Rule 5 draft (a future topic on this blog), as Tampa Bay has one more year where it controls Smith.
Brandon Lowe — the MVP of the Florida State League, Lowe was as accomplished as any hitter in the Rays system. A third round pick in 2015 from Maryland, Lowe blossomed this year, hitting .311 with 46 extra-base hits in 90 games for Charlotte. Lowe played 24 games for the Montgomery Biscuits in Double-A, and hit .253 with two homers and 12 more RBI. An area of focus for Lowe will be defense, as he had 18 errors at second base between Charlotte and Montgomery.
Kevin Padlo — the 21-year-old corner infielder missed much of the year because of a broken hamate bone, suffered while playing for the Charlotte Stone Crabs. Playing in the AFL will challenge Padlo and give him additional reps he missed during the year. In 64 games, Paldo hit .223 (.715 OPS) with 6 HR and 34 RBI for the Stone Crabs. Known for his power, Padlo was acquired in the same deal as Corey Dickerson from the Colorado Rockies.
Brett Sullivan — a conversion player who started catching in 2016, will work on getting more reps to continue to improving on his defense. A 2015 draft pick out of the University of Pacific, Sullivan has done nothing but hit since being selected by the Rays. This season, Sullivan was an All-Star in the Florida State League, hitting .301 with eight homers and 67 RBI in 83 games. Sullivan also stole 14 bases, and struck out just 29 times in 345 plate appearances, tops in the organization. Sullivan spent the last month in Montgomery, where he hit .272 with seven RBI in 24 games.
All eyes will be on Burch Smith, who seems to be the most likely of the seven to make the jump to the big leagues next season.
MLB Trade Rumors projected arbitration salaries
On Monday, Matt Swartz and MLB Trade Rumors released their annual projected arbitration salaries for the upcoming season. Of interest, the Rays have 13 arbitration eligible players on the roster: Shawn Tolleson, Adeiny Hechavarria, Dan Jennings, Brad Boxberger, Corey Dickerson, Brad Miller, Xavier Cedeno, Jake Odorizzi, Jesus Sucre, Chase Whitley, Alex Colome, Steven Souza Jr., and Matt Duffy.
The number in parentheses is a player’s estimated Major League service time (Years.Days) through 2017 (172 days constitutes a full year of Major League service, per the collective bargaining agreement).
The Rays do not have any Super Two players this season.
Shawn Tolleson (5.109) – $1.0MM
Adeiny Hechavarria (5.060) – $5.0MM
Dan Jennings (4.171) – $2.5MM
Brad Boxberger (4.109) – $1.9MM
Corey Dickerson (4.101) – $6.4MM
Brad Miller (4.094) – $4.4MM
Xavier Cedeno (4.060) – $1.4MM
Jake Odorizzi (4.042) – $6.5MM
Jesus Sucre (3.137) – $1.3MM
Chase Whitley (3.123) – $1.0MM
Alex Colome (3.118) – $5.5MM
Steven Souza (3.072) – $3.6MM
Matt Duffy (3.059) – $900K
The 13 players below are projected to make up half of the Rays current $80MM payroll (roughly $41.4MM). Stu Sternberg is expected to cut the payroll in 2018, although it is not certain is how.