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Friday, Apr 18, 2014
Rays

Rays Beat: Sustaining success not easy in smaller market

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PORT CHARLOTTE — This is what happens when you reach the playoffs in four of the past six seasons: Baseball America runs out its list of the Top 100 prospects in all of baseball and you have just one player on the list.

This is what happens when those winning seasons pushes you further down the draft order: You miss out on drafting someone like David Price or Evan Longoria and settle for prospects who need more time to develop.

Yes, there is a downside to winning if you are a small-revenue team like the Rays that depends on the draft to restock the farm system that is supposed to churn out the major-leaguers who will keep the machine humming.

Jake Odorizzi, currently competing for the fifth spot in the rotation, was ranked 67th by Baseball America.

Odorizzi moved up to No. 56 in MLB.com’s rankings and was joined by shortstop Hak-Ju Lee at No. 84 and right-hander Taylor Guerrieri at No. 94.

And ... that’s it.

Outfielder Wil Myers, the minor-league player of the year in 2012, is now a big leaguer. Same with pitcher Chris Archer.

“You can’t pay attention to what’s written,” Rays farm director Mitch Lukevics said. “We know these players better than anybody. We know what they can and cannot do. We know what we have to do to help each player to get to a certain level. Certainly Kevin Kiermaier wasn’t ranked in the Top 100, but Kevin Kiermaier has a lot of value, and it showed in the playoffs.”

Kiermaier joined the Rays in Texas for Game 163 and found himself in center field as a defensive replacement in the ninth inning. He was added to the wild-card roster two days later and played the final two innings during the win at Cleveland as the Rays advanced to the American League division series.

So, there are prospects and there are guys who can be added to the major-league roster to fill an extremely important need.

There is Alex Colome, who made a spot start when Alex Cobb suffered a cut on his right middle finger. Colome beat the Marlins in Miami and quickly returned to Triple-A Durham. There’s Enny Romero, who made a spot start against Baltimore during the final homestand of the season. The Rays’ pitching staff was gassed after their 18-inning win against the Orioles two nights earlier.

The Rays won both games. They edged the Rangers for the second wild-card spot by one game.

Still, the Rays would like a few more high-impact guys orbiting the major-league roster, waiting for their chance to produce at the big-league level.

“We feel like we have a lot of depth in our system, but as we sit here today we don’t have as many impact-type prospects as we would like,” Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. “The good thing about having depth is that prospects by nature are pretty volatile and we can easily be sitting here at the end of the year with some guys who have emerged as impact guys. But it’s something that consumes us on a daily basis.”

The Rays saw this coming once they turned the corner in 2008. That’s why Matt Garza was traded after the 2010 season to the Cubs for five prospects, including Archer and Lee. That’s why James Shields was traded after the 2012 season to the Royals for four prospects, including Myers, Odorizzi and left-hander Mike Montgomery, who is making strides toward reaching the big leagues sooner rather than later.

That’s why everyone assumed Price was going to be dealt in the same manner this past offseason.

“Obviously it’s more challenging for a smaller-revenue team to sustain success because it’s more difficult to get impact-type players when you’re picking at the end of the first round,” Friedman said. “And the fact that smaller-revenue teams can’t access them in free agency, so it makes it that much more difficult to add players who can have a significant impact on your roster.”

rmooney@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7227

Twitter: @RMooneyTBO

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