The Tampa Bay Rays' farm system was dubbed the second best overall in Major League baseball by Baseball America in 2011. This should come as no surprise; the Rays have continually developed and fielded players from their own system rather than inheriting high priced free agents from other organizations. For a team with the second lowest payroll in baseball, in-house development is essential.
Enter Mikie Mahtook.
Mahtook was the Ray's second selection and 31st overall player picked in June's amateur draft.
Most MLB prospects typically take time to adjust to the higher level of competition found in the upper echelons of minor league baseball. Mahtook, though, is coming off an exhilarating junior season at LSU in which he earned first team All-American honors for the first time in his college career. He hit .383 with 12 doubles, five triples, 14 home runs and 56 runs batted in for the Tigers in 56 games last season. Remarkably, he also reached base in all 56 of those games.
Mahtook played primarily center field and right field for LSU, but his skills are projected to translate to any outfield position at the big league level.
ESPN Analyst John Mayo cites Mahtook as having excellent bat speed and strong mechanics that will make him an "above average hitter at the next level".
In addition to his prowess at the plate, Mahtook's base-running, speed and strong accurate arm make him as close as you'll find to a complete player. He also seems to have a natural instinct for the game. What some might call "swagger"?
His current success and play in the Arizona Fall League is no surprise. In 14 games, Mikie is hitting .352 with one home run, eight runs batted in and five stolen bases. His .400 on base percentage, .481 slugging percentage and .881 OPS are all pretty consistent with his play at LSU. It's too early, though, to accurately sample these numbers as an entire body of work.
Still, it looks as though the Rays may have scored another potential All-Star caliber player in Mahtook. If he gets off to a good start in the minor leagues, Mahtook could ascend quickly through the Rays' farm system. It wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility to see Mahtook called into action as early as mid-2012. His experience playing Division I NCAA baseball gives him an edge over other Ray's prospects in the system, and his selection to the Arizona Fall League's Rising Star game means that there are a lot of baseball people that think he is very close to being big league ready.
Rays Digest Senior Editor John Gregg spoke at length with Mahtook on Saturday, and over the next two days the site will be publishing that interview in its entirety. For a taste of what's to come, here are some audio clips from the Mahtook interview: (click on links to hear audio)
Mikie Mahtook on why he missed AFL Rising Stars game.
Mikie Mahtook on what level he may be assigned to.
Mikie Mahtook on using Twitter.