Rays' State of the Farm with Frankie Piliere

Teams are packing up their trucks and heading south and all of the prospect gurus have published their top prospect lists and farm system rankings. Baseball is mere days away. To get you prepped for the 2012 season, we talked to Scout.com's National Baseball Expert and former Texas Rangers scout Frankie Piliere about the state of the Rays' farm system and some players to keep an eye on in 2012.

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For in-depth scouting reports on players ranked in the 2012 Scout.com Minor League Rankings and top players in the 2012 June Amateur Draft, plus analysis of the Major Leagues and weekly live-chats, be sure to check out Frankie's site here on Scout: Scouting Baseball with Frankie Piliere.


Rays Digest: Frankie, my first question is: What is your overall view of the Rays' farm system? Keith Law's rankings came out yesterday and he had the Rays ranked number two. If you had to rank the Rays' farm system right now, where would you put them?

Frankie Piliere: I'd definitely say it's still a Top 5 system. To continue to do that - to keep up that kind of ranking - you need to draft well. They did it again this year - in 2011 - and I think they're going to keep doing it in the future. People have given them credit in year's past for having high picks and being able to take advantage of that. Their drafting goes well-beyond having top picks though. They know what they're doing. They continue to take high-upside talent and they're taking some chances with "toolsy" guys and that's why they are where they are. They are somewhere in that two, three, four, type range among farm system's in baseball and they continue to impress.

Rays Digest: Last year they had 12 picks in the first 89 in the draft. They got a lot of "toolsy" guys and you have done scouting reports on a few of them. What is your overall assessment of the Rays' draft last year?

Frankie Piliere: They did quite well. Guys like (Mikie) Mahtook are easy picks and picks that any team would make. But I like picks like the Tyler Goeddel pick. I think he is a guy who could really pan out to be an impact-type hitter and at a premium position. Those are the types of picks that separate the teams that are good at drafting and teams that aren't so good at drafting. Mahtook picks are obvious, but guys like Goeddel and Granden Goetzman...they are a little more outside the box. They are taking chances with these tools guys. But that's what's going to pay off for them and that's what they need to keep depth in their system.

Rays Digest: I did an article on this the other day. The Rays took a bunch of guys in the early rounds who had played shortstop in high school. Guys like Brandon Martin, Johnny Eierman and Jake Hager. How do you see all of that shaking out? Who do you think will playing where in the future?

Shortstop Johnny Eierman is among the multi-tooled and athletic players selected in last year's draft that Piliere says offer the Rays a lot of flexibility in their system.

Frankie Piliere: It's a strategy I like, because when you take shortstops or center fielders, you are taking the best athletes on the field from the high school and college levels. You can move guys if things don't pan out. They have done that with guys like (B.J.) Upton in the past. Of all of those guys, I think Martin - from all of the scouts I've talked to - seems to be the guy that a lot of them like at shortstop. But I do think guys like Eierman have those types of tools too. But the great thing is - those two and others - do have those skills to play elsewhere. That's what's so great for the Rays is that they can move these guys around. They are not a system that has to worry about "Oh no! We have a bunch of heavy-legged first base man around that we don't have positions for." They have premium athletes that they can move if necessary and those two guys are prime examples of that.

Rays Digest: Would you say it is fair to say that the Rays' system is very deep, but that the majority of the talent at this point lies at the lower-levels of the system?

Frankie Piliere: Yeah I think it's fair to say that. Obviously they have graduated a lot of guys to the big leagues in the past few years, including guys like (Matt) Moore. But that's the way they build their teams. They need to always have their low-levels stocked, because otherwise they run the risk of having a rather weak system fairly quickly. So they do need to keep up a rather fast pace, because of the rate that they graduate these guys to the big leagues. Right now, the strength of their system is definitely at the lower-levels. But all it's going to take is a few of these guys to step up and all of sudden we'll be talking about these guys more at the higher levels.

Rays Digest: I wanted to ask you about a couple of guys that Rays fans and people who follow Rays prospects are kind of divided on. One of them, of course, is Tim Beckham. I know you saw a lot of him in the Arizona Fall League. Could you tell me what you saw from Beckham there?

Frankie Piliere: Yeah Beckham is an interesting guy. A couple of years ago I saw him - shortly after he had been drafted - and he was a guy that really needed to make some significant strides. He needed to come along a little bit and there were some holes in his swing. But the good news is that I saw a lot of changes. I don't think he is quite there yet. But as long as I am seeing guys making strides and getting better, I'm still willing to be patient with them. I think that's happening with him. I did see a little bit more power from him, he was driving the ball a little bit better and he's not chasing as many pitches as he used to. He's far from a sure-thing and I'm not sure he is going to be the guy that everyone expected when he was taken in the first round. But I do think he is still a very viable prospect and I think there is a lot of reason to be excited about him.

With the presence of slick-fielding Hak-Ju Lee in the system, Piliere opines that Tim Beckham may have to switch to a position like 2B to stick in the Majors with the Rays.

Rays Digest: With Hak-Ju Lee in the system, and obviously a better defender at the position and kind of nipping Beckham's heels in the system, do you see Beckham's future at shortstop? Or do you see him becoming more of a utility player or moving to another position like second base?

Frankie Piliere: I think with Lee in the system, he's going to have to play somewhere else and he's more than athletic enough to do that. Clearly Lee is the defensive guy in the system at that position and his bat is coming along well too. So I think you have to put Lee way up there on the depth chart in terms of shortstops of the future. If Beckham is going to be in the big leagues too, it could be at second base or in the outfield and he is talented enough to do that.

Rays Digest: Another player I wanted to ask you about is Josh Sale. He's another first-round draft pick who really struggled last year. There were a lot of rumors that his swing was being tinkered with last year. Did you get a chance to see him? If so what have you see from him and what are his prospects going forward?

Frankie Piliere: Well I saw him out of high school and one of the reports that I would continually go with, is that he needed to shorten up a little bit and that he would struggle a little bit initially in the pros. It turns out that it has happened a little bit like that. I do think that with the right coaching - which I'm sure he's getting - he can be tinkered with. A lot of guys that come out of high school like he did who are known for being prolific power-type guys struggle initially. So I wouldn't worry a whole lot about him yet. If we see the same things this year and he hasn't made any strides, then yeah, there might be reason to worry. Sometimes these power-bats coming out of the amateurs struggle a little and you need to get the coaches in there and see what they can do. I would have to lean towards saying that I think we'll see a lot of improvement from him this year.

Rays Digest: You named Matt Moore the number one prospect in baseball in your recent Top 100 list. Hak-Ju Lee and Alex Torres were also in your Top 100. If you could maybe identify a couple of players in the Rays' system that maybe people aren't familiar with, that have high-upside and that you really like and think we should keep an eye on in 2012.

Frankie Piliere: I think it's probably a guy I mentioned earlier - Tyler Goeddel. He is a guy that some teams were looking at even higher in the draft. He's very tall and lanky right now and I think he's just going to continue to get stronger. He's already showing a lot of really good things with his hit-tool and I think he's going to be a guy that's going to hit pretty quickly as a pro. Every young player that age has some ups and downs, but there is no doubt that with that combination of athleticism and hit-tool that I think this time next year we are going to be talking about him a whole lot more.

Rays Digest: What about pitchers? Is there any pitcher that stands out? Maybe like Enny Romero perhaps?

Frankie Piliere: I think Romero is a perfect example. The numbers didn't jump off the page last year, but you can't overlook the stuff with a guy like that. When he has that type of quality stuff and gets his fastball up in the mid-90's and has a good feel for his secondary pitches, I think you are going to see him continue to get better. People want prospects to be immediate successes at every level they are at and dominate. Well not every guy learns at that type of curve. But I think Romero is going to see a lot of improvement this year.

Rays Digest: With the new Collective Bargaining Agreement and some of the new rules on the draft and international signings, how do you think an organization like the Rays will be affected? Or will they be affected? And if they are, how do they adjust?

Frankie Piliere: It's tough. I do think that the Rays are the type of team that is going to get hit the hardest. The small-market teams need to be able to use these lower round picks to be able to sign guys and be able to compete with the bigger market clubs. I do think that those kinds of limitations are going to hurt the Rays a little bit. The good news is that I think they do have outstanding scouting and maybe they'll just have to focus on guys that don't require quite as hefty of a price tag. But I've said this before - until this next draft happens, it's going to be hard to say how these teams are going to be impacted.

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John Gregg is Publisher and Senior Editor of Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaysDigest. He can also be reached via e-mail at raysdigest.com@gmail.com.

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