Rays deliver yet another stellar crop

Bowling Green's bats, Hudson Valley hurlers highlight system

By Zack Cox / Special to MLB.com | December 13, 2012 5:00 AM

This offseason, MiLB.com will be honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League Baseball. Select a team from the dropdown below.

Recent blockbuster trade with Kansas City aside, Tampa Bay has become synonymous with cultivating its own Minor League talent, transforming the franchise from perennial doormat to annual playoff contender. From the dominant pitching of short-season Hudson Valley to the explosive bats of Class A Bowling Green, the Rays' prospect class was strong again in 2012, with four affiliates finishing above .500 and three qualifying for the postseason.

With a starting rotation led by 2011 first-round draftees Jeff Ames and Taylor Guerrieri, the Renegades won the Fans' Choice MiLBY Award for Team of the Year after rolling to a league-best 52-24 record and their first New York-Penn League record since 1999. Double-A Montgomery enjoyed regular-season success as well, winning the Southern League's South Division with a 74-63 record -- the club's best mark since 2007 -- before bowing out to eventual champion Mobile in the semifinals.

Bowling Green saw a promising season -- the Hot Rods finished 80-60 and owned the Midwest League's best second-half record -- derailed by the suspensions of four players, including top prospects Ryan Brett and Josh Sale, for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

But despite the sanctions, the Rays system remains one of the best in baseball and was bolstered even further by the acquisition of three of the Royals' top six prospects, including Topps Triple-A Player of the Year Wil Myers and Organization All-Star right-hander Jake Odorizzi, on Sunday. Myers and Odorizzi now become Tampa Bay's No. 1 and 2 prospects respectively, and they should combine with an already impressive roster of up-and-comers to keep the Rays in contention for years to come.

Rays Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Chris Gimenez, Durham (71 games), Tampa Bay (42 games): The nine-year veteran spent all of September and October in the Majors but made his presence felt during his time in the International League, hitting .310 with 10 home runs, 49 RBIs and an .871 OPS for the Bulls. The callup that followed was the most successful of Gimenez's career, as he started 31 games behind the plate and hit .260 for the Rays. The 29-year-old had previously spent time in the big leagues with the Indians and Mariners.

First base -- Cameron Seitzer, Bowling Green (118 games): After debuting at Rookie-level Princeton last season, Seitzer made the jump to the Midwest League in 2012 and promptly led the heavy-hitting Hot Rods in batting average. His .307 mark also ranked third in the organization among full-season players, and the tall 22-year-old earned a spot on the Midwest League's postseason All-Star roster. Seitzer also displayed a keen hitter's eye -- he ranked second in the organization with 55 walks -- and an ability to find the gaps, tying for second in the Rays system with 36 doubles while driving in 54 runs.

Honorable mention: Henry Wrigley

Second base -- Thomas Coyle, Hudson Valley (67 games): After helping guide the University of North Carolina to a No. 6 national ranking and an NCAA Tournament bid as a junior, Coyle made the jump to the Minors and was an integral part of Hudson Valley's run to the New York-Penn League championship. The 22-year-old started 66 of the Renegades' 76 games in the regular season and all six in the playoffs, leading the team with 99 total bases. Generally hitting out of the No. 2 spot, Coyle led the roster with 20 steals and ranked third in doubles (13), RBIs (31) and OPS (.765).

Third base -- Cole Figueroa, Montgomery (25 games), Durham (88 games): Though he's listed as a second baseman, Figueroa spent 73 of his 113 games at third in his second season with Tampa Bay and continued the steady production he is known for. The Tallahassee native reached base in all 25 games with the Biscuits -- hitting in 21 -- before earning a promotion to Triple-A for the first time. Figueroa, who has never batted below .280 in his five-year career, hit .292 with five triples, five homers and 54 RBIs across the two levels.

First-round Draft pick Richie Shaffer also impressed at the hot corner this season, turning in a .308/.406/.487 slash line with four homers and 26 RBIs in just 33 games for Hudson Valley after being selected 25th overall in June's Draft.

Shortstop -- Derek Dietrich, Charlotte (98 games), Montgomery (34 games): A midseason All-Star in the Florida State League, Dietrich hit .282 with 10 homers and 58 RBIs for the Stone Crabs before earning a promotion to Double-A in late July. Drafted in the second round out of Georgia Tech in 2010, the left-handed slugger put up excellent offensive numbers for a shortstop, tying for the organization lead in triples (10) and ranking in the top five in hits (141), runs (80), RBIs (75), homers (14), OPS (.796) and total bases (231), among others.

Honorable mention: Jake Hager


Willie Argo, Princeton (64 games), Bowling Green (five games): A largely unheralded 22nd-round pick out of Illinois in June, Argo debuted at Rookie-level Princeton and became a star in the middle of the Rays order. The 23-year-old -- who spent most of his games in the cleanup spot -- led his team in average (.301), on-base percentage (.404) and OPS (.815), earning him a late-season promotion to the Midwest League. Argo's overall .289 average ranked him fifth among Rays Minor Leaguers, while his eight outfield assists led all short-season affiliates.

Drew Vettleson, Bowling Green (132 games): A consistent presence in the heart of the Hot Rods order, the first-round Draft pick in 2010 played in more games than any player in the organization in 2012, appearing in all but eight of Bowling Green's contests. The Rays' No. 9 prospect compiled a .275/.340/.432 line while leading the potent Hot Rods lineup in hits (139), runs (80), home runs (15), triples (five) and total bases (218) while ranking second in RBIs (69) and third in walks (51).

The former pitcher also showed off the multifaceted nature of his game, becoming the first Rays Minor Leaguer to hit 15 homers and steal 20 bases in a season since Justin Ruggiano in 2010. He also threw out 20 runners, tying him for second in the Midwest League in outfield assists.

Todd Glaesmann, Charlotte (36 games), Bowling Green (91 games): Hitting behind Vettleson in the Hot Rods' devastating lineup, Glaesmann was the system's most feared power hitter. The fourth-year pro led the organization's full-season Minor Leaguers in home runs (21), slugging percentage (.493), OPS (.829) and total bases (242).

While power hitting is his primary strength, Glaesmann's .285 average and .336 on-base percentage both marked career highs. The 22-year-old's stats improved even further following his first promotion to the Florida State League, where he compiled a .295/.333/.554 line for Class A Advanced Charlotte over the season's final 36 games.

Honorable mention: Mikie Mahtook

Utility -- Omar Luna, Montgomery (122 games): It doesn't often take six professional seasons for a player to break out, but that was the case for Luna, who put up career highs across the board for Montgomery this year. The 26-year-old Dominican native led the Southern League and all full-season Rays affiliates with a .315 average while seeing time at six different positions. The Southern League's Utility Player of the Year also ranked second on the Biscuits with 20 doubles and 57 RBIs while tying a career best with 19 stolen bases.

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Taylor Guerrieri, Hudson Valley (12 games): This was, by far, the most difficult selection as the Rays are absolutely stacked with right-handed pitching talent. Even before the addition of Odorizzi, there were no fewer than five hurlers vying for this honor as Ames, Guerrieri, Durham's Chris Archer and Bowling Green's Jake Floethe and Roberto Gomez put together stellar campaigns.

In the end, the edge went to Guerrieri, who at just 19 years old was nearly unhittable in his first professional season. Topps named Tampa Bay's No. 4 prospect the New York-Penn League Player of the Year after he allowed just six earned runs over 52 innings for Hudson Valley, good for a 1.04 ERA. The 6-foot-3 flamethrower proved he can throw all five of his pitches for strikes, walking just five batters all season while striking out 45 and holding batters to a .186 average.

Guerrieri started a game against the Lowell Spinners at Fenway Park in August, and if his development continues it may not be long before he's back there with the big-league club.

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Blake Snell, Princeton (11 games): The Appy League Pitcher of the Year -- and the Rays' No. 10 prospect -- was dominant in his second pro season, compiling a 5-1 record with a league-best 2.09 ERA in 11 starts for Princeton. The lanky southpaw served as the ace of the circuit's best pitching staff, holding opponents to a .202 batting average that would have led the league had he enough innings to qualify and posting a 1.08 WHIP that would have tied him for second.

Of the 12 runs surrendered by the 20-year-old, six came in one start -- a rough three-inning performance against Bluefield on July 27. Snell allowed just a half-dozen runs over his other 11 starts, which included seven scoreless outings.

Relief pitcher -- Dane De La Rosa, Durham (54 games), Tampa Bay (five games): The 29-year-old veteran was outstanding at the back end of the Durham bullpen, shattering his career high with 20 saves in 23 opportunities and earning a September callup for the second consecutive season. De La Rosa, who was named to the International League's midseason All-Star team, ranked third on the circuit in saves while leading IL relievers in batting average against (.158) and strikeouts per nine innings (11.57) by wide margins.

An imposing presence on the mound at 6-foot-7, the right-hander was especially dominant down the stretch. He allowed only one run on four hits over his final 10 appearances for the Bulls, picking up six saves during that span.

Zack Cox is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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