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Rays boast one of MLB's top Minor League systems

Myers, Lee, Guerrieri headline Tampa Bay's impressive prospect pipeline

Rays boast one of MLB's top Minor League systems

The future success of every Major League team lies largely in its Minor League pipeline. With that in mind, MLB.com is looking at each team's farm system, from the Top 20 Prospects to under-the-radar types.

ST. PETERSBURG -- Tampa Bay's depth was tested in a major way last season. Injuries took their toll, everyday players shuttled on and off the disabled list, and the Rays were left scrambling for solutions.

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In many ways, the Rays' oft-heralded Minor League system answered the call. Right-handers Alex Cobb and Chris Archer, for example, proved themselves worthy of spots in the rotation. But when it came to position players, Tampa Bay was sometimes left without answers and forced to rely on stopgap solutions from outside the organization.

That's why, as proud as the Rays are of their farm system, they are always convinced it can improve. They made a big commitment to that idea this offseason, trading right-handers James Shields and Wade Davis for prospects Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery and Patrick Leonard.

"You've got to be pleased, but you can always do better," said director of Minor League operations Mitch Lukevics. "[In] our organization, the lifeblood is from player development and scouting. Even if you have a young club, you can never have enough depth, because you never know what can happen during the Major League season."

The Rays' relative lack of top hitting talent makes Myers, MLB.com's No. 4 prospect, the most interesting addition. Although it's still a guessing game as to exactly when he'll reach the Majors, he is arguably the organization's best hitting prospect since Evan Longoria, and obtaining such a long-term, middle-of-the-order threat was a boon to Tampa Bay's pitching-rich system.

"Our strength has really lied in our pitching," Lukevics said. "We're getting better, organizationally, with position players. You've got to do it all."

Indeed, there is little doubt the Rays will continue pumping Major League pitchers out of their system for many years. Their stockpile of power arms is considered the envy of most other organizations, and for good reason.

Archer and Odorizzi have already pitched in the Majors and are the closest to claiming permanent spots there. And this is the same system that recently graduated left-hander Matt Moore (last year's top prospect), Cobb and 2011 American League Rookie of the Year Award winner Jeremy Hellickson.

But Tampa Bay's most promising pitching prospect is Taylor Guerrieri, set to begin his first full professional season in 2013. In his age-19 season, Guerrieri went 1-2 with a 1.04 ERA, 0.77 WHIP and 45 strikeouts (against only five walks) in 52 innings for short-season Class A Hudson Valley.

Top 20 prospects

The Rays haven't been able to rely on high Draft picks populating their farm system since they left the AL East cellar five years ago, but their ability to stock up on quality prospects hasn't changed very much. Just look at the composition of their current top 20.

There's Myers (No. 1), Odorizzi (No. 5), Montgomery (No. 8) and Leonard (No. 20), picked up from Kansas City. There's Archer (No. 4) and Hak-Ju Lee (No. 2), acquired for Matt Garza in early 2011. There's that unusually large 2011 Draft class: Guerrieri (No. 3), Blake Snell (No. 7), Mikie Mahtook (No. 12), Jeff Ames (No. 13), Jake Hager (No. 15), Tyler Goeddel (No. 17) and Brandon Martin (No. 18), plus top 2012 Draft pick Richie Shaffer (No. 9).

Most of the list's 11 position players are a few years away from the Majors, and the nine pitchers -- five righties and four lefties -- range from big league ready to low A ball.

One recently acquired pitcher to watch is Montgomery, sandwiched between Myers and Odorizzi as the Royals' No. 3 prospect only a year ago. Another rocky season hurt the lefty's standing, but he is loaded with potential.

"He has the stuff and he has the wherewithal to be a very good pitcher," Lukevics said. "We're confident in talking to him. We're confident in what we do, and we expect good things out of Mike Montgomery."

Under the radar

Right-hander Jesse Hahn stood out last year, even on the dominant staff of short-season Class A Hudson Valley. In his first professional season, the 23-year-old went 2-2 with a 2.77 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 55 strikeouts in 52 innings. The 6-foot-5, 182-pounder didn't give up a home run all year and allowed 6.6 hits per nine innings. Moving up to a full-season league will present a challenge for the sixth-round pick in the 2010 Draft, but he acquitted himself well in his first year.

Second baseman Ryan Brett fits the description, too, having jumped from playing Rookie ball in 2010-11 straight to Class A Bowling Green in '12. Now 21, Brett figures to make it up to Class A Advanced Port Charlotte when he returns from the remainder of a 50-game suspension. He posted a .285/.348/.393 line and stole a team-leading 48 bases in 100 games last season.

Predictions

Hitter of the Year

If Myers somehow spends most of the year with Triple-A Durham, this conversation starts and ends with him. Lee could find himself in the running, and outfielder Josh Sale would have been a favorite if he didn't have to serve the rest of his 50-game suspension this year.

But the pick here is 21-year-old Drew Vettleson. The 42nd overall pick in the 2010 Draft batted .275 with a .772 OPS for Bowling Green last year, recording 24 doubles, five triples, 15 homers and 20 stolen bases in 132 games.

Pitcher of the Year

Take your pick, really. If Odorizzi or Archer -- last year's winner -- spend enough time in Triple-A, it certainly could be one of them. There's a case to be made for Ames, Enny Romero, Felipe Rivero and maybe even Montgomery, but it's simply too tough to pick against Guerrieri after what he did last season.

"We expect him to again have an outstanding year," Lukevics said. "His stuff is plus-plus. When he's on that mound, he's as competitive as we've ever had here. With the stuff and the command, it's pretty good."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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