Any conversations about Rays prospects begin with Wil Myers. The 22-year-old outfielder came to the organization in the December trade that sent James Shields to the Royals.
MLB.com rated Myers as the No. 4 prospect in the Minor Leagues after his 2012 campaign. Entering the 2013 season, the North Carolina native had hit .303 with 64 home runs, 259 RBIs, a .395 on-base percentage and a .522 slugging percentage over four Minor League seasons after being selected in the third round of the 2009 June Draft by Kansas City.
Many in the baseball world expected Myers to make the Rays' Major League roster out of Spring Training. When that did not turn out to be the case, he began the year at Triple-A Durham, where he has remained. After getting off to a slow start, Myers has heated up.
"I think when a young man gets traded, there's always an acclimation period," Lukevics said. "Here's a young guy who's every publication's Minor League Player of the Year, and now you get traded. I mean, that's a big adjustment. That's a big switch in a young man's career.
"Being in new organization brings an adjustment period, getting to know us, us getting to know him. I think that was really evident when he first started the year at Durham. But as time went on, you've been able to see his skills come out in games. He's a good outfielder with a good arm, and he can really run -- long strides, good speed. And he has power like not too many players have. The more acclimated he gets, the more you're able to see what kind of player he is."
Where pitching is concerned, the Rays have already been privy to a sneak peek at some young arms that will occupy future spots in the rotation, as Jake Odorizzi, Chris Archer, Alex Torres and Alex Colome have all been on the Major League roster at one point or another this season.
"You can see that Alex Colome got off to a real good start and got rewarded in the Major Leagues," Lukevics said of the Dominican right-hander, who recently won his Major League debut against the Marlins. "Chris Archer, and he's in the big leagues now. Alex Torres has probably been the biggest surprise of the whole year, after he had a really tough year in Durham last year. Was sent back down to the Gulf Coast League and picked up the pieces a little bit. He played winter ball, and he's made a nice contribution to our Major League club this year."
Last year's No. 1 pick, third baseman/first baseman Richie Shaffer, is currently playing at Class A Charlotte of the Florida State League.
"Richie is doing fine," Lukevics said. "One might look and think this or that, but when you come out of the Draft, play a half season of pro baseball, skip a league, and then go to the Florida State League, that's a tough challenge.
"We put Richie in a very challenging position, and he's doing just fine. He's getting acclimated to professional baseball. At the same time, he is competing at a very high level. Florida State League is a tough league with big ballparks. Everybody is pleased where he's at right now."
Lukevics sounded pleased with the progress of Tim Beckham, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2008 draft, who is playing shortstop at Durham.
"Tim's driving the ball," Lukevics said. "He's making much better contact than in the past, playing sounder defense than the past. I think his overall game has improved. He's an excellent worker. He's out there every day at 2:30 for early work, trying to improve his defense, trying to improve his offense. We're seeing good things out of Tim."
Beckham received a 50-game suspension last season after testing positive for marijuana. Lukevics is encouraged about how Beckham has responded to that bump in the road.
"Without a doubt he's turned that into a positive," Lukevics said. "We lost 50 games because of his suspension last year. That's always difficult for a young man to miss 50 games when they make those mistakes, because it impedes development. Now he's seeing the benefit of the fruits of his labor."
Looking further up the road, the Rays are expecting great things from right-hander Taylor Guerrieri, who was the Rays' first pick (24th overall) of the 2011 Draft and is currently pitching at Class A Bowling Green.
"Taylor's doing great," Lukevics said. "He's at the right level. Taylor is blessed with a really good arm and really good stuff. And the command of the stuff is pretty good. He's maturing as a young man, and he's learning what the professional game is all about. He's in his first full season. Now this is challenging for these young guys. ... It's a long year for them. It's probably the toughest year for a player other than their first year in pro baseball."
The Rays' cupboard got restocked during this week's Draft. From looking at the group, beginning with catcher Nick Ciuffo and right-hander Ryne Stanek, there is little doubt the Rays' elite farm system will continue to roll along while grooming young talent with the goal of improving the Major League club.