"We're not looking so much at the statistics, though we love when they do great, but it's the exposure to the level of play," Rays farm director Mitch Lukevics said. "After playing [in the AFL], most of these kids should go back to whatever level of play they are at and be more acclimated to a higher level of play. That should allow them to do well."
The AFL concluded last week, and the final numbers were nothing special, and even poor in some cases. But the focus is on what's getting done while one is putting together those numbers.
Consider Mike Montgomery.
Tampa Bay thinks a lot of the left-hander acquired from Kansas City in the trade that sent James Shields to the Royals and brought Wil Myers to the Rays. While he has quality stuff, Montgomery needs to refine it if he is going to reach the Major Leagues. So he joined his Tampa Bay teammates on the Salt River Rafters to get in some extra work on a pitch to complement his fastball and changeup.
In nine games and 14 innings pitched, Montgomery went 0-1 with a 2.57 ERA, striking out 14 and walking four.
"He's working on a breaking ball, a curveball," Lukevics said. "Some of these guys go from a curveball to a slider. Some guys can throw both, some guys can't. So you're trying to work and see what works best for him. He was out there working on a breaking ball, to be more proficient with a breaking ball. He felt good about it. We know that starters in the Major Leagues need a breaking ball, for the most part.
"His time out there -- and all the kids out there -- you might not see it in their statistics, but Montgomery went out there with a specific mission, and he accomplished the mission. And we look forward to seeing him in Spring Training with a better breaking ball."
Grayson Garvin went to Arizona with another purpose. The left-hander missed the final two months of the 2012 season due to a left elbow injury that resulted in surgery. Though he pitched in 2013, he needed to pitch more. So Garvin headed to Arizona, going 3-2 with a 3.76 ERA in five starts.
"[Garvin] started [in the AFL] because he was coming off Tommy John," Lukevics said. "We needed to get him some innings for his rehabilitation."
Which was a different tactic than the one Tampa Bay took with Montgomery for another reason, as well.
"With Montgomery, he started all year, and we didn't want to overtax him too much and put too many innings on him," Lukevics said. "But yet, we wanted him to get some good work out there, within reason."
Lukevics stressed that the organizations pays close attention to the workloads of their players.
"We watch usage," Lukevics said. "When these [players] come into Spring Training, like Montgomery, on Feb. 10, and now he's still pitching September, October, you have to watch usage. Even with Grayson Garvin, even though he didn't pitch many innings. When you're rehabilitating, you are using your muscles every day, every other day, and you have to watch fatigue, and you don't want to overdo it. There's always a progression to what we do. But certainly that is definitely a concern."
First baseman Richie Shaffer, whom the Rays selected out of Clemson in the first round (25th overall) of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, continued to log at-bats through the extra weeks of baseball. Shaffer hit .277 with six RBIs in 16 games.
"Richie Shaeffer, he got to play," Lukevics said. "Last year, he was on the taxi squad [during the AFL season], and because of that, you only get two games a week. This year, he was able to play four.
"Now he's playing against good competition. Richie's first full year was in [Class A Advanced], and that's a challenge in itself -- one of the hottest leagues in the United States. Richie got out there, he got good work in, his body held up good. Ozzie Timmons, our Double-A hitting coach, was with him out there and had good things to report on him."
And there was catcher Luke Maile, who got an unexpected opportunity to show what he could do by participating in the AFL. After catcher Curt Casali got injured, Tampa Bay sent Maile to Arizona to take his place.
"Casali played in one game and had a elbow issue and we had to shut him down," Lukevics said. "And then we sent Luke Maile out there to replace him and got the kid a little work. Here's a kid who was named to the Midwest League year-end All-Star team. So that was good for him."
So, again, statistics don't tell the whole story (for AFL stats on Rays players, go here).
"Any time you can get some of those kids out there, and they're not used to that competition, it's a great experience," Lukevics said. "You can't underestimate that."