Prospect Talk: Jeff Ames
It’s not often that a first round pick can be labeled a sleeper, or fail to receive a ton of attention. Even rarer when that prospect has put up good numbers throughout his career. Yet that’s exactly where we stand with Tampa Bay Rays prospect Jeff Ames. Selected with the 42nd overall pick in 2011, Ames was a supplemental first rounder and has been somewhat lost in the slew of early picks Tampa Bay has made in the last few years. Despite striking out over 26% of batters at each of his first two stops, and posting an ERA under 3.00 in his most recent two stops, Ames has flown under the radar.
While Ames was able to post a spectacular 11.57 K/9 in his pro debut at rookie-level Princeton, that did come with a 7.12 ERA in 30 innings pitched. He improved his surface stats without losing much on his peripherals in 2012, bumping up to short-season Hudson Valley. In 64 innings, Ames limited opponents to 44 hits, struck out a hair under 27% of batters faced and limited walks to under 8%. A big difference between the two seasons was his BABIP, which sat at .424 in rookie ball, but dropped to .269 at short-season. It’s important not to dismiss BABIP as purely luck as the quality of the stuff plays a large part in whether the ball is hit hard, and thus lands for a hit. Given Ames 29% strikeout rate in rookie ball though, we can safely assume that his .424 BABIP was a case of bad luck. 2013 brought another expected jump in innings, up to 115, and he again did a great job of limiting hits, allowing only 87 on the season. Ames repeated an impressive WHIP, though it did rise from 0.995 to 1.090. The real troublesome aspect though was the remarkable drop in strikeouts. Ames went from a shade under 10 strikeouts per nine innings to a thoroughly mediocre 6.5 per nine innings. He did repeat his walks per nine, but it’s bad news when one’s strikeout to walk ratio drops from 3.5 to 2.18. The other factor working against Ames is the ever important “age for his level” and Ames is not young, pitching in Low-A at age 22. This might seem only a little bit older than normal, but 295 of 461 (64%) of the batters he faced were younger than he was.
When the age/level issue comes up, the stuff is what becomes important, as it tells us if a player is just beating up on younger competition with advanced sequencing or actually has the stuff to thrive at higher levels. Ames top pitch is a plus slider, though he can get on the side of it at times causing it to flatten out. His fastball sits 93-95 MPH, and can push harder but straightens out when he does, caring it to be hittable. He’s implemented a two-seam fastball with some success, though it hasn’t dramatically altered his flyball tendencies as shown below:
The two-seamer has also had a positive effect on his slider, as it masks it a bit better than the straighter four-seam. His changeup is developing and in time could allow him to work with a solid four pitch arsenal. The profile isn’t extremely sexy and the likelihood is that he ends up as a relief arm allowing his two dominant pitches to play up. There’s a chance however that he ends up in the rotation, especially with Tampa’s ability to develop their pitchers.
Ames is more of a watch and see type, with the hope that Tampa Bay can work their organizational magic than he is someone to invest him immediately. His numbers may sparkle while he’s dominating younger players, but until he can succeed against his contemporaries, he’s best left alone.
MLB Farm (Chart)