Rays have plenty of pros with All-Star potential

The All-Star Game has passed, and thoughts have turned to the season’s second half.

Tampa Bay Rays left-hander Matt Moore, a first-time All-Star, was stellar in his appearance in the fifth inning Tuesday at Citi Field when he retired three National League batters in nine pitches. Meanwhile, Rays infielder/outfielder Ben Zobrist was named to his second All-Star Game as a reserve but did not play.

Each year presents a chance to see who will rise to be included among the league’s best. Moore’s success has been a welcomed development for the Rays, and he is an example of someone who can ride a hot first half to receive his first all-star nod.

Who can follow?

Below are five Rays players, all without an All-Star appearance on their resume, who could be considered for future nods.

Shortstop Yunel Escobar

Manager Joe Maddon stumped hard for Escobar in the weeks before the All-Star Game. It is easy to see why: Escobar has played Gold Glove-caliber defense of late, each night seemingly including at least one stellar grab and off-balance throw that beats a runner at first base.

If Escobar continues this level of play, he will become more of a national name. He struggled offensively to start the season. He batted .169 in April, which made an All-Star berth this season an unrealistic expectation. Since, though, he has been solid: He hit .287 with two home runs and 17 RBI in May, he hit .266 with two home runs and seven RBI in June, and he has hit .283 with one home run and eight RBI in July.

Escobar was seen as a gamble of sorts upon his arrival, given his history of controversy when with the Toronto Blue Jays. But teammates praise his clubhouse presence. That comfort has translated into elite play.

First baseman James Loney

Somewhat of an unknown leading into his first Rays season, Loney is threatening to break career-high hitting totals earned early in his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He owns a team-high .315 batting average with nine home runs and 43 RBI, which puts him within distance of his career-high .331 average with 15 home runs and 67 RBI with the Dodgers in the 2007 season.

His production is obvious, but another benefit to Loney’s addition has been his defensive play at first base. He has become a steady glove at the position, where he has scooped short throws on many occasions to preserve outs.

Maddon has credited Loney as a steady hitter, especially when the player shows an ability to spray line drives to multiple parts of the outfield. Loney is known more for his hit efficiency than his power. But if he continues to show growth as a versatile hitter, he could become a more widely recognized threat in the Rays’ lineup.

Outfielder Wil Myers

It seems like only a matter of time before Myers appears in his first All-Star Game. He has been groomed for a large stage since his rise through the Kansas City Royals farm system, and an uncommon buzz accompanied his major league debut on June 18 at Fenway Park.

So far, Myers has shown that there is substance to his hype. He has hit .288 with three home runs and 15 RBI. He spent part of his day off July 9 working to correct a slight flaw in his swing, and since that point, he has hit 9 of 19 with two RBI and only three strikeouts in five games.

Where will he go from here? Chances are, only up. Myers, 22, seems grounded in the moment. As long as he progresses with his patience at the plate, there is little reason to think he won’t mature into one of Tampa Bay’s largest hitting threats in years to come. Strikeouts as going to be part of his profile (he has 29 since his promotion), but his eye will become more seasoned with repetition.

Right-handed pitcher Jeremy Hellickson

Hellickson’s appearance on this list would have seemed unlikely at May’s end. Then, he was 2-2 with a 5.61 ERA in 11 starts. He had blown large leads and given up five or more earned runs in five appearances.

Since, though, Hellickson has shown how strong he can be when consistent. He is 6-1 in his past eight starts. He finished June with a season-best 3.53 ERA, and he has a 2.77 ERA in two July starts.

Hellickson is in his third full major-league season, so the 26-year-old will develop more in future years. He is a Gold Glove winner, having won the award last season. Moore’s rise this season is an example that the right amount of confidence and efficiency can go a long way.

With David Price’s future uncertain, it would seem Moore and Hellickson could become faces of the future in the Rays’ rotation. Perhaps one day, Hellickson could join Moore as someone invited to the All-Star Game.

Right-handed pitcher Chris Archer

Archer carries himself differently than most men found in a clubhouse. He is introspective, sometimes honest to a fault. He’s someone who will talk about the latest book he has read with the same comfort he shows dissecting his fastball location.

Of course, Archer has promising stuff. He made six appearances, four starts, with the Rays last year. But with injuries to Price and Alex Cobb this season, he has received ample time to fine-tune his craft in the majors. He is 4-3 with a 2.96 ERA in nine starts this season, a winner in his past three decisions.

Archer is raw, but there are flashes that show how effective he could become. His five-hit complete game in a victory over the Houston Astros last Sunday perhaps was a preview of what could be seen as a regular member of the Rays’ rotation in future years. At 24 years old, Archer has room to grow. But his ceiling appears high.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford

or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.