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February 22, 2011

Future Shock

Tampa Bay Rays Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Previous Rankings: 2010 | 2009 | 2008

System In 20 Words Or Less: The Rays remain loaded with top prospects, but the system lacks the depth of previous years.

Five-Star Prospects
1. Jeremy Hellickson, RHP
2. Matt Moore, LHP

3. Desmond Jennings, OF
Four-Star Prospects
4. Chris Archer, RHP
5. Jake McGee, LHP
Three-Star Prospects
6. Alex Colome, RHP
7. Josh Sale, LF
8. Hak-Ju Lee, SS
9. Alex Torres, LHP
10. Brandon Guyer, OF
11. Robinson Chirinos, C

Nine More:
12. Enny Romero, LHP: A young Dominican with the potential to move up fast thanks to big-time velocity and plus command.
13. Drew Vettleson, OF: A supplemental first-round pick last June, Vettleson has outstanding bat speed and hitting mechanics, but his other tools are a bit light.
14. Justin O'Conner, C: He snuck into the first round thanks to huge power and a big-time arm, but many scouts wonder if he'll hit at all.
15. Ty Morrison, OF: An ultra-athletic burner who made big strides in 2010, but he still has plenty of work to do, especially in terms of developing an approach.
16. Joe Cruz, RHP: A big righty with a good fastball and curve who throws strikes, he could move up with a good showing at Double-A.
17. Jake Thompson, RHP: A beefy right-hander who throws smoke and strikes, but he could end up as a reliever if his secondary pitches fail to develop.
18. Tim Beckham, SS: The former first overall pick has a career line of .263/.332/.371; his Double-A debut could be a make-or-break season for his dipping prospect status, but the good news is that scouts still see tools.
19. Alex Cobb, RHP: He has more control than stuff, but his plus changeup allows him to compete at the upper levels.
20. Yoel Araujo, OF: Looking to become a player in the Latin market, the Rays made a big investment in Araujo; he's loaded with tools but comes with wait-and-see caveats as a player with a 12/3/93 birthdate.

1. Jeremy Hellickson, RHP
DOB
: 4/8/87
Height/Weight: 6-1/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Fourth round, 2005, Herbert Hoover HS (IA)
2010 Stats: 21.60 ERA (1.2-4-2-4) at High-A (1 G); 2.45 ERA (117.2-103-35-123) at Triple-A (21 G); 3.47 ERA (36.1-32-8-33) at MLB (10 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Command/curveball

Year in Review: The most polished pitching prospect in the game, Hellickson breezed through Triple-A batters before impressing observers in a late-season showing in the big leagues.
The Good: Hellickson does not have a below-average pitch, and his plus-plus command and control makes him one of the most frustrating pitchers to face. He can dial his fastball up to the mid-90s at times, but he prefers to sit in the 90-93 mph range, which provides him with pinpoint accuracy as well as the ability to cut or sink the pitch. His plus changeup has plenty of depth and fade, and his curveball is at least big-league average. His polish is off the charts, as he has a mature understanding of how to go after hitters in terms of sequencing and location, and he pitches with utter fearlessness. “I'd never compare any pitcher to Greg Maddux,” said one scout, “but with Hellickson, I'm at least tempted to.”
The Bad: Hellickson is not big or physical, and he has yet to go over 160 innings in a season, although his clean arm action creates little concern for scouts. He easily has the stuff to start in the big leagues, but will need to maintain his precision to be a star.
Ephemera: In a very strange combination of splits, opposing big-league batters hit just .178 against Hellickson with the bases empty and .333 with runners on, yet all five home runs he surrendered came with nobody on.
Perfect World Projection: It's hard to see him being an ace, but it's difficult seeing him as less than a No. 2 starter.
Fantasy Impact: While his strikeout total will likely be more good than great, he should be a star in all other categories.
Path to the Big Leagues: The trade of Matt Garza likely gives Hellickson a job in the big-league rotation.
ETA: 2011

2. Matt Moore, LHP
DOB
: 6/18/89
Height/Weight: 6-2/205
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: Eighth round, 2007, Moriarty HS (NM)
2010 Stats: 3.36 ERA (144.2-109-61-208) at High-A (26 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Fastball/control

Year in Review: A power lefty who has led the minors in strikeouts over each of the last two seasons, Moore was the most dominating pitcher in baseball during the second half of the year, striking out 130 men in just over 84 innings in his last 14 starts of the year.
The Good: When Moore is throwing strikes, he's nothing short of unhittable. He sits at 93-95 mph with a fastball that features natural lefty movement, and he complements the pitch with a plus power curveball with heavy late break. His changeup, once a below-average pitch, has been refined to a point where it projects at least as big-league average. His thick, wide-shouldered, power pitcher's frame is built to eat up innings, and he maintains his stuff deep into games.
The Bad: Moore's delivery is multi-parted and complex, and he has trouble repeating it at times, leading to occasional command and control issues. His changeup could still use improvement, but more in terms of consistency than development.
Ephemera: Moore had more strikeouts than innings pitched in 21 of his 26 starts in 2010, including seven games where he reached double digits while going less than seven innings.
Perfect World Projection: Moore has easy front-end potential in a major-league rotation.
Fantasy Impact: He'll provide tons of strikeouts, but a tendency towards walks could hurt his WHIP.
Path to the Big Leagues: Moore will get his first taste of the upper levels by beginning the year at Double-A Montgomery. He could be ready for a big-league look within the year.
ETA: 2012

3. Desmond Jennings, OF
DOB
: 10/30/86
Height/Weight: 6-2/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Tenth round, 2006, Itawamba Community College (AL)
2010 Stats: .278/.362/.393 at Triple-A (109 G); .190/.292/.333 at MLB (17 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Speed/power

Year in Review: Expected to put up huge numbers at Triple-A, Jennings was more good than great during an injury-plagued season.
The Good: Jennings is loaded with tools and has everything it takes to hit at the top of the order for a championship-level team. He's a 70 runner on the 20-to-80 scouting scale and knows how to utilize that speed, showing outstanding range in center while 89 stolen bases over the past two years (against being caught just 11 times). He has a good understanding of the strike zone, a quick bat, and good hands, leading to a career minor-league on-base percentage of .384.
The Bad: While scouts think Jennings could hit 10-15 home runs annually in the majors, he hit just three last year, and need to prove that he's fully recovered from a wrist injury. He's arm is average, but hardly a weapon. He's a streaky hitter who can tinker too much with his swing when things are going poorly.
Ephemera: With his two stolen bases, Jennings already ranks second among players drafted 289th overall. Actually, he ranks second in everything, as the only other position player drafted there to reach the big leagues and do anything is Ernie Young.
Perfect World Projection: Jennings has the tools to become a dynamic leadoff hitter.
Fantasy Impact: He could be a stud, with batting average, stolen bases, and even a bit of power.
Path to the Big Leagues: Initially expected to take over immediately for the departed Carl Crawford, the combination of Jennings' somewhat disappointing 2010 season and the signing of Johnny Damon could delay his big-league permanence.
ETA: 2011

4. Chris Archer, RHP
DOB
: 9/26/88
Height/Weight: 6-3/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Fifth round, 2006, Clayton HS (NC)
2010 Stats: 2.86 ERA (72.1-54-26-82) at High-A (15 G); 1.80 ERA (70.0-48-39-67) at Double-A (13 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Fastball/control

Year in Review: This power arm acquired by the Cubs from the Indians in the Mark DeRosa trade had a breakout campaign, limiting opposing hitters to a .200 batting average while dominating at both High- and Double-A. That made him the key prospect in the deal that put Matt Garza in Wrigleyville.
The Good: Archer has two plus pitches that miss plenty of bats. His fastball sits at 92-94 mph, touches 96, and features natural cutting action, while his power slider can be unhittable when it's on. He's a good athlete with a loose arm, and he maintained his velocity deep into his games last year.
The Bad: Archer's development at this point depends on his ability to throw strikes. While his arm action is clean, his delivery is on the complicated side, leading to fluctuating control. While he gets excellent action on his slider, it's more of a chase pitch at this point. His changeup is mediocre, and many scouts see a late-inning relief package emerging from his profile.
Ephemera: Archer started just three day games in 2010, but allowed 11 runs over 11 innings. At night, his ERA was 1.79.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a good third starter with better stuff than results, or a late-inning reliever.
Fantasy Impact: It's hard to say until we know if he'll be gunning for wins or saves in the big leagues.
Path to the Big Leagues: Archer is slated to begin the year at Triple-A Durham, but will likely make his big-league debut at some point in the season.
ETA: Late 2011

5. Jake McGee, LHP
DOB
: 8/6/86
Height/Weight: 6-3/190
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: Fifth round, 2004, Reed HS (NV)
2010 Stats: 3.57 ERA (88.1-81-33-100) at Double-A (19 G); 0.52 ERA (17.1-9-3-27) at Triple-A (11 G); 1.80 ERA (5.0-2-3-6) at MLB (8 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Fastball/changeup

Year in Review: Once among the top prospects in the system, McGee took longer than expected to return to form after 2008 Tommy John surgery, but then he exploded into the big leagues after moving to the bullpen.
The Good: McGee's velocity has always been his calling card, and he still throws a 93-96 mph heater than touches 98; it's a pitch that features late, explosive life. He gets good spin on a big-breaking upper-70s curveball, and seemed far more comfortable on the mound in short stints, where he could take a grip-it-and-rip-it approach.
The Bad: McGee's changeup has always been a fringy pitch, but that's far less of an issue for him as a reliever. His delivery has never been characterized as pretty, and he does have average to below-average control, as he threw less than 60 percent of his pitches for strikes in the big leagues.
Ephemera: While three of the first four fifth-round picks in franchise history reached the big leagues, McGee was the first to do since since Chris Seddon (2001).
Perfect World Projection: McGee has both the stuff and the temperament to get late-inning outs.
Fantasy Impact: Closers get saves, and closers on good teams get even more saves.
Path to the Big Leagues: McGee will jockey this spring for his role in the bullpen, but could emerge out of a committee to become the dedicated closer by mid-season.
ETA: 2011

6. Alex Colome, RHP
DOB
: 12/31/88
Height/Weight: 6-2/184
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2007, Dominican Republic
2010 Stats: 3.95 ERA (114.0-98-45-118) at Low-A (22 G); 2.25 ERA (4.0-5-0-8) at High-A (1 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Fastball/control

Year in Review: Colome pitched well in his full-season debut, but some scouts expressed frustration in his lack of progress.
The Good: Colome's signature remains his plus-plus fastball generated from a whippy arm action; it sits at 93-95 mph, touches 97, and is made more effective by Colome's seeming inability to throw it in straight line. He'll flash a plus over-the-top curveball with very good late bite, and when both pitches are working, he can be dominant. Scouts like his aggressive no-nonsense approach on the mound.
The Bad: Colome's changeup can be solid, but is best described as inconsistent, as he tends to either have the pitch fully in his arsenal, or he has to abandon it completely. While his arm is lively, his delivery is a whirlwind of limbs and far from smooth, and he needs to throw more strikes with all of his offerings.
Ephemera: Spending the winter with Escogido, Colome had a perfect 0.00 ERA in the Leones bullpen, allowing just five hits in 11 2/3 innings.
Perfect World Projection: Colome still has tremendous upside, he's just a little further from it than expected.
Fantasy Impact: He has the potential to be a star-level rotation piece, with plenty of strikeouts.
Path to the Big Leagues: After striking out eight batters over four innings in his one Florida State League start, Colome will return to High-A Charlotte to begin the 2011 season.
ETA: 2013

7. Josh Sale, LF
DOB: 7/5/91
Height/Weight: 6-0/215
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2010, Bishop Blanchet HS (WA)
2010 Stats: Did Not Play
Best/Worst Tool: Power/speed

Year in Review: The fourth high school position player taken in the 2010 draft (and 17th overall), Sale signed at the deadline for a slightly over-slot bonus of $1.62 million.
The Good: Sale had the most raw power of any high school hitter in the 2010 class. He's muscular and immensely strong, but combines it with outstanding bat speed and good hands, making scouts optimistic that he'll be able to tap into the power against pro-level pitching. Those talent evaluators who spent time with him raved about his intelligence, makeup, and work ethic.
The Bad: Sale's bat is potentially special, and it will have to be to get him to the big leagues. He's a big, thick kid who is a below-average runner and already getting slower by the year, and with a below-average arm he's already limited to left field. He can get power-hungry with his swing, and could need to make adjustments to his swing in order to use all fields.
Ephemera: Of the 46 17th overall picks in draft history, only six have been outfielders.
Perfect World Projection: Sale projects as an above-average everyday corner outfielder.
Fantasy Impact: As long as you don't need stolen bases, Sale will help your team plenty.
Path to the Big Leagues: This spring, Sale will try to prove that he's ready for a full-season assignment, but there's an equal chance that he'll begin the year in extended spring training until the short-season leagues begin.
ETA: 2014

8. Hak-Ju Lee, SS
DOB
: 11/4/90
Height/Weight: 6-2/170
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 2009, South Korea
2010 Stats: .282/.354/.35 at Low-A (122 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Arm/power

Year in Review: This Korean import made slow but steady progress throughout his full-season debut, capped by his producing a .294/.371/.361 line after the All-Star break. He was the best position player to come over from the Cubs in the Matt Garza deal.
The Good: Lee has all the tools to be a major-league shortstop. Offensively, he works the count effectively while utilizing a line-drive swing that leads to consistent contact rates. He's a plus runner who is excellent on the basepaths, with the speed also providing plenty of range in the field to go with a well above-average arm.
The Bad: Lee has very little power, with little reason to think any will develop out of his thin, lanky frame. He needs to improve his positioning, glove-to-hand transfer, and concentration defensively, as he committed many errors on the most simple plays.
Ephemera: While Lee hit first for Peoria in all of his starts, he batted just .232/.309/.293 when leading off an inning, while hitting .317 otherwise.
Perfect World Projection: He could be an everyday shortstop with good defense and enough bat to hit toward the top of the order.
Fantasy Impact: He could bring good average for a shortstop and excellent stolen-base totals, but you'll have to find your power elsewhere.
Path to the Big Leagues: Lee made excellent strides in 2010, but he's still a one-level-at-a-time talent. He was heading to the Florida State League for the season before the trade, but now he'll be playing at High-A Charlotte instead of Daytona.
ETA: Late 2013

9. Alex Torres, LHP
DOB
: 12/8/87
Height/Weight: 5-10/175
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 2005, Venezuela
2010 Stats: 3.47 ERA (142.2-136-70-150) at Double-A (27 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Fastball/control

Year in Review: The top player acquired from the Angels in the Scott Kazmir deal led the Double-A Southern League in strikeouts, but also in walks allowed.
The Good: Torres is short and compact. He throws three average to plus-grade pitches, beginning with a 90-93 mph heavy fastball that generates plenty of ground balls when hitters don't miss it. He has advanced feel for a plus changeup with plenty of drop and outstanding arm action, while his curveball is at least average.
The Bad: There is significant effort in Torres' delivery, including a violent landing, and it's unlikely that he'll ever be a control pitcher. He has a tendency to overthrow his curveball and lose break on the pitch.
Ephemera: Torres faced 12 batters with the bases loaded in 2010, and came away from those confrontations without giving up a hit.
Perfect World Projection: Torres has the ability to become a third starter in a big-league rotation.
Fantasy Impact: He won't be an early pick in your draft, but he'll have value.
Path to the Big Leagues: Torres had an outstanding winter season in Venezuela and will move up to Triple-A Durham in 2011, but it's hard seeing him getting anything more than a September look, barring some kind of disaster at the major-league level.
ETA: 2012

10. Brandon Guyer, OF
DOB
: 1/28/86
Height/Weight: 6-1/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Fifth round, 2007, University of Virginia
2010 Stats: .344/.398/.588 at Double-A (102 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Bat/power

Year in Review: This athletic outfielder went from organizational player in the Cubs' system to very real prospect with a massive year at Double-A.
The Good: Guyer has always brought good tools to the table; he has bat speed and gap power, with a smooth, easy stroke, good hand/eye coordination, and excellent contact rates. He's a slightly above-average runner who has stolen 60 bases over the last two years in just 70 attempts. Both his outfield play and arm strength are big-league quality.
The Bad: Despite his numbers, scouting reports on Guyer are far from glowing. His athleticism leaves him a bit short in center, and his power doesn't profile well for a corner. He's a very aggressive hitter who looks for fastballs early in the count, an approach that is often exploited by more advanced pitchers.
Ephemera: Beginning with a 4-for-5 night on June 30, Guyer hit a remarkable .426 (87-for-204) in his last 54 games of the season.
Perfect World Projection: He's either a second-division starter or a good fourth outfielder.
Fantasy Impact: He's going to give you something in every category, just not in a difference-changing way.
Path to the Big Leagues: Guyer will begin 2011 at Triple-A Durham, but he'll need some breaks in a very crowded Rays outfield to get anything more than a September look.
ETA: Late 2011

11. Robinson Chirinos, C
DOB
: 6/5/84
Height/Weight: 6-1/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2000, Venezuela
2010 Stats: .318/.412/.580 at Double-A (77 G); .364/.435/.600 at Triple-A (15 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Power/run

Year in Review: A converted infielder, Chirinos has rocketed up prospect lists since moving behind the plate by showing considerable progress on both sides of the ball.
The Good: Chirinos has always had above-avearge raw power, but it has begun to show up in-game of late, thanks to a much improved approach and shorter, quicker swing. His infielder's hands serve him well defensively behind the plate, and his arm is a tick above average.
The Bad: He has a significant platoon differential, as he absolutely crushes left-handers, hitting .438 against them in 2010, while being mediocre against righties. He's still a bit raw defensively, and needs to improve his footwork behind the plate, as well as quickening his release and refining his pitch-calling skills.
Ephemera: In his brief stint with Triple-A Iowa, Chirinos went 13-for-20 against lefties without ever striking out.
Perfect World Projection: With constantly improving scouting reports, Chrinos projects for some as a solid everyday big-league catcher.
Fantasy Impact: Nothing special, but a catcher with some batting average and 15-20 home runs certainly should draw interest.
Path to the Big Leagues: Chirinos will begin the year catching at Triple-A Durham, but could make his major-league debut at some point in the season.
ETA: 2011

The Sleeper: A 22-year-old lefty who has been slow to develop, Braulio Lara has mid-90s heat and outstanding arm action, and his full-season debut is highly anticipated.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/85 or later)
1. David Price, LHP
2. Evan Longoria, 3B
3. Jeremy Hellickson, RHP
4. Matt Moore, LHP
5. Desmond Jennings, OF
6. Reid Brignac, SS
7. Chris Archer, RHP
8. Jake McGee, LHP
9. Alex Colome, RHP
10. Josh Sale, LF

As far as Price and Longoria go, you could flip-flop their rankings and not get much of an argument from me. Both are stars now, years removed from peaking as ballplayers, and as such they're two of the most valuable assets in the game. Brignac takes over the everyday shortstop role and will be an upgrade over Jason Bartlett, making up for poor on-base skills with plus defense and what should be above-average slugging for the position.

Summary: The Rays system is seemingly always good, and this year is no different, but they'll need some of the 2009 draftees to step up in order to avoid becoming an unbalanced pitching-heavy system. This year's bevy of picks should help with any depth issues.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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