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March 1, 2009

Future Shock

Rays Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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top 11 prospects

TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Audit | DT Cards | PECOTA Cards | Depth Chart

Five-Star Prospects
1. David Price, LHP
2. Tim Beckham, SS
3. Wade Davis, RHP
Four-Star Prospects
4. Desmond Jennings, CF
5. Reid Brignac, SS
Three-Star Prospects
6. Matt Moore, LHP
7. Jeremy Hellickson, RHP
8. Nick Barnese, RHP
9. Jake McGee, LHP
10. Kyle Lobstein, LHP
11. Fernando Perez, CF

Just Missed: Jeff Niemann, RHP; Alex Cobb, RHP; John Jaso, C

Ranking Challenges: The Rays still have a significant amount of elite talent in the system, but with players graduating to the majors, some injuries, and a few below-expectation performances, it's not quite at the same depth as it's been in the recent past. After that top five, there are a number of players with a perilous balance between high upside and lower-level certainty.

1. David Price, LHP
DOB: 8/26/85
Height/Weight: 6-6/225
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2007, Vanderbilt University
2008 Stats: 1.82 ERA at High-A (34.2-28-7-37), 2.97 DERA; 1.89 ERA at Double-A (57-42-16-55), 2.72 DERA; 4.50 ERA at Triple-A (18-22-9-17), 5.51 DERA; 1.93 ERA at MLB (14-9-4-12)
Last Year's Ranking: 2

Year in Review: The top pick in the 2007 draft saw his debut pushed back by minor elbow soreness, but he still didn't need much time to reach the big leagues as he finished up '08 by making a huge splash in the postseason on the national stage.
The Good: Price is the consummate power-pitching prospect, and the fact that he's left-handed just makes him that much more special. He overpowers hitters with a mid-90s fastball that touches 98 mph, and his upper-80s slider is a true wipeout offering. He's big, physical, has clean arm action, and maintains his stuff in long outings. He's an intelligent student of the game who has made an impression with his work ethic and competitive drive.
The Bad: He has rarely needed his changeup at any point during his career. It's a borderline average pitch right now, and its development will be the difference between Price becoming either good or great. His intensity can get the better of him at times, causing him to overthrow and lose command.
Fun Fact: The number one overall pick in the draft has failed to produce the kind of pitching studs that one might expect; the all-time leader in wins among number one overall picks is Mike Moore with 161, though he actually has a sub-.500 career record with 176 losses.
Perfect World Projection: Price is a future big-league ace and Cy Young candidate.
Glass Half Empty: If the changeup doesn't improve, he still profiles at the second spot in the rotation.
Path To The Big Leagues: It appears to be complete.
Timetable: Price is the overwhelming favorite to become the fifth starter in the Rays' rotation this spring.

2. Tim Beckham, SS
DOB: 1/27/90
Height/Weight: 6-0/188
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2008, Griffin HS (GA)
2008 Stats: .243/.297/.345 at Rookie-level (46 G); .333/.556/.500 at Short-season (2 G)
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: The player with the best all-around set of tools in the country stayed at the top of the draft boards all spring, before finally landing as the top selection in the '08 draft.
The Good: Beckham is the total package, and he's drawn multiple comparisons to former MVP Barry Larkin. He has a good approach, excellent bat speed, projects for at least average power, and has plus speed. He's a fluid defender with range, soft hands, and a strong arm.
The Bad: He struggled in his pro debut last year, and some observers felt that he was often pressing while trying to live up to his expectations as a top pick. Beckham will eventually have to quiet his swing, and he needs playing time and repetitions in order to hone his skills.
Fun Fact: He was the tenth shortstop taken with the number one overall pick, and the third in the last five years. No non-pitching position has been selected more at number one, and there has never been a second baseman taken first overall.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be an All-Star shortstop.
Glass Half Empty: He at least has all of the tools needed to be a big-leaguer.
Path To The Big Leagues: Even the most optimistic timetable wouldn't have him in the major leagues until late 2011.
Timetable: Beckham will make his full-season debut with the Rays' new Low-A affiliate in Bowling Green.

3. Wade Davis, RHP
DOB: 9/7/85
Height/Weight: 6-5/220
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 3rd round, 2004, Lake Wales HS (FL)
2008 Stats: 3.85 ERA at Double-A (107.2-104-42-81), 4.91 DERA; 2.72 ERA at Triple-A (53-39-24-55), 3.20 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 3

Year in Review: This big, power right-hander had a few bouts of inconsistency at Double-A in 2008, but he was at his best after a late-season promotion.
The Good: While scouts who saw the Double-A Montgomery rotation last season were universal in favoring Price, they also agreed that Davis could at least make an argument as the top prospect on the staff. He brings the heat with a 92-95 mph fastball that was up to 97, and his power curveball has hard, late break and rates as a plus pitch. He showed considerable improvement in his changeup throughout the year, and it's now an average offering that he's not afraid to use.
The Bad: Davis' mechanics are rather complicated, leading to an inconsistent release point and subsequent command issues. His changeup falters occasionally, and he's prone to tipping the pitch with a noticeably altered arm action.
Fun Fact: Lake Wales High School's most famous baseball alum is 1992 World Series MVP Pat Borders, though the school also produced Reggie Jackson (the left-handed pitcher drafted by the Twins in the 48th round of the 1989 draft).
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a second or third starter.
Glass Half Empty: Some like him better as a future power reliever.
Path To The Big Leagues: Right now, he's behind Price, leaving no room at the inn.
Timetable: At the very least, the numbers game will have Davis returning to Triple-A Durham to begin the year. He could force a look in the bullpen if he pitches well and the big-league rotation stays healthy.

4. Desmond Jennings, CF
DOB: 10/30/86
Height/Weight: 6-2/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 10th round, 2006, Itawamba CC (MS)
2008 Stats: .259/.360/.412, .242 EqA at High-A (24 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 4

Year in Review: One of the minor leagues' biggest breakouts in 2007 had a lost season in '08 while dealing with back and shoulder issues.
The Good: Even in the star-packed Arizona Fall League, one scout who saw Jennings said that his tools "stood out like a sore thumb." He profiles as a top-of-the-order force with outstanding plate discipline, plus-plus speed, and enough power to project for 15-20 home runs annually.
The Bad: There is still some rawness to Jennings' game, so the lost season was cause for frustration. He often runs poor routes in center field and has to rely on his speed to make up for it, and he needs to temper his swing and focus solely on contact and using all fields, as opposed to muscling up on his swing. The injury history is a red flag.
Fun Fact: Jennings was an 18th-round pick by the Indians out of Pinson Valley High in Alabama, but he chose to go to junior college for one year to up his draft stock.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a dynamic, toolsy, star-level leadoff man.
Glass Half Empty: Perhaps not quite a star, but he'll still be a valuable outfielder.
Path To The Big Leagues: The Rays' outfield is full, but Jennings is still at least two years away.
Timetable: Jennings will hope for a healthy season as he returns to the High-A Florida State League, and he'll get a change of scenery; the Rays have moved their league affiliate to Charlotte.

5. Reid Brignac, SS
DOB: 1/16/86
Height/Weight: 6-3/180
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 2nd round, 2004, St. Amant HS (LA)
2008 Stats: .250/.299/.412, .229 EqA at Triple-A (97 G); .000/.091/.000, .000 EqA at MLB (4 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 5

Year in Review: The former California League MVP continued to have problems meeting his projected numbers on offense at the upper levels in '08, yet he once again showed significantly improved play on defense.
The Good: Brignac still impresses with the bat, primarily since he has above-average power for a shortstop. When he makes contact, it's hard contact with loft and backspin, and he punishes mistake pitches. Once sub-standard defensively, he's made rapid improvements over the past two seasons and now has plus range, excellent fundamentals, and a plus arm. Many point to his defensive growth as a real tribute to his makeup.
The Bad: Brignac's offensive struggles have led to some bad habits; he often expands his strike zone, and he needs to develop better pitch recognition. He can also be overly pull-conscious.
Fun Fact: The 45th overall pick in the draft has never produced a big-league star; the all-time leading home-run hitter out of that slot is Jeff Branson (1988) with 45, while John Dopson (1982) leads in wins, with 30.
Perfect World Projection: Much like Khalil Greene's good seasons.
Glass Half Empty: Too much like his worst ones.
Path To The Big Leagues: Jason Bartlett has gone from temporary fix to overrated heart and soul of the team, which leaves Brignac blocked for now.
Timetable: After having his 2008 season cut short by a broken wrist, Brignac will return to Triple-A to begin 2009. He could be a top trade chip come July.

6. Matt Moore, LHP
DOB: 6/18/89
Height/Weight: 6-2/205
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 8th round, 2007, Moriarty HS (NM)
2008 Stats: 1.66 ERA at Rookie-level (54.1-30-19-77)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: The biggest surprise in the system dominated the Appy League in '08, and he had scouts wondering how he could have lasted until the eighth round.
The Good: Moore is another Rays power pitcher with a fastball that sits in the low 90s and touched 95-96 mph throughout the year, while his power curve gives him a second plus pitch. He has highly advanced control for his age, and his thick, powerful physique was described by one scout as "built to last."
The Bad: Like many young hurlers, Moore's changeup lags behind his other offerings, and he needs to learn how to mix the pitch into his repertoire. He also needs minor refinements here and there, and he has to learn to work both sides of the plate more effectively.
Fun Fact: In the first two innings of games for Princeton in the Appy League, Moore allowed six hits over 24 frames while striking out 39 and not allowing an earned run.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be an above-average big-league starter.
Glass Half Empty: It's very early in his development, so that's the top end of what is probably a very wide range.
Path To The Big Leagues: It's tough being a young starting pitcher in this organization, but Moore is still so far away that things will almost certainly be different by the time he's ready.
Timetable: Moore will be part of what should be a very impressive rotation at Low-A Bowling Green.

7. Jeremy Hellickson, RHP
DOB: 4/8/87
Height/Weight: 6-1/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 4th round, 2005, Hoover HS (LA)
2008 Stats: 2.00 ERA at High-A (76.2-64-5-83), 3.57 DERA; 3.94 ERA at Double-A (75.1-84-15-79), 5.10 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 9

Year in Review: This low-profile right-hander dominated in the Florida State League last year, but struggled for the first time in his career following a mid-season promotion to Double-A.
The Good: Hellickson has outstanding command and control and above-average stuff, starting with a 90-92 mph fastball that can get up to 94. His best secondary offering is a plus changeup with nice depth and fade, while his curveball is solid. He mixes his pitches well, and focuses more on carving up hitters than on trying to blow them away.
The Bad: Hellickson can often be victimized by throwing too many strikes; more advanced hitters were able to sit back and be confident that, even if they didn't know exactly which pitch was coming, it would be in the hitting zone. He tends to work within the upper half of the strike zone, leading to a disturbing number of balls leaving the park.
Fun Fact: Batters leading off an inning against Hellickson in the Florida State League had a .167 on-base percentage, going 12-for-77 with one walk.
Perfect World Projection: A third or fourth starter and innings eater.
Glass Half Empty: He'll end up in the back end of the rotation.
Path To The Big Leagues: Because of all the pitching talent in this system, he's significantly down on the depth chart.
Timetable: Hellickson will get another shot at mastering Double-A to begin the year.

8. Nick Barnese, RHP
DOB: 1/11/89
Height/Weight: 6-2/170
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 3rd round, 2007, Simi Valley HS (CA)
2008 Stats: 2.45 ERA at Short-season (66-52-24-84)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: He's an overshadowed talent who received little attention despite a high draft slot and a strong debut, but he began to show up on the scouting-world radar after an impressive 2008 showing in the New York-Penn League.
The Good: Barnese is long, loose, and projectable-already sitting in the low 90s with a plus fastball that features excellent sink and run. His curve regularly flashes plus, and his command is solid.
The Bad: His changeup still needs work; it tends to either offer too little separation in velocity from his other offerings, or else too much, and he can tip it off with noticeably slower arm action. He gets a lot of his whiffs outside of the strike zone, so there is some fear that his strikeout rate will drop as he moves up through the system.
Fun Fact: Simi Valley High also graduated the pitching Weaver brothers, as well as former UCLA basketball standout Don McClean.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a solid rotation workhorse.
Glass Half Empty: There is still a large gap between what he is and what he could be.
Path To The Big Leagues: It's a long one.
Timetable: Barnese will join Moore at Low-A Bowling Green.

9. Jake McGee, LHP
DOB: 8/6/86
Height/Weight: 6-3/190
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 5th round, 2004, Reed HS (NV)
2008 Stats: 3.94 ERA at Double-A (77.2-65-37-65), 5.28 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 6

Year in Review: One of the hardest-throwing lefties in the minors was not quite as dominant as expected at Double-A in '08, which was finally explained when he ended up needing Tommy John surgery at mid-season.
The Good: McGee has rare velocity from the left side; he sits in the low-to-mid 90s and has touched 99 mph on many occasions. His slider has slowly developed into a solid big-league offering, and scouts love his aggressive, fearless approach.
The Bad: While Tommy John surgical techniques continue to improve, the procedure is still not perfect. McGee's changeup has always been rudimentary, and his delivery is violent; he had been projected as a reliever before the surgery, and he's even more likely to end up in that role now.
Fun Fact: He had a knack for making bad things worse in 2008, as batters with the bases empty hit just .198/.294/.339 against him, upped that line to .283/.364/.415 with runners on, and hit a frightening .340/.431/.580 with runners on and two outs.
Perfect World Projection: There is still hope that he'll be able to start, with late-inning relief as the backup plan.
Glass Half Empty: We need to see if he's able to throw hard and throw strikes as he returns from surgery.
Path To The Big Leagues: It would certainly be clearer if he were coming out of the pen.
Timetable: McGee is expected to return to action some time after the season's mid-point, and he'll probably be back at Double-A after a few warm-up outings.

10. Kyle Lobstein, LHP
DOB: 8/12/89
Height/Weight: 6-3/180
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 2nd round, 2008, Coconino HS (AZ)
2008 Stats: None
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: Entering 2008 as one of the top high school lefties around, Lobstein failed to impress scouts with some middling outings, but the Rays spent $1.5 million at the deadline to buy him away from a college commitment to the University of Arizona.
The Good: He appeared to be back on track in the instructional league, showing average-to-plus velocity to go with his excellent fastball command. His pitching ability is excellent for a teenager; he knows how to set up hitters, and he already has solid secondary offerings in his plus curveball and promising changeup.
The Bad: Lobstein turned off many scouts during the spring with some listless performances during which his velocity sat at 84-88 mph. He needs to show that the pitcher who teams saw in 2007 is really back, which could come simply as the result of consistent innings.
Fun Fact: Lobstein was born two days before the Sega Genesis video game console was released in North America... and now I feel very old.
Perfect World Projection: He's a strike-throwing lefty who works in the middle or back end of the rotation.
Glass Half Empty: The Rays place their bet on what he was, instead of what he is now, and they lose that bet.
Path To The Big Leagues: He's yet to throw a pitch as a professional.
Timetable: The Rays tend to take things slowly with their young arms, so Lobstein will likely spend the first half of the year in extended spring training before reporting to a short-season league.

11. Fernando Perez, OF
DOB: 4/23/83
Height/Weight: 6-1/195
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted/Signed: 7th round, 2004, Columbia University
2008 Stats: .288/.361/.393, .244 EqA at Triple-A (129 G); .250/.348/.433, .093 EqA at MLB (23 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 10

Year in Review: This speedy outfielder had another solid season in the minors in '08, with some key hits in the big leagues down the stretch.
The Good: Perez has leadoff skills, a patient approach, and the ability to smack line drives to all fields with equal effectiveness against both lefties and righties. His plus-plus speed gives him excellent range in center field, and the ability to rack up big numbers in the triple and stolen-base columns. He's a heady and intelligent player who understands his strengths and limitations.
The Bad: Perez has a small loop in his swing, and he strikes out far more than is expected from a top-of-the-order hitter. At age-26, he is what he is, and offers little projection for more, with scouts having mixed views on his ultimate upside.
Fun Fact: While Lou Gehrig is obviously Columbia University's most famous baseball alum, Perez is just the second player drafted out of the school to hit a big-league home run; the first was former Twins first baseman Gene Larkin.
Perfect World Projection: He's a future second-division starter.
Glass Half Empty: An outstanding fourth outfielder who can play all three positions while providing speed and defense off of the bench.
Path To The Big Leagues: The Rays' outfield situation is a crowded one.
Timetable: Perez' ability to play up the middle could give him advantage in winning a bench job to begin the year. Otherwise, it's back to Triple-A.

The Sleeper: A third-round pick last June out of UC Davis, catcher Jake Jefferies doesn't have much in the way of power, but he's an extreme contact hitter who struck out only 11 times in 248 at-bats as a junior, and he has plus catch-and-throw skills.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (as of Opening Day 2009)

1. David Price, LHP
2. B.J. Upton, CF
3. Evan Longoria, 3B
4. Scott Kazmir, LHP
5. Matt Garza, RHP
6. Tim Beckham, SS
7. Wade Davis, RHP
8. Dioner Navarro, C
9. Desmond Jennings, CF
10. Matt Joyce, LF

Those first five are about as good as it gets in all of baseball. The Rays have several young starting pitchers who are at star level, but Price should be able to establish himself as a true ace. Upton over Longoria may be controversial, but the tools and the position still give Upton more upside-you really can't go wrong with either one, as they're both superstars. Kazmir is a star-level pitcher, possibly more, and Garza could be at the same level as early as this year. Navarro is a solid everyday catcher, and Matt Joyce was a nice pickup as a power-hitting outfielder, but he'll likely always need a platoon partner.

Summary: The Rays remain one of the better systems in baseball, and the question now becomes whether or not they can maintain this level with a big-league club that will be winning enough in the near future that they'll be drafting in the 20s every year, as opposed to taking the first overall pick as they had been recently.


Up next: the Texas Rangers.

---

Rays' Director of Minor League Operations Mitch Lukevics talks about the top prospects in one of the best systems in baseball on the Top 11 Prospect Lists at BPR.


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Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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