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January 8, 2010

Future Shock

Rays Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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top 11 prospects

Five-Star Prospects
1. Desmond Jennings, CF
2. Jeremy Hellickson, RHP
3. Wade Davis, RHP
4. Alex Colome, RHP
5. Matt Moore, LHP
Four-Star Prospects
6. Tim Beckham, SS
7. Reid Brignac, SS
Three-Star Prospects
8. Alex Torres, LHP
9. Nick Barnese, RHP
10. Wilking Rodriguez, RHP
11. Luke Bailey, C

Four More:
12. Todd Glaesmann, CF: The Rays' third-round pick in '09 is an outfielder who's a bit athletic with plus power and good speed.
13. Kyle Lobstein, LHP: An over-slot signee from '08, Lobstein was impressive in his pro debut, but scouts saw more pitchability than stuff.
14. Jeff Malm, 1B: A bat-only pick who was dubbed by one scout as "a high school-equivalent of Brett Wallace."
15. Jake McGee, LHP: The power lefty struggled with both command and getting his velocity back during his brief return from Tommy John surgery.

1. Desmond Jennings, CF
DOB: 10/30/86
Height/Weight: 6-2/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 10th round, 2006, Itawamba CC (MS)
2009 Stats: .316/.395/.486 at Double-A (100 G); .325/.419/.491 at Triple-A (32 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 4

Year in Review: A toolsy outfielder, Jennings rebounded from an injury-plagued 2008 campaign with another breakthrough season, winning Double-A Southern League MVP honors and putting up even bigger numbers over the final month of the year at Triple-A.
The Good: On any baseball field he steps on, Jennings' tools stand out like a sore thumb, but he's as much of a baseball player as he is an athlete. He makes pitchers work, rarely swinging at bad pitches and using his plus-plus speed to wreak havoc on the basepaths once he gets on. His quick, smooth swing leads to few strikeouts, and his power is at least average, projecting for 14-18 home runs annually. He gets good jumps in center field, covers a ton of ground with his speed, and his arm is solid.
The Bad: Scouts have trouble finding any real holes in Jennings' game. His routes in the outfield can get a bit circular at times, but he has more than enough speed to make it a non-factor. He can get somewhat streaky at the plate at times.
Ephemera: Jennings was an 18th-round pick by the Indians in 2005 out of high school in Pinson, Alabama, a tiny town in the middle of the state that also produced former big-leaguer Terry Jones.
Perfect World Projection: Jennings will be a high-impact leadoff hitter. Imagine Carl Crawford with outstanding plate discipline.
Path to the Big Leagues: It's not especially clear to start the season, but the Rays didn't find a right fielder this offseason for a reason.
Timetable: Unless he's too good this spring to deny, Jennings will begin the year at Triple-A Durham, but he should reach the big leagues by the All-Star break.

2. Jeremy Hellickson, RHP
DOB: 4/8/87
Height/Weight: 6-1/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 4th round, 2005, Hoover HS (IA)
2009 Stats: 2.38 ERA (56.2-41-14-62) at Double-A (11 G); 2.51 ERA (57.1-31-15-70) at Triple-A (9 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 7

Year in Review: Hellickson is a highly advanced righty who limited both Double- and Triple-A hitters to a sub-.200 batting average. He was the best pitcher in the minors down the stretch, allowing 10 hits over 27 innings in his last four starts while striking out 41.
The Good: No pitcher in the minor leagues can carve up hitters like Hellickson. While his 91-93 mph fastball rates only a scouting scale 55-60 for pure velocity, it plays up at least a full grade due to movement and his throwing it with some of the best command in the game. His curveball is a plus pitch, and his changeup is a true big-league out pitch that he'll throw at any point in the count. Beyond the plus stuff and plus-plus command and control, his pitchability is off the charts, as he mixes his pitches and sets up hitters like a veteran, leaving one scout to say, "I know I'm not allowed to use this guy as a comp, but every time I see Hellickson, he reminds me of Greg Maddux."
The Bad: While scouts are unanimous in their praise for Hellickson, some wonder if his stuff is enough for his minor-league dominance to carry over to the big leagues. While he works both sides of the plate with aplomb, he can get stuck in the upper half of the strike zone at times.
Ephemera: If you add up just the third inning from his nine starts for Triple-A Durham, Hellickson tossed a one-hitter with 14 strikeouts.
Perfect World Projection: Hellickson will be an All-star starter.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Rays have a big-league rotation pretty much setů for now.
Timetable: Barring injury, Hellickson will be back in Triple-A to start 2010, but like Jennings, he has the ability to force his way to the big leagues at some point in the year.

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)
2009 Stats: 3.40 ERA (158.2-139-60-140) at Triple-A (28 G); 3.72 ERA (36.1-33-13-36) at MLB (6 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 3

Year in Review: The most advanced righty in the Rays' system was meeting expectations at Triple-A, but he took a step forward in his big-league debut, dominating in three of his six starts.
The Good: Davis is a pure power pitcher with a nearly perfect frame, outstanding mechanics, and two big-league plus offerings. He parks his fastball at 92-94 mph and touches 96 when he dials it up. He complements his heater with a hard curveball that features significant break and nearly identical arm action with the fastball, making it very hard to pick up. He maintains his stuff deep into games, and he pitches with a bit of a nasty streak.
The Bad: There are scouts who see Davis as potentially more dominating out of the bullpen, as beyond his two excellent offerings, his repertoire falls short. His changeup is a below-average pitch that often hangs, and he also throws a slurvy slider, which at times just looks like an overthrown curve. His command and control is no more than average.
Ephemera: Of the 14 players drafted out of Lake Wales High School in Florida, Davis is the first to pitch in the big leagues, while former World Series MVP Pat Borders is the only one to hit a home run.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a good mid-rotation starter.
Path to the Big Leagues: Davis is big league-ready.
Timetable: Davis will compete for the final rotation slot this spring, but he could even fit in a major-league relief job if that doesn't work out.

4. Alex Colome, RHP
DOB: 12/31/88
Height/Weight: 6-2/184
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2007
2009 Stats: 1.66 ERA (76.0-46-32-94) at Short-season (15 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not ranked

Year in Review: A high-ceiling Dominican, Colome blew away scouts in the New York-Penn League, as he led the circuit in strikeouts (94) and lowest opponent's average (.174).
The Good: One veteran scout who covers the entire Rays system said Colome is the best short-season pitcher he's seen since Neftali Feliz, with a ceiling unmatched in the system. He already has 93-96 mph velocity that gets up to 98, as well as an effortless delivery and skinny frame that offers plenty of projection. His power breaking ball should develop into a true big-league out pitch, and he's surprised many by flashing a solid changeup.
The Bad: Colome is raw. His command comes and goes, as does the quality of his secondary offerings, which vary from start to start. Scouts believe that a more balanced delivery and consistent release point would address both issues. More than anything, he just needs innings.
Ephemera: Alex is the nephew of Jesus Colome, who won 11 games and saved five more during a six-year stretch with the Rays from 2001-2006.
Perfect World Projection: Colome has the ability to be an impact starter, but he has closer potential if he's forced to the pen.
Path to the Big Leagues: The positive aspect of his being so far away is that all of the pitching talent at the top isn't a big concern.
Timetable: Colome will make his full-season debut in 2010, and at 21, the Rays won't be afraid to move him up to High-A if his dominance continues.

5. Matt Moore, LHP
DOB: 6/18/89
Height/Weight: 6-2/205
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 8th round, 2007, Moriarty HS (NM)
2009 Stats: 3.15 ERA (123.0-86-70-176) at Low-A (26 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 6

Year in Review: The bulky left-hander built on an impressive pro debut in 2008 by leading all of the minors in strikeouts and the circuit in opponent's batting average (.195).
The Good: Moore has two major-league out pitches. He has above-average velocity for a southpaw, sitting a 91-93 mph with his fastball, and he's seemingly incapable of throwing it straight, showing the ability to add both cutting and sinking action to the pitch. His curve is an even more effective offering when Moore throws strikes with it, featuring late, heavy break. He's shown some feel for a changeup that clearly improved from his pro debut.
The Bad: While he made strides throughout the year, Moore's command and control remains sketchy, and there are games where he's over-reliant on his fastball, as it's the only pitch he can throw for strikes. His delivery takes a lot of effort and could use some smoothing out. His wide frame borders on soft, creating some with long-term concerns about his conditioning.
Ephemera: Moore had more strikeouts than innings pitched in 24 of 26 starts last year.
Perfect World Projection: With his upside, he could be an All-Star left-handed starter.
Path to the Big Leagues: There's a bit of a gap between the Davis/Hellickson duo and the next wave of young pitchers in the system, so Tampa Bay has time to figure it out.
Timetable: Moore will begin 2010 at High-A, and he should have little trouble continuing to put up big numbers in the Florida State League.

6. Tim Beckham, SS
DOB: 1/27/90
Height/Weight: 6-0/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2008, Griffin HS (GA)
2009 Stats: .275/.328/.389 at Low-A (125 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 2

Year in Review: The first overall pick in the 2008 draft had a full-season debut that could only be classified as disappointing.
The Good: Scouts still see plenty of promise in Beckham based on his tools and athleticism. He has excellent bat speed and strong wrists, with many believing enough of his doubles will turn into home runs for him to hit 15-18 annually. He's a smooth, natural shortstop with an above-average arm and enough quickness to stay at the position. Despite not breaking out as expected, Beckham never seemed to press or show anything less than maximum effort.
The Bad: Beckham turned out to be far less refined that expected, as his play was described by one scout as "out of control" on both sides of the ball. He's far too aggressive at the plate, flailing at bad pitches and rarely finding himself in hitter's counts. Defensively, he rushes both his transfers and his throws, leading to a high error total.
Ephemera: Beckham had an immense home/road split in 2009, hitting just .223/.280/.287 at home, but looking like an all-star on road trips, with a .328/.376/.492 line.
Perfect World Projection: He still has the ability to make his selection as the first pick justified.
Path to the Big Leagues: Beckham is behind All-Star Jason Bartlett and advanced prospect Reid Brignac on the depth chart, but he's also years away.
Timetable: It's hard to expect a big statistical season from Beckham at High-A Charlotte, so he'll go there to work on the fundamentals.

7. Reid Brignac, SS
DOB: 1/16/86
Height/Weight: 6-3/195
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 2nd round, 2004, St. Amant HS (LA)
2009 Stats: .282/.327/.417 at Triple-A (96 G); .278/.301/.444 at MLB (31 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 5

Year in Review: A talented shortstop, Brignac seems stuck at Triple-A due to the emergence of Jason Bartlett.
The Good: Brignac has above-average power for the position and fits the mold as the new breed of big, athletic shortstops. He's come leaps and bounds as a defender, possessing good range to both sides and a strong arm with good accuracy and carry.
The Bad: Many scouts are bothered by the fact that Brignac has morphed into a completely different player over the last few years. Once a California League MVP who few thought could stay up the middle, he's now a defensive wizard who brings little to the table other than occasional power. He's always been an impatient hitter, looking to attack fastballs early in each at-bat.
Ephemera: The 45th overall pick in the draft has not been a kind one in baseball history, as Jeff Branson (1988) is the all-time leader in home runs with 34, while John Dopson (1982) leads in the win category with just 30.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a good everyday shortstop with plus defense and 15 home runs annually.
Path to the Big Leagues: It's completely and utterly blocked.
Timetable: Brignac played in Mexico this December, leaving some to wonder if he was being showcased for trade possibilities. The Rays might be trying him out at other infield positions this spring to use him in a bench role, but it would be hard to see him get many at-bats there.

8. Alex Torres, LHP
DOB: 12/8/87
Height/Weight: 5-10/175
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: Venezuela, 2005 (Angels)
2009 Stats: 2.74 ERA (121.1-93-63-124) at High-A (21 G) with Angels; 3.12 ERA (26.0-23-17-25) at Double-A (5 G) with Angels; 2.77 ERA (8.2-7-5-7) at Double-A (2 G) with Rays
Last Year's Ranking: Just missed (Angels)

Year in Review: The little lefty continued to put up big numbers and was one of the key players sent to Tampa Bay in the Scott Kazmir deal.
The Good: Torres just gives hitters fits. His 88-92 mph fastball doesn't light up a radar gun, but he keep batters off balance by adding and subtracting from the pitch, using both sides of the plate, and changing his grips to add various action to the pitch, including heavy sink. He throws a pair of quality breaking balls to further disrupt hitters, and he works low in the zone with both pitches.
The Bad: Scouts have a lot of questions about Torres' ability to handle a big-league starters' workload. Beyond his short and skinny stature, his below-average control leads to high pitch counts, and he often had problems getting out of the upper 80s with his fastball by the fifth or sixth inning. He's gotten a lot of strikeouts by using his breaking balls as chase offerings, and he'll need to start throwing them more for strikes.
Ephemera: Despite being a southpaw, Texas League left-handed hitters went 9-for-19 with four walks against Torres in his five starts for Double-A Arkansas before the trade.
Perfect World Projection: Torres projects to be a fourth or fifth starter with many relief possibilities.
Path to the Big Leagues: It's hard to be a pitcher in the Rays' system without elite-level stuff.
Timetable: Torres will begin 2010 in Double-A, but he has the ability to earn a big-league look in September.

9. 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)
2009 Stats: 2.53 ERA (74.2-56-25-62) at Short-Season (15 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 8

Year in Review: Limited to just 15 starts and 74 2/3 innings due to shoulder issues, Barnese made the most of them by allowing just four earned runs in his first 33 innings for the Hot Rods.
The Good: Barnese pounds the strike zone with a 90-94 mph fastball that he works both sides of the plate with aggressively. He flashes a good curveball at times, as well as a changeup with promise. Like many Rays pitching prospects, he attacks hitters and pitches efficiently.
The Bad: Barnese depends on his heater too much at times, mostly due to inconsistency with his other pitches. He has a tendency to get around on his breaking ball, causing it to flatten out, while also missing the release on his changeup, causing it to straighten.
Ephemera: Simi Valley High in Southern California also graduated both Jared and Jeff Weaver.
Perfect World Projection: He'll likely be a solid middle-rotation starter.
Path to the Big Leagues: He's years away from crowding that situation even further.
Timetable: Barnese will join Moore at High-A Charlotte this year to form one of the Florida State League's most potent one-two punches.

10. Wilking Rodriguez, RHP
DOB: 3/2/90
Height/Weight: 6-1/160
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Venezuela, 2007
2009 Stats: 3.21 ERA (56.0-44-12-52) at Rookie-level (13 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not ranked

Year in Review: The Venezuelan righty impressed with both his stuff and polish during his stateside debut.
The Good: Rodriguez had some of the best stuff in the Appy League last summer. His low-90s fastball explodes out his hand, and scouts see plenty of projection for more, as he routinely touched 96 and 97 nearly every time out. Beyond reliably throwing it with velocity, Rodriguez throws the pitch equally consistently for strikes. His curveball is average now with potential for more, and he has some good feel for his changeup.
The Bad: Rodriguez just needs innings to refine his game. His size is of some concern to some, but the ease of his delivery helps to mitigate it. He still needs to improve both secondary offerings, and also needs to learn how to use the lower half of the strike zone as effectively as he does the upper half. He has a tendency to overthrow and press with runners on base.
Ephemera: Rodriguez stayed out of trouble in the Appy League by limiting hitters to a minuscule .157/.208/.243 batting line with the bases empty.
Perfect World Projection: Rodriguez, like Colome, has the ability to turn into a dominating force.
Path to the Big Leagues: He's so far away, and there are so many pitchers ahead of him.
Timetable: With Colome and Rodriguez, the top of Low-A Bowling Green's 2010 rotation might be even better than what Moore and Barnese provided in 2009.

11. Luke Bailey, C
DOB: 3/11/91
Height/Weight: 6-0/198
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 4th round, 2009, Troup County HS (GA)
2009 Stats: Did not play
Last Year's Ranking: Did not qualify

Year in Review: One of, if not the best high-school catchers in the draft coming into the spring, Bailey injured his elbow while pitching and required Tommy John surgery. The Rays gave him a $750,000 bonus to avoid going to Auburn.
The Good: When healthy, Bailey provided impressive tools and athleticism for a catcher. He has 60-65 raw power on the 20-80 scouting scale and despite a wide-bodied, classic catching frame, he's at least an average runner. Prior to the surgery, his arm was a pure weapon, and his receiving skills are very good for his age.
The Bad: Bailey's surgery cost him nearly a year of development, and we won't know how much arm strength he's retained until he takes the field. Beyond the power, there are questions about his bat, as there is more of an uppercut to his swing as opposed to natural loft, and he has plenty of holes to close in his strike zone.
Ephemera: Bailey became the first player drafted out of Troup County High in 11 years, with former Cub David Kelton being the last, and right-hander Jimmy Haynes being the most successful big-league alum.
Perfect World Projection: If he's healthy, this pick could be a steal.
Path to the Big Leagues: In what has been one of the strongest farm systems in baseball for much of the decade, catching has always been an issue, and it still is.
Timetable: Bailey is expected to be healthy by spring, but he'll almost assuredly begin the year in extended spring training before beginning his pro career in the Appalachian League this summer.

The Sleeper: A 2009 ninth-round pick who signed for $625,000, left-hander Kevin James packs plenty of projection into a long, skinny frame. He is already up to 92 mph on his fastball and has a good feel for both his curveball and change.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (Born 4/1/84 or later)

1. Evan Longoria, 3B
2. Desmond Jennings, CF
3. David Price, LHP
4. Jeremy Hellickson, RHP
5. B.J. Upton, OF
6. Wade Davis, RHP
7. Alex Colome, RHP
8. Matt Moore, LHP
9. Tim Beckham, SS
10. Reid Brignac, SS

Longoria was really no better in 2009 than '08, but even if he's already maxed out, he's an elite third baseman with power and Gold Glove defense. Price failed to meet expectations in 2009, especially in his ability to miss bats, but there's still a strong breakout possibility. Upton is a total dart throw. He could get dealt in a change-of-scenery deal to make room for Jennings, or he could go 30/30; either scenario wouldn't surprise. Just missing are Sean Rodriguez, who is a better short-term utility piece than Brignac, and Matt Joyce, whose ceiling likely ends at fourth outfielder.

Summary: The Rays that exploded in 2008 were a team that was built to last, and the farm system is stocked to keep them at the top of the division for years to come. They'll have trouble remaining an elite organization without having top picks every year anymore, but that's for all the right reasons.


Next up: the Texas Rangers.

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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