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Q: When is the last time we have seen a college hitter like Corey Ray have over 30 SBs, flirt with a .300 ISO and K less than 12% of the time? That package might be unprecedented. Who’s the best MLB comp? Where is his most likely landing spot; still Braves? – Imari L.

A: Heading into action this weekend, Louisville’s Corey Ray is sporting a .325/.395/.593 line in 49 games. He’s certainly having a tremendous season that has cemented his stock as one of the top picks in the draft next month, but what he’s doing isn’t unprecedented. If we go back to only 2011, Connecticut’s George Springer was doing similar things as one of the most exciting college players in the country. In 66 games for the Huskies that spring, Springer hit .343, stole 31 bases, posted a .265 ISO, and struck out in about 13% of his plate appearances.

That said, Springer and Ray are very different players. Springer was the relatively rare boom or bust college player that still had an unrefined game that scouts were somewhat mixed on heading into the draft. Ray is more of a high-floor player without the gaudy impact potential Springer offered at the same stage of his development.

Big-league scouts project Ray as an average hitter with average game power, and plus speed that allows him to steal bases consistently. His defense may be the furthest away from what Springer offered in 2011, as a player many scouts believe is destined for left field, putting plenty of pressure on his polished bat. I love what Ray’s doing this spring and he should head off the board in the top-five picks next month, but he’s hardly an unprecedented or highly unique prospect.

Q: If a pitcher in the lower minors is pitching in the low-90s but his fastball is relatively straight, how does a scout project the pitch to add movement in the future without losing velocity? – Andrew E.

A: A straight fastball stands out at any level of professional baseball, and it will typically be noted as a potential concern in scouting reports. For young players with a straight heater, scouts can look for a few hints of movement yet to develop. First and foremost, and probably the instance most likely to result in improved movement, a scout would hope to see flashes of movement. Throughout out an outing, if a pitcher occasionally shows some sink or run on the pitch, that can hint at potentially consistent movement down the line. In the absence of that, scouts can look for a feel for spin or ability to manipulate the baseball. Some pitchers will demonstrate a knack for spinning their breaking ball or manipulating their secondary pitches; traits that at times can offer a glimpse into the potential for a more mature pitcher to begin manipulating the fastball. In any case, a straight fastball can be alarming at any level of professional baseball, but there are attributes to look for as a means of projecting past the straight heater.

Q: What is your guys’ take on the Mariners decision to convert Edwin Diaz to reliever, especially given the success he’s been having in Double-A? – Megan R.

A: I was admittedly surprised when I saw news of this move, but it really isn’t as crazy as it may seem. Much of what Jerry Dipoto has said in recent interviews rings true when you look at Diaz from an objective point of view. The fastball and slider are clearly quality offerings that can work in any role at the big-league level, but the command and changeup lag considerably behind and have made nominal progress in the last few years. With over 350 innings under his belt as a starter in the minor leagues, Diaz has logged many of the innings he needs to show development of his arsenal and feel, and while there has been much progress, there are still glaring issues. When I talked to scouts about Diaz following the 2015 season, there were those that doubted his ability to start long term, so the Mariners’ belief isn’t off in left field. If anything, the timing of the move—after a player has already made six starts in the 2016 season—is the most peculiar fact in this scenario. The move itself may have been inevitable and doing it now gives the Mariners a chance to develop him in that role before he’s called upon to help in Seattle.

Q: What’s up with the slow starts from Rafael Devers, Franklin Barreto, and Gleyber Torres? – Kyle E.

A: The simple answer here is that development is not linear. Young players struggle through their development at times, and those that don’t are absolutely ridiculous freaks that don’t represent the typical developmental path. Patience is a key to prospect watching.

In the case of Rafael Devers, he’s still just 19 years old and won’t turn 20 until after the 2016 season comes to a close, and he’s being asked to compete in the Carolina League against peers typically at least 2-3 years his senior. Arbitrary endpoints alert, but since April 27th Devers is hitting .277/.346/.489 with nearly as many walks as strikeouts, and those numbers have spiked even more if we look at just the month of May. I wouldn’t worry about Devers; the kid is going to hit a ton.

With Barreto, we’re again talking about a player substantially younger (3-4 years) than his competition, and he’s also making the substantial leap from A-ball to Double-A; one of the toughest jumps in the minor leagues. While he’s hitting just .248 on the season, I’ve spoken to scouts that are adamant that they still see the impact player he was touted to be entering the season. After a ten-game stretch from late April to early May where Barreto looked to be snapping out of his funk, he slipped back into an 0-for-15 skid before breaking out of that slump on Monday. Looking forward, Barreto is such a well-rounded player that I maintain my belief that he is an above-average regular in waiting.

The story is much the same for Gleyber Torres, who in his last 15 games has posted a .351/.393/.561 line, and in that time his strikeout rate has stabilized back to levels seen during the 2015 season at a lower level. Torres is a gifted hitter with natural ability to make contact and drive the ball to all fields, something that will serve him well as he faces more challenging arms at higher levels. Much like Devers and Barreto, Torres is considerably younger than his Carolina League peers, and patience is necessary to allow development to take its course and for players to mature.

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bigchiefbc
5/13
One quick correction: Devers is currently in the Carolina League, not the Sally.
juice133
5/13
Good catch, and thank you! That makes the point on Devers' age even more emphatic.