Top Prospect: B.J. Upton, ss
Age: 19 Ht.: 6-3 Wt.: 170 Bats: R Throws: R
Drafted: HS�Chesapeake, Va., 2002 (1st round)
Signed by: Doug Witt
Background: The No. 2 overall pick in the 2002 draft, Upton may not even end up as the highest-drafted player in his family. Younger brother Justin, a high school junior, is a candidate to go first in the 2005 draft. By then, B.J. likely will be starting for the Devil Rays at shortstop�at age 20. After signing for a $4.6 million bonus in September 2002, Upton made his pro debut last year at low Class A Charleston. After looking overmatched in April, Upton made adjustments and hit .411 in July to earn a two-step promotion to Double-A Orlando. He showed the Devil Rays everything they could have hoped for and was named the top prospect in the low Class A South Atlantic League as well as the Arizona Fall League. You could make a case for Upton as the top prospect in the minor leagues.
Strengths: Upton is one of the few players who truly possesses five plus tools. His arm strength and speed grade close to 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale, and his bat speed is easily a 70. He�s a poised hitter with an excellent idea of what he wants to accomplish at the plate, and he�s capable of driving the ball to all fields. He showed the ability to work counts, even after his jump to Double-A, drawing an organization-high 73 walks. Considering his wiry frame, he has surprising raw power. Upton has enough pop to eventually hit 30 homers on an annual basis. Within the organization, only blazer Joey Gathright can top his baserunning talents. Defensively, Upton�s range and quickness are unparalleled, and his footwork is outstanding. He�s aggressive in the field and on the basepaths, and considers virtually any ball he can reach to be an out.
Weaknesses: Upton led the minors with 56 errors. Many came when he either sat back too long on grounders or tried to make difficult plays with his cannon arm. He worked on his footwork and double-play feeds to the second baseman in the AFL. By charging more balls, Upton should improve his defense and become an all-around star. The only other thing he needs is experience. Upton should continue to improve because of his athleticism and work ethic.
The Future: Upton is cruising along the fast track to the majors. The Rays have been looking for a cornerstone shortstop since day one�remember when they traded Bobby Abreu for Kevin Stocker?�and haven�t found one. Their wait should end in the near future with Upton. Tampa Bay hasn�t been shy about giving such players as Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli jobs in the big leagues before they were completely ready, and that could be the case with Upton as well. Unless he struggles at Double-A or Triple-A Durham, he should make his debut at Tropicana Field at some point in 2004. It�s not unrealistic to pencil him in as the Rays� starting shortstop on Opening Day 2005.
|Charleston (Lo A)||101||384||70||116||22||6||7||46||57||80||38||.302||.394||.445|
2. Delmon Young, of
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 230.
Drafted: HS�Camarillo, Calif., 2003 (1st round).
Signed by: Craig Weissmann.
Background: The first overall pick in the 2003 draft, Young received $3.7 million as part of a guaranteed major league contract worth at least $5.8 million. The younger brother of Dmitri Young, the fourth overall pick in 1991, Delmon signed too late to play in the regular season. He showed advanced skills in the Arizona Fall League, where he batted .417/.451/.625 in 15 games.
Strengths: Young has an impressive combination of natural baseball ability and an old-school work ethic. He had the most raw power in the 2003 draft, and was the best pure hitter among high school players. He�s a good defender with a plus arm that will allow him to man right field in the majors.
Weaknesses: His speed is his worst tool, but it�s average now and won�t hold him back when he gets stronger and slows down. He was a bit overaggressive in the AFL, though it didn�t hurt his performance and may just have been the result of being anxious to play.
The Future: Upon signing, the ever-confident Young predicted he would be in the big leagues by 2005. He upped that projection to 2004 during his stint in the AFL. A September callup after strong showings in Class A and/or Double-A this summer is a strong possibility.
3. Doug Waechter, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 200.
Drafted: HS�St. Petersburg, Fla., 1999 (3rd round).
Signed by: Kevin Elfering.
Background: One of the nation�s top high school quarterbacks in 1999, Waechter gave up a football scholarship from South Florida to turn pro for $500,000. In his first big league start last year, he shut out the Mariners with a two-hitter.
Strengths: Waechter has matured into a quality pitcher. He has a fine arm, tremendous makeup and the durability to become a workhorse. His command has steadily improved over the past two years. He moves his 88-94 mph fastball around in the strike zone and has a good slider with a late break. His focus and even-keel approach to pitching are off the charts.
Weaknesses: An improved changeup would do wonders for Waechter�s ability to succeed the second and third time he goes through a lineup. With his tall frame, he must keep his mechanics in check.
The Future: The St. Petersburg product has a chance to make a major impact on the organization. He�ll be a strong candidate for the Tampa Bay rotation this spring.
4. James Houser, lhp
Age: 19. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 185.
Drafted: HS�Sarasota, Fla., 2003, (2nd round).
Signed by: Kevin Elfering.
Background: Houser was a potential first-rounder who slid to the top of the second round. His velocity was down during the spring, and he has a heart murmur that concerned some clubs. After signing for $900,000, he ranked as the No. 4 prospect in the Rookie-level Appalachian League.
Strengths: Houser lived in the strike zone last summer at Princeton. He throws from a three-quarters slot with the potential to have three plus pitches, including a low-90s fastball, changeup and two versions of a curveball. He throws one curve inside against lefthanders, and another over-the-top curve that breaks straight down and back-doors righties.
Weaknesses: Well-coached as an amateur, Houser takes instruction well, but he sometimes worries too much about the intricacies of pitching instead of letting his ability take over. He still needs better feel and more consistency with his curveballs.
The Future: By signing Houser, the Rays were able to justify wasting a third-round pick on high school lefty Andrew Miller, who had first-round talent but was considered unsignable and chose to attend North Carolina. Houser should jump to low Class A in 2004.
5. Joey Gathright, of
Age: 21. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 170.
Drafted: HS�Metairie, La., 2001 (32nd round).
Signed by: Benny Latino.
Background: The Rays� 2003 minor league player of the year, Gathright topped the system in stolen bases and ranked second in batting before a dislocated left shoulder brought his season to an early end. The injury cost him a September callup and a possible spot on the U.S. Olympic qualifying team.
Strengths: Possibly the fastest player in the minors, Gathright is more polished than most burners. He�s a disciplined hitter with solid strike-zone judgment, and he already shows on-base ability to go with his leadoff speed. With his athleticism, Gathright can leap cars, from front to end.
Weaknesses: Though he was successful on 69 of his 85 attempts, Gathright still is learning the nuances of stealing bases. His power is minimal, though he�s adept at making hard contact. His first two pro seasons have been cut short by dislocated left shoulders. That�s his non-throwing shoulder, but his arm is below-average.
The Future: After surgery to repair a torn labrum, Gathright resumed workouts in December and should be fine in 2004. He�ll open in Double-A or Triple-A, and should reach the majors by season�s end.
6. Chad Gaudin, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 170.
Drafted: HS�Metairie, La., 2001 (34th round).
Signed by: Benny Latino.
Background: Gaudin had a whirlwind season, starting at high Class A Bakersfield. Promoted to Double-A in mid-July, he tossed a perfect game in his first start and was in Tampa Bay by August. He was more aggressive pitching in relief, posting a 3.16 ERA in that role for the Rays.
Strengths: Gaudin shows no fear on the mound. He goes right after hitters and is willing to throw his cutting slider at any time in the count. Hitters have difficulty picking up the spin on his slider. His fastball has excellent movement, including good sinking action that runs away from righthanders. His changeup is average.
Weaknesses: Gaudin doesn�t have ideal size and doesn�t generate much downhill plane on his pitches. He is primarily a two-pitch pitcher, though he can vary speeds from 86-92 mph. He was more tentative and struggled with his command in his three big league starts.
The Future: Based on his performance and the team�s needs, Gaudin could be a mainstay in the Tampa Bay bullpen this season. He projects as a middle reliever.
7. Wes Bankston, of
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 200.
Drafted: HS�Plano, Texas, 2002 (4th round).
Signed by: Milt Hill.
Background: Bankston led the Appalachian League with 18 homers and 57 RBIs in his 2002 pro debut, but he battled a wrist injury and tailed off in the second half of 2003.
Strengths: Bankston is a prototype right fielder, with plus arm strength and budding power. He could blossom into a 30-homer, 100-RBI man in the majors. He�s selectively aggressive at the plate and improved his discipline last year. He�s an average runner with good mobility on the bases and in the outfield.
Weaknesses: His swing is a little long, and Bankston goes through stretches when he doesn�t make consistent contact. After batting .192 with three homers in the last two months of the 2003 season, he�ll have to get stronger. His biggest problem may be the logjam of outfielders in the organization. With so many good young players ahead of him on the depth chart, Bankston may not have a place to play in Tampa Bay.
The Future: Bankston could move to first base, where he played five games last year, but Aubrey Huff may move there at the major league level. The Rays have no reason to rush Bankston. At 20, he�ll be one of the high Class A California League�s younger players in 2004.
8. Seth McClung, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 230.
Drafted: HS�Lewisburg, W.Va., 1999 (5th round).
Signed by: Doug Witt.
Background: McClung opened the season in the Tampa Bay bullpen before moving into the rotation in late April. It was feast or famine as a starter, as he pitched well in three starts and got bombed in two others. His season ended in May when he tore an elbow ligament, and he had Tommy John surgery on June 26.
Strengths: McClung is a power pitcher with good command of his mid-90s fastball. He also throws a hard curveball with tight spin. Manager Lou Piniella liked McClung�s aggressiveness. He was fined in early May for intentionally throwing at Bobby Kielty.
Weaknesses: In addition to making a comeback from ligament-replacement surgery, McClung must improve his control in order to have consistent success in the major leagues. The depth and fade of his changeup need to improve in order to give him a solid third pitch. If that doesn�t happen, his future could be as a closer.
The Future: The Rays hope McClung can resume pitching in the minor leagues by early June. He�s determined not to rush his return, though that is contrary to his personality. If all goes well, he could be back in the big leagues during the second half of the 2004 season.
9. Antonio Perez, 2b
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 175. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1998.
Signed by: Johnny Almaraz (Reds).
Background: Perez came from Seattle with manager Lou Piniella in a trade for Randy Winn in October 2002. His progress had been stalled by wrist injuries the previous two seasons, but Perez stayed healthy in 2003 and spent the second half of the year in the majors. He played regularly in July, then slumped in August and saw little time in September.
Strengths: Perez is a capable defensive shortstop who could be a star at second base. He has soft hands, a strong arm and good instincts. He has excellent range for the position. While his power is good for a middle infielder, he�s best slapping the ball into the gaps and hitting for average. He has above-average speed.
Weaknesses: Perez doesn�t get good jumps or show good instincts on the bases, which limits his running and basestealing ability. He�ll have to make more contact to hit effectively in the majors.
The Future: He�ll battle Marlon Anderson for the starting second-base job in spring training. Perez has no long-term competition at the position, which he should claim by midseason at the latest.
10. Jonny Gomes, of
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 200.
Drafted: Santa Clara, 2002 (8th round).
Signed by: Hank King.
Background: After suffering a mild heart attack in December 2002, Gomes recovered to make his big league debut last September, doubling off David Wells in his first at-bat. He tied for second in the system with 17 homers and continued to slug in the Arizona Fall League, where he nearly earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic qualifying team. His brother Joey is also a power-hitting outfielder in the Rays organization.
Strengths: An aggressive hitter, Gomes hits the ball with authority. He has plus power from left field to right-center. He runs well in the outfield and on the bases.
Weaknesses: Gomes must continue to refine his approach in order to make more consistent contact. His defense is rough, but it�s not from a lack of effort. If he played football, Gomes would be described as having a non-stop motor. His arm strength will keep him in left field.
The Future: Gomes� strong AFL showing will help his chances of sticking in the big leagues in 2004. He may need time in Triple-A, but he could crack the Tampa Bay lineup as a DH at some point this year.