2006 Tampa Bay Rays Top 10 Prospects

Baseball America’s Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player’s long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven’t exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2006.

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TOP TEN PROSPECTS
1. Delmon Young, of
2. Jeff Niemann, rhp
3. Jason Hammel, rhp
4. Reid Brignac, ss
5. Elijah Dukes, of
6. Wade Davis, rhp
7. Wes Bankston, 1b/of
8. Chad Orvella, rhp
9. Matt Walker, rhp
10. Chris Mason, rhp
BEST TOOLS
Best Hitter for Average Delmon Young
Best Power Hitter Delmon Young
Best Strike-Zone Discipline Francisco Leandro
Fastest Baserunner Fernandez Perez
Best Athlete Elijah Dukes
Best Fastball Wade Davis
Best Curveball Matt Walker
Best Slider Jeff Niemann
Best Changeup Jamie Shields
Best Control Jason Hammel
Best Defensive Catcher Shawn Riggans
Best Defensive Infielder Neil Walton
Best Infield Arm Neil Walton
Best Defensive Outfielder Fernando Perez
Best Outfield Arm Delmon Young
TOP PROSPECTS
OF THE DECADE
Team Player, Pos. 2005 Org
1997 Matt White, rhp Devil Rays
1998 Matt White, rhp Devil Rays
1999 Matt White, rhp Devil Rays
2000 Josh Hamilton, of Devil Rays
2001 Josh Hamilton, of Devil Rays
2002 Josh Hamilton, of Devil Rays
2003 Rocco Baldelli, of Devil Rays
2004 B.J. Upton, ss Devil Rays
2005 Delmon Young, of Devil Rays
TOP DRAFT PICKS
OF THE DECADE
Team Player, Pos. 2005 Org
1996 Paul Wilder, of Out of baseball
1997 Jason Standridge, rhp Reds
1998 Josh Pressley, 1b (4th round) Royals
1999 Josh Hamilton, of Devil Rays
2000 Rocco Baldellil, of Devil Rays
2001 Dewon Brazelton, rhp Devil Rays
2002 B.J. Upton, ss Devil Rays
2003 Delmon Young, of Devil Rays
2004 Jeff Niemann, rhp Devil Rays
2005 Wade Townsend, rhp Devil Rays
LARGEST BONUSES
IN CLUB HISTORY
Matt White, 1996 $10,200,000
Rolando Arrojo, 1997 $7,000,000
B.J. Upton, 2002 $4,600,000
Dewon Brazelton, 2001 $4,200,000
Josh Hamilton, 1999 $3,960,000

During what proved to be his final season as general manager of the Devil Rays, Chuck LaMar actually said, “The only thing that keeps this organization from being recognized as one of the finest in baseball is wins and losses at the major league level.”

Yet most Baseball America readers understood what LaMar was getting at. After all, the only area Tampa Bay can consider a success while failing to top 70 wins in each of its first eight years of existence is its development of position players. While the Rays were at times forced to operate with a big league payroll only slightly higher than Alex Rodriguez’ annual salary, they have produced Rocco Baldelli, Jorge Cantu, Carl Crawford, Jonny Gomes, Toby Hall and Aubrey Huff.

After finishing in last place for the seventh time in eight seasons, Tampa Bay went for a full makeover at the end of the season. Stuart Sternberg, who purchased 48 percent of the franchise in 2004, replaced Vince Naimoli as managing partner. Sternberg immediately fired LaMar, the only GM in club history, along with a significant chunk of his front office, including assistant GM Scott Proefrock, director of player personnel Cam Bonifay and director of international scouting Rudy Santin. Manager Lou Piniella, who criticized Sternberg’s ownership for being more concerned about the future than the present during the season, was bought out of the final year of his contract.

To replace LaMar, Sternberg promoted Andrew Friedman. Friedman, 28, worked on Wall Street before joining the team in 2004 as an assistant for baseball development. He hired former Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker as his second-in-command and Angels bench coach Joe Maddon as manager.

Since taking over, Sternberg has worked hard to change the Devil Rays’ image, trying to win over fans with lower ticket prices and free parking. He also is playing up the nucleus of homegrown players with an “under construction” advertising campaign centered on a theme of “rebuilding the dream.” But while Tampa Bay has impressive young talent in the majors and more on the way, it will be a tall order to contend in the American League East.

The Devil Rays may have had the two best position players in the minors last year in shortstop B.J. Upton (who no longer qualifies for BA’s prospect list) and outfielder Delmon Young, Baseball America’s 2005 Minor League Player of the Year. LaMar’s regime antagonized both players by declining to promote them in September in order to delay their eligibility for arbitration and free agency.

Beyond that pair, the farm system may be deeper than ever. Special assistant Tim Wilken, who left to become Cubs scouting director in December, played a major role in the club’s 2004 draft and ran the 2005 effort, both of which have yielded several promising prospects. Last year’s crop could get even stronger with the eventual signing of third-round righthander Bryan Morris, who is at Motlow State (Tenn.) Community College and can negotiate again once his juco season ends.


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