Devil Rays Prospects 2-10
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 205. Drafted: HSRaleigh, N.C., 1999 (1st round). Signed by: Mark McKnight.
Background: Hamilton has battled injuries and misfortunte since entering the 2001 season as baseballs best prospect. He made three trips to the disabled list in 2002 before arthroscopic surgery in July to repair his left shoulder and remove a bone spur from his left elbow. When healthy, he showed why he was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 draft.
Strengths: Hamiltons instinctive ability to play the game is obvious. He has a classic lefthanded swing with the power to hit 30-plus home runs annually. A top pitching prospect in high school, he has one of the strongest outfield arms in the minors and the speed to handle any outfield position. His biggest improvement in 2002 came in making adjustments between at-bats.
Weaknesses: Injuries have kept Hamilton from playing a full season for three years. He would be in the major leagues otherwise. He showed better plate discipline but it still could get better.
The Future: Hamilton is expected to be healthy for spring training. Though hes unproven above high Class A, Hamilton is close to receiving consideration for the majors if he stays on the field and could make the jump from Double-A at some point in 2003.
3. B.J. Upton, ss
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 180. Drafted: HSChesapeake, Va., 2002 (1st round). Signed by: Doug Witt.
Background: Considered the top position player in the 2002 draft, Upton went second overall and negotiated all summer with the Rays before coming to terms on a $4.6 million bonus in mid-September. After suffering a bout with dehydration during his first day in instructional league, Upton displayed the skills to suggest hes ready for the fast track.
Strengths: Upton is a premier athlete with pure five-tool potential. His cannon-strong arm is his most impressive asset. Upton has a fluid body, his range at shortstop is exceptional, and he has 6.5-second speed in the 60-yard dash. Upton hits to all fields and has excellent power potential. His wiry frame suggests more pop awaits.
Weaknesses: The only major item on Uptons to-do list is to get stronger so he can handle major league pitching. Its a minor concern, and scouts dont harbor any doubts that hell be an effective hitter.
The Future: Upton is the type of player who could help put the Rays on the major league map. Quiet yet supremely confident, he believes he can reach the big leagues in two years. His journey is expected to begin at low Class A Charleston in April.
4. Dewon Brazelton, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 214. Drafted: Middle Tennessee State, 2001 (1st round). Signed by: Skip Bundy.
Background: The third overall pick in the 2001 draft, Brazelton got off to a slow start at Double-A Orlando in his professional debut by winning just one of his first 20 starts. The former Team USA standout rebounded to go 5-0, 1.00 in his final seven minor league outings before reaching the majors in September.
Strengths: By adding a slider while discovering the nuances of pitching at the professional level, Brazelton showed he can adjust. His low- to mid-90s fastball has plus movement and complements his best pitch, a changeup. He works both sides of the plate and challenges hitters.
Weaknesses: Brazeltons struggles came after the club asked him to reduce his full windup. He returned to his old delivery at midseason and excelled. His curveball has a mediocre break with inconsistent depth. His overall command also needs improvement.
The Future: Brazelton limited the Yankees to two runs over seven innings in his second start, proving hes not far from being ready. Hell compete for a job in the Tampa Bay rotation in the spring.
5. Seth McClung, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 235. Drafted: HSLewisburg, W.Va., 1999 (5th round). Signed by: Doug Witt.
Background: A seven-sport athlete in high school, McClung took another big step in his development by overpowering the California League during the 2002 seasons first month. He allowed two earned runs or fewer in eight of his first nine starts before hitting the skids in Double-A.
Strengths: At 6-foot-6, McClung is built like a power pitcher, with thick thighs and an aggressive approach. He has good command of a mid-90s fastball that has been clocked as high as 99 mph. He also possesses a plus hard curveball with excellent spin, and its on the verge of becoming a second out pitch. The Rays love McClungs makeup and desire to succeed.
Weaknesses: McClung is still learning how to pitch. His changeup is nothing more than mediocre, which hurt him against Double-A hitters. McClung also needs to repeat his mechanics consistently while refining all aspects of his game, including his command.
The Future: The Rays have hopes that McClung will develop into a special pitcher and have no desire to rush him. Hell return to Double-A to open 2003.
6. Wes Bankston, of
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 200. Drafted: HSPlano, Texas, 2002 (4th round). Signed by: Milt Hill.
Background: Anyone who saw Bankston in his pro debut wondered how he lasted until the fourth round. He led the Rookie-level Appalachian League in home runs and RBIs. Managers rated him the leagues second-best prospect, behind Braves first-rounder Jeff Francoeur.
Strengths: A prototype right fielder, Bankston has outstanding raw power. Hes big and is a good athlete who rates at least average in all five tools. He has good side-to-side mobility and above-average arm strength that will enable him to play right field. His knowledge of the strike zone and plate discipline werent as raw as expected. Appy managers were impressed with his ability to hit changeups as well as fastballs at any time in the count.
Weaknesses: Not unlike many young power hitters, Bankston tends to overswing at times. His swing can be a little long. He simply needs to face more advanced pitching and continue to make adjustments as he climbs the ladder.
The Future: Bankston will go to Charleston in 2003 and should be one of the younger everyday players in the South Atlantic League.
7. Jon Switzer, lhp
Age: 23. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 190. Drafted: Arizona State, 2001 (2nd round). Signed by: Scot Sealy.
Background: A projected first-round pick in 2001, Switzer fell to the second round (47th overall) because his velocity dropped from the low 90s to the high 80s. After pitching just 14 innings in the short-season New York-Penn League in 2001, he tied for fifth among starters in the minor leagues last year by averaging 11.24 strikeouts per nine innings. He was shut down in August with elbow tendinitis.
Strengths: Switzer recovered the velocity of his fastball by altering his arm slot and throwing the ball on more of a downhill plane. He mixed a solid 79-81 mph slider and added a straight changeup with good depth and fade. He works both sides of the plate and does a good job of moving the ball around the strike zone. He limited lefthanders to a .216 average, allowing one extra-base hit in 74 at-bats.
Weaknesses: Switzers command can become inconsistent during the course of a game. He needs to repeat his mechanics to maintain his velocity while keeping his pitches from flattening out, especially against righthanders.
The Future: Switzer will climb a step higher to Orlando. Tampa Bay officials say the mature lefthander isnt far from the majors.
8. Antonio Perez, ss/2b
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 175. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1998. Signed by: Johnny Almaraz (Reds).
Background: The Rays acquired Perez from the Mariners for outfielder Randy Winn in the compensation deal that brought manager Lou Piniella to Tampa Bay. After a breakthrough season in 2000, Perez was limited to five games in 2001 with a broken bone in his right wrist before a hamate bone injury in the same wrist caused him to miss two months in 2002.
Strengths: Perez is a potential five-tool shortstop. Hes a plus fielder with soft hands, a strong arm and good range. He makes consistent contact and can hit for average and power, and he has above-average speed and ability to steal bases.
Weaknesses: In addition to losing time to injuries, Perez also added 18 months to his age in 2002. Maturity and improved dedication would help overcome those. He needs to improve his footwork in order to remain at shortstop and get better jumps on the basepaths.
The Future: Perez was a key component in the deal that sent Ken Griffey to Cincinnati. His star has dimmed, but as thin as the Devil Rays are in the middle infield, the trade provides him a great opportunity to turn it around.. He will go to Double-A or Triple-A to begin 2003.
9. Jason Pridie, of
Age: 19. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 180. Drafted: HSPrescott, Ariz., 2002 (2nd round). Signed by: Craig Weissmann.
Background: The younger brother of Twins pitching prospect Jon Pridie, Jason was the 43rd overall pick in the 2002 draft. He led all short-season players with 116 hits, becoming only the sixth player in modern Appalachian League history to reach the century mark.
Strengths: Pridie is a pure baseball player with great instincts and the combination of speed and hitting ability to wreak havoc near the top of the lineup. He has been clocked at 4.0-4.1 seconds to first base from the left side of the plate, and blankets center field. He also is a capable middle infielder and has a plus arm that produced low-90s fastballs last spring in high school. He makes excellent contact and can drive the ball to all fields.
Weaknesses: A minor hitch in Pridies swing could be exposed at higher levels. He needs to draw more walks in order to become a classic leadoff hitter.
The Future: Several scouts compare Pridie to Bostons Johnny Damon and say he could progress through the minors at a similar rate. Hell join Bankston and Upton at Charleston in 2003.
10. Doug Waechter, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 210. Drafted: HSSt. Petersburg, Fla., 1999 (3rd round). Signed by: Kevin Elfering.
Background: A local product from St. Petersburg, Waechter experienced success at both Class A levels last year before getting a late taste of Double-A. After giving up the most hits and runs in the South Atlantic League in 2001, he led the Rays system with 155 strikeouts in 162 innings.
Strengths: Waechter is a pure athlete who was recruited to play quarterback at South Florida. He has a fastball that sits in the 92-93 mph range and a plus slider thats usually clocked at 82-86. The Devil Rays love his toughness and advanced maturity.
Weaknesses: Waechter has battled inconsistency throughout his career, especially with his mechanics and his tall frame. His command of the strike zone needs work, and he must be able to place his fastball and slider better. A changeup with more depth will be necessary against more experienced hitters.
The Future: The Devil Rays say that Waechter can become a power-pitching workhorse once all the refinements are made. Hell open the 2003 season in Double-A.
Best of the Rest
After watching Jonny Gomes earn MVP honors in the Rookie-level Appalachian League in 2001, the Devil Rays drafted his older brother Joey in the eighth round in 2002. Joey wound up leading the short-season New York-Penn League with 15 home runs after signing, while Jonny placed second in the high Class A California League with 30 homers, one behind the leader. The Gomes thus fell just short of becoming the first brothers to win minor league home run titles in the same season since Danny and Ike Boone in 1929.
A pair of 2001 draft choices, righthanders Chad Gaudin (34th round) and Chris Flinn (third) ranked second (2.26) and third (2.31) in ERA in the low Class A South Atlantic League. Lefthander Chris Seddon, a fifth-round pick in 2001, also showed tremendous promise at Charleston after receiving permission from the organization to use his slider on a consistent basis.
Tampa Bay has continually focused on selecting athletic players with power and speed throughout its seven drafts, and the organization has high hopes for its crop from 2002. In addition to signing shortstop B.J. Upton (first round) and outfielders Wes Bankston (fourth) and Jason Pridie (second), all of whom made our Devil Rays Top 10, the club also signed outfielder Elijah Dukes (third) and righthander/outfielder Romelio Lopez (18th).
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The Top 10 Prospects lists are based on players' projected long-term worth and on 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 Opening Day 2003.
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