Tampa Devil Rays:
Tampa Bay Devil Rays Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams
By David Rawnsley
1. Matt White, RHP
Strengths: White has No. 1 starter stuff, with a 95-96 mph fastball, a power curveball and a straight changeup. He's also always been able to throw strikes with all his pitches and his 63 walks in 1998 were outstanding for a then 19-year-old power pitcher. Aside from some minor back problems caused by pitching mechanics in 1997, White has always been completely healthy. The physical package is pretty complete.
Weaknesses: White has a tendency to drop his release point and throw flat, middle of the plate fastballs instead of staying on top of the ball and pitching with a downward plane to the bottom of the strike zone. He also needs to develop more aggression on the mound and get hitters off the plate, especially when he is struggling with the rythym and feel of his release point. The Devil Rays feel White could improve his physical conditioning.
The Future: Tampa Bay officials speak in glowing terms about White's talent and show no concern over his struggles aside from classifying them as "typical things young power pitchers go through." White will likely start 1999 in Double-A with the core of the organization's top pitching prospects. The Devil Rays have continually stressed that they feel the future of the organization is in their young pitching talent and it is doubtful that they will risk the future of their crown jewel by moving him too far too quickly.
2. Ramon Soler, SS
Age: 17 B-T: B-R Ht: 6-0 Wt: 147
Signed: FA--Dominican Republic, 1997 Signed by: Rudy Santin
Background: Soler was signed by the Devil Rays shortly after his 16th birthday in 1997 and was one of the youngest players in professional baseball in 1998. A switch-hitter, Soler led the Gulf Coast League Devil Rays in at-bats, runs, triples, walks and stolen bases.
Strengths: Despite Soler's great tools, including 6.3 speed in the 60 and "Vizquel-like" hands, the Devil Rays save their greatest enthusiasm for their young shortstop's energy and love for the game. He has the instincts at the plate to be an ideal leadoff hitter and the maturity to succeed playing against significantly older players.
Weaknesses: Soler's arm is just average at present but is projected to improve as he gets older and stronger. His lack of power won't be a problem because Soler already plays the little man's game he will need as a leadoff hitter.
The Future: Being so young, Soler can only move so quickly, but even advancing step-by-step, he could reach Tampa Bay as a 20-year-old.
3. Alex Sanchez, OF
Age: 22 B-T: L-L Ht: 5-10 Wt: 180
Drafted: Miami-Dade CC Wolfson, 1996 (5th round) Signed by: Rudy Santin
Background: Sanchez has been with the Devil Rays for three seasons, long enough to evolve from a raw and immature speedster only months removed from a Cuban refugee camp into an accomplished minor league player. His 158 stolen bases the past two years led professional baseball.
Strengths: Speed is obviously Sanchez's game but he has gradually added defensive skills and a sounder approach at the plate to his overall game. His batting average reflects an understanding of his speed and his limitations, and Tampa Bay officials believe he won't fall into the home run trap that many young players are prone to.
Weaknesses: Most of the Devil Rays focus with Sanchez is on strengthening his fundamentals and consistency. His early career problems with organizational structure are largely gone as he has adapted to the U.S. lifestyle.
The Future: The Devil Rays have an excess of similar outfielders at the upper levels but none has as high a ceiling as Sanchez. That will give the Devil Rays the luxury of easing Sanchez through Double-A and Triple-A on a relaxed timetable.
4. Kenny Kelly, OF
Age: 19 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 180
Drafted: HS--Tampa, 1997 (2nd round) Signed by: Kevin Elfering
Background: The Devil Rays originally placed Kelly at Charleston just to get him two weeks of extra at-bats before sending him to short-season ball. He surprised them by handling Class A pitching, easily winning a spot in the Charleston outfield. Kelly plays quarterback at the University of Miami during the fall.
Strengths: Kelly is one of the best athletes in baseball, combining well-above-average speed and excellent strength with easy, balanced actions. Tampa Bay officials call him a "Charlie Ward type athlete," capable of doing just about anything he wants to physically. Kelly's baseball instincts, an unknown before 1998, can now also be counted as a plus.
Weaknesses: On the baseball field Kelly's biggest challenge is accumulating enough repetitions to keep improving as a hitter. Off the baseball field, the biggest hurdle for Tampa Bay will be the fact that Kelly has three more seasons of football eligibility ahead of him.
The Future: Tampa Bay has gambled heavily in the dual sport arena looking for high-ceiling athletes. Tampa Bay hopes that Kelly--unlike third baseman Doug Johnson, a quarterback at Florida--will choose to focus on baseball regardless of his gridiron accomplishments.
5. Bobby Seay, LHP
Age: 20 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-2 Wt: 221
Signed: HS--Sarasota, Fla., 1996 (1st round) Signed by: Matt Kinzer
Background: Seay received a $3 million signing bonus from the Devil Rays in 1996 as a loophole free agent. His list of 1998 problems included an impingement in his left forearm, rehab from his fractured foot of 1997 and a stomach problem caused by a chicken bone lodged in his digestive tract.
Strengths: Seay's stuff is top of the line. His fastball reaches the mid-90s, his curveball is a potential plus major league pitch and his changeup might be his best overall weapon.
Weaknesses: To say that Seay's maturity has been questioned on many occasions wouldn't be stretching it. His "nonconventional" injuries could be a result of bad luck or bad planning. The Devil Rays felt that the progress Seay made in instructional league was more than just with his changeup and mechanics.
The Future: After a healthy and productive instructional league, the Devil Rays feel that Seay is only a 160-170 inning season away from challenging for a major league job.
6. Ryan Rupe, RHP
Age: 23 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-6 Wt: 240
Drafted: Texas A&M, 1998 (6th round) Signed by: Doug Gassaway
Background: Rupe's injury history since his senior year in high school includes elbow surgery, fractured ribs and a punctured lung from a car wreck, surgery for blood clot/rib removal and a pulled hamstring. The Devil Rays signed him as a fifth-year senior out of Texas A&M in 1998.
Strengths: Rupe throws 92-94 mph and will hit 96 on ocassion. His slider is a major league quality pitch and his changeup isn't far away either. Tampa Bay personnel praise his pitching instincts, command and maturity on the mound.
Weaknesses: With no medical setbacks in almost two years, it's tempting to say that Rupe is over the hump, but the specter of his past will always be there. The Devil Rays shut him down at the end of the season with no instructional league or winter ball for strictly precautionary reasons.
The Future: Given his age, maturity and command of his pitches, Rupe is likely to move quickly through the Tampa Bay system, perhaps starting 1999 in Double-A.
7. Jared Sandberg, 3B
Age: 20 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 185
Drafted: Olympia, Wash., 1996 (16th round) Signed by: Paul Kirsch
Background: Sandberg, a nephew of former Cubs great Ryne Sandberg, was expected to build off his 1997 Appalachian League MVP season in 1998. Instead he struggled at Charleston, but recovered after being sent down to Hudson Valley.
Strengths: Sandberg is a savvy and polished player with a prototypical third baseman's body. He played second base his first year and a half after signing with Tampa Bay, a testament to his overall athletic and defensive ability. Sandberg's power is his biggest offensive weapon.
Weaknesses: At the right age and experience level for the South Atlantic League, Sandberg appeared unready for that step. He must cut down on his strikeouts, and show more patience with balls out of the strike zone.
The Future: The Devil Rays were as surprised as anyone by Sandberg's struggles and ascribe it to youthful tension and lack of patience over any physical problem. They point to his quick rebound after being sent down, a time when many young players get down on themselves, as a positive sign for 1999.
8. Paul Hoover, C
Age: 22 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-1 Wt: 200
Drafted: Kent, 1997 (23rd round) Signed by: Matt Kinzer
Background: Hoover was drafted out of Kent University as a shortstop. The Devil Rays quickly decided that Hoover was too big and lacked the ideal quickness for the middle of the field and converted him to catcher.
Strengths: Hoover has the gritty intensity and take-charge attitude that teams value in catchers. His arm strength is well-above average and he showed good hands and quick feet behind the plate. A good overall athlete, he stole 28 bases in 1998 while adjusting to the physical stress behind the plate.
Weaknesses: Hoover's challenge will be to maintain enough offensive production to allow his defensive and athletic skills to carry him to the big leagues. He has a fundamentally sound, line-drive swing but just fair overall bat speed.
The Future: Hoover has caught the Devil Rays' attention with his quick conversion to both the physical and mental demands of catching. With Hoover, Humberto Cota and another conversion, Toby Hall, catching in the low minors, Tampa Bay feels confident as an organization about its catching future.
9. Humberto Cota, C
Age: 19 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-0 Wt: 175
Signed: FA--Mexico, 1997/Braves Signed by: Doug Gassaway
Background: Cota was originally signed by the Braves in 1995, but was released a little more than a year later because of a shoulder injury. Tampa Bay signed him in May 1997 through their working agreement with the Mexico City Tigers, Cota's team in the Mexican League.
Strengths: Cota has built himself up through a dedicated workout program and the muscle shows with the bat. He's an aggressive hitter with easy plus power potential. His arm strength has recovered from his previous injury and the Devil Rays praise his take-charge attitude behind the plate.
Weaknesses: While Cota's bat stands out now, his defense still needs work fundamentally, although there is nothing physically that will prevent Cota from becoming a solid catcher.
The Future: One senses that the Devil Rays still aren't sure what they have yet in Cota and are anxiously looking forward to 1999 and his first year in a full-season environment. If Cota is able to reproduce the power he showed in1998 and maintain his defensive improvement, he could move way up on future Tampa Bay lists.
10. Travis Harper, RHP
Age: 22 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt: 190
Signed: FA, 1998/Red Sox Signed by: Shawn Pender
Background: Harper was a highly-regarded prospect out of high school but an auto accident left him with serious back injuries and persuaded him to attend school at James Madison. He was drafted in the third round by the Red Sox in 1997, but had his contract voided because of elbow problems. A true free agent after that, Harper signed with the Devil Rays for a $185,000 bonus.
Strengths: Harper has a long, fluid, easy delivery and a 90-93 mph fastball, along with a solid curveball and changeup. Like Rupe, Harper has an advanced knowledge of pitching, though he doesn't have Rupe's raw stuff.
Weaknesses: After missing almost a year recovering from his elbow problems, Harper tired near the end of the 1998 season and the Devil Rays prescribed an offseason of rest and strengthening exercises.
The Future: Because of his polish, the Devil Rays feel Harper will be a fast-track pitcher for them. If he has a healthy spring training, he could be part of an all-prospect starting rotation at Double-A Orlando.
Rest of the Best:
11. Cedrick Bowers, lhp
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