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Top Ten Prospects: Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Bill Ballew
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, 2005.
Background: Tampa Bay narrowed its options for the No. 1 overall pick in 2003 to two players, Young and second baseman Rickie Weeks. Though their greatest strength was their outfield depth, the Devil Rays couldn't resist taking Young. He may not have reached the majors during his first pro season after predicting he would shortly after signing a big league deal with a $5.8 million guarantee, but he was anything but a disappointment. The right fielder overcame a modest start to display outstanding maturity and consistency for a teenager making his pro debut. Young fanned 19 times in 84 at-bats during April before warming with the weather. He led the low Class A South Atlantic League in hits and RBIs, earning recognition as the league's top prospect as well as a spot in the Futures Game. His older brother Dmitri was the fourth overall pick in 1991, making them the highest drafted-siblings in draft history. They might be displaced in 2005, however, as B.J. Upton's younger brother Justin could go as high as No. 1 three years after the Devil Rays took B.J. with the No. 2 choice.
Strengths: An intimidating presence from the right side of the plate who elicits Albert Belle comparisons, Young has a powerful, consistent stroke. He's selective at the plate and has outstanding baseball instincts, thanks in part to his close relationship with Dmitri. His quick bat and plus power enable him to hit the ball out of any part of any ballpark. Unlike many young sluggers, Young doesn't try to pull every pitch, mainly because his opposite-field power is outstanding. His ability to hit for power and average also stems from the fact that the head of his bat stays in the strike zone a long time. His plus arm has plenty of strength for him to play right field in the majors.
Weaknesses: SAL pitchers retired Young early in the season by busting him with inside fastballs. While he was able to adjust, some scouts believe he still has a minor hitch in his swing that leaves him vulnerable to heat on the inner half. He showed some patience at the plate in 2004 but his strikeout-walk ratio still has room for improvement that the Rays believe will come with experience. Though he has a cannon arm, his throws could be more accurate. His routes on fly balls also need to get better. Scouts have noted that his body continues to look more like his brother's, which isn't among the game's most impressive physiques. Young currently has average speed but will slow down as he gets older and heavier.
The Future: Though he spent his first full season entirely in low Class A, it wouldn't be a surprise if Young reached the big leagues in 2005. He progressed at a rapid rate and showed the ability to make adjustments, and Tampa Bay probably has to jump him to Double-A Montgomery in order to give him a bit of a challenge. Young is a special hitter with more offensive upside than any of the organization's rising stars: Rocco Baldelli, Carl Crawford and Upton.
Background: Other organizations were stunned when the Devil Rays were able to obtain Kazmir and Jose Diaz from the Mets for Victor Zambrano and Bartolome Fortunato at the July 31 trade deadline. Kazmir struggled early in 2004 with his mechanics and an abdominal strain. Once healthy, he breezed through the minors and outdueled Pedro Martinez in the most memorable of his seven big league starts.
Strengths: Kazmir has an overpowering 93-97 mph fastball. A nasty slider with outstanding bite complements his heater, giving him better pure stuff than any young lefty in the game. His changeup has good fade and depth, showing the makings of becoming a third plus pitch. A good athlete with a clean delivery, Kazmir has a steady demeanor on the mound.
Weaknesses: After dealing Kazmir, Mets officials anonymously questioned whether his size would allow him to remain healthy and in the starting rotation, and they also knocked his makeup. While Kazmir has had some minor ailments, the Devil Rays have no long-term concerns. He still needs to refine his command and his changeup.
The Future: Kazmir will begin 2005 in the middle of Tampa Bay's rotation and in time he should grow into the No. 1 role. If he moves to the bullpen, he could become the next Billy Wagner.
Background: Gathrightís progression through the system has been as rapid as his world-class speed. He reached the big leagues midway through his third pro season, less than one year after earning rookie-of-the-year honors in the high Class A California League.
Strengths: His offensive style evokes memories of Vince Coleman, though Gathright has more hitting ability. Perhaps the fastest runner in baseball, he ranked third in the Triple-A International League in steals despite playing just 60 games there. Gathright possesses the baseball skills to put his speed to use. He's beginning to master the art of slapping the ball on the ground and using his legs to get on base. He also has outstanding range in center field.
Weaknesses: To become an effective leader, Gathright must work counts better and draw more walks. He has trouble getting around on inside fastballs. He'll be a better basestealer once he learns how to read pitchers better. His arm strength and accuracy are below average.
The Future: Shortly after Gathright got to Triple-A during the first half of the 2005 season, the Rays opened discussions on a long-term contract with him. He's on the verge of starting for the Devil Rays, though he may shift to left field with Rocco Baldelli in center.
Background: Hammel's 2003 season was cut short when he fell during pregame warmups and injured his right wrist in July. He emerged as one of the system's top pitching prospects during the second half of 2004, posting a 0.25 ERA and 42 strikeouts in his final 36 innings at high Class A Bakersfield.
Strengths: Hammel projects well with his long and lean frame. Possessing a quick arm with outstanding extension out front, he has a plus fastball that jumped from 89-91 to 92-94 mph in 2004. He also throws a sometimes-nasty 12-6 curveball at 76-78 mph. His command is another positive.
Weaknesses: His changeup is an average pitch at times, but Hammel needs to show more consistency with it as well as his curveball. While he has good coordination and body control for his size, he must maintain his mechanics in order to reach his potential.
The Future: Hammel made as much progress as anyone in the organization in 2004. His lanky body produces easy heat that continues to improve. A promotion to Double-A is in Hammelís immediate future, and the Rays envision him as a middle-of-the-rotation starter.
Background: After Brignac led St. Amant High to the Louisiana state 5-A championship, the Devil Rays signed him away from Louisiana State for $795,000. He homered and drove in five runs in his first pro game, and went on to rank as the fourth-best prospect in the Rookie-level Appalachian League.
Strengths: Brignac is an aggressive hitter with outstanding hand-eye coordination and good strike-zone judgment. His bat speed is exceptional from the left side of the plate and should produce plus power down the road. His arm strength is above average and he has good defensive actions. His athleticism should enable him to play anywhere on the field, and he should have enough bat to carry the load wherever he winds up.
Weaknesses: Though scouts project Brignac to eventually outgrow shortstop and move to third base, the Rays believe he can stick at short. He shortened his arm action during instructional league. At the plate, he tends to become pull-conscious.
The Future: Brignac has an advanced approach at the plate for a player fresh out of high school. The Rays believe the sky is the limit for this natural line-drive hitter, who will begin his first full season at low Class A Battle Creek.
Background: Houser was coming off consecutive scoreless outings in May when his elbow began to bother him. Though he didn't require surgery, the Devil Rays decided to play it safe and shut him down for the rest of the season. They were encouraged with the way he bounced back during instructional league.
Strengths: Houser is a polished lefty with a lean, projectable body and the potential for three plus pitches. He employs a three-quarters delivery to throw a low- to mid-90s fastball with good movement. He also has an above-average changeup and two versions of a curveball, including one that back-doors righthanders.
Weaknesses: Health remains the biggest concern regarding Houser. A heart murmur scared some teams and caused him to fall out of the first round in 2003. He has made progress with the depth of his changeup and the consistency of his curves, but all of his pitches could use some refinement and more consistency.
The Future: Provided he remains healthy, Houser could move quickly through the system. If he looks strong in spring training, he could begin 2005 at high Class A Visalia.
Background: A top linebacker prospect in high school, Dukes is one of the best natural athletes in the minors. He spent a month in a team-mandated anger-management seminar following a run-in with a South Atlantic League umpire. He responded to the discipline by doing a better job controlling his emotions and performing well in high Class A.
Strengths: Dukes has five-tool ability and above-average instincts despite his limited time on the diamond. He has the power and speed to be a 30-30 player in the majors. Though he played mainly left field in 2004, Dukes also has seen time in center field and is a capable defender who takes good routes on flyballs.
Weaknesses: Dukesí makeup has been questioned since his high school days in Tampa. He has difficulty with authority, and his overall discipline is lacking. His defense and patience at the plate are both inconsistent.
The Future: Dukes has the talent to become the first major homegrown, hometown standout developed by the Rays. He'll move up to Double-A in 2005. His maturity will determine the pace of his progress.
Background: Primarily a shortstop at North Carolina State, Orvella took a shipment of bats with him to short-season Hudson Valley after signing in 2003. But the Devil Rays had no intention of having him do anything other than pitch. The initial results have been amazing, with a 132-11 strikeout-walk ratio, .158 opponent average and seven homers in 86 pro innings.
Strengths: Orvella works off a late-moving 92-94 mph fastball that touches 97. He also has a tremendous changeup with fade and depth, as well as a slider that can be unhittable when he's in a groove. His command and aggressiveness make his stuff even better.
Weaknesses: Orvella's slurvy breaking ball needs more consistency, especially if Tampa Bay wants to try to make him a starter. He doesn't have prototype size, though that hasn't held him back. A full-time pitcher for less than two years, he's still learning his craft.
The Future: The Rays will give Orvella a long look during spring training. Though he could return to Triple-A Durham to open 2005, he's on track to become the first homegrown closer in franchise history.
Background: McClung opened 2003 in Tampa Bay's bullpen and moved into the rotation before succumbing to Tommy John surgery in June. He returned to the mound last July and showed that he's on track to fully regain his power stuff.
Strengths: McClung has lost little if anything from his mid-90s fastball, and he should be back to full strength by mid-2005. His hard curveball has tight spin and sharp movement. Manager Lou Piniella loves his aggressive approach, as McClung isn't afraid to challenge hitters or back them off the plate.
Weaknesses: McClung never has shown the consistent changeup and reliable control to remain a starter in the major leagues. If he doesn't develop those attributes, he'll return to the bullpen, possibly as a closer.
The Future: Contrary to his nature, McClung was determined not to rush back from surgery and every indication shows that his patience was prudent. He regained noticeable strength during the 2004 season and should return to the majors before mid-2005.
Background: After leading the Appalachian League with 18 homers and 57 RBIs in his pro debut, Bankston was sidetracked by a wrist injury in 2003. He returned to low Class A in 2004 and showed significant progress in all phases of his game. He ranked among South Atlantic League leaders in homers, RBIs, extra-base hits and on-base percentage.
Strengths: A former high school quarterback, Bankston has good all-around tools. His above-average raw power stands out the most, and he also possesses good speed and mobility for a big man. His strong arm is suitable for right field, though he moved to first base because of the depth of outfielders in the organization. His improved numbers were due in part to better pitch selection.
Weaknesses: Bankston's swing remains a little too long for his own good. He goes through stretches where he doesn't make consistent contact. As his lower half has gotten thicker, he has lost some of his athleticism.
The Future: The Rays can afford to be patient with Bankston, though he should move quicker as a first baseman than he would have as a right fielder. He could reach Double-A at some point in 2005 and the majors by the end of 2006.