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Tampa Devil Rays:
1999 Top 10

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Tampa Bay Devil Rays Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams

By David Rawnsley

1. Josh Hamilton, OF
Age: 18  B-T: L-L  Ht: 6-4  Wt: 200
Signed: HS--Raleigh, N.C., 1999 (1st round)  Signed by: Mark McKnight

Top Prospects of the 90s

1997 Matt White, rhp
1998 Matt White, rhp
1999 Matt White, rhp

Background: Though a broken thumb sidelined Hamilton for part of the summer and the entire fall before his senior season, he still was considered one of the top talents in the country entering the spring. Hamilton just added to his stock when he threw 95-96 mph off the mound during his first high school scrimmage in February. Six-foot-4 lefthanders who throw 96 belong at the top of the first round, but there was general agreement that he was better in the batter’s box. Tampa Bay, which chose him first overall instead of ballyhooed prep righthander Josh Beckett or proven college catcher Eric Munson, obviously was in that camp. Hamilton signed quickly for a $3.96 million bonus (a record for a player signing with the team that drafted him) and went on to be named the top prospect in the Rookie-level Appalachian League. He then helped short-season Hudson Valley win the New York-Penn League playoffs.

Strengths: Two of Hamilton’s tools rank an easy 8 on the scout’s 2-to-8 scale. His pitching days are over, but his arm strength remains a powerful defensive weapon in either center or right field. His best tool, though, might be his power. He has the kind of easy power that makes ballparks seem undersized. Hamilton’s strength comes from a classic, tension-free lefthanded swing with excellent lift and extension, as well as a chiseled frame developed through year-round workouts. He also has excellent baserunning and center-field instincts to go with his size and strength.

Weaknesses: The only possible downside in Hamilton’s professional debut was his strikeout-to-walk ratio. Soft-tossing lefthanders gave him problems. Though Hamilton is fine in center field now, he probably will slow down as he reaches physical maturity, at which point he will slide seamlessly to right field.

The Future: To the Devil Rays, one of the most endearing aspects of Hamilton’s game is his single-minded focus on playing baseball. He has a family-oriented, blue-collar personality that should help him through the highs and lows of minor league baseball. Hamilton will start 2000 at one of the Devil Rays’ two Class A affiliates, but don’t be surprised if he gets more in-season promotions before reaching the big leagues.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
Princeton (R)      .347  236  49  82  20   4  10   48  13  43  17
Hudson Valley (A)  .194   72   7  14   3   0   0    7   1  14   1

2. Jason Standridge, RHP
Age: 21  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-4  Wt: 205
Drafted: HS--Trussville, Ala., 1997 (1st round)  Signed by: Skip Bundy

Background: A star quarterback in high school, Standridge signed to attend Auburn but chose baseball. He blossomed in 1999 as he was named the South Atlantic League pitcher of the year.

Strengths: By switching to a lower arm slot last spring, Standridge’s 89-94 mph fastball showed better sinking life down in the zone. With the heavy sink, he allowed just five home runs all year. Standridge’s curveball is a hard, downward-breaking pitch and his changeup shows signs of being big league quality.

Weaknesses: Standridge has learned how to pitch away from the middle of the plate. His next step is to learn how to work hitters out of the strike zone.

The Future: Standridge, whose nickname is Stallion, has confidence and maturity that draw others to him. The Rays have been rewarded for their patience with Standridge through two rocky seasons and he’ll likely start 2000 in the high Class A Florida State League.

1999 Club          W  L   ERA   G  GS  CG  SV   IP   H  BB  SO
Charleston (A)     9  1  2.02  18  18   3   0  116  80  31  84
St. Petersburg (A) 4  4  3.91   8   8   0   0   48  49  20  26

3. Aubrey Huff, 3B
Age: 23  B-T: L-R  Ht: 6-4  Wt: 220
Drafted: Miami, 1998 (5th round)  Signed by: Rudy Santin

Background: Overshadowed in college by teammate Pat Burrell, Huff has the statistics to almost match the 1998 No. 1 overall pick as a pro. He led the Southern League in extra-base hits in his first full season, ended the year with a 25-game hitting streak and hit in all eight playoff games for league champion Orlando.

Strengths: Huff can hit and has the potential to hit for power. His disciplined approach and quick swing enable him to use the entire field. As he learns to loft the ball, he should clear the fences. Huff hits lefthanders as well as righthanders–an excellent trait in a young hitter.

Weaknesses: Huff moved to third base as a fill-in for an injured Burrell in his final college season, so he’s still learning the position. His arm strength and hands are fine, but his slow feet limit his lateral range and hurt his release. First base could be an option eventually.

The Future: After successfully riding the fast track to Double-A, Huff may have to be patient as the Devil Rays regroup with an older and more powerful major league roster.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
Orlando (AA)       .301  491  85 148  40   3  22   78  64  77   2

4. Carl Crawford, OF
Age: 18  B-T: L-L  Ht: 6-2  Wt: 195
Drafted: HS--Houston, 1999 (2nd round)  Signed by: Doug Gassaway

Background: Teams with picks in the top 10 overall considered taking Crawford in the ’99 draft, but they backed off because of fears that he was too raw or that he would choose to play football for Nebraska. Tampa Bay scooped him up at the start of the second round (52nd overall) and signed him to a $1.245 million bonus that bars him from playing football.

Strengths: Crawford is a world-class athlete who runs from home to first in 3.9 seconds on a full swing and 3.5 on bunts. He has the upper-body strength and leverage to project above average power. Crawford’s aptitude, especially for recognizing pitches, surprised even the Rays.

Weaknesses: Crawford’s arm strength is below-average, and he was stuck in right field until top prospect Josh Hamilton moved up to Hudson Valley. For now, his speed enables him to outrun his mistakes.

The Future: Crawford’s batting average erased dire predictions of a two-year Rookie-league stewardship. Now that he’s a full-time baseball player, his skills should continue to expand.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
Princeton (R)      .319  260  62  83  14   4   0   25  13  47  17

5. Matt White, RHP
Age: 21  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-5  Wt: 230
Signed: HS--Waynesboro, Pa., 1996 (1st round)  Signed by: Shawn Pender

Background: White’s performance has not matched his considerable acclaim or his $10.2 million signing bonus as a loophole free agent in 1996. His mediocre ’99 stats came in one of the minors’ best pitching parks. Then he went 0-4, 9.10 in 30 innings in the Arizona Fall League.

Strengths: White has retained his appealing stuff. His fastball tops out at 95-96 mph and he’s especially tough when he’s throwing his overhand curveball for strikes. White has made strides with his changeup.

Weaknesses: Theories abound on why White has struggled in Class A: He needs to stop thinking so much; he isn’t a good enough athlete to repeat his complex delivery; he lacks deception; he has been too pampered. Each of those might have a grain of truth.

The Future: When prospects like White find their groove, it often happens quickly. Others, such as Todd Van Poppel, never do reach their potential and demonstrate the risk of pinning hopes on pitching phenoms.

1999 Club          W  L   ERA   G  GS  CG  SV   IP   H  BB  SO
St. Petersburg (A) 9  7  5.18  21  20   2   0  113 125  33  92

6. Dan Wheeler, RHP
Age: 22  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-3  Wt: 215
Drafted: Central Arizona JC, D/F 1996 (34th round)  Signed by: Nelson Rood/Steve Foster

Background: A draft-and-follow signing prior to the 1997 draft, Wheeler went from low Class A in ’98 to the big leagues in ’99. In between, he helped Team USA to an Olympic berth with a 2.70 ERA in 10 innings in the Pan American Games, including a win over champion Cuba.

Strengths: For his age, Wheeler pitches with excellent command and tempo. His best pitch is a hard slider with quick, late bite and good two-plane depth to its break.

Weaknesses: Wheeler’s 92-mph fastball is pretty straight and lefthanded hitters had free reign when he left it over the plate. His changeup remains behind his other pitches.

The Future: Aside from giving up a few too many homers, Wheeler had a terrific ’99. He showed the ability to dominate big league hitters when he avoided he middle of the plate. A couple of more months at Triple-A to develop his changeup wouldn’t hurt his future.

1999 Club         W  L   ERA   G  GS  CG  SV   IP   H  BB  SO
Orlando (AA)      3  0  3.26   9   9   0   0   58  56   8  53
Durham (AAA)      7  5  4.92  14  14   2   0   82 103  25  58
Tampa Bay         0  4  5.87   6   6   0   0   31  35  13  32

7. Ramon Soler, SS
Age: 18  B-T: B-R  Ht: 6-0  Wt: 147
Signed: Dominican Republic, 1997  Signed by: Rudy Santin

Background: Soler, one of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League, battled injuries all season. A bad right wrist forced him to hit only from the right side much of the summer, then a head-first slide into home plate resulted in a broken left hand.

Strengths: "The Jet" runs the 60-yard dash in 6.38 seconds and has outstanding range and quickness with soft, sure hands at shortstop. On offense, he has an early appreciation for leading off. Soler has good plate discipline, hits the ball on the ground consistently and has good baserunning skills.

Weaknesses: Soler still needs to get stronger and fill out physically. His arm strength is just average and many of his 40 errors in 1999 were the result of rushing throws.

The Future: It’s difficult to evaluate Soler against other professional shortstops, as many of his peers are preparing for their senior seasons in high school. Soler has had the skills to compete with older players, so now it’s up to his maturation process and ability to stay healthy.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
Charleston (A)     .237  389  74  92  17   2   1   28  56  93  14

8. Jared Sandberg, 3B
Age: 22  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-3  Wt: 185
Drafted: HS--Olympia, Wash., 1996 (16th round)  Signed by: Paul Kirsch

Background: Sandberg, the nephew of former Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg, had a big 1999 as he finished second in the Florida State League in home runs and was named the league’s No. 6 prospect.

Strengths: Sandberg made great strides in 1999 by learning how to hit the ball up the middle and to right-center field. He has outstanding power and doesn’t need to pull the ball to reach the fences. Sandberg is a solid defender with a penchant for the diving play. Being in a major league family has helped the mental side of his game.

Weaknesses: When Sandberg starts trying to pull outside pitches, his strikeouts go up and his power is negated. His league-leading strikeout total shows he still needs to work on that part of his game.

The Future: Tampa Bay is blessed with third-base prospects throughout system, but Sandberg has the best profile of the group with his defensive agility and power potential. He likely will start 2000 as a Double-A newcomer.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
St. Petersburg (A) .276  504  73 139  24   1  22   96  51 133   8

9. Steve Cox, 1B
Age: 25  B-T: L-L  Ht: 6-4  Wt: 225
Signed: HS--Porterville, Calif., 1992 (5th round)  Signed by: Craig Wollenbrock (Athletics)

Background: Even with eight years of pro experience, Cox’ 25th birthday wasn’t until Halloween of 1999. An expansion pick of the Devil Rays from the Athletics system, Cox was Baseball America’s Triple-A player of the year in ’99.

Strengths: Cox worked to add strength and quickness last offseason. He made excellent contact for a power hitter (even hitting .320 against lefthanders). Cox is a solid defensive first baseman but he played left field extensively in instructional league and showed good instincts.

Weaknesses: Cox’ offensive explosion came during his third season in Triple-A, which is often too late to fit into the parent team’s plans. The organization would like to see some of his doubles evolve into home runs.

The Future: Tampa Bay’s veterans block Cox’ immediate path, but their ages and Jose Canseco’s history of injuries should give Cox an opportunity if he is patient and continues to hit.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
Durham (AAA)       .341  534 107 182  49   4  25  127  67  74   3
Tampa Bay          .211   19   0   4   1   0   0    0   0   2   0

10. Kenny Kelly, OF
Age: 21  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-3  Wt: 180
Drafted: HS--Tampa, 1997 (2nd round)  Signed by: Kevin Elfering

Background: The multitalented Kelly has split time between baseball and football the past two years. During the latest football season, he had a partially torn ACL in his right knee. He was healthy enough to lead Miami to the 2000 Gator Bowl title.

Strengths: Kelly is an excellent athlete who has shown surprising baseball skills in his two partial professional seasons. His running speed, bat speed, range and arm all grade out above-average. Kelly has avoided the stiffness usually associated with weightlifting for football conditioning and steps between fields with ease.

Weaknesses: Kelly still has two years of football eligibility. Should he further injure his knee, he would lose an entire year of baseball while in rehabilitation.

The Future: Most scouts believe that Kelly needs to pick a sport or risk not fulfilling his potential in either one. Florida quarterback Doug Johnson, who has struggled as a Devil Rays farmhand because of time missed from football and football injuries, serves as another prime example.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
St. Petersburg (A) .277  206  39  57  10   4   3   21  18  46  14

Rest of the Best:

11. Alex Sanchez, of
12. Juan Salas, ss/3b
13. Toby Hall, c
14. Paul Hoover, c
15. Travis Harper, rhp

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