Tampa Bay Rays: Top 10 Prospects With Scouting Reports

Tampa Bay Rays: Scouting Reports

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, 2008.

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Tampa Bay Rays

Shortly after the 2007 season concluded, Tampa Bay officials announced that their franchise was undergoing an extreme makeover. The club dropped "Devil" from its name and would be henceforth known as simply the "Rays." The team adopted a brighter blue and yellow color scheme while switching to a logo that includes a yellow starburst, presumably to focus more on sunshine—and a brighter future.

On the field, the Rays hope to follow in the footsteps of their 1998 expansion brethren, the Diamondbacks, riding a group of young and promising players from the depths of their division to the postseason. Tampa Bay has quite a hill to climb after placing last in the American League East for the ninth time in its 10 seasons, and finishing with the worst record in baseball for the fourth time. The Rays have gained the dubious distinction of becoming the first team to own the No. 1 overall pick in consecutive drafts.

On the positive side, Tampa Bay has spent many of its early choices wisely, grabbing B.J. Upton with the No. 2 selection in 2002, Delmon Young with the No. 1 pick in 2003 and third-base prospect Evan Longoria with the No. 3 choice in 2006. The Rays had the second-youngest team in the majors in 2007 with an average age of 26.7 years, and they didn't have a single regular in their lineup or rotation who was 30. They caught lightning in a bottle with the free agent signing of Carlos Pena, who exploded for 46 homers, as well as the international acquisition of infielder Akinori Iwamura.

James Shields emerged as a legitimate second starter behind ace Scott Kazmir, and lefthanders David Price (the No. 1 overall pick in 2007) and Jake McGee and righty Wade Davis lead a wave of arms who are nearly ready for the majors.

To further shore up their pitching, the Rays stunningly parted with Young in a November trade after he had hit .288 with 13 homers while playing all 162 games in his rookie season. But they wanted to get a young, potential frontline starter, so they sent Young, Brendan Harris and outfield prospect Jason Pridie to the Twins for Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett and pitching prospect Eduardo Morlan.

The deal also signaled that Tampa Bay is putting a higher premium on makeup and becoming less tolerant of gifted players with petulant attitudes. Young, who was suspended 50 games for tossing a bat and hitting an umpire in the minors, had an inflated sense of entitlement and had a couple of run-ins with manager Joe Maddon. Five days after trading Young, the Rays dealt Elijah Dukes—one of the game's most gifted and most troubled players—to the Nationals for minor league lefty Glenn Gibson, who's talented but has yet to pitch above the short-season level.

While the Rays have yet to reach the 70-win mark after their first decade of existence, they should crack that barrier soon and could contend in the near future. In addition to all their young talent in Tampa, their farm system also has been ranked No. 1 by Baseball America for two years running. Tampa Bay's commitment to homegrown talent continued to show in 2007, when it signed its first 16 draft picks, fielded a team in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League for the first time since 2001 and opened an academy in Venezuela.

1.  Evan Longoria, 3b   Born: Oct. 7, 1985B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 190
 Drafted: Long Beach State, 2006 (1st round)Signed by: Fred Repke
Evan LongoriaBackground: Longoria has blistered professional pitching since he unexpectedly fell to the Rays as the third overall pick in the 2006 draft and signed for $3 million. The 2005 Cape Cod League MVP and Troy Tulowitzki's successor as Long Beach State's shortstop, he moved to third base, hit .315 with 18 homers in 62 games and reached Double-A Montgomery in his 2006 pro debut. That was just a warmup for 2007, when he was named Southern League MVP. Longoria was leading the Double-A circuit in runs, homers and RBIs when he was promoted to Triple-A Durham in late July, and his 21 homers set a Montgomery franchise record. He did top the SL in slugging percentage (.528) and home run percentage (5.5). A Futures Game selection, he ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the league behind Justin Upton. Longoria continued to rake in the International League, hitting .375 with two homers in the playoffs.

Strengths: Longoria displays a great feel for hitting with his disciplined approach and impressive raw power. Both his bat and his power rate as 70 tools on the 20-80 scouting scale. With quick hands and strong wrists, he has a loose and easy swing, producing great leverage and exceptional bat speed. He hits through the ball with his strong follow-through and finish. When Double-A pitchers began to pitch around Longoria last season, he showed improved patience. Even so, he's an aggressive hitter who will swing at any time in the count if he gets his pitch. With his solid pitch recognition, he rarely misses a mistake, and he's capable of hitting tape-measure shots to all fields. Defensively, Longoria is an above-average third baseman with soft hands and solid body control. His footwork is a plus, both with his lateral movement and with charging the ball on slow rollers. His arm strength is another plus, and his throws have good carry and accuracy. He has taken quickly to his new position, making just 19 errors in 177 games at third. He competes hard and has good makeup.

Weaknesses: There are times when Longoria's aggressiveness gets the best of him, particularly when it comes to chasing sliders down and away in the strike zone. He doesn't have a classic swing but there's no question that it gets the job done. His biggest shortcoming is his speed, which grades as slightly below average and led to just adequate range at shortstop, prompting his position switch. He does, however, run the bases well with his impressive instincts.

The Future: The Rays should have a rookie-of-the-year candidate at third base for the second straight season. Longoria has little to prove in the minors and will push Akinori Iwamura to second base when he's ready. Longoria's spring training performance will determine whether he makes the Opening Day roster, but there's no question he'll be playing for Tampa on a full-time basis at some point in 2008. He gives every indication of becoming an all-star, hitting .300 with 30-plus homers on an annual basis.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Montgomery (AA) .307 .403 .528 381 78 117 21 0 21 76 51 81 4
Durham (AAA) .269 .398 .490 104 19 28 8 0 5 19 22 29 0
2.  David Price, lhp   Born: Aug. 26, 1985. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 225.
 Drafted: Vanderbilt, 2007 (1st round). Signed by: Brad Matthews.
David PriceBackground: Price shattered most of Vanderbilt's pitching records, going 11-1, 2.63 and leading NCAA Division I with 194 strikeouts in 133 innings as a junior. The Baseball America College Player of the Year and the Golden Spikes award winner signed an $8.5 million big league contract with a backloaded $5.6 million bonus.

Strengths: Price is the complete package with outstanding athleticism, stuff and makeup. His fastball has great late life and armside run while sitting in the low 90s and touching 95 mph. He throws a plus-plus slider that reaches 87 mph and has a late, sharp bite. His changeup is also a plus pitch with excellent deception and fade. He uses the entire strike zone and is adept at adding or subtracting velocity with all of his pitches.

Weaknesses: There's no knock on Price. He still needs to make the adjustment to pro ball, but Tampa Bay doesn't see him having any difficulties after he fared well in the SEC and with Team USA. He spent two weeks in instructional league before returning to school to work toward his sociology degree, but he should move rapidly through the system.

The Future: He has legitimate No. 1 stuff, with a deeper repertoire and more polish than Scott Kazmir. Price likely will break into pro ball at high Class A or Double-A. He could reach Tampa before the end of the season.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Did Not Play—Signed 2007 Contract
3.  Jake McGee, lhp   Born: Aug. 6, 1986. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 190.
 Drafted: HS—Sparks, Nev., 2004 (5th round). Signed by: Fred Repke.
Jake McGeeBackground: After leading the low Class A Midwest League with 171 strikeouts in 134 innings during a breakout 2006, McGee followed up by ranking fourth in the minors with 175 whiffs in 140 innings. McGee had no trouble overpowering hitters once he got to Montgomery in August.I

Strengths: McGee has a nasty fastball that managers rated as the best in the high Class A Florida State League. His heater sits at 93-95 mph and touches 98 with impressive movement. His slider has good tilt and he has improved the depth and fade on his changeup. He dominates lefthanders, who hit just .147 with two homers against him in 2007.

Weaknesses: McGee is still working on mastering his secondary pitches, though both have the makings of becoming plus offerings. He was erratic with his changeup early last season and doesn't fully trust it. He struggles with the command of his slider and also has trouble locating his fastball when he overthrows.

The Future: Scouts believe McGee could be a power reliever if he can't refine his changeup. At this point, he'll remain a potential No. 2 starter. He'll likely return to Double-A to open 2008.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Vero Beach (Hi A) 5 4 2.93 21 21 0 0 117 86 8 39 145 .203
 Montgomery (AA) 3 2 4.24 5 5 0 0 23 19 2 13 30 .224
4.  Wade Davis, rhp   Born: Sept. 7, 1985. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 220.
 Drafted: HS—Lake Wales, Fla., 2004 (3rd round). Signed by: Kevin Elfering.
Wade DavisBackground: The Rays' minor league pitcher of the year, Davis led the system with a 2.50 ERA and ranked seventh in the minors with 169 strikeouts in 158 innings. He tossed the minors' first no-hitter of 2007 on May 4, the second such gem of his career.

Strengths: Davis attracts raves for his stuff, command and competitiveness. He relies heavily on a four-seam fastball that sits at 92-94 mph and touches 96. He also throws a hard 11-to-5 curveball in the upper 70s with occasional two-plane break. His changeup can become an above-average pitch, as can his cutter. He works both sides of the plate, and he became more aggressive on the inner half as last season progressed. He uses his height to his advantage by getting good downward plane on his pitches.

Weaknesses: Davis needs to fine-tune his fastball command and his overall feel for pitching to mix his offerings. He needs to hone a third pitch, which is a matter of sharpening his promising changeup and cutter. He runs deep into counts when he tries to be too fine with his pitches.1

The Future: Davis has a bulldog mentality and the potential to become a frontline starter. He could open 2008 in Triple-A unless the Rays want to team him with McGee again in Double-A at the start of the season.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Vero Beach (Hi A) 3 0 1.84 13 13 1 0 78 54 5 21 88 .196
Montgomery (AA) 7 3 3.15 14 14 0 0 80 74 3 30 81 .249
5.  Reid Brignac, ss   Born: Jan. 16, 1986. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 180.
 Drafted: HS—St. Amant, La., 2004 (2nd round). Signed by: Benny Latino.
Reid BrignacBackground: After winning the Rays' minor league player of the year award and high Class A California League MVP honors in 2006, Brignac continued to make impressive strides last year despite not maintaining the same gaudy numbers.

Strengths: Brignac's advanced approach to the game makes him a solid contributor in all phases. He improved his plate discipline and bettered his ability to hit offspeed pitches by making adjustments with his setup and load. He uses the entire field and has plus power that really stands out for a shortstop. His speed and defense are solid.

Weaknesses: Brignac reduced his whiffs by shortening his swing with two strikes last year, but he needs to continue to trust his hands and resist a tendency to become pull-happy. Though he has good body control, his range is just adequate at shortstop and he struggles at times with balls hit right at him. He's still growing into his body and making improvements with his footwork and quickness.

The Future: Tampa Bay's trade for Jason Bartlett eliminated any need to push Brignac even more aggressively. Projecting as an offensive-minded shortstop, he'll get a full season at Triple-A before challenging for a big league starting job in 2009.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Montgomery (AA) .260 .328 .433 527 91 137 30 5 17 81 55 94 15
6.  Desmond Jennings, of   Born: Oct. 30, 1986. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 200.
 Drafted: Itawamba (Miss.) CC, 2006 (10th round). Signed by: Rickey Drexler.
Desmond JenningsBackground: Jennings planned on playing football at Alabama but wound up at Itawamba (Miss.) CC, where he earned juco all-America honors in 2005 as a wide receiver who led all juco players with 6.75 catches per game. Signed for $150,000 as a 10th-rounder, he ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the low Class A South Atlantic League in his first full pro season. The lone negative was arthroscopic surgery to repair the lateral meniscus in his knee, which ended his season in August.

Strengths: His most obvious tool is his speed, which rates near the top of the 20-80 scouting scale. At the plate, Jennings has a discerning eye with the ability to make contact and drive the ball in the gaps. He has all the tools to become a top-flight leadoff hitter. Managers rated Jennings as the SAL's best defensive outfielder, and he has an average arm.

Weaknesses: In order for Jennings to make the most of his speed, he needs to improve his jumps and reads. He tends to hesitate ever so slightly in the outfield, and he'll become an even better defender as he hones his ability to read the ball off the bat.

The Future: The Rays have a knack for developing outfielders, and Jennings is their latest find. He's headed to high Class A in 2008 and has a big league ETA of mid-2010.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Columbus (Lo A) .315 .401 .465 387 75 122 21 5 9 37 45 53 45
7.  Jeff Niemann, rhp   Born: Feb. 8, 1983. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-9. Wt.: 280.
 Drafted: Rice, 2004 (1st round). Signed by: Jonathan Bonifay.
Jeff NiemannBackground: For the first time since signing a $5.2 million big league contract as the fourth overall pick in the 2004 draft, Niemann turned in a healthy season. He worked 131 innings after totaling 108 in his first two years, and he started for the U.S. team in the Futures Game.

Strengths: At 6-foot-9, Niemann has an intimidating presence on the mound. His long body and arms, plus the length of his stride, give hitters little time to decide whether they want to swing. He pounds the strike zone with his 91-94 mph fastball, and he mixes it well with an above-average power curveball that has hard downward break. He's intelligent and does a solid job of keeping batters off balance.

Weaknesses: Niemann is a slow worker who has little deception. He tends to leave pitches up in the strike zone when he stabs in the back of his delivery. He added a splitter last season that he uses as a changeup, but it's still fringy. He still has to prove that he's durable after having arthroscopic elbow surgery in 2003 and a minor shoulder operation in 2006. He pitched through some shoulder pain last August and had a small bone spur removed after the season.

The Future: The Rays will give him the chance to make their rotation in spring training. He still has the stuff to be a No. 2 or 3 starter.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Durham (AAA) 12 6 3.98 25 25 0 0 131 144 13 46 123 .277
8.  Jeremy Hellickson, rhp   Born: April 8, 1987. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 185.
 Drafted: HS—Des Moines, Iowa, 2005 (4th round). Signed by: Tom Couston.
Jeremy HellicksonBackground: Drafted out of an Iowa high school after serving as the staff ace of the gold medal-winning U.S. national team at the 2004 World Youth Championship, Hellickson has been brought along slowly by the Rays. Rated as the top prospect in the short-season New York-Penn League in 2006, he came down with a sore arm and missed the first couple of weeks last season. He got on a roll in the second half, allowing just 20 runs over his last 14 starts.

Strengths: Hellickson commands a fastball that sits at 92-93 mph and touches 95. He has good feel for a curveball that jumps on hitters. He tries to emulate Greg Maddux, albeit with more electric stuff, and has a great feel for pitching. He has terrific arm action with an excellent release point, and he works down in the strike zone.

Weaknesses: A 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, Hellickson lacks projectability. That's not as much of a concern as his durability. While he has the same release point for all of his pitches, he needs to repeat his delivery in order to throw quality strikes with more consistency. An improved changeup would go a long way toward making him a complete pitcher.

The Future: He has worked just 195 innings since signing, but the Rays are pleased with his progress. They'll continue to advance him one level per year, which makes high Class A his next stop.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Columbus (Lo A) 13 3 2.67 21 21 1 0 111 87 7 34 106 .214
9.  Ryan Royster, of   Born: July 25, 1986. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 210.
 Drafted: HS—Eugene, Ore., 2004 (6th round). Signed by: Paul Kirsch.
Ryan RoysterBackground: After three years in short-season leagues, Royster was named the Rays' minor league player of the year. He won the system's triple crown and led the South Atlantic League with 30 homers, 65 extra-base hits and a .601 slugging percentage. He homered in six straight games in August and finished the season with a double and a homer in the clinching game of the SAL championship series.

Strengths: Royster is a classic country boy with tremendous bat speed and plus-plus raw power to all fields. He cut down on his swing midway through the season and improved his patience at the plate. His hands work exceptionally well, enabling him to control the bat head and put the barrel on the ball. His swing is particularly effective from the point of contact through the finish. He has surprising speed for his size and good instincts on the bases.

Weaknesses: Though he moves well, Royster needs to upgrade his routes to balls in left field as well as the accuracy of his throws. His arm strength is fringy. Offensively, he's working on covering the outer half of the plate better and upgrading his strike-zone discipline.

The Future: Royster has the righthanded power to play at the game's top level. The Rays are interested to see how his pop will play in 2008 in the pitching-friendly Florida State League.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Columbus (Lo A) .329 .380 .601 474 90 156 31 4 30 98 36 121 17
10.  Chris Mason, rhp   Born: July 1, 1984. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 190.
 Drafted: UNC Greensboro, 2005 (2nd round). Signed by: Brad Matthews.
Chris MasonBackground: Mason bounced back from a disappointing 2006 season by leading the Southern League with 15 wins and a 2.57 ERA. The league's pitcher of the year, he also led Montgomery with 161 innings and 136 strikeouts.

Strengths: Mason works fast with an unorthodox delivery and fills the strike zone, with managers rating his control the best in the SL. Last year he learned how to stay over the rubber better in order to give his arm a chance to catch up with his body and produce some deception. His best pitch is a changeup with late sink that he throws at any time in the count. His slider has the makings of a plus pitch, sitting at 78-81 mph with sharp break.

Weaknesses: Mason's fastball is a fringe-average pitch with a comfort zone of 88-89 mph, and it had more velocity and life when he came out of college. Even with a quality changeup, he struggles against lefthanders, who have batted .326 and .282 against him the last two seasons. He has little difficulty throwing strikes but can do a better job of locating his pitches in the zone.

The Future: Moving methodically through the system, Mason will spend most of 2008 in Triple-A. His stuff could play up significantly as a reliever, but he'll remain a starter for now.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Montgomery (AA) 15 4 2.57 28 28 1 0 161 147 7 44 136 .241

Complete Index of Top 10 Prospects
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30 scouting reports on every team

Photo Credits:
Sports on Film (Longoria, Jennings)
Cliff Welch (Price)
Rick Battle (McGee)
Jerry Hale (Davis)
Brian Bissell (Brignac)
Tom Priddy (Royster, Mason)