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, 2009.

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Tampa Bay Rays

Next up: Pigs fly and hell freezes over. The list of life's impossibilities decreased by one when the Rays went from last place in the American League East to the World Series. They joined the 1991 Braves as the only teams in major league history to reach the playoffs one season after having baseball's worst record.

Sporting the majors' second-lowest Opening Day payroll ($43.8 million) and its third-youngest roster, Tampa Bay entered the campaign never having won more than 70 games in a season and finishing out of last place just once in 10 seasons.

Fittingly, their sudden jump to 97 wins and the AL pennant was accomplished through player development.

After some missteps in the early days of the franchise, the Rays have built primarily from within. Their World Series roster featured nine one-time first-round picks, including B.J. Upton and leading AL rookie-of-the-year candidate Evan Longoria, who went in the top three picks, and Matt Garza and Scott Kazmir, acquired in trades for veterans.

The grow-your-own approach isn't expected to end any time soon, though the Rays will slip a little in our farm-system ratings after ranking No. 1 the last two seasons. Postseason hero David Price, the No. 1 overall pick in 2007, will carve out a significant role for himself in 2009, and he headlines the pitching that overflows throughout the system. The position players don't run as deep, with shortstop Reid Brignac topping a thin group at the upper levels. Tampa Bay addressed that by spending six of its first 2008 draft picks on hitters, including shortstop Tim Beckham with the No. 1 overall choice.

In fact, despite the Rays' long-held philosophy of building through the farm system, they never have been more oriented toward developing young players. In each of the past two drafts, for example, Tampa Bay has selected several of the youngest players eligible, such as righthanders Brad Furdal and Jason McEachern (neither of whom turned 18 until mid-October) in the 2008 draft.

Likewise, several of the college players the Rays draft last June, such as catcher Jake Jefferies and first baseman Mike Sheridan, were 20 during their pro debuts. The organization also is more driven than ever in developing international players after building facilities in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela in the past two years.

It's obvious that the entire organization, from top to bottom, has more planning and vision than at any time in its first dozen years. President Matt Silverman and GM Andrew Friedman have displayed a Midas touch with nearly every move they have made, ranging from dropping "Devil" from the team nickname to displaying the proper amount of patience for rising prospects to making the correct decisions in terms of adding major league talent.

Gone are the days when physical ability trumped everything, with strong mental makeup now the most desired trait for any Ray, on the field or off.

There's no reason why the Rays shouldn't remain contenders for the foreseeable future. This team was built for the long haul with a plethora of talented young players and pitchers, and their sudden surge in 2008 was no fluke.

1.  David Price, lhp   Born: Aug. 26, 1985B-T: L-LHt: 6-6Wt: 225
 Drafted: Vanderbilt, 2007 (1st round)Signed by: Brad Matthews
David PriceBackground: Few players have lived up to the hype, both before and after being the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, better than Price. The Rays targeted the Vanderbilt ace in the fall of 2006 and never had reason to alter their decision to go with the lefthander on draft day in June 2007. He won Baseball America's College Player of the Year and the Golden Spikes awards as a junior after going 11-1, 2.63 and leading NCAA Division I with 194 strikeouts in 133 innings. Price signed at the Aug. 15 deadline, getting an $8.5 million big league contract that included a backloaded $5.6 million bonus, which pushed his pro debut back to 2008. Elbow tenderness in spring training further delayed his first outing until May 22, but he showed no ill effects by going 12-1, 2.30 between three minor league levels. After helping Triple-A Durham reach the International League playoffs, Price joined the Rays in September. He dazzled the Yankees in relief in his first appearance and held the Orioles hitless for five innings in his first start, but the best was yet to come. Added to the playoff roster, he won Game Two and saved Game Seven in the American League Championship Series, then recorded the final seven outs in Tampa Bay's victory in the second game of the World Series.

Strengths: Price rates off the charts with his stuff, athleticism and disposition, a package that should make him one of the premier pitchers in the majors. He has two plus-plus pitches with a mid-90s fastball and a biting slider. His fastball has outstanding movement with late armside run. His slider is reminiscent of John Smoltz's with its depth and 87-88 mph velocity. He blew away the Red Sox with both pitches in the ALCS clincher, generating several awkward swings. His changeup also can be an above-average offering with impressive deception and fade. Price has the ability to add and subtract velocity from his pitches, and he uses the entire strike zone to his advantage. He receives as much praise for his makeup and humility as he does for his pitching, which is saying a lot. He was unfazed when asked to pitch in pressure situations in the playoffs.

Weaknesses: Price lacks full confidence in his changeup. He didn't need that third pitch in college and the minors, but must trust it more and improve its depth to succeed as a big league ace. He never has encountered failure, so he has yet to show he can make the necessary adjustments when the inevitable occurs, but he should be up to the challenge.

The Future: Extremely goal-oriented, Price wants to join the Rays rotation to open the 2009 season. He has the talent and work ethic to make that happen. Even if he falls short, it won't be long before he's part of Tampa Bay's rotation for good, and he eventually should become the No. 1 starter on the talented staff. It would be no surprise if he moved to the forefront of the game's elite pitchers at a pace similar to that of Tim Lincecum.
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Vero Beach (Hi A)
4 0 1.82 6 6 0 0 35 28 0 7 37 .220
Montgomery (AA)
7 0 1.89 9 9 1 0 57 42 7 16 55 .206
Durham (AAA)
1 1 4.50 4 4 0 0 18 22 0 9 17 .301
Tampa Bay
0 0 1.93 5 1 0 0 14 9 1 4 12 .176
2.  Tim Beckham, ss   Born: Jan. 27, 1990B-T: R-RHt: 6-0Wt: 190
 Drafted: HS—Griffin, Ga. (1st round)Signed by: Milt Hill
Tim BeckhamBackground: Beckham emerged on the showcase circuit during the summer of 2007 and was MVP of the Aflac Classic. He carried that momentum into his senior season of high school and emerged as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft. After signing quickly for $6.15 million, he rated as the Rookie-level Appalachian League's top prospect while playing alongside his brother Jeremy (a 17th-round pick) in the Princeton infield.

Strengths: An outstanding athlete with easy actions and great instincts, Beckham has all the tools to be a stellar shortstop. He has strong, quick wrists and hands and good plate discipline. With his plus bat speed and the leverage in his swing, the Rays believe he'll develop 20-homer power. Defensively, he has fluid actions, good range, soft hands and a strong arm. His speed is good but not great, though he runs the bases very well.

Weaknesses: Once he irons out some mechanical issues in his swing, Beckham should make more consistent contact. His arm slot and footwook need more consistency, particularly so he can get behind the ball on throws.

The Future: Beckham's a complete package at shortstop, yet has a chance to improve as he smooths out his rough spots. The Rays' long-term answer at shortstop, Beckham will begin 2009 at their new low Class A Bowling Green affiliate.
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Princeton (R)
.243 .297 .345 177 30 43 12 0 2 14 13 43 5
Hudson Valley (SS)
.333 .556 .500 6 5 2 1 0 0 0 2 1 1
3.  Wade Davis, rhp   Born: Sept. 7, 1985B-T: R-RHt: 6-5Wt: 220
 Drafted: HS—Lake Wales, Fla., 2004 (3rd round)Signed by: Kevin Elfering
Wade DavisBackground: The Rays' 2007 minor league pitcher of the year, Davis returned to Double-A Montgomery last spring and was a bit inconsistent before finding his rhythm and earning a promotion in mid-July. He threw seven shutout innings in his first Triple-A start and turned in seven quality starts in nine outings with Durham.

Strengths: Davis is one of the premier power pitching prospects in the game. His four-seam fastball sits in the low to mid-90s, and he can dial it up to 95-96 mph when needed. He throws his hard 11-to-5 curveball with plus control, and it's filthy when he produces two-plane break. Davis also has a straight changeup and showed an improved cut fastball in Triple-A.

Weaknesses: Davis simply needs to refine the consistency of his overall feel and his delivery, particularly with his release point. Polishing those two aspects will improve his control and command. He'll need to pitch inside more often in the majors.

The Future: Davis' stuff and competitiveness have him knocking on the door to the big leagues, though he probably won't bump any of Tampa Bay's established starters out of the rotation in 2009. Another half-season in Triple-A should prove beneficial in his development as a frontline starter.
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Montgomery (AA)
9 6 3.85 19 19 0 0 108 104 7 42 81 .261
Durham (AAA) 4 2 2.72 9 9 0 0 53 39 5 24 55 .205
4.  Reid Brignac, ss   Born: Jan. 16, 1986B-T: L-RHt: 6-3Wt: 180
 Drafted: HS—St. Amant, La., 2004 (2nd round)Signed by: Benny Latino
Reid BrignacBackground: Since winning MVP honors in the high Class A California League in 2006, Brignac has struggled at times with his hitting. Nevertheless, he received his first big league callup in July and earned International League all-star honors despite missing most of August after an errant pitch broke his wrist.

Strengths: Brignac has made impressive strides with his defense over the past two years. One of the premier glovemen in Triple-A, he has a solid arm and good quickness. He also has shown plus power for a middle infielder and the ability to use the entire field. A good athlete, he possesses above-average speed and an excellent feel for the game.

Weaknesses: After going 0-for-10 in the big leagues, Brignac hit only .188 the rest of the way because he started trying to do too much at the plate. He has struggled with his patience in the past and needs to improve his approach so he can reduce his high strikeout totals and increase his on-base percentage. He tends not to trust his hands at the plate and becomes pull-happy. His range to his right is fringy.

The Future: Caught in between big league starter Jason Bartlett and Tim Beckham, Brignac has little opportunity to be the Rays' shortstop of the present or future. Unless he's used as trade bait, he's probably destined to repeat Triple-A in 2009.
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Durham (AAA)
.250 .299 .412 352 43 88 26 2 9 43 25 93 5
Tampa Bay .000 .091 .000 10 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 5 0
5.  Desmond Jennings, of   Born: Oct. 30, 1986 B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 180
 Drafted: Itawamba (Miss.) CC, 2006 (10th round)Signed by: Rickey Drexler
Desmond JenningsBackground: After ranking as the top prospect in the low Class A South Atlantic League in 2007, Jennings had a wasted 2008 season. The former juco all-America wide receiver homered in his first at-bat after missing the first two months with a back injury, but played just 24 games before needing surgery on his left shoulder that shelved him until the Arizona Fall League.

Strengths: Jennings has the exceptional speed and the discerning eye to become a prototypical leadoff hitter and center fielder. His strike-zone judgment rates among the best in the system. While he has some pop and the ability to drive the ball in the gaps, he knows his role and focuses on getting on base. He covers a wide swath in center and has an average arm.

Weaknesses: Jennings' biggest need is to stay healthy. In addition to his injury woes in 2008, he missed the final month in 2007 after having arthroscopic knee surgery. He needs game action to improve his reads and jumps in center field.

The Future: ith only a month in high Class A under his belt, Jennings is expected to open 2009 at the Rays' new Charlotte affiliate. A midseason promotion is a strong possibility, and if he can avoid injury, he could be pushing for a role in Tampa Bay at some point in 2010.
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Vero Beach (Hi A)
.259 .360 .412 85 17 22 5 1 2 6 14 16 5
6.  Matt Moore, lhp   Born: June 18, 1989B-T: L-LHt: 6-2Wt: 200
 Drafted: HS—Edgewood, N.M., 2007 (8th round)Signed by: Jack Powell
Matt MooreBackground: The Rays have excelled at finding quality arms in the middle rounds, with Moore the latest example. An eighth-round pick in 2007 who signed for $115,000, he repeated the Appalachian League in 2008 and rated as the circuit's top pitching prospect. He fell one-third of an inning shy of qualifying for the league ERA title (1.66) and led all starters in short-season leagues in strikeouts per nine innings (12.8) and opponent batting average (.154).

Strengths: Moore's easy delivery produces a 92-95 mph fastball that has added velocity in the past year. He also throws a tight, late-breaking curveball that was virtually unhittable in the Appy League. Control was an issue in his debut, but he did a much better job of throwing strikes in 2008. His competitiveness gives him another advantage.

After Moore improved his control, there isn't much not to like. His changeup has almost a screwball effect in the way it runs away from righthanders, but it still lacks consistency. He still needs to prove himself against much more advanced hitters.

The Future: The Rays may be loaded with starters in the majors, but Moore has the upside to eventually fit in near the top of the rotation. At least three years away from Tampa Bay, he'll headline a young Bowling Green staff in 2009.
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Princeton (R)
2 2 1.66
12 12 0 0 54 30 0 19 77 .154
7.  Nick Barnese, rhp   Born: Jan. 11, 1989B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 170
 Drafted: HS—Simi Valley, Calif., 2007 (3rd round)Signed by: Robbie Moen
Nick BarneseBackground: After missing his high school junior season due to a team suspension, Barnese emerged as a third-round pick in 2007. Barnese has earned Top 10 Prospect recognition in the Appalachian and short-season New York-Penn leagues in his two pro seasons. At Hudson Valley in 2008, he allowed one earned run or less in nine of his 13 starts while averaging 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings overall.

Strengths: Barnese pounds the lower half of the strike zone with a low-90s fastball that features excellent late life. His three-quarters breaking ball also has late action with good depth. He has good control and command, and he mixes his pitches well. He has a loose arm and some projection remaining. Barnese competes hard and relishes pitching inside.

Weaknesses: Barnese worked on his changeup during the summer. It still has a ways to go, but it shows the promise of developing into at least an average pitch. He'll need to throw more strikes against more experienced hitters.

The Future:Barnese will move up to Bowling Green in 2009 and pitch in a full-season rotation for the first time in his career. While he has the ability to advance quickly, chances are he'll spend the entire year in low Class A. He has a ceiling as a No. 2 starter, though developing into a No. 3 is more realistic.
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Hudson Valley (SS)
5 3 2.45 13 13 0 0 66 52 1 24 84 .212
8.  Jeremy Hellickson, rhp   Born: April 8, 1987B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 185
 Drafted: HS—Des Moines, Iowa, 2005 (4th round)Signed by: Tom Couston
Jeremy HellicksonBackground: The Rays have moved Hellickson slowly because he didn't pitch many innings as an Iowa high schooler. He reported to spring training in great shape in 2008, and proceeded to lead the system in ERA (2.96) and strikeouts (162) while reaching Double-A at age 21.

Strengths: Hellickson has the best overall stuff of anyone in the system not named Price. He has a lively low-90s fastball that touches 95 mph, a curveball he'll throw in any count and a solid changeup.  He also creates deception by using the same arm angle for his offspeed pitches. He throws inside consistently and rarely gets rattled.

Weaknesses: Better location, particularly in the strike zone, is Hellickson's greatest need. When his command slips, he's hittable, as evidenced when he surrendered five homers in his first Double-A start. While he's poised, the high Class A Vero Beach coaching staff felt he became a bit lackadaisical prior to his midseason promotion.

The Future: Though he spent a half-season at Montgomery, Hellickson is likely to open 2009 back in Double-A. In the long term, he's another future candidate for the middle of Tampa Bay's rotation.
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Vero Beach (Hi A)
7 1 2.00 14 14 0 0 77 64 7 5 83 .224
Montgomery (AA)
4 4 3.94 13 13 0 0 75 84 15 15 79 .292
9.  Jake McGee, lhp   Born: Aug. 6, 1986B-T: L-LHt: 6-3Wt: 190
 Drafted: HS—Sparks, Nev., 2004, (5th round)Signed by: Fred Repke
Jake McGeeBackground: After ranking fourth in the minors with 175 strikeouts in 2007, McGee returned to Double-A and was inconsistent prior to tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow on June 22. He underwent Tommy John surgery in July and is expected to be sidelined for at least a year.

Strengths:  Few lefthanders have better stuff than a healthy McGee, who has a fastball that resides in the mid-90s and touches 98. He also throws a power three-quarters breaking ball with good tilt. He has improved his changeup to where it shows signs of becoming a plus pitch when he trusts it.

Weaknesses: Aside from getting healthy, McGee must pitch down in the strike zone with more consistency. He struggled with his release point and control early in 2008, and he battles his fastball command when he tries to reach back for something extra. The feel for his changeup comes and goes, which detracts from his confidence in the pitch.

The Future: McGee isn't expected to be ready to begin pitching until after midseason. The Rays have no need to rush him, though they hope to get him on the mound in 2008 because pitchers usually make their greatest strides in their second year after Tommy John surgery.
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Mongtomery (AA)
6 4 3.94 15 15 0 0 78 65 6 37 65 .230
10.  Jeff Niemann, rhp  Born: Feb. 28, 1983B-T: R-RHt: 6-9Wt: 280
 Signed: Rice, 2004 (1st round)Signed by: Jonathan Bonifay
Jeff NiemannBackground: The fourth overall pick in the 2004 draft, Niemann has yet to find a role in Tampa Bay but had another solid season in the minors. He limited the Orioles to one run over six innings in his big league debut on April 13, yet was sidelined two weeks with shoulder stiffness upon returning to the minors. He rejoined the Rays as a reliever in September but didn't make the postseason roster.

Strengths: Niemann possesses two above-average pitches, a fastball that sits in the low 90s and tops out at 95 mph and a hard curveball that acts much like a slider on occasion. He has developed a splitter to use as a changeup and looked more comfortable throwing it in 2008. He's an intimidating presence with his size and extended delivery toward the plate.

Weaknesses: Niemann gets in trouble when he leaves his pitches up in the strike zone. Getting ahead in the count with his fastball and maintaining its command down in the zone would make his secondary stuff play up. He's easy to run on and requires more time than most pitchers to get loose, both of which could preclude using him as a reliever.

The Future: Niemann will enter the 2009 season with little left to prove in the minors. If the Rays don't have an opening for him, he figures to become a prime trade candidate.
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Durham (AAA)
9 5 3.59 24 24 3 0 133 101 15 50 128 .207
Tampa Bay
2 2 5.06 5 2 0 0 16 18 3 8 14 .277

Complete Index of Top 10 Prospects
Pre-Order the 2009 Prospect Handbook
30 scouting reports on every team

Photo Credits:Carl Kline (Price)
Cliff Welch (Beckham, Davis, Jennings, Moore)
Steve Moore (McGee)