Tampa Bay Rays Top 10 Prospects With 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, 2011.

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Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays were left with a feeling of missed opportunity when the Rangers eliminated them in the American League Division Series. After winning the AL East on the final day of the regular season, Tampa Bay looked like a good bet to make the World Series, only to falter to Texas by losing all three games played at Tropicana Field. While manager Joe Maddon assured the masses that he expected his team to contend yet again in 2011, that will require productivity from several new and most likely inexperienced contributors.

The reality is that the Rays aren't likely to retain several free agents, including four-time all-star Carl Crawford, the franchise's career home run leader in Carlos Pena and the AL leader in saves  in Rafael Soriano. Including Soriano, their top four relievers are eligible for free agency. They also may deal veterans such as Jason Bartlett and James Shields to further lower payroll.

Tampa Bay's 2010 Opening Day payroll of $72.8 million ranked just 21st in the majors but also represented a franchise record. The Rays, who have won 277 games and made the playoffs twice in the last three years coming out of baseball's toughest division, would like to reduce their salary expenditures to $60 million while remaining competitive in 2011. A farm system that has produced as much talent as any in recent years and remains deep may make that goal possible.

Solid drafts and a focused commitment to developing talent in Latin America have stocked the organization with players ready to contribute. Righthander Jeremy Hellickson, Baseball America's 2010 Minor League Player of the Year,  and outfielder Desmond Jennings have had to wait patiently, receiving only brief cups of coffee in the big leagues in 2010 when they would have been regulars for most other teams.

Hellickson and Jennings are two prime examples of how no team is more methodical in developing prospects than the Rays. While other clubs promote players at the first hint of success at lower levels of the minors, full-season stints at every step are the rule rather than the exception in the Tampa Bay system. Lefthander Matt Moore, who led the minors in strikeouts for the second straight year, spent all of 2010 in high Class A even though it was his fourth pro season and even while he torched the Florida State League in the second half.

The Rays also take their time developing talent because they focus on signing young players. The first nine players on this list entered pro ball as teenagers, and they spent four of its six picks in the first three rounds of the 2010 draft on high schoolers. Tampa Bay also signed 16-year-old Dominican outfielder Yoel Araujo for $800,000, a franchise record for an international amateur.

The Rays have become efficient at producing players who fit Maddon's desire to create a roster full of versatile athletes. The creative skipper maximizes matchups to keep certain players from being exposed over lengthy stints, resulting in 132 different lineups and eight Rays who played at least three defensive positions in 2010. Many of those multi-tasking abilities can be honed in the minor leagues, which should continue to be the lifeblood of baseball's most overachieving franchise.

1.  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: A high school pitcher from Iowa, Hellickson was brought along slowly after the Rays drafted him in the fourth round and signed him away from a Louisiana State scholarship for $500,000 in 2005. He didn't reach full-season ball until his third year as a pro and spent parts of two seasons each at Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham. He has had continued success at every level, seemingly getting better every year. He led Rays farmhands with a 2.96 ERA and 163 strikeouts in 2008, then starred in the International League playoffs and earned MVP honors in the Triple-A national championship game in 2009. With no openings in Tampa Bay's rotation, "Hellboy" returned to Durham in 2010. He started for the U.S. team in the Futures Game and won recognition as the IL's pitcher of the year and best pitching prospect after leading the league in ERA (2.45) and strikeouts per nine innings (9.4). He also was pacing the IL in wins and strikeouts when the Rays called him to the big leagues in August. With Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann ailing, Hellickson turned in four quality starts in as many tries, then helped out in a bullpen role in September. At season's end, Baseball America named Hellickson the 2010 Minor League Player of the Year.

Scouting Report: Featuring a dynamic repertoire, Hellickson throws four pitches for strikes and does a great job of getting ahead in the count with his outstanding fastball command. He keeps his four-seam fastball down in the zone, sitting at 91-92 mph and touching 95. His best pitch is a low-80s changeup, which he has added depth to over the past two years, giving him a formidable weapon against lefthanders. He also throws a solid curveball with tight spin for strikes early in the count. If that wasn't enough, Hellickson added two-seam and cut fastballs to his repertoire in 2010, which helped his four-seamer play up even more. In the past, scouts worried about the lack of movement on his four-seamer, but those worries have been alleviated by the life on his new fastballs. He throws all of his pitches from the same arm angle, which creates good deception. Hellickson also repeats his clean delivery with impressive consistency, with his lone problem a tendency to get too straight up and down on occasion. That led to a brief stretch last season in which he walked four batters in three straight starts, but otherwise his control and mechanics are as reliable as those of any pitching prospect.

The Future: Hellickson has proven at every step through the organization that he's as good as advertised. He made the most of his opportunities during his encore in Durham, which made him a better pitcher once he finally received the long-awaited call to the Tampa Bay. The Rays' rotation remains crowded heading into the offseason, but Hellickson showed during the second half of 2010 that the team will probably need to create an opening for him before Opening Day. Though he'll likely serve as a fourth or fifth starter as a rookie, Hellickson should become Tampa Bay's No. 2 or 3 starter in the not-too-distant future.
2010 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Durham (AAA) 12 3 2.45 21 21 0 0 118 103 5 35 123 .238
Tampa Bay 4 0 3.47 10 4 0 0 36 32 5 8 33 .232
2.  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: Moore has led the minors in strikeouts in each of the past two seasons. He battled his control at the beginning of 2010, going 0-7, 6.63 in his first 11 starts, then got back on track and allowed just 14 earned runs in his final 15 starts. Rated as the top prospect in the high Class A Florida State League, he finished with 208 strikeouts, the most in the minors since Clint Nageotte had 214 in 2002.

Scouting Report: Moore has an electric arm with hard, late life on his 92-96 mph fastball. He has an easy arm action and uses the same stroke to throw a late-breaking curveball that dives on hitters. His changeup also has the makings of a plus pitch, though he needs to throw it more often. The Rays loved how Moore responded to adversity. With the help of Charlotte pitching coach Neil Allen, he changed his grip to put his thumb more under the ball, enabling him to keep his pitches down in the zone. Though he quieted his delivery during the second half, his mechanics still got out of sync on occasion. His command needs refinement, though his wildness also can keep hitters off balance.

The Future: Moore will open 2011 as a 21-year-old in Double-A. While he requires some fine-tuning, he has the potential to be a top-of-the-rotation starter in the major leagues.
2010 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Charlotte (Hi A) 6 11 3.36 26 26 0 0 145 109 7 61 208 .210
3.  Desmond Jennings, of   Born:Oct. 30, 1986B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2Wt: 180
 Drafted: Itawamba (Miss.) CC, 2006 (10th round)Signed by: Rickey Drexler
Desmond JenningsBackground: Jennings looked ready for Tampa Bay after a banner 2009 that saw him win the Double-A Southern League MVP award and help Durham to the International League and Triple-A national championships. But the Rays didn't have an everyday job for him, so he returned to Durham. Though he had a wrist injury that limited his productivity early in 2010, managers rated him the IL's best baserunner, top defensive outfielder and most exciting player.

Scouting Report: A former junior college all-America wide receiver, Jennings is a pure athlete with three above-average tools. He has plus-plus speed and ranked second in the IL with 37 steals in 41 attempts. He covers center field from gap to gap, gets to balls quickly by taking the right routes and shows average arm strength. With his speed and disciplined approach, he should hit for a high average and get on base at a good clip. While the wrist injury affected his power, Jennings drives the ball well and could hit 15 homers per year. He needs to take greater advantage of his speed by putting the ball on the ground more often.

The Future: All signs point to Jennings replacing free agent Carl Crawford in Tampa Bay's outfield. He eventually should become the Rays' leadoff hitter and center fielder.
2010 Club (Class) AVG
Durham (AAA) .278 .362 .393 399 82 111 25 6 3 36 47 67 37
Tampa Bay .190 .292 .333 21 5 4 1 1 0 2 2 4 2
4.  Jake McGee, lhp   Born: Aug. 6, 1986B-T: L-LHt: 6-3Wt: 230
 Drafted: HS—Sparks, Nev., 2004 (5th round)Signed by: Fred Repke
Jake McGeeBackground: McGee was one of the top lefty pitching prospects in the minors when he blew out his elbow and had Tommy John surgery in June 2008. After working his way back to the mound for 30 innings in 2009, McGee climbed two levels last season and made his major league debut in September.

Scouting Report: McGee hasn't shown any negative effects from reconstructive elbow surgery. He generates tremendous late action on his fastball, which jumped to 92-95 mph and peaked at 97 when he moved to the bullpen at midseason. His breaking ball is a power curve that becomes slurvy when he gets under it. His changeup has the potential to be at least an average pitch. Command and consistency were issues prior to his injury, but he shown better feel for all of his offerings since his return.

The Future: A starter in 128 of his first 129 games as a pro, McGee was very effective as a reliever after reaching Triple-A. With the Rays' bullpen expected to undergo a complete overhaul in 2011, he should claim a regular role and could emerge as a closer in the near future.
2010 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Montgomery (AA) 3 7 3.57 19 19 0 0 88 81 3 33 100 .245
Durham (AAA) 1 1 0.52 11 1 0 1 17 9 0 3 27 .148
Tampa Bay 0 0 1.80 8 0 0 0 5 2 0 3 6 .118
5.  Josh Sale, of   Born: July 5, 1991B-T: L-RHt: 6-0Wt: 215
 Drafted: HS—Seattle, 2010 (1st round)Signed by:  Paul Kirsch
Josh SaleBackground: Sale had a single-digit handicap in golf, though he swung righthanded. The first player in the history of the Area Code Games to hit for the cycle, Sale was one of the best high school hitters available in the 2010 draft. A Gonzaga recruit, he went 17th overall and signed for $1.62 million at the Aug. 16 deadline. He saw his first pro action in instructional league.

Scouting Report: The top prep power hitter in the 2010 draft, Sale projects as a significant run producer and a corner outfielder. He generates incredible bat speed and shows a great feel for the strike zone while employing a patient approach. He has good present strength, which makes sense considering his father was a competitive natural powerlifter. He also has impressive hand-eye coordination, though he does have a few flaws in his swing, including a high back elbow and an early stride. He has the makeup and work ethic to make those adjustments, and he should be able to do so without compromising his power. His speed, defensive ability and arm strength are all fringy, so while he works hard, he'll probably wind up in left field.

The Future: Sale's offensive prowess gives him the potential to move quickly, though the Rays rarely rush high school signees. Because he signed late, he'll likely make his pro debut at Rookie-level Princeton in June.
2010 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Did Not Play—Signed Late
6.  Alex Torres, lhp   Born: Dec. 8, 1987B-T: L-LHt: 5-10Wt: 160
 Signed: Venezuela, 2005Signed by: Carlos Porte (Angels)
Alex TorresBackground: Torres may turn out to be the most valuable of the three players the Rays received from the Angels for Scott Kazmir in August 2009. Acquired along with Sean Rodriguez and third-base prospect Matt Sweeney, Torres appeared in the Futures Game and led the Southern League with 150 strikeouts in his first full season in Tampa Bay's system.

Scouting Report: Torres has a strong lower half that helps him produce lively stuff. His low-90s fastball has outstanding movement, and his changeup is just as effective. His feel for his curveball comes and goes, though it gives him a third plus pitch when he throws it for strikes. He throws across his body and almost falls over his front side—and those mechanics are a blessing and a curse. His delivery generates velocity and life but also creates problems with his control and high pitch counts. He led the SL in walks (70) as well as strikeouts. Scouts laud his competitiveness.

The Future: Torres has the makings of three above-average pitches but remains a work in progress because of his inability to repeat his mechanics consistently. He could emerge as a No. 2 or 3 starter in the big leagues if he fine-tunes his control, or a set-up man if he doesn't. He'll pitch in the Rays' Triple-A rotation in 2011.
2010 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Mongtomery (AA) 11 6 3.47 27 27 0 0 143 136 9 70 150 .256
7.  Alex Colome, rhp   Born:  Dec. 31, 1988B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 185
 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2007Signed by: Eddy Toledo
Alex ColomeBackground: Colome spent three years in Rookie and short-season leagues before advancing to low Class A Bowling Green in 2010. The nephew of former Rays reliever Jesus Colome, he faded in the second half but did impress with eight strikeouts in a four-inning start for Charlotte in September.

Scouting Report: Colome's live arm rivals that of anyone in the system. His 91-93 mph fastball touches 96 and features natural sink as well as armside run. He also throws a tight 11-to-5 curveball that has the makings of a plus pitch. He has improved the consistency of his changeup and used it frequently last season to retire lefthanders. Colome tends to overthrow at times, and his control and command can be erratic. He has learned to use the inner half of the plate by challenging hitters with his fastball, and he has shown some promise in backdooring his curve for strikes.

The Future: Though Colome remains a raw prospect, he has the upside of a frontline starter. He has succeeded thus far simply by overpowering hitters, though he'll have to adopt a more polished approach when he returns to high Class A for a full season in 2011.
2010 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Bowling Green (Lo A) 6 6 3.95 22 22 1 0 114 98 14 45 118 .233
Charlotte (Hi A) 0 0 2.25 1 1 0 0 4 5 0 0 8 .333
8.  Justin O'Conner, c   Born: March 31, 1992B-T: R-RHt: 6-0Wt: 190
 Drafted: HS—Muncie, Ind., 2010 (1st round)Signed by: Tom Couston
Justin O'ConnerBackground: O'Conner was a top prospect as a slugging third baseman and strong-armed righthander before moving behind the plate as a high school senior. He emerged as the top prep catcher in the 2010 draft, tying the Indiana high school record with 51 career homers. The Rays drafted him 31st overall and signed him away from an Arkansas commitment for $1.025 million.

Scouting Report: Though he struggled at the plate in his pro debut, O'Conner's well above-average raw power was still evident. He has tremendous bat speed and can drive the ball to all fields, though he gets pull-happy during games. He doesn't project as a high-average hitter and may need to shorten his swing to make more consistent contact. O'Conner has plus-plus arm strength and has posted pop times as low as 1.8 seconds. He has quick feet and moves well behind the plate but is still working on the nuances of catching, such as maintaining consistent mechanics, calling games and working with pitchers. He's a below-average runner but not bad for a catcher.

The Future: By selecting O'Conner, Luke Bailey and Jake DePew in consecutive drafts, the Rays have built impressive catching depth in the lower minors. They can give O'Conner time to develop, likely sending him to Princeton in 2011.
2010 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
GCL Rays (R) .211 .301 .348 161 18 34 13 0 3 29 18 46 1
9.  Drew Vettleson, of   Born: July 19, 1991B-T: L-RHt: 6-0Wt: 185
 Drafted: HS—Silverdale, Wash., 2010 (1st round supplemental)Signed by: Paul Kirsch
Drew VettlesonBackground: Vettleson attracted attention for his switch-pitching ability in high school, and while some scouts liked him on the mound, he drew more notice as one of the purest prep hitters in the 2010 draft. He worked out occasionally with fellow Washington outfielder and Rays draft pick Josh Sale. A supplemental first-round pick, Vettleson signed at the deadline for $845,000.

Scouting Report: A shortstop/center fielder/pitcher in high school, Vettleson profiles as a corner outfielder with the ability to hit for power and average. He has a quiet approach from the left side of the plate, with good patience and pitch recognition. He's short to the ball and drives pitches from gap to gap, though his swing features a stiff lead arm at times, which could create issues against good fastballs. His speed is a tick below average, but he has great instincts on the bases and in the field. He has enough arm strength to play in right field.

The Future: Vettleson didn't face top competition in high school—though he performed well on the summer showcase circuit—and signed too late to make his pro debut. Because his only pro experience has come in instructional league, he'll probably start 2011 in extended spring training before reporting to Princeton in mid-June.
2010 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Did Not Play—Signed Late
10.  Jake Thompson, rhp   Born: Aug. 8, 1989B-T: R-RHt: 6-3Wt: 225
 Signed: Long Beach State, 2010 (2nd round)Signed by: Robbie Moen
Jake ThompsonBackground: After earning his GED diploma and enrolling early in college, Thompson became a weekend starter as a freshman before experiencing an inconsistent career at Long Beach State. Expected to be the 49ers' ace in 2010, he went 5-4, 5.16 in 14 starts before signing for $555,000 as a second-round pick. In his pro debut, he ranked as the short-season New York-Penn League's top pitching prospect before throwing 11 scoreless innings in high Class A.

Scouting Report: Thompson has the stuff, frame and mound presence to eat up innings in the middle of a big league rotation. His fastball usually sits at 92-94 mph and touched 97 during his debut. He picked up a mid-80s slider during the spring at Long Beach State, and it showed more consistency and peaked in the upper-80s in pro ball. His changeup can be a plus pitch at times, though it gets too firm on occasion. Hudson Valley pitching coach Jack Giese worked extensively with Thompson to improve his slider and mechanics. He no longer flies open or rushes his delivery, which led to improved command.

The Future: Given his experience and pro debut, Thompson could move quicker than the average Rays farmhand. He figures to open his first full season by returning to high Class A.
2010 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Hudson Valley (SS) 2 1 1.35 10 7 0 0 40 28 0 6 33 .200
Charlotte (Hi A) 2 0 0.00 2 2 0 0 11 2 0 2 6 .059

Complete Index of Top 10 Prospects
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