BaseballAmerica put their top 10 Rays prospects up online today, along with scouting reports if you're a subscriber. Without further ado...
1. Evan Longoria
2. David Price
3. Jake McGee
4. Wade Davis
5. Reid Brignac
6. Desmond Jennings
7. Jeff Niemann
8. Jeremy Hellickson
9. Ryan Royster
10. Chris Mason
I was a little surprised Price ranked ahead of both Davis and McGee, but it's tough to go wrong when ranking those three. Besides that, the top 8 has nothing to argue about, but Royster and Mason are mild surprises at 9 and 10.
Royster's stats at Columbus were nothing short of phenomenal, but he was old for the league and really, really underwhelmed in his first 3 seasons, repeating Princeton in 2005 and hitting .247 in Hudson Valley in 2006. His defense is questionable in the outfield, and I'm not sure how good his bat actually is.
As for Mason, I actually like him a lot, but I'll spoil things a bit by saying I had 3 guys not on this list ahead of him on my top 30. Mason, like Royster, had great numbers in 2007, but he's a short righty without a plus pitch. He lives on deception, savvy, and control, and that combination might not play at the major-league level.
Best Hitter for Average Evan Longoria
Best Power Hitter Evan Longoria
Best Strike-Zone Discipline John Jaso
Fastest Baserunner Fernando Perez
Best Athlete Desmond Jennings
Best Fastball Jake McGee
Best Curveball Wade Davis
Best Slider David Price
Best Changeup Mitch Talbot
Best Control Chris Mason
Best Defensive Catcher Christian Lopez
Best Defensive Infielder Reid Brignac
Best Infield Arm Jairo de la Rosa
Best Defensive Outfielder Fernando Perez
Best Outfield Arm Justin Ruggiano
Reid Brignac is an absolute shock as best defensive infielder. Either he's made great strides or our infield defense is poor at best in the minors. I'm not sure how I missed Jaso for best strike-zone discipline, that was probably a pretty easy choice. Fernando Perez and Desmond Jennings in a foot race would be interesting, and if Perez is faster, it probably isn't by much. I chose Jennings for best baserunner because his SB-CS was 45-15, whereas Perez's was 32-18, below-average for a guy with his wheels. Mason and Rollins were the two I debated between for best control, Mason likely won because he posted a similar walk rate(2.15 for Rollins, 2.45 for Mason) at a higher level. We don't have anyone with a cannon in the outfield, but Ruggiano's arm is at least above-average.
Obviously I can't post complete scouting reports here, but I did pick out some interesting, copyright-friendly tidbits about each player(BA quotes in italics, my own thoughts in regular type):
Evan Longoria: "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."
We all know what Longoria can do with the bat, so it's really a good sign that his defense is also pretty highly regarded. Honestly, I'm not sure there's much more work to be done in the minors. Also, amusingly, Bill Ballew called Iwmaura "Akinori Otsuka" in his writeup. Can we get someone else to do these things next year?
David Price: "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."
Obviously Price hasn't played pro ball, and that tends to show a player's shortcomings. The most ridiculous thing here is that someone who has, in BA's words, "no knocks on him," is only ranked #2.
Jake McGee: "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."
It should be noted that when McGee touched 98, he did it on the notoriously slow Montgomery Biscuits' radar gun, so we're really talking 99-100. At this point, McGee just needs to continue to improve his control and offspeed offerings.
Wade Davis: "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."
Davis would probably be the #1 prospect in 8-10 other organizations. The best part about him may not even be his wicked stuff, but his poise on the mound and the intensity he brings.
Reid Brignac: "He uses the entire field and has plus power that really stands out for a shortstop. His speed and defense are solid."
I don't think Brignac took a step back in '07 as much as he just held his ground. I'd start to worry if his numbers don't show signs of rebounding in 2008, but I think his bat will pick back up again. The acquisition of Jason Bartlett ensures he won't be rushed.
Desmond Jennings: "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."
Jennings is probably the most "exciting" player on the list. He's a top-flight athlete with plus tools across the board, the lone exception his average arm. Scouts love his toolbox, statheads love his plate approach and eye. Just a lot to love here.
Jeff Niemann: "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."
Durability is still Niemann's biggest foe, though even when healthy he's probably no more than a #2-3 starter. He'll be 25 by Opening Day 2008, so it's time for Niemann to step up.
Jeremy Hellickson: "Hellickson commands a fastball that sits at 92-93 mph and touches 95. He has good feel for a curveball that jumps on hitters."
The Rays have been understandably cautious with Hellickson(I love that name, by the way), but he'll finally play a full season in 2008(he was held back in extended spring training last season with a sore arm) at Vero Beach and potentially finishing at Montgomery. All the concerns about short righties are there, but Hellickson has the stuff and command to overcome them.
Ryan Royster: "Royster is a classic country boy with tremendous bat speed and plus-plus raw power to all fields."
This is where we have to disagree. I'm not sure he has plus-plus power, as he only hit 25 homeruns in his first 3 seasons. The report mentions he cut down on his swing, which may have led to his breakout. I'd like to see him do it again.
Chris Mason: "Mason works fast with an unorthodox delivery and fills the strike zone, with managers rating his control the best in the SL."
That's Mason's resume: Delivery, control, fringy stuff. His changeup and slider rate well, but his fastball barely cracks 90, and for a righty that can be a big problem in the majors.