Sunday, August 17, 2008

Catching up with the class of '05

In 2004, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays finished 70-92, their best mark in franchise history, until this year's team, course. After picking 1st overall in 2003(Delmon Young), the D-Rays went into the 2005 draft armed with the 8th overall pick. Here's what happened(ain't hindsight great?):

1st round, 8th overall: Wade Townsend, RHP, Rice - We'll probably never know exactly what happened. But the story goes that the scouting team wanted Andrew McCutchen, a toolsy outfielder who would go to Pittsburgh two picks later, while the outgoing ownership group led by Vince Naimoli wanted the cheaper Townsend. Townsend had been taken in the 8th overall spot last year, but was unable to come to terms with the Orioles. He was actually ineligible to pitch at Rice in 2005, but he went back anyway to finish up his degree.

Anyway, Townsend wound up signing with Tampa Bay for less money than Baltimore had offered him a year ago. He reported to Hudson Valley, and then pitched in the Arizona Fall League before injury cut that short. The diagnosis? Shredded elbow, needs Tommy John surgery. Townsend spent all of 2006 rehabbing before returning with low-A Columbus in 2007. In the nearly two full seasons he's pitched, he's been inconsistent, to say the least. He's shown flashes of plus-stuff(but nothing like when he was at Rice), but he'll follow that up with three poor outings. Townsend will be 26 by opening day next season, so while the clock hasn't run out, it's ticking down. His ceiling at this point is probably just that of a pedestrian middle reliever.

Compounding Townsend's bad luck and poor results is how terrific the 2005 1st round looks now. Of the top 12 picks, only Townsend, McCutchen, and Ricky Romero haven't made the majors, and McCutchen is knocking on the door. Mike Pelfrey, Cameron Maybin, McCutchen, and Jay Bruce were the four picks directly after Townsend. Ouch.

2nd round, 56th overall: Chris Mason, RHP, UNC Greensboro - Mason's had quite the interesting past 3 seasons. He looked pretty bad even by Cal League standards with high-A Visalia in 2006, posted a 2.57 ERA and anchored a championship staff at AA Montgomery in 2007, and has had things fall apart again in AAA Durham. After starting the season in the rotation, he's been moved to the bullpen, but hasn't fared much better. Mason's hit rate skyrocketed from AA to AAA, while his strikeout rate held steady and his walk rate increased by about .75/9 innings.

Mason probably won't ever be any more than a reliever, especially with the Rays loaded system. My guess is he'll be moved back to the rotation in Durham next year and given a chance to straighten things out. If he can keep his walks down and somehow stymie the hit rate, then he can at least have moderate success in the big leagues someday.

The second round was actually pretty weak this year, so the Rays shouldn't get knocked a whole lot for this pick. Kevin Slowey, also a college RHP, was selected later in the round by Minnesota.

3rd round, 88th overall: Bryan Morris, RHP, TN HS - Ah, the days of the draft-and-follow. Basically, we drafted Morris knowing he'd probably play JC ball for at least a year, as his father was the coach. Morris indeed went to junior college, but when the deadline came and went to sign him(just before the 2006 draft), no deal got done. Morris re-entered the draft in 2006 and was selected 26th overall by the Dodgers. He's now in the Pirates system as part of the Manny/Bay trade. He wound up needed Tommy John surgery, but that didn't appear to come up until after LA drafted him, meaning it didn't impact TB's negotiations. Check-minus on this pick, because you can't just throw away a 3rd rounder like this.

4th round, 118th overall: Jeremy Hellickson, RHP, IA HS - Hellickson was actually a bit of a question mark at draft time, because the majority of Iowa's HS baseball season is actually after the draft. That, combined with Hellickson's "short righty"ness and an injury that wiped out his junior year, caused him to fall to round 4, where the Rays clearly got a bargain. Hellickson's broken out as a top prospect this season, posting a 10:1 strikeout:walk ratio in 136 innings split between Vero Beach and Montgomery. He's struggled somewhat in his first taste of AA ball, but should be able to make to adjustments. Other interesting names from this round include Mat Gamel to Milwaukee and Brian Matusz(as a high schooler) to the Angels.

5th round, 148th overall: Mike McCormick, 3B, OR HS - Yup, he was drafted as a 3B. Considered a high-ceiling(albeit raw) bat at draft time, McCormick hit decently at Princeton for two seasons before being promoted to Hudson Valley and converted to a catcher. He put up an impressive .821 OPS there, but has completely hit a wall with Columbus this season. His batting average has hovered in the low .200s and his on-base skills are lacking. He's shown some of his power, but a .605 OPS just isn't going to cut it. Still, the Rays aren't about to give up on him. My guess is he'll repeat low-A as a 22-year old in 2009 and hope for better results and a possible promotion to Vero Beach/Port Charlotte. The rest of the 5th round wasn't all that interesting.

6th round, 178th overall: Greg Reinhard, RHP, Wisconsin-Whitewater - Reinhard was the Division-III strikeout leader in 2005, and actually showed some decent stuff to back it up. He pitched at HV in 2005 and Southwest Michigan in 2006 before being traded that offseason to Chicago as part of the deal for Jae Kuk Ryu. He's been back and forth between AA and AAA with the Cubs, and has a chance to contribute as a reliever some day, though he'll likely need to shore up his control.

7th round, 208th overall: Mike Wlodarczyk, LHP, Boston College - Wlod(I'm not agonizing over his spelling this whole post) was drafted as a college senior who starred in the Cape Cod League. However, it appears that the 6'5" lefty basically is what he is at this point, and that's a good organizational arm with a minimal chance at cracking the big leagues.

8th round, 238th overall: Andrew Lopez, OF, CA HS - Lopez actually signed an over-slot deal, as the Rays hoped they had a semi-late bloomer on their hands. Lopez "broke out" his senior season of HS, and actually had a solid debut season with Princeton. He returned to the P-Rays in 2006, where was less impressive, and was the other piece of the Jae Kuk Ryu deal that off-season(with Reinhard). Lopez played sub-average ball at three different levels with Chicago in 2007, and appears to be out of baseball in 2008.

9th round, 268th overall: Derek Feldkamp, RHP, U. Michigan - Feldkamp was basically a big guy who threw hard, and that's enough to get drafted in the top 10 rounds, as teams hope something clicks in pro ball. He was the Wolverines closer his last two years, and broke into pro ball in the bullpen before being moved to the rotation. He proved to be too hittable, and after putting up ERAs over 6.50 in 2006 and 2007, Feldkamp is out of the organization and apparently out of baseball.

10th round, 298th overall: John Matulia, OF, FL HS - This is where the guys start to sound really non-descript. Matulia's about par for the course as far as 10th rounders go, in that he hasn't broken out for flamed out. He's currently with Vero Beach and profiles as an organizational guy at best.

11th round, 328th overall:
Jeff Kamrath, RHP, U. Virginia
12th round, 358th overall: Ryan Zimmerman, RHP, Salt Lake CC
13th round, 388th overall: Ryan Morse, LHP, Southwest Minnesota State
14th round, 418th overall: Henry Wrigley, 1B, College of San Mateo
15th round, 448th overall: Matt Fisher, RHP, Franklin Pierce College
16th round, 478th overall: Neil Walton, SS, Cal State-Fullerton
17th round, 508th overall: Ronald Edwards, C, LA HS
18th round, 538th overall: Tommy Hunter, RHP, IN HS
19th round, 568th overall: Ike Davis, 1B/LHP, AZ HS
20th round, 598th overall: Wade Miley, LHP, LA HS

It's just going to be easier to do it this way from now on. Kamrath actually struck a bunch of people out and was a deep sleeper of mine this season, but injuries and control problems took care of that. Ryan Zimmerman and Matt Fisher are out of the Rays organization. Ryan Morse, Henry Wrigley, and Neil Walton are toiling away in the minors. Ronald Edwards didn't sign.

Neither did Hunter, Davis, or, Miley. Hunter went to Alabama and was the 54th overall pick(Rangers) in 2007. Davis went to Arizona State and was the 18th overall pick(Mets) in 2008. Miley went to SE Louisiana and was the 43rd overall pick(Diamondbacks) in 2008. Of course, this stuff happens all the time, so it's not like anyone can fault the Rays for not signing any of those guys.

24th round, 718th overall: Neal Frontz, RHP, Jacksonville University
41st round, 1226th overall: Garrett Groce, OF, Columbus State University
45th round, 1342nd overall: Leon Johnson, OF
48th round, 1428th overall: Brad Matthews, IF, Wallace State CC

These are just the rest of the guys I have comments on(you're not missing much with the guys I omitted, trust me). Frontz has gotten all the way to AA Montgomery, where he's working out of the bullpen. Garrett Groce has carved out a heck of a career for a 41st rounder(he's currently with Vero Beach). Leon Johnson is the brother of Durham infield Elliot Johnson. Leon didn't sign because he went on a mormon mission(much like Elliot, if I recall). The Rays actually drafted Leon in 2003, 2005, and 2006, with him not signing each time. He was taken in the 10th round by the Cubs in 2007, he's currently in A-ball. And Brad Matthews I put on there for no other reason than the fact he used to post on the raysbaseball(now raysbb) forums.

Conclusion: The Rays really only got one potential impact player in this draft, and that's Jeremy Hellickson. He was a great value in round 4, but does that make up for the botched 1st and 3rd rounders? Townsend, Mason, and McCormick are the only other guys with a chance to contribute to the MLB team some day(though it should be noted that Reinhard also has a shot at the majors in a different organization). It would obviously have been great to woo one of the Hunter/Davis/Miley troika away from college, but the Rays don't get docked any points for not doing that. The bottom line is that without Hellickson this is frankly a terrible draft, punctuated by not grabbing a top talent in round 1 when just about everybody else did and failing to sign their 3rd round pick. If Hellickson hits his ceiling, I think that covers for Townsend/Morris. The Rays are in the fortunate position where one bad draft doesn't cripple them, which is mostly due to the fruitful 2004 draft.