Today begins the process of posting our top 15 hitting prospects in the Rays organization, which will be followed by a (longer, due to more system depth) top pitching prospect list.
However, it's important to understand how these lists were formed and what they mean. The hitter's list was made up by myself and Andy, our newest writer. I'll let him introduce himself, but the point is that the list is a welding together of two opinions: He had guys he liked, I had guys I liked, we made our cases, and came to some kind of consensus.
Of course, that doesn't mean that we spent hours combing over this stuff, because we didn't. Rather, when we post a new prospect, it will be accompanied by a "profile," a write-up done by Andy or me(and in the case of the pitchers, Doug). This should really be the focal point: To learn more about the prospect and stimulate discussion of him. What his ceiling is, when he'll get to the majors, what his tools are, etc. That's more important than just looking at the list and saying, "oh, well you think Reid Fronk is a better prospect than Jake Jefferies because you ranked him one spot higher." The actual rankings are more of an outline than a set-in-stone hierarchy.
Anyway, today's post is about the guys who garnered discussion for making the list and sleepers to keep an eye on. Without further delay...
Rhyne Hughes, 1B: The proverbial "last guy out," Hughes put an exclamation point on a productive regular season by going nuts in the Arizona Fall League. Playing as a 24-year old in AA, Hughes hit 14 home runs for the Biscuits and posted a solid .268/.356/.448 line. He turned 25 in September, was sent to Arizona, where he lead his team in hitting with a .394 average. In just over 100 ABs, he knocked 20 extra base hits on his way to a .394/.432/.697 line.
Hughes has always been old for his competition, taking some glean off his shiny stat line. Additionally, his average-at-best tools don't seem to measure up his performance. He struggles to make contact consistently(112 strikeouts in 395 ABs in Montgomery), and doesn't have the bat to be an MLB regular, or the glove to play anywhere but 1st base, which really diminishes his value. A junior-college draft pick in 2004, Hughes is eligible for the Rule 5 draft this off-season.
Chris Nowak, 1B/3B: Nowak's been remarkably consistent over the past four seasons: a batting average a little over .300, an OBP a bit under .400, and a SLG% in the mid-.400s. Nowak is similar to Hughes in that he's more production than tools, although Nowak has a little more defensive flexibility(he can masquerade as a 3rd baseman, though he'd be below-average at the major-league level). His on-base skills could get him to the majors one day, but it's hard to envision Nowak as an acceptable regular. He'll be 26 on Opening Day in 2009, where he'll probably be playing 3rd base for Durham.
Jason Corder, OF: Corder was the Rays 7th round in 2008, a college senior from Long Beach State who signed for just $50,000. He has a strong throwing arm and good power, profiling him as a corner outfielder. He hit .306/.342/.456 in Hudson Valley in his debut, and will move up to full-season ball as a 23-year old in 2009. He'll really need to display his power in games, since his other tools(besides throwing arm) are nothing spectacular.
Mark Thomas, C: Thomas was one of my favorite sleepers heading into the 2008 season, and he responding by hitting .234/.278/.361 at Hudson Valley. Undeterred, I'm putting him on the sleeper list again this season. A 22nd-round draft-and-follow pick in 2006, Thomas is agile behind the plate with a strong arm. Being given the unenviable task of catching knuckleballer Diego Echeverria contributed to his 23 passed balls on the year, but more than a few were his fault. The Rays could test him by sending him to low-A Bowling Green to start 2009, but more likely he'll stay back in extended spring training before reporting back to Hudson Valley. If nothing else, the fact he often started behind the plate while 2008 3rd-rounder Jake Jefferies DH'd shows that the organization is willing to give him chances.
Mike McCormick, C: Like Thomas, it might be best to just write McCormick's 2008 season off. A converted 3rd baseman, he hit well enough in Hudson Valley in 2007 to move up to full-season ball, where he produced a meek .216/.276/.365 line. Silver lining? Well, um, 13 home runs isn't bad for a catcher in low-A, right? In 52 post-ASG games, he hit for a .709 OPS, far better than his .579 pre-ASG offering. He's pretty toolsy but clearly struggled in full-season ball. With Jake Jefferies seemingly ticketed for the low-A starting catching job, it will be interesting to see if the Rays bump McCormick up to the Florida State League, or if he stays in low-A and tries to find ABs.
D.J. Jones, OF: Jones is really only this list because of his upper-tier athleticism. His .227/.293/.320 line with rookie-level Princeton didn't do a whole lot to inspire confidence he can convert his tools into performance. But the fact is that he's very gifted athletically, so I have him as a potential sleeper. Of course, the 11th-round pick in 2007 will already be 21 on Opening Day and still in short-season ball, so he's going to have to prove sooner rather than later those 150 Apply League ABs aren't an indictment of his true ability.
That's it for today, although I'll leave you with one with one ultra-deep sleeper: Luis Marchena. And yes, I did just pick a name at random. Just remember where you heard it first.
Obviously you guys don't know the actual top 15 yet, but does anyone have any hitters they think could break out in 2009?