We (finally) finished up our top 15 hitters, so it's time to begin on the pitchers.
Just like the hitting list, the rankings aren't an end-all, be-all. This is even more true with the pitchers because of the better depth, but the basic point remains the same: It seems almost silly to compare Jeff Niemann, a 25-year old who repeated Durham, to Matt Moore, who's 19 and repeated Princeton. Again, both level and potential were taken into consideration when making the list, and since everyone has different ideas on how to balance those things, there is no "correct" list.
Before we actually get to the list, we'll look at the guys who either a) were considered for the list or b) didn't make it this year but have a chance next year. There's a ton of depth, so even the list of people who didn't make the top 15 doesn't include everyone(for example, no Neil Schenk here... sorry, R.J.). Anyway, here are the guys who missed the top 15 but are certainly worth keeping an eye on:
RHP Shane Dyer - Dyer was the Rays 6th round out of a Colorado junior college and reported to Hudson Valley, where he put up a 3.68 ERA in 58 innings. He was used as a starter, but his unorthodox delivery has scouts projecting him as a bullpen arm in the future. His strikeout numbers weren't anything special(46 in those 58 innings), but he kept his BB/9 under 3(barely, 2.9). His best pitch is his knuckle-curveball, which he sometimes relies on too much. His fastball sits around 90 with some projection left, but he'll still need to continue working on his changeup. The Rays will keep him as a starter for now, and he'll join a pretty talented pitching staff in Bowling Green in 2009.
RHP Austin Hinkle - Hinkle may have taken the most bizarre road of anyone on this list. In 2007, he pitched only 4 innings on a pitching-laden Coastal Carolina staff. Tampa Bay scout Brad Matthews saw enough in Hinkle to stay in contact with him, and the Rays plucked him in the 41st round of that year's draft. After mowing down the Appalachian League in 2007, he struck out almost 13 batters per 9 innings with Columbus in 2008. A fastball-slider pitcher, Hinkle is limited to bullpen duty, but the slider has the makings of a plus pitch. Of course, he was 22 years old in low-A this past year, so all statistics should be taken with a grain of salt. He'll move up to Port Charlotte for 2009 and probably close games there. He'll still be old for his league, but it's worth keeping an eye on him as he moves along.
RHP Justin Garcia - Garcia was the workhorse of the Columbus bullpen, working 72 innings over 41 appereances. His numbers are even better than Hinkle's(2.49 ERA, 78 strikeouts, 20 walks, 41 hits). He was 21, so still a bit old for the SAL. Garcia's stuff is a little bit worse than Hinkle's, however, and doesn't really flash a potential plus pitch. Also, I don't have BABIP data or anything, but that 5.6 H/9 rate is going to be impossible to maintain. He's a nice arm that gets it done with control, so he'll post some solid numbers, but his fringy stuff won't play as well at the higher levels.
RHP Chris Mason - Mason was the Rays 10th-rated prospect by BaseballAmerica entering the year, but things fell apart for him in Durham. After 15 wins and a 2.54 ERA in the Southern League in 2007, Mason was hit hard and eventually demoted to the Bulls' bullpen, where he fared no better. His strikeout rate stayed almost exactly the same, but he his BB/9 went up nearly a full walk, his HR/9 spiked from 0.4 to 1.6, and his H/9 went up nearly three. He's durable and more athletic than his body indicates(he was actually a decent 3rd baseman in college), but his stuff limits him to a bullpen role at best in the majors. Given the Rays depth in both the rotation and bullpen entering 2009, it'll be tough for Mason to crack the big leagues. Depending on how things shake out, he'll either be in Durham's rotation or bullpen.
RHP Alexander Colome - Colome went 0-5 with a 5.68 ERA with Princeton in 2008, but look deeper and you'll find he struck out 52 in 46 innings. The area he clearly needs to work on is his control, as he issued 26 free passes, or just over 5 per 9 innings. Right now, his fastball is his only advanced pitched, sitting in the low-mid 90's. He also throws a curveball and a change-up, but both offerings are inconsistent at this point. Colome will probably land back with the P-Rays in 2009, but there's a chance he starts with Hudson Valley. Either way, he'll need to improve his control to emerge as a prospect.
RHP Matt Gorgen - His 2008 stats in Hudson Valley look like they're from a video game: 23 innings, 35 strikeouts, 5 walks, and only 7(!) hits. His WHIP was 0.52 as the Renegades closer. He was the Rays' 16th-rounder in 2008, 12 rounds after his brother Scott was taken by the Cardinals. He works mostly off his low-90's fastball and mid-80's cutter. He'll have to work on his off-speed stuff to continue suceeding at higher levels, his numbers have definitely opened some eyes. He'll head to Bowling Green's bullpen to close games. He'll be 22 years old, so success should be expected, and perhaps a mid-season call-up is in the cards.
RHP Will Kline and LHP David Newmann - I group these together because they were both high draft picks in 2007(2nd and 4th round, respectively) and they both have multiple major injuries in their past. Will Kline was actually decent in his pro debut in 2007 sans one horrendous outing, but missed all of 2008 with a shoulder injury, that coming four years after Tommy John surgery wiped out another entire season of his. So he already had average stuff(although his changeup was a potential plus) and now he's had two major arm surgeries. His make-up and competitiveness draw rave reviews, but it's impossible to say how his stuff will look after his latest injury. He'll pitch at either Bowling Green or Port Charlotte
As for Newmann, he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2005 and missed all of that season and the next, recovering to pitch well in the 2007 season. He didn't sign in time to pitch with the Rays in 2007, and his 2008 season was derailed before it started when he tore a knee ligament in the spring. The first pitch Newmann throws in 2009 will be his first as a pro. Even before the knee injury, Newmann projected more as a reliever with a low-90's fastball and decent curveball. Bowling Green is a likely destination to get his feet wet.
RHP Jason McEachern - The Rays drafted some intriguing high school arms in 2008(Shawn Smith, Brad Furdal, Trevor Shull), but 13th-rounder Jason McEachern is my favorite of the bunch. A late comer out of a North Carolina HS, his fastball velocity jumped into the low-90s senior year. Hewas signed relatively quickly and reported to Princeton. Stuck in a logjam, McEachern pitched well in 9 outings, although his 1.44 ERA doesn't jive with his 16:8 strikeout:walk ratio. The two things I like about McEachern are a) that he's almost a year younger than a lot of other high schoolers in the 2008 draft, so he pitched all of the season at age 17, and b) his body bodes well for projection: 6'2" 160 lbs. As his body fills out, he could add even more to his fastball as he matures. As he'll only be 18 in 2009, McEachern will be back in Princeton, although this time with a consistent starting rotation role. Personally, I think he'll have a tremendous season and will be the Rays short-season breakout prospect.
Starting on Monday, we'll have the beginning of the top 15 list, which will hopefully move a lot more quickly than the hitter's list did.