Who among the lower levels of the minors do you think will have a breakout season?
Cork Gaines: Jacob Jefferies. Again, this is more like wishful thinking, but I am looking forward to seeing what Jacob Jefferies can do in a full-season. Solid numbers against both lefties and righties and a 1-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio. I have never been terribly excited about John Jaso and Matt Spring is a never-will-be. It would be nice to know there is a legit catching prospect 3-4 years down the road.
Tommy Rancel: I think Matt Gorgen is a guy to keep an eye on. I know he was a little old for his level in 2008, but being a college arm pitching in relief, I could see him quickly rising through the Rays system.
R.J. Anderson: I really want to say Desmond Jennings, because that means he’s healthy, and that means it’s a step in the right direction. So yeah, optimistic side speaking: Jennings.
RaysParty: Alex Cobb has actually had a higher FIP than his ERA so he has not been pitching as well as he could. His fastball is average and reminds me of Heath Rollins. But he still has potential and will be placed at Port Charlotte this year which should be good barometer of how well he will do in the future in the minors. If he is going to have a future with the Rays, this is his year to make a statement and possibly earn a spot on a top 10 prospects list next year. With his stuff a good groundball rate, which he has, will help him succeed as a pitcher that gets his out by contact.
Tyler Hissey: Nick Barnese is a breakout candidate. Barnese was terrific at Hudson Valley, posting rates of 11.45 K/9 and 0.14 HR/9. He has command over a low-90s heater and solid curve, and to this point of his career has yet to face any real adversity. If he continues to perform at a similar level in the South Atlantic League, his stock could really rise and he could jump up some Top 100 lists.
Brickhaus: I would say Tim Beckham, but everyone's already rating him so highly that he'd need to really kill the league to exceed his lofty expectations. I think KD Kang has a great chance of breaking out. The kid has a real power tool and a decent enough bat otherwise, and I think he gets overlooked because people forget how hard Hudson Valley (and the NY Penn League in general) is on left-handed power bats. One X-factor is that we don't know whether Bowling Green will play well to hitters or pitchers, and if it's yet another pitcher's park, then it might be a while longer before we see him break out. There are also a number of more natural athletes at the lower levels who might start to put baseball skills with their athletic gifts (or pitchers who might project), such as Ty Morrison, Brian Bryles, Chris Luck, Shawn Smith, and Kyle Ayers. I'm also excited to see a GCL team again this year, and while I can't really predict a breakout at that low of a level, some guys to watch for there might include Omar Narvaez, Deivis Mavares and Julian Morillo.
Doug Milhoan: Hitter: Brian Bryles, Pitcher: Joseph Cruz. I'm going with young guys with high upsides here. Bryles played mostly CF at Princeton (R+) in '08, putting up a disappointing .208/.288/.205 line. He's raw at the plate, but is your typical athletic/toolsy/projectable player who, if he puts together the baseball skills, could be a major breakout in '09. He should start at Hudson Valley (A-) in '09 in his age-19 season. Cruz put up a 3.33 ERA (3.59 FIP) in 54 IP at Princeton in '08, with 62 SO and 14 BB. His fastball is already 93-94 mph, he's got a good frame (6'4", 190 lbs.), has a nice SO/BB ratio (4.4), and he keeps the ball on the ground (56% GB). He may go to Hudson Valley in '09 in his age-20 season, but I'd like to see him skip ahead to full-season ball at Bowling Green where he could work with pitching coach R.C. Lichtenstein on his off-speed pitches.
Kevin Gengler: I think Jason McEachern, the Rays' 13th rounder in 2008, will have a big year in Princeton. He was a late bloomer, not really showing up on any radars until his senior year of high school when he started throwing in the low 90's with a solid breaking ball. He's tall and really skinny(6'2" and 160 pounds) and has a loose, easy release, so I really think he can add to his fastball. He was also really young for his class, and he'll play the entire 2009 season as an 18-year old. With guys like Matt Moore, Joe Cruz, and Albert Suarez graduating from Princeton, McEachern should get his shot to take the ball every 5th day.