Who among the upper levels of the minors do you think will have a breakout season?
Cork Gaines: Reid Brignac. The last two seasons have been a steady decline for Reid Brignac, but there is one number that really bugs me. His line drive rate in 2008 was almost 4% higher against left-handed pitchers. What that tells me is that Brignac was concentrating more on just making contact against lefties and against righties he was trying to hit a 6-run home run every time up. My hope is that somebody will get to Brignac and convince him that he will be a much better hitter once he stops trying to be Alex Rodriguez.
Tommy Rancel: I know it's a easy pick, but I just see Wade Davis really knocking on the major league door by June. He seemed a little bored in AA last year and we saw his numbers improve across the board after the promotion.
R.J. Anderson: Let’s see. Jeremy Helllickson broke out already, Mitch Talbot’s repeating a level for the third time – not sure how much room that leaves for a breakout – Jeff Niemann graduated, so that leaves Fernando Perez and Reid Brignac.
RaysParty: The player that has the hitting tools to pull together a great year offensively is John Jaso. Steering away from his defense, Jaso will be battling for a roster spot soon for the Rays and having a good season this year will put him in a good spot to take over Shawn Riggans position. Jaso's has a great eye at the plate evident in his high walk rates and low strikeout rates and having that high OBP for a catcher could be useful for a Major league team. I see Jaso hitting a OPS of near .900 and possibly greatly improved defense.
Tyler Hissey: I am not sure if Desmond Jennings technically qualifies for this question, since he is probably going back to the Florida State League to start the year after injuries stole significant development time from him in 2008. Jennings appears to be fully healthy now, though, and could really emerge as a high-level prospect if he can stay on the field for a full season, potentially earning a promotion to Montgomery relatively quickly if he can avoid injury in the early weeks of the spring. Thus, he would be considered in the higher levels if a promotion indeed happens. While that may be a fairly big if—is he injury prone or just unlucky?—he has tremendous tools and knows what he is doing in the batter’s box and out in center field.
Brickhaus: Heath Rollins. It's not that I think he'll break out from what he's already done, but I think the fact that he'll put up a very good season at Montgomery will make people finally take notice. His stuff is better than a lot of folks give it credit for, but as a later round college draft pick without an out pitch, he just needs to perform at the higher levels to finally get the general prospecting public to notice him. While I don't think he'll blow up like his former Winthrop teammate Kevin Slowey, I do think he will perform solidly enough to put himself in line for a job in the bullpen next year, or possibly a job as a back-end starter elsewhere if he gets traded. In terms of guys with similar profiles, I'd put him squarely in between Andrew Sonnanstine and Mitch Talbot.
Doug Milhoan: Heath Rollins. Rollins hasn't exactly pitched poorly, but he's always been overshadowed by the guys ahead of him (Niemann, Talbot, McGee, Davis), guys coming behind him (Cobb, Barnese, Moore), and even the guys with him (the younger Hellickson). And David Price. He should start '09 in Montgomery's rotation and I think he will cut down on the homers (15 at Vero Beach last year) while maintaining his control (SO/BB ratio of 4.3 at VB) and force his way into the Durham rotation sometime this summer. Long term the concern is his age/level, so he's either in the Rays bullpen or traded, but I think he emerges in 2009 as a valuable pitching prospect. My second pick is Ryan Reid, who pitched in relief for Vero Beach and Montgomery last year. If he can replicate his VB performance (0.29 ERA, 13.1 SO/9, 15.0 SO/BB) in AA this year, he will be on the fast track to the majors. I know starters are much more valuable than relievers, but the goal is the majors, and there are more spots in the pen than the rotation. I think Reid is a strong candidate for the Rays bullpen in 2010.
Kevin Gengler: Mitch Talbot, even though he hardly counts. He's a pretty decent prospect already, but I see him putting up great numbers in the International League before getting called up to the Tampa Bay bullpen and becoming a very dependable reliever.