Thursday, April 2, 2009

Tampa Bay Rays Season Preview

Tampa Bay RaysOver at The Rays Party they are doing an excellent series of articles previewing the Rays 2009 season. They have covered catchers, infielders, and pitchers so far, and in today's entry they preview the Rays prospects. Here was my small (they only wanted a couple of paragraphs) contribution:
I get many questions about sleepers in the Rays organization: Who are the younger, lesser known players to keep an eye on? In the past, I would rattle off a list of names from around the Rays nine minor league affiliates that I felt were poised for a breakout year. This sometimes left people thinking it would be too hard to follow players on so many different (often obscure) teams. Entering the 2009 season my advice is simple: Follow the Bowling Green Hot Rods.

The Hot Rods are the Rays new low Class A affiliate in the South Atlantic League in Bowling Green, KY, replacing the Columbus (GA) Catfish. The Hot Rods picked a great year to join the Rays organization as they will feature one of the most talented group of young players in minor league baseball. There are the highly ranked prospects: SS Tim Beckham (2008 overall #1 draft pick), RHSP Nick Barnese (2.45 ERA, 84 K in 66 IP in '08), and LHSP Matt Moore (1.66 ERA, 77 K in 54.1 IP in '08). Then there are the lower ranked, lesser known prospects: OF's Kyeong Kang, Anthony Scelfo and Jason Corder, C's Jake Jefferies and Mark Thomas, 1B Mike Sheridan, 2B Elias Otero, SP's Shane Dyer, Tyree Hayes and Chris Andujar, RP's Neil Schenk, Joshua Satow and Marquis Fleming, and closer Matt Gorgen.

This will be most of the Hot Rods' players first season of full-year professional ball, which is extremely important in terms of their future prospect value. A top performance over a long A-ball season could vault some of the lesser-knowns towards the top of the prospect lists entering 2010. A bad year could lead to repeating at Bowling Green in 2010, being looked at as roster filler, and a fall off the prospect lists all together. A great year in low A ball doesn't guarantee a player will be a future major leaguer of course, but it does put them in the prospect spotlight and on a faster track through the minor league system.

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