It's time again for us to roll out the RaysProspects Top 15 Hitters and Pitchers lists. Expect a new entry roughly every other day. As always, ranking prospects is an inexact science, even moreso with these lists, because the ultimate goal isn't to say "A is totally better than B". The point is 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 Luke Bailey is going to have a better career than Matt Sweeney because you ranked him one spot higher." The actual rankings are more of an outline than a set-in-stone hierarchy, especially so when comparing players across levels.
We'll start today with the honorable mentions for out top 15 hitters list. The Rays system is more pitching-heavy, so keep in mind that a hitter honorable mention does not equal a pitcher honorable mention, as you can see from our personal top 30 lists(and as you'll see in our ultimate top 30, which will come after the top 15 lists).
The honorable mentions are listed in alphabetical order:
Nevin Ashley, Catcher: After two consecutive sub-par seasons(OPSes of .663 and .666), Ashley was barely in consideration for the list. But a strong defensive reputation(plus a 48% caught stealing rate in 2009) and a .366/.405/.648 line in the Arizona Fall League, some people are talking.
But the fact of the matter is that Ashley's body of work simply isn't something that shouts "prospect". He hasn't hit in the Florida State League in two seasons, when he was 23 and 24 years old, and a half-season stint in the Southern League in 2009 didn't go much better. While he did throw out nearly half of all baserunners trying to steal, his CS% dropped to 37% with the Biscuits, and was only 26% with Vero Beach in 2008. Scouts like his strong arm, but he may not be complete enough defensively to reach the majors even as a back-up. Ashley hasn't shown the ability to hit for average or power the past two seasons, and at 25 years old, it's reasonable to think he's just about a finished product.
On the heels of his strong Arizona Fall campaign, Ashley should open up 2010 as the Biscuits starting catcher. He'll have to show that the AFL stats were more than a fluke to remain on the prospect radar.
Cody Cipriano, Second Base/Outfield: Cipriano provided some offense to a Charlotte Stone Crabs team that lacking in the first half of the season, but his numbers went in the tank after a mid-season promotion to Montgomery.
The Rays' 9th round pick out of UC-Irvine in 2007, Cipriano was sent to the Arizona Fall League but had to leave after just one game with an injury. After playing 2nd base during the year, he was going to get some work in left field in Arizona. He hit below .200 in 2008 with the Columbus Catfish, and after performing poorly with Montgomery, his numbers with Charlotte stand out as a fluke. But if he can get his bat back on track and learn to play a few different positions passably, he could have some value as a future utility man. He'll be 24 next season, so another poor season with the bat would all but end his prospect status.
He'll start 2010 with the Biscuits, but it remains to be seen if he'll be playing 2nd base or left field.
Brett Nommensen, Outfield: Nommensen generated some buzz after the Rays took him in the 8th round of the 2009 draft, partly because of his name, and partly because of how dominant he had been in college. Playing in the Ohio Valley Conference, Nommensen hit an absurd .525/.647/1.010 in 101 at-bats as a senior with Eastern Illinois. His college season was cut short due to an injury, but he was healthy enough to play with the Hudson Valley Renegades, where his OPS was a disappointing .686.
Now, it's very likely that Nommensen's college numbers were the result of playing in a weak conference and using an aluminum bat. He's not an extremely toolsy guy, and he's a bit under-sized, so I'm not sure his ceiling is all that high. He stole 15 bases with the Renegades(who, as a team, ran like crazy), and his speed rates as slightly above-average. Perhaps his wrist injury was still bugging him at the plate and his numbers will rebound in 2010, but a sub-par performance in the New York-Penn League as a 22-year old means he can't crack the top 15.
Nommensen will get the bump to full-season ball and man the Bowling Green outfield in 2010.
Cesar Perez, Third Base: There's not a whole lot out there about Perez, and there isn't any performance record, so for now he'll have to settle for honorable mention. The Rays signed the 16-year old Perez out of Venezuela for $1 million in July. By all accounts, he's an offense-first player who shows good power from the right ride and may have to move across the diamond to 1B or to the outfield. In an interview with DRaysBay, Assistant Director of Minor League Operations said that "Perez has good bat speed on a big, projectable frame and a good arm as well."
Perez will play in either the DSL or VSL in 2010, and depending on his performance could be stateside as soon as 2011.
Mike Sheridan, First Base: Sheridan ranked 13 on our list year, and I wrote that "[t]he big problem, being as he is a 1st baseman, is his lack of power." Well, Sheridan did launch 14 homeruns to go along with 16 doubles and 5 triples for Bowling Green in 2009, but his batting average plummeted to .238. His contact-oriented approach remained, as he only struck out 38 times in 442 at bats, but his lack of walks led to a .278 OBP.
The fact that he put the ball in play so much but only hit .238 means that he probably got very unlucky(his BABIP was a mere .233), but I wonder if he's focusing too much on simply making contact, and thus, making poor contact. If he's working himself into good hitter's counts, perhaps he's too intent on swinging rather than settling for a walk.
2010 will have to be a "put-things-together" year for Sheridan, who figures to be the everyday 1st baseman in Charlotte. If he can maintain or improve on his homerun total, reverse his luck on balls in play, and show improvements in the walks column, then Sheridan would emerge as a viable 1st base prospect.