We're happy to bring you a Q&A with minor league guru John Sickels of MinorLeagueBall. This is the first of several Q&As we'll be bringing you in the off-season, so stay tuned!
RaysProspects: What are your overall impressions of the system, as compared with the rest of baseball or the Rays system of a few years ago?
John Sickels: Although the system has thinned out a little due to graduations, it is still one of the best in the game, with a proven ability to recharge quickly. I love the depth in pitching, and I love the way they develop pitchers; the one-step-at-a-time promotion policy is something I strongly advocate. Many teams get in trouble with rushing players too quickly and I admire Tampa's willingness to avoid that problem. The system is thinner in hitting, although the bats brought in during the 2010 draft will help.
RP: What should we expect from Desmond Jennings, Jeremy Hellickson, and Jake McGee in the majors this year? Who will make the biggest impact in St. Pete in 2011?
JS: Hellickson, assuming he gets a rotation spot. As good as he is, I actually think he's still somewhat underrated by some analysts who focus too much on his size and the fact that he doesn't throw 97 MPH. McGee is ready for a relief role and I think he can be an excellent closer in the long run. Jennings will have a good career but also strikes me as the kind of player who might struggle somewhat initially. He could be rookie of the year but he could also hit .230 and disappoint people. Long-run, though, I love all three of them but expect Hellickson to make the biggest impact.
RP: How convinced are you that Matt Moore's second-half numbers are the "real" him? Is he a top-5 pitching prospect in all of baseball for you?
JS: I think it is real, and yes, he is a Top Five guy.
RP: After Desmond Jennings, who would say is the Rays second best hitting prospect?
JS: Josh Sale.
RP: What are your thoughts on Alex Cobb, who doesn't seem to get mentioned much with the second tier of pitching prospects behind Moore and Hellickson?
JS: I like Cobb, in many systems he’d get a lot more attention. I think he can be a number four/five starter, or perhaps a long relief type. He could also end up as trade bait.
RP: The Rays 2009 draft class (Todd Glaesmann, Luke Bailey, and Jeff Malm in particular) were highly thought-of when they signed, but fizzled in rookie ball in 2010. How much are you worried about their sub-par performance?
JS: They were all bad enough to worry me. We need to see them for another year or two, but I don’t see any real positives in their statistical profiles and scouting reports aren’t much more encouraging. Glaesman has the best tools and probably the best chance to turn into something.
RP: Along those lines, how do you think the Rays have done in the draft the past two seasons without the benefit of the top-5 pick they had been accustomed to?
JS: Well the heavy high school focus in 2009 looks like it might backfire with the top three hitters mentioned above all performing pretty poorly. I am more optimistic about 2010. There are some sleepers from 2009 that bear watching…Alex Koronis, Tyler Bortnick, Brett Nommensen, Scott Shuman.
RP: The obligatory Tim Beckham question: What are your overall thoughts on his performance as a pro so far, and what do you expect from him going forward?
JS: He’s made a little progress but I can’t see any way to spin him overall as anything but a big disappointment. Right now I think they should be happy if he becomes a useful role player, and even that isn’t a guarantee at all.
RP: Which of these righties do you like best and why: Nick Barnese, Joe Cruz, Alex Colome, or Wilking Rodriguez?
JS: Well I like them all, lol. Colome has the highest ceiling but is still rather raw; Barnese and Cruz are more advanced even if they don’t have quite as much long term potential. Overall I’d say Colome for ceiling, with Barnese and Cruz safer bets for success in the short term.
Thanks again to John, and be on the lookout for his Rays Top 20 list, which will be coming shortly!