For our predictions series this year we'll be running one question each weekday through Monday, with answers coming from across the Rays blogosphere. This year's panel:
*Jason Collette of Dock Of The Rays
*FreeZorilla of DRaysBay
*Cork Gaines of Rays Index
*Kevin Gengler of RaysProspects
*Jake Larsen of RaysProspects
*Doug Milhoan of RaysProspects
Today's question is: Who among the upper levels will have a breakout year in 2011? This is taking into account players with full-season experience.
R.J. Anderson: I’ll go out on the proverbial limb and say Tim Beckham. It’s a predictable and boring selection, but I’ll gamble that his supposed hard work and flashing of tools will be greeted with much-needed success backed by improved plate discipline. The guy still had the pedigree to be the top overall pick not even three calendar years ago. Everyone needed to be able to stomach a four-to-five-to-six-year developmental curve and while the light is dimming, I don’t think the bulb is blown yet.
Jason Collette: Joe Cruz. Not many 30th round draft picks ever get consideration to be a major league starting pitcher but Cruz is laying the groundwork for that kind of future. Statcorner has his GB% at 48 and 46 percent the past two season and his G/F rate last season was 1.7. He actually induced more swinging strikeouts in High A last season than he did in Low A the previous season. 16 home runs in 303 professional inning is an impressive ratio but the true test of his ability to keep it in the yard comes next season in Montgomery.
FreeZorilla: Ty Morrison got off to a dreadful start in 2010, but made serious strides as the year progressed. I think the tools will continue to come together for the 20-year-old in Charlotte. RP had him as the #5 hitter, but that was more aggressive than most. He could really catch national attention this year.
Cork Gaines: Tim Beckham. This is kind of a make-or-break season for Tim Beckham. If he doesn't start to show some signs of being a top prospect, he will start to be spoken of in the same breath as Matt Bush (the hitter). That being said, the Rays consistently put their best players in situations where they are most likely to succeed. I liked how much playing time Beckham got with the big boys this spring. I think it will go a long ways to giving him the confidence he needs to step up. 2011 may not be a great year. But I think we will see enough offensively and defensively to once again believe he can be the Rays shortstop of the future.
Kevin Gengler: Ty Morrison. The 2008 fourth rounder was able to salvage his season after a brutal April last year and is primed for a big year with Charlotte. He improved his walk total each month throughout the year, and even with a .324 OBP, stole 58 bases with the Hot Rods. He only hit .250 for the season, but if you cut out April and June, it was over .290 (arbitrary, yes, but it shows the ability is there). His average and OBP should both go up significantly, and he could eclipse 60 steals if he's on base more. He's got plus speed and swiped bases at an 85% clip last year, a terrific number considering he attempted 68. With Desmond Jennings likely to graduate at some point this season, Morrison will take over as the top center field prospect in the system, and I think one of the top three hitters overall.
Erik Hahmann: Is Chris Archer too easy of an answer? Even though he was the centerpiece of the Matt Garza trade I don't feel like most Rays fans have a grasp of how good he is. A fastball that touches 96mph accompanied with a power slider? Yes, please. He needs to work on his control a bit, but he should make easy work of AAA hitters.
Jason Hanselman: Matt Sweeney. Since Sweeney came over from the Angels he has been a walking Red Cross tent, but the one thing he has by the gallon is power. The Rays are hungry for this attribute (see: Sale, Josh) so I think he will be afforded every opportunity to get healthy and get playing time. Keep in mind he'll turn 23 on April 4th, so he's young, but should be viewing this as a make or break season. It's in his best interest to get focused, healthy, and put together a real strong season.
Jake Larsen: Robinson Chirinos. Can't help it. I love this guy's upside and considering the organizations bottom-heavy depth and the current catchers on the Rays' 25-man roster(Shoppach and Jaso), can't see why he won't be up soon. Good-to-great power and good plate discipline, for the most part.
Mike Lortz: Tim Beckham. I’m either going to look like a fool or a genius here. I think this is year Beckham puts it together offensively. I think he will be an all-star at Montgomery, and among the leaders in walks and OBP. He’ll also probably hit around .300. I also think this is year he breaks double digits in homeruns (12-15?). Although certain Rays fans will still wish they drafted a certain catcher, Beckham will prove he has legit big league potential offensively. My concern however will remain on his defense. Although it will get better, I don’t think he stays at SS the whole season. With Hak-Ju Lee breathing down his positional neck, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Beckham finally see some time in the outfield.
Doug Milhoan: RHSP Albert Suarez. After undergoing TJS in June of 2009, Suarez came back to pitch well for Bowling Green in 2010 despite limitations on his pitch counts and breaking balls. Fully recovered and without those restraints, I expect him to have a great year in Charlotte as a 21 year-old with 95 mph fastball and plus curve.
Tommy Rancel: Lost behind Chris Archer and Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Torres could make more of a name for himself at the Triple-A level this season. Torres throws a really good breaking ball and has enough velocity coming from his left arm. If he can show more control, I would expect him to pass Andy Sonnanstine as the team's unofficial sixth starter soon.
Steve Slowinski: As a stats guy, I'm really flying by the seat of my pants here. I'm tempted to say Tim Beckham just to be difficult (and because I do think he's still got a chance to surprise people), but I'm going to go with Chris Archer here. He's already a pretty highly rated prospect, but I really like what I hear about him and the Rays have a good track record with helping pitchers improve their control. I'm hoping for big things from him this season.