Friday, May 6, 2011

Draft Watch 2011: Some Hitters To Watch

As you may have heard, the Rays have a few high picks in this year's draft. Each Friday at RaysProspects, we'll highlight some of the draft's prospects that will be in Tampa Bay's range (so nothing on Gerrit Cole here, sorry!). This week we'll look at five hitters that could be there for the Rays' three 1st-round picks (24, 31, and 32). In later weeks we'll look at first-round pitchers and dive a little deeper to check out some guys I like in the supplemental round range.

Kolten Wong, 2B, University of Hawaii - Second baseman are rarely first-round prospects, because it means the player doesn't have the range to play SS or the arm for 3B. Wong is the exception, and should be the first true college second baseman selected in the first round since Rickie Weeks in 2003 (Kolbrin Vitek played 2B in college but has not as a pro). Wong is small (5-9/190) but is one of the better pure hitters in the draft, and stands out even more because of how pitching-heavy this year's crop is.

Wong is hitting .390/.489/.591 this year (admittedly, not always facing major-conference pitching) with 17 steals. He proved his mettle with wood bats (get it?!) when he was named MVP of the Cape Cod League last summer, hitting .341 there. Wong has a good approach from the left side and profiles as a top-of-the-order hitter, even packing some surprising power: he has six home runs, the only player on his team with more than one (keep in mind that new college bat regulations have had a big effect on power numbers going down). He's a good athlete with plus speed, capable of playing the outfield. He's found a home at second base, though, and while he's not overly flashy, he's been making the routine plays and is still improving defensively.

If Wong is indeed a guy the Rays want, and he's around at pick #24, they might have to take him there. BaseballAmerica rated him 27th in their mid-season draft rankings, and in fact in their quasi-mock draft, he went 27th.

Andrew Susac, C, Oregon State - Susac probably wouldn't even have been a possibility, as he was hitting his way into the top half of the first round. But a season-ending injury (broken hammate bone) may push his stock down enough to get to the Rays. He was hitting .364/.496/.614 in 88 at-bats for the Beavers with four home runs before the injury. He did strike out about once per game, but he showed enough on-base and power skills that it's not a huge concern.

Defensively, Susac will stick behind the plate though he may not be a stand-out defender. He's got all the physical tools to make it work and just needs to iron out some minor issues. Given that the Rays have a lot of money invested in Luke Bailey and Justin O'Conner, I'm inclined to think that they wouldn't use pick #24 on a catcher unless they truly love Susac. BA rated him #24 but he went 19th in the mock. Whether or not he slips to pick #31 depends on how much his injury scares teams off.

Brandon Nimmo, OF, East HS (Wyo.) - It's tough to really gauge Nimmo since he comes from the baseball hotbed that is Wyoming... where they don't have high school baseball. He's playing American Legion ball, but it's safe to see he hasn't played nearly as much as other first-round candidates this spring. The 6-2/185 lefty ranks right up there with year-round Florida, Texas, and California players in terms of pure hitting ability, and he's a good athlete to boot. A state-champion 400-meter runner, Nimmo brings plus speed to the table.

BA had him rated #35 in their mid-season update, and he went to the Rays at pick #32 in the mock. That would be a nice place to pop him, unless they feel he can slip to their next pick at #38 (or later). His relative lack of exposure should help the Rays, but it only takes one team falling in love with him for him to be off the board earlier.

C.J. Cron, 1B, University of Utah - The top-ranked 1B prospect, Cron is arguably the best power-hitter, though it's a weak-ish year for that (even accounting for the new college bats). Cron has raked with Utah, hitting .448/.516/.818 with eleven home runs. At 6-4/230, he's got the body to continue hitting for power in the pros. He played some catcher for the Utes but a labrum injury forced him off, and my guess is he's strictly a 1B going forward.

Cron was another Rays pick in the BA draft, selected 31st. He was rated #32 in their rankings. Cron will have to hit, that's where all of his value is, and I'm a little weary of taking a guy like that so high (with the occasional exception, like Josh Sale). I'd prefer Cron in the supplemental round personally, but both the draft and the Rays system are short on bats, so he's undoubtedly a name you'll hear linked to the Rays.

Josh Bell, OF, Jesuit College Prep (Texas) - Like Nimmo, Bell is a high-ceiling high school outfielder. But Bell offers more in the way of power potential at 6-3/205 with the frame to add more muscle. He's been switch-hitting since he was five years old and is adept from both sides (he throws righty but is probably a slightly better hitter as a lefty). He's an average athlete who will play a corner spot as a pro, likely left field since his arm is also average.

Tampa Bay liked to athletes for years, but Bell would fit in with the more recent trend of taking hitters (Jeff Malm, Josh Sale, Drew Vettleson, and you could throw Luke Bailey and Justin O'Conner in there as well). The mitigating factor with Bell is that he'll probably command an over-slot bonus. The Rays have said they have the resources to pay for the best talent, and if Bell is around, he may be a good test of that. BA rated him 20th and he went 19th in the mock, and there's a decent chance he's off the board by #24.


  1. I enjoy reading your profiles of future potential rookies for the Rays. Keep it up!

  2. This year is supposed to be a historical year in terms of talent.With us having 10 in the top 60 and 12 in the top 89,it is vital that we pick and sign the best players at every selection we have.This draft could very well could set us up for many years to come.

  3. I'm surprised you don't have Derek Fisher as one of those guys. I think he should definitely be considered for the 31/2 picks.

    Also, I think Levi Michael, Brian Goodwin, and Travis Harrison are also possibilities for the 31 and 32 picks, although none are as likely as those you listed.

  4. I agree with anon on Brian Goodwin, even with the recent trend towards hitters over athletes. Makeup is a question after getting booted from UNC, but if he checks out (reason hasn't been disclosed) he has to be in the short list.

    More comments later this weekend, been busy with dance recitals this week.

  5. Would there be a player that would cause the Rays to trade some of their surplus in picks to move up for? For a more quality vs quantity approach.

  6. They can't move up in the MLB draft.

  7. MLB is different from the NFL. Trading draft picks is not allowed at this time.

  8. Any thoughts on Alex Dickerson from Indiana? I wouldn't mind seeing the Rays take him at 42, or he may last until 52. Seems like a pure hitter, although there is some question about his defense.