This is a new feature on the site, mainly because we're still in the doldrums of prospect season and we want to get discussion going. We'll be going through the alphabet in October and November to pick one prospect a day before our top prospect coverage starts in December. There's no real rhyme or reason to who we'll talk about, and we're open to suggestions for some letters.
I don't actually have a whole lot to say about Blake Snell. I picked him for the letter B because I want to talk about high school pitching in general, but let's start with Snell's season. He was one the Rays gazillion supplemental picks, 52nd overall. The left-hander signed quickly and got into 11 games for the GCL Rays, pitching 26.1 innings.
26.1 innings in the lowest level of the minors hardly means much, but he did strike out just under a batter per inning (26) and walked an acceptable 11. He's tall and lean at 6-4/180 but there's some questions about his true projectability because his frame doesn't look to allow for much more weight to be added. Then again, his fastball is in the 88-92 mph range as is, touching 94, so he's not hurting too badly there. As with almost all high school pitcher, the development of his secondary stuff -- and his ability to locate -- is key. He'll start the year in extended spring training and likely pitch with Princeton in 2012.
The Rays, of course, had 12 of the first 89 picks in 2012. Snell was one of just two high school pitchers in that group (the other was Taylor Guerrieri). In fact, after Snell, the next high school pitcher selected was Jacob Faria in the 10th round. This isn't really a new trend for the Rays. Here's the list of high school pitching drafted (in the first 25 rounds) and signed going back to 2008:
2010: Ian Kendall (5); Brandon Henderson (15); Matt Spann (25)
2009: Kevin James (9); Andrew Bellatti (12); Jacob Partridge (18)
2008: Kyle Lobstein (2); Shawn Smith (9); Bradley Furdal (11); Jason McEachern (13); Trevor Shull (19)
Now, just because you aren't drafting high school pitching highly doesn't mean you won't get a star (see: Matt Moore, eighth round) but clearly the Rays haven't placed a premium on it, especially in the last three years. The ones taken in the top 10 rounds have especially disappointed: Lobstein never re-gained his fastball, Shawn Smith has totaled 67 innings in three years due to injuries and personal issues, and Kevin James has walked more than a hitter per inning.
As a result, the pitching depth at the lower levels is lacking. McEachern, Henderson, Spann, Bellatti, and Partridge are all somewhat intriguing, but only Guerrieri is on the level that Wade Davis, Jake McGee, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, and Nick Barnese (along with some flameouts like Matt Walker) were at as short-season pitchers. Enny Romero and Felipe Rivero have been nice international finds.
My point? The pitching depth in the low levels is as weak as it's been for at least a few years. The Rays haven't drafted high school pitching as much and no lower-ceiling college picks have broken out (Merrill Kelly, Shane Dyer, Devin Fuller) although they've recently gotten Jesse Hahn and Ryan Carpenter, who don't fit that mold.
If the bats they'd been drafting instead had worked out, then maybe this isn't an issue. But the organization is thin between the guys at the top (Tim Beckham, Hak-Ju Lee, Brandon Guyer) and the players several years away (Drew Vettleson et al from the 2010 draft). This means the team might need Snell (or Spann or Henderson etc) to work out more than you might think.
A - Chris Archer
B - Blake Snell