Saturday, January 29, 2011

Weekend Open Thread

We haven't done this in a long time, so I thought we would try an open thread for the weekend. You pick the discussion. Questions about players or teams, thoughts about the Rays offseason, whatever you want to ask about or opine on. The floor is yours!

I'll start: Would anybody be interested RP podcasts, sort of an RP-radio over the internet? We would probably start with Kevin and/or myself talking prospects, but it could evolve into guests and listener call-ins or even the daily recaps of game highlights. Just wondering what the level of interest might be. Also, if anyone has any recommendations on what software/platform we should use, please let us know. I'm planning on using BlogTalkRadio, but open to suggestions.

And a show name, wkRP?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Rays Sign Kotchman, Delaney

Kotchman source

Delaney source

Kotchman is the bigger name, obviously, but it's Delaney who will be on the 40-man roster as he was a waiver claim. Kotchman spent most of the 2010 season in the big leagues for Seattle, but hit just .217/.280/.336. He could have the inside track for Durham's 1B job assuming Leslie Anderson works as an outfielder.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Baseball America's Top 30+1 Rays Prospects

Baseball America has released their Rays Top 30+1 prospects. Here is the list (which was written prior to the Matt Garza trade):

1. Jeremy Hellickson
2. Matt Moore
3. Desmond Jennings
4. Jake McGee
5. Josh Sale
6. Alex Torres
7. Alex Colome
8. Justin O'Conner
9. Drew Vettleson
10. Jake Thompson
11. Enny Romero
12. Nick Barnese
13. Ty Morrison
14. Braulio Lara
15. Tim Beckham
16. Alex Cobb
17. Luke Bailey
18. Yoel Araujo
19. Joe Cruz
20. Zach Quate
21. Todd Glaesmann
22. Derek Dietrich
23. Ryan Brett
24. Scott Shuman
25. Wilking Rodriguez
26. Kevin Kiermaier
27. Hector Guevara
28. Leslie Anderson
29. Kyle Lobstein
30. Stephen Vogt
31. Isaias Velasquez

Following the Garza trade Jim Callis explained in an Ask BA piece where those players would have fit into the above rankings:

4. Chris Archer
8. Hak-Ju Lee
12. Brandon Guyer

Jim didn't mention where Robinson Chirinos would be, but I'm guessing somewhere in the 20's.

You can compare this list to John Sickels Top 20 and our personal lists here.

Anyone look out of place?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Top 15 Hitters: #2 Josh Sale

Josh Sale
6'1" 215 lbs DOB: 7/5/1991
Bats: Left Throws: Right
2010: Did Not Play
Acquired: 2010 Draft, 1st Round

The Rays top pick in 2010, Sale's calling card is his bat. He's average-at-best in the outfield and on the bases, which means that his hitting really needs to come through, but it's got a chance to be elite. The son of a professional weight lifter, Sale is pure strength with plus bat speed. He's got the chance to produce plus-plus power down the line. His pure hitting tool isn't as good, and he needs to iron out some glitches with his swing, but it's able to play up because he's a selective hitter and waits for a good pitch to hit.

Sale's hitting far outranks the rest of his game. He's a below-average runner whose range in a corner outfield spot would only be average. His arm and fielding actions are both also only okay, and he's not much of a threat on the bases. He's a workout warrior with plus make-up, though, so he'll remain passable in the field and won't relegate himself to DH duty.

Generally guys with only two plus tools don't rate as high as Sale, but his hit and power tools have the potential to be that good. He's often compared to Travis Snider, who is also a hit-first player from the Washington high school ranks. Snider tore through the minors to debut in the majors with Toronto as a 20-year old. Sale won't move that quickly, but he's a good bet to force the Rays hand to move him along.

He's a good enough hitter to at least hold his own in the Midwest League, but with no pro experience, he may start out in a short-season league. The Rays have had just one high school hitter regarded as highly as Sale, Drew Vettleson, and Justin O'Conner, and that was Tim Beckham, who signed quickly and got a lot of ABs in Princeton his draft year, so it's tough to guess where they'll send the 2010 crop.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Rays Sign Daniel Mayora

Per the latest BaseballAmerica minor league transactions, the Rays have signed infield Daniel Mayora, who played six seasons in the Rockies system, the last two at double-A. Mayora hit .286/.352/.440 with Tulsa in 2010, but was limited to just 66 games (his last game played was July 5th, but I can't find news of whatever injury sidelined him). Mayora played 35 games at third base, 25 at shortstop, and 10 at second base according to Baseball-Reference. In 2009, he played 73 games at second base, 32 at shortstop, 17 at third base. The Rays previously signed Ray Olmedo, who figures to be Durham's shortstop, but Mayora could be in that mix as well.

Also from the transactions list, D.J. Jones, who had previously retired, was listed as "reinstated from inactive list," so it sounds like he's coming back. He last played in 2009 at Hudson Valley.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Tim Beckham vs. Hak-Ju Lee: A Look At Stats And Opinions

Since the Rays traded Matt Garza, Fernando Perez, and Zach Rosscup to the Chicago Cubs for Chris Archer, Hak-Ju Lee, Brandon Guyer, Robinson Chirinos and Sam Fuld, there have been hundreds of articles about the trade. I don't want to re-hash all of that here. For great analysis of the trade see DRaysBay, RaysIndex, The Process Report and Dock of the Rays.

What I want to do is compare one of the players the Rays acquired, Hak-Ju Lee, with former number one overall pick Tim Beckham. There are a number of similarities between the two. Both have played exclusively shortstop in the field. Both were born in 1990, Beckham in January and Lee in November, making Lee approximately one year younger. Both began their careers as 18 year-olds in short-season ball, Beckham with Princeton in the Appalachian League (plus 2 games with Hudson Valley) and Lee in the Northwest League (our equivalent of Hudson Valley). As 19 year-olds both played low-A ball, Beckham in the South Atlantic League and Lee in the Midwest League. In his third professional season Beckham played for Charlotte in the Florida State League, a spot Lee is expected to fill this season as Beckham moves up to Montgomery.

Given the similarities in position and age-to-level, let's take a look at how they have performed. We'll look at the experts' opinions later, but first let's view their raw stats. Offensive stats, first Beckham:
Year   Age Leag Lev   AB   R   H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
2008    18 APPY  Rk  177  30  43 12  0  2  14  5  1  13  43 .243 .297 .345  .642
2008    18 NYPL  A-    6   5   2  1  0  0   0  1  0   2   1 .333 .556 .500 1.056
2009    19 SALL   A  491  58 135 33  4  5  63 13 10  34 116 .275 .328 .389  .717
2010    20 FLOR  A+  465  68 119 23  5  5  57 22 14  62 119 .256 .346 .359  .705
3 Seasons           1139 161 299 69  9 12 134 41 25 111 279 .263 .332 .371  .703
And then Lee:
Year   Age Leag Lev   AB   R   H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
2009    18 NORW  A-  264  56  87 14  2  2  33 25  8  31  50 .330 .399 .420  .820
2010    19 MIDW   A  485  85 137 22  4  1  40 32  7  49  86 .282 .354 .351  .704
2 Seasons            749 141 224 36  6  3  73 57 15  80 136 .299 .370 .375  .745
Lee is better across the board, especially when you consider his first season was against more advanced competition in short-season A ball while Beckham was in Rookie-advanced. But Beckham has shown the ability to hit above league-average in high-A ball, where Lee has yet to play.

Speaking of league average, here are the average batters ages and slash lines (batting average/OBP/SLG) for each league they have played in during the season they played:
League - Year - Player          AvAge    BA   OBP   SLG
Appalachian - 2008 - Beckham     20.3  .262  .331  .387
Northwest - 2009 - Lee           21.3  .264  .342  .380
South Atlantic - 2009 - Beckham  21.5  .254  .324  .368
Midwest - 2010 - Lee             21.4  .257  .333  .384
Florida State - 2010 - Beckham   22.7  .255  .324  .364
As 18 year-olds, Beckham was below average across the board in the Appalachian League while Lee above average playing against players a full year older and a level higher than Beckham played against. As 19 year-olds both players hit above league average on all counts except Lee's slugging. As a 20 year-old Beckham was above average in batting average and OBP but below average in slugging.

When you look their career numbers in the context of the age and level of their competition, figure in walk and strikeout rates and baserunning (SB's and CS's only), offensively Lee clearly is the better player so far.

Now lets look at the raw defensive numbers, first Beckham:
Year   Age          Team Leag   Lev Pos   G   Ch  PO   A  E  DP  Fld% RF/G
2008    18     Princeton APPY    Rk  SS  37  171  62  96 13  15  .924 4.27
2008    18 Hudson Valley NYPL    A-  SS   2    7   3   4  0   1 1.000 3.50
2009    19 Bowling Green SALL     A  SS 117  531 160 328 43  64  .919 4.17
2010    20     Charlotte FLOR    A+  SS 121  488 167 296 25  62  .949 3.83
3 Seasons                               277 1197 392 724 81 142  .932 4.03
And then Lee:
Year   Age          Team Leag   Lev Pos   G   Ch  PO   A  E  DP  Fld% RF/G
2009    18         Boise NORW    A-  SS  61  334  92 215 27  35  .919 5.03
2010    19        Peoria MIDW     A  SS 118  561 178 349 34  73  .939 4.47
2 Seasons                               179  895 270 564 61 108  .932 4.66
Not much to like here from either of them. Remember how similar I mentioned they were, look at those identical career fielding percentages. Lee has a pretty big advantage in range factor (RF/G), but fielding data isn't very advanced at this point, particularly in lower levels of the minor leagues.

Here is what Jim Callis of BaseballAmerica had to say in a recent interview with Kevin on each players' defensive abilities and who is the better prospect:
Lee is definitely a better prospect than Beckham. He's still two to three years away from the majors, but he's a much better defender (and will stay at shortstop), a much better runner, and I think he'll hit more. Beckham has more power but isn't going to stick at shortstop.
I'd be worried about Beckham. He's not a bust like Bush, but Beckham can't stay at shortstop and he hasn't hit consistently or shown much power. He will be just 21 this year, so he still has time, but right now he looks like a guy who's going to have to play third base and won't have the bat (especially from a power standpoint) for the position.
For another expert opinion, here is what John Sickels had to say about Beckham in an interview with Kevin back in December:
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.
Based on the raw stats and the expert opinions, what do you think? Does anyone still see a case for Beckham over Lee?

Note: I haven't gone back and revised my personal Top 30 list from back in November, where I ranked Beckham as the Rays #20 overall prospect. If I reworked the list to include the players we've added since then, I would put Lee around #10 and Beckham around #23.

Site Upgrade

If you visited us over the weekend you may have noticed some changes taking place. I've updated the site's entire code to meet the latest web standards. The old code was written over five years ago and included various hacks we added in over the years. It was a mess and time for an upgrade.

The look remains pretty much the same, but now the width of pages is the same no matter how large your monitor, and the site is compatible with all the recent web browsers (supposedly including mobile, I don't have mobile so don't know).

Each post now has buttons to click to post to Facebook or to tweet. I also added recent article site feeds from other great Rays sites including DRaysBay, RaysIndex, The Process Report, and Dock of the Rays at the very bottom of each page. I may add a couple more if these don't slow down page load times too much.

The only known issue is the appearance of the sidebar for readers using the Google Chrome browser. The fix is simple, but would create even bigger problems, so I'm leaving it as is for now. If anyone has any problems or ideas for improvement, let me know.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Top 15 Hitters: #3 Justin O'Conner

Justin O'Conner
6'0" 190 lbs DOB: 3/31/1992
Bats: Right | Throws: Right
2010: Gulf Coast League
Acquired: 2010 Draft, 1st Round

There was buzz on O'Conner going as high as #8 to the Mets, so it was somewhat of a surprise to see him fall to the Rays at #31 overall. It seemed like a lot of teams liked him as their back-up guy in case their hopeful pick was taken, but he has the tools that would've warranted a higher pick.

Unlike Josh Sale and Drew Vettleson, O'Conner signed relatively quickly and was able to play in 48 games for the GCL Rays. The results weren't awe-inspiring -- a .211/.301/.348 line -- but at the same time not very troubling. The GCL, as it's been noted many times, is a very pitching-friendly league, so the batting line isn't as bad as it seems out of context. The 46 strikeouts in 161 at bats is definitely something to work on, but 18 walks is solid for a high school player in his debut season.

O'Conner's calling card at the plate is his raw power, which is well above average. His pure hit tool isn't as good -- a sort of common thread among Sale, Vettleson, and himself -- and it needs a lot of refinement, but it shouldn't be a problem. He's athletic for a catcher and average on the bases, though he won't be asked to steal much.

Where O'Conner truly shined in the spring was behind the plate. A recent convert to catcher, he was routinely posting above-average pop times with a plus-plus arm. Capable of hitting 95 mph off the mound, he was a pretty good pitching prospect as well (better than Vettleson, though that may make for a fun topic of debate). His rawness showed in his receiving ability, but he should be able to put it all together to become a well-above-average defensive catcher.

As his hitting in the GCL showed, it's going to take some time and maybe a lot of at bats to refine things at the plate. His pitch recognition is decent, but he has a tendency to get too pull-happy. He doesn't project to hit for a high average, but his power potentially would still make him an asset at the plate to go along with his defensive acumen. He and Luke Bailey split time at catcher and DH in the GCL, and it's possible they could be a tandem at Princeton in 2011, though I think ideally they'd be spread out to get them as much experience catching as possible. Best guess is that O'Conner starts out at Hudson Valley, Bailey at Princeton, and Jake DePew in the GCL.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Q&A With BaseballAmerica's Jim Callis

Jim Callis, executive editor and prospect guru at BaseballAmerica, was kind of enough to answer some questions for us. If you have any more questions for him, he's quite active on Twitter: @jimcallisBA. You can also pre-order the BA 2011 Handbook at the BaseballAmerica website.

Of course, a few questions on the return for Matt Garza: Chris Archer is the Rays' 2nd/3rd/4th/other best pitching prospect? Could Robinson Chirinos be an everyday starter, or is he more a platoon/utility type? Is Hak-Ju Lee a better prospect than Tim Beckham?

Jim Callis:
Archer is the Rays' second-best pitching prospect, between Matt Moore and Jake McGee. He still needs to figure out command and control, but I could see him becoming a No. 2 starter or a closer. Chirinos is old for a prospect at 26, but he's legit. I think he has the upside of a starter, because he can hit, has some pop and has improved during his two years as a catcher, but I think it's more likely he's a quality backup. Lee is definitely a better prospect than Beckham. He's still two to three years away from the majors, but he's a much better defender (and will stay at shortstop), a much better runner, and I think he'll hit more. Beckham has more power but isn't going to stick at shortstop.

Speaking of Beckham, he hasn't posted the numbers expected out of a 1-1 pick, but he's been young for his level and hasn't been a total washout a la Matt Bush. What's your opinion of Beckham, and just for fun, your opinion of Bush as a reliever?

JC: I'd be worried about Beckham. He's not a bust like Bush, but Beckham can't stay at shortstop and he hasn't hit consistently or shown much power. He will be just 21 this year, so he still has time, but right now he looks like a guy who's going to have to play third base and won't have the bat (especially from a power standpoint) for the position. Bush has plenty of arm strength, and that's about it. He hasn't proven he can stay healthy or keep himself under control, so I wouldn't expect anything out of him. I was surprised he got added to the 40-man roster.

How does Matt Moore compare to the other LHP prospects like Aroldis Chapman, Martin Perez, Mike Montgomery, and John Lamb?

In the upcoming Prospect Handbook, I ranked Moore as the 18th-best prospect in baseball. The only lefties I had ahead of him were Chapman (No. 5) and Zach Britton (No. 18), with Lamb (No. 21), Chris Sale (No. 23), Montgomery (No. 25), Tyler Matzek (No. 27) and Perez (No. 33) close behind him. I see Chapman as a reliever, so I think it's fair to say Moore potentially is the most overpowering of that group.

Aside from Jeremy Hellickson, Desmond Jennings, and Jake McGee who should spend most or all of the year in the majors, do you think any other prospects could make a meaningful impact in St. Pete this season?

Those are the obvious guys. Chirinos could contribute as the No. 2 catcher, and Archer could surface in the bullpen at the end of the year. I'm not a big Leslie Anderson believer.

There are a ton of righties who seem to be about equal in terms of prospect status: Alex Cobb, Jake Thompson, Wilking Rodriguez, Nick Barnese, Joseph Cruz. Do any of them stand to you?

In the Handbook, we rank them in this order: Thompson, Barnese, Cobb, Cruz, Rodriguez. I'd like to see Thompson build on his fine 2010 debut before I jump fully on board. Cobb has advanced the furthest, and probably has less pure stuff than anyone of the group. I keep expecting Barnese to break out.

The Rays gave out some over-slot bonuses in the 2009 draft, but those players struggled last season. What do you make of Todd Glaesmann, Luke Bailey, and Jeff Malm at this point?

Young high school hitters need time to adjust to pro ball. We saw the same thing with Justin O'Conner out of the 2010 draft. I'd be most concerned about Malm, because he had an impressive amateur resume and should have been the most ready to hit, plus his bat has to carry him. Bailey plays a premium position and Glaesmann is a quality athlete, so they can do some other things.

Has any team ever been as loaded with draft picks as the Rays are for 2011? Do you think the looming possibility of hard-slotting in the 2012 draft will impact their (or any team, for that matter) strategy?

I don't know if anyone has actually done the research, but I believe (if my math is correct) that the Rays could have 12 picks in the first two rounds, which I don't think has ever happened before. The 2011 draft is going to be wide open. Teams fear that this will be the last time they can spend what they want on draft picks (read: sign a lot of the premium high school players), so many of them will spend like they've never spent before. Teams spent a record $194.8 million on draft bonuses last year, and I bet they come close to $210 million this year.

The Royals seem to be a lock for the #1 system ranking this off-season, but how close are the Rays? Is it fair to say the Rays system is as strong or stronger than when it ranked #1 in years past?

We do rank the Royals No. 1 in the Handbook, with the Rays checking in at No. 3. That was before the Garza trade, and when we update the rankings in the spring, the Rays (as of now) will move past the Braves and into the No. 2 spot. I don't see an appreciable difference between the system now and a year ago, when we ranked the Rays No. 1 entering 2010. When we ranked the system No. 1 entering 2008, Evan Longoria and David Price were the headliners, and that's tough to match.

Who are two guys in the system (a hitter and a pitcher outside of the top 20 or so) you like as sleepers going forward?

I'll base this on our Handbook rankings (pre-Garza trade). I'd keep an eye on Scott Schuman (No. 24), who still has to figure out his command but has a fastball that reaches 98 mph and a nasty slider. He struck out 111 in 72 innings last year in low Class A, and he could move fast if he can find the strike zone consistently. Also watch outfielder Kevin Kiermaier (No. 26), who was MVP of the Division II Junior College World Series in 2009 at Parkland (Ill.) JC. He has solid all-around tools and had a nice debut last summer.

And how about a prospect you aren't as high on as most?

Looking at our Top 10, I'd say Jake Thompson. He was much more successful in his pro debut than he was at Long Beach State, and I just want to see him do it again before I jump fully on board. If he continues to throw strikes with his 92-94 mph fastball and his improving slider and changeup this year, I'll be a believer.

And to wrap up, what are your feelings on the Rays overall approach to building an organization? Would you do anything differently if you were in charge?

It's hard to argue with what the Rays are doing, isn't it? They have fewer resources than any club in the AL East, and they're going to remain in contention for a long time. They've got plenty of young talent and depth.

Thanks a lot again to Jim for taking time!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Top 15 Hitters: #4 Drew Vettleson

Drew Vettleson
6'0" 185 lbs DOB: 7/19/1991
Bats: Left | Throws: Right
2010: Bowling Green
Acquired: 2010 Draft, Supplemental 1st Round

The supplemental first round pick in 2010 was only the second-highest high-school outfielder from the state of Washington taken, behind future teammate Josh Sale. As a near-deadline late sign, Vettleson has no performance yet to analyze so I'll briefly touch upon his tools:

His best is his hit tool, where his smooth swing projects to hit for a nice average provided he makes the necessary adjustments facing better competition than the cold-weather Pacific Northwest offered. He was able to perform very well with the bat on the showcase circuit, though, so the worries aren't too big. He's not as strong as Sale is, but still has very good raw power to tap into. His plate discipline is a plus, and he's able to maximize his hit and power tools by waiting for the right pitch to drive.

In the field, it's a bit more of a mixed bag. He only has average footspeed, so even with quality instincts he's going to be a corner outfielder despite playing at shortstop and centerfield in high school. His arm is above-average, so he could play in right field if need be. He won't be much of a factor on the bases, but he's athletic enough to swipe a bag every now and then.

Much of Vettleson's value is tied up with how his bat develops, but he has all the tools to make it happen. One other interesting note: Vettleson was an intriguing prospect as a switch-pitcher, like Yankees' farmhand Pat Venditte. Vettleson's future is definitely as a position player, but I'm already looking forward to the This Is Stone Crabs Baseball commercial with him in it.

Interview With John Mollicone - Part 3

Today we will finish up our conversation with John Mollicone about his time in the Rays organization. See Part 1 and Part 2.

RaysProspects: You played catcher and first base professionally (plus that one inning on the mound in Princeton), which was your favorite position?

John Mollicone: I was always a catcher, that's what I grew up doing. I always had a passion for my defense, especially working with pitchers through out the game. It's true that the catcher is the leader on the field because he is the only one facing the rest of the field and sees everything.

RP: As a catcher you worked with some of the Rays top pitching prospects including Chris Andujar, Nick Barnese, Joseph Cruz, Frank De Los Santos, Shane Dyer, Marquis Fleming, Matt Gorgen, Jeremy Hall, Tyree Hayes, Michael Jarman, Matt Moore, Josh Satow, and Neil Schenk. What can you tell us about them?

JM: All of those guys are good, each in there own way. I'll try to break it down as much as I can, unfortunately I don't have too much experience with each one of them though.

Chris Andujar - I caught Andy a bunch of times. He always has a lot of life on his fastball, and improved dramatically from when we played in Princeton together. He started spotting up and his off speed stuff was sharp.

Nick Barnese - A caught Barney a couple of times, he has a quick arm. He can locate his fastball and his change and curve are accurate as well. The best thing about him is his mound presence and his confidence I think.

Joe Cruz - Cruz can bring it pretty good too. He had a great year this past year. He can pump it up when he wants to and his off speed stuff is good.

Frank De Los Santos - Frankey was one of the harder people I have caught, along with Moore. I don't know if it was because they were both lefty's but that probably had something to do with it. He is a great athlete with a quick arm. His ball moves and is on you fast. Great pickoff move as well.

Shane Dyer - Shane had a great year this year as well. I caught him a few times in NY and Bowling Green. He had a slow paced motion when he first signed. I definitely remember that, but he has a nasty knuckle curve and gets movement on his fastball.

Marquis Fleming - Nasty change up. I remember the first time I caught Marquis in the pen I thought he was going to throw smoke. I told him too, but he just kept throwing change ups. But its nasty and he can spot up with the fastball and slider too.

Matt Gorgen - I didn't have to much experience with Matt, just a couple of bullpens. He pumps it though and always knew what he wanted to do on the mound.

Jeremy Hall - Same with Jeremy, didn't really catch him much. But he can throw any pitch for a strike and dominate by locating.

Michael Jarman - Jar is similar to that as well. He spots up really well and has a handful of pitches to mix it up. One of the best games I caught in pro ball, Jar started in Bowling Green and everything just clicked that night.

Matt Moore - He has nasty stuff. He throws effortlessly and the ball explodes out of his hand. There is a reason he racks up so many strikeouts.

Josh Satow - Nasty change up. Not only that though he can throw all 4 pitches for strikes. He is really impressive.

Neil Schenk - Schenky has good stuff too. I wish I could have seen him throw this year. He can throw to both sides of the plate with his fastball and has a good curveball and change up as well.

All these guys are good pitchers, I hope they can keep excelling next year.

RP: You also played against some of the top prospects in the game, do any of them stand out?

JM: I'm probably the worst person to ask, I really don't know, I never paid too much attention to that.

RP: Do you have a favorite memory from your minor league career, on or off the field?

JM: I'd have to say playing at Fenway and being named player of the week. Those two will always be up there for me. I think my fondest memories will be off the field and the friendships I made. I only played three years with the Rays, but even going back to Fordham some of my best friends were on that team. I think baseball is a sport that brings people together unlike anything else.

RP: What are your plans for the future?

JM: Right now I am working to get my apparel business off the ground. My goals are to get my shirts into a retail store or a few of them for that matter. At the same time I see myself going back to school in the next five years to pursue an MBA degree.

We thank John very much for taking the time to answer all of our questions and we wish him the best of luck in all of his future endeavors! Make sure to check out John's online store.

For past RP interviews please see:

Interview With John Mollicone - Part 2

Interview With John Mollicone - Part 1

Ex-Rays: Catching Up With John Mollicone

John Sickels On The Rays

Questions and Answers: Stephen Vogt

Monday, January 10, 2011

Top 15 Hitters: #5 Ty Morrison

Ty Morrison
6'2" 170 lbs DOB: 7/22/1990
Bats: Left | Throws: Right
2010: Bowling Green
Acquired: 2008 Draft, 4th Round

Morrison got off a brutal start at Bowling Green, which is understandable for a teenager. He hit just .129/.156/.161 in the month of April, but rebounded to post a .718 OPS for the season, though he did tend to run hot and cold. He hit .293 in May, .297 in June, dipped back down to .195 in July, and then popped back up to .298 in August.

Morrison's best tool is his speed, which is arguably second best in the organization to Desmond Jennings. Morrison stole 58 bases, second best in the Midwest League, and hit for 13 triples, third best in the league. He was only caught stealing 10 times, which gave him a very impressive 85% success rate. Through the month of July, he was 38-for-41 on the basepaths. His speed also makes him a plus defender in center field, where he played 83 games (he combined for 40 games at the two corner spots). His arm is fine for center, and it's not a concern since he won't have to move off the position.

At the plate, he's still something of a project. He struck out 133 times on the season, which prevented his average from rising too much even as the rest of his game improved (he hit .250 on the nose for the season). His swing generates some power, but it's more of the gap variety than over-the-fence. He has a lot of room to add strength onto his frame, though, so it's not out of the question that he can hit 10-15 homers per year.

His plate discipline, a major contributor to his poor start, seemed to improve each month. He walked once in 19 April games, then five times in 28 games in May, eight times in 23 June games, twelve times in 26 July games, and fourteen times in 29 August games. His strikeout rate, however, held pretty steady at about a once-per-game rate.

Morrison has the tools to be an ideal centerfielder/leadoff hitter. He projects as a plus defender in the field, needing to just make the natural improvements to his reads and jumps as he moves up. He has more work to do at the plate, but showed signs of progress throughout the year. He'll need to continue to walk more in order to simply be on base more, where he can wreak havoc with the steal. Cutting down on the strikeouts will be important too, even if improving his average costs him some power. He'll roam the Charlotte outfield in 2011.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Interview With John Mollicone - Part 2

Let's continue with Part 2 of our conversation with John Mollicone about his time in the Rays organization. See Part 1 here.

RaysProspects: What do you remember about your 3rd and final season, with the Bowling Green Hot Rods?

John Mollicone: The best time I had in pro ball. A bunch of us had apartments in the same complex so we were a pretty tight knit team. The highlight for me was getting the South Atlantic League Player of the Week Honors. Playing time usually came every 3rd, 4th, or 5th game but someone was injured at the time and I was able to start a few games in a row and I just went off. I think I went 4-5 one night, with 2 homeruns, 2 doubles, and then the next night I hit a grand slam. It's funny how things like that work, not playing much to getting on a hot streak. But I was always ready to play, so it wasn't really a surprise to me.

RP: I've heard lots of interesting stories about road trips and the long bus rides, any good (clean) ones?

JM: Jeez, thats a good question. I remember a trip we took in Bowling Green after a night game to New Jersey. I think it took something like 18 hours, but we had a nice bus with beds in it. Everyone always wants to get a seat to themselves or in this case a bed for them self. I had caught that night and was determined to get a bed and for some reason I didn't realize the bus had gotten there yet when a stampede of my teammates took off for it. So naturally I started running, with my catchers bag, my travel bag, and I think I had BP balls that trip, and as soon as I started I tripped over myself and slammed face first into the gravel parking lot.

But the bus rides were one of my favorite times looking back on them, not only in pro ball but college as well. Just hanging out and busting balls with your teammates is always a good time. One of my favorite things to do was yell peoples names from the back of the bus, and ask dumb questions to our trainer or strength coach. Asking what time it is over and over again cracks me up for some reason, when the person doesn't know who's yelling it at them.

RP: You were released in March of 2010. You were only 24 years old at the time and catchers are always in demand, did you consider trying to hook on with another organization or indy ball?

JM: Yes, I did. I spoke with a couple of indy teams after I was released. I thought I was going to catch on with a team around my home, but there was a lack of communication and I had already began thinking about starting my own business and getting into the business world. Eventually the team reached out to me and asked if I wanted to play but I had already made up my mind to move on at that point.

RP: Do you have any interest in coaching (pro, indy, college, high school)?

JM: I think so. I don't see myself coaching a team for a few years, but I have already started doing individual lessons and classes at the Rhode Island Baseball Institute. I think its normal to miss the game but teaching what I know to kids helps me deal with that in a good way.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of our interview, and make sure to check out John's online store.

For past RP interviews please see:

Interview With John Mollicone - Part 1

Ex-Rays: Catching Up With John Mollicone

John Sickels On The Rays

Questions and Answers: Stephen Vogt

Friday, January 7, 2011

The New Guys: Archer, Chirinos, Guyer, Lee

Just some quick stuff for now, I'll have more later tonight once I'm off work. I just sort of grabbed stuff real quick for now:

Chris Archer, RHP:
Rated #3 in the Cubs system by Kevin Goldstein: "Perfect World Projection: He could be a good third starter with better stuff than results, or a late-inning reliever."

Rated #1 in the Cubs system and #9 in the Southern League by BaseballAmerica: "He projects as a frontline starter if he refines his command, and he easily has the stuff and poise to become a closer."

Robinson Chirinos, C:
Rated #12 in the Cubs system by Goldstein: "This converted infielder is improving defensively, and he can really hit."

Didn't make the BA Cubs Top 10. He moved from the middle infield to catcher in 2008.

Brandon Guyer, OF:
Rated #11 by Goldstein: "Despite his numbers, scouting reports on Guyer are far from glowing. His athleticism leaves him a bit short in center, and his power doesn't qualify well for a corner." Kind of a tweener but his numbers were great.

Rated #10 by BA: "He's aggressive in all phases of the game, which hurts him at the plate because he makes contact so easily that he doesn't draw many walks. He knows how to use his quickness on the bases, swiping 30 bags in 33 tries last year"

Hak-Ju Lee, SS:
Rated #5 by Goldstein: "Lee has all the tools to be a major-league shortstop. Offensively, he works the count effectively while utilizing a line-drive swing that leads to consistent contact rates." Short on power.

Rated #4 by BA: "Managers rated Lee the best defensive shortstop in the low Class A Midwest League in 2010. He has quick reactions, good range to both sides and a strong arm"

RP 2011 Prospect Guide Update

I've been plugging away on the RP 2011 Prospect Guide (which was introduced here), and wanted to update everyone on the progress as well as what to expect:

The goal is still to release a version in mid-to-late February, just before Spring Training games start, and then a second version the first week of April, just before the Minor League season begins. The first version will contain profiles on nearly 200 players. Our top 15 hitters and pitchers will have a full page profile, essentially a blown-out version of the profiles we've been posting on the site. We'll also have predictions for the 2011 season and a fun projected top 30 for next off-season. We'll have longer feature stories on players including Matt Moore and Tim Beckham (and others yet to be decided), plus a look ahead at the 2011 draft, but these may not be ready to go in the first release. The second version will have affiliate previews for the four full-season teams as their rosters begin to take shape.

So stay tuned and look out for this in mid-February!

Top 15 Hitters: #6 Tim Beckham

Tim Beckham
6'0" 190 lbs DOB: 1/27/1990
Bats: Right | Throws: Right
2010: Charlotte
Acquired: 2008 Draft, 1st Round

First, a quick plug: There will be a lot more on Tim Beckham in the RP 2011 Prospect Guide, and I'll have an update post about that project coming this afternoon.

I don't know if any prospect has divided Rays fans quite like Tim Beckham. On the one hand, there are some people who are calling him a bust. They're wrong. You want to know what a bust #1 overall shortstop looks like? Check out Matt Bush's batting lines in his first and second full seasons:

2005: .221/.279/.276
2006: .264/.354/.306

That's a bust right there. Beckham's numbers are better than that, of course, plus Bush played a grand total of 0 games at high-A (or above) by the end of 2006, his second full season. Beckham played 123 games at that level in 2010, his second full season. Suffice to say, Tim Beckham is in no danger of being moved to the mound anytime soon.

But then on the other hand, the DRaysBay community prospect list has Beckham at #7. Overall. Here, we have him as the #6 hitter in a pitching-heavy system. I think, for the most part, these people are wrong too (and this is where I tease the Prospect Guide again).

This is the abbreviated version why I'm not as high on him as others: His tools aren't as good as advertised when he was drafted. Look, we knew he wasn't an Alex Rodriguez or Justin Upton-type talent. He didn't have off-the-charts tools like those guys but he was still billed as a potential five-tool shortstop. So let's take a look:

Contact: He hit just .256 in 2010 with 119 strikeouts in 123 games. That was with a .328 BABIP, so it's not like he was simply unlikely. Though to be fair, his percentage of swinging strikeouts did improve from 2009.

Power: His Isolated Slugging (SLG%-BA) fell about .010 from a season ago. After hitting a home run in April and four in May, he blanked the rest of the year. He hit 10 fewer doubles than 2009.

Speed: Admittedly, his speed wasn't being hyped pre-draft. He did steal 22 bases in 2010, though he was also caught 14 times.

Fielding: Here we go. His errors were down but there are still doubts about his ability to play shortstop long-term.

Arm: All reports seem to indicate his arm is above-average.

Stats aren't the best way to go about judging pure tools, of course. But then there are reports like one scout told Matt Eddy of BA: "If he wasn't a $6 million man, he wouldn't have stood out." That report is far from radical. Even assuming that his tools are still there, the stats tell me that he isn't turning them into production.

But he is ranked #6, because there is stuff I like. For one, he played all last season at 20 years old, which is young for the Florida State League. Secondly, there are two points in his favor that the five traditional tools don't pick up on. He made a big stride forward in plate discipline. His walk rate nearly doubled and went from being a weakness to being above-average. The other positive is his makeup, which by all indications seems to be at least plus. He's all the things you want him to be: great teammate, coachable, and perhaps most importantly, a hard worker.

It's hard to see Beckham living up to what you think of a #1 pick potential. But that doesn't make him a bust. I think his 2011 will answer a lot of questions. Were his gains in plate discipline for real? Will he be able to cut down on the strikeouts and (relatedly) improve his batting average? Can he show more in-game power? And of course, how's his defense? The Rays could go either way with Beckham for 2011: A promotion to Montgomery would be the next logical step, but if they slowed him down and started him back at Charlotte, that would make a lot of sense too.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Interview With John Mollicone - Part 1

Back in November we spoke to John Mollicone about his life after baseball, specifically his apparel company named 2JM Apparel. Today we'll continue the conversation, focusing on his time in the Rays organization.

RaysProspects: What was it like to be drafted?

John Mollicone: It was great. It was fulfilling reaching a goal I had set when I started college. My parents were very proud of me, they always are, but they knew getting drafted was important to me, and it made me feel good to make them proud.

RP: Did you know of the Rays interest prior to the draft?

JM: Yes, John Ceprini followed Fordham all year my senior year and I always played well in front of him. Before the draft I had a couple of workouts for the Yankees and Phillies, but I had a feeling John was going to take me somewhere in the middle rounds.

RP: You began your pro career in Princeton, any memories of your time with the P-Rays?

JM: I remember thinking that I had just graduated college and I was playing with guys that just graduated high school, so that was an adjustment for me. Not in terms of baseball, but just that I think there is a big change that happens from high school to college mentally. Princeton was fun though, the Super 8 Motel maybe not so great lol, but I met some great people including the chaplain, Craig, who I still stay in touch with, and of course Ann, the "laundry mama".

RP: You even pitched a scoreless inning for the P-Rays, how did that come about?

JM: I think it was the seventh or eighth game of the season and I had yet to get any playing time. We were playing the Elizabethton Twins and they were pounding us, maybe 18-2, and Nelly came over to me and asked if I could pitch. Sure, why not. I didn't have a 1,2,3 inning but I think I gave up a single and then a pop up, ground out, and then the clean up hitter stroked one right at Jeff Carroll who was playing third for the third out. I actually traded Mayo Acosta one of my catchers mitts for the glove he let me use that night, so I'll never forget that. Everyone loved that story, my first professional appearance was on the mound.

RP: Your second season was with the Hudson Valley Renegades, any thoughts on that season?

JM: For me the highlight was playing at Fenway towards the end of the season against Lowell. I played first base that game, and just remember that we had gotten into town at 3 or 4 in the morning and had to be back on the bus at 9 maybe? I don't remember the exact times but there was only a few hours to sleep. But we took BP on the field and it was a great game. By the 7th inning the place was almost packed in anticipation of the AAA game following ours. It ended up going to extra innings and I think maybe the 13th inning the Spinners won on a walk off single and I'll never forget how loud Fenway got. Walking off the field I was just looking in the stands, it was almost deafening. My family was there for that game so that was definitely special to me.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our interview, and make sure to check out John's online store.

For past RP interviews please see:

Ex-Rays: Catching Up With John Mollicone

John Sickels On The Rays

Questions and Answers: Stephen Vogt

Minor Moves: Montero

Per Matt Eddy at Baseball America the Rays have signed outfielder Lucas Montero. The 26 year-old had spent his entire professional career in the Cleveland Indians organization after signing with the Tribe as an undrafted free agent as a 19 year-old in January, 2004. He became a minor league free agent this past October.

A switch hitter, Montero batted .260/.354/.373 in 1562 AB's over five seasons with the Indians. In 2010 he split time between Kinston (Carolina League, A+) and Akron (Eastern League, AA). His promotion to the Aeros on July 29th marked the highest level he reached during his Indians career. While his offensive stats aren't overly impressive, he did steal 149 bases over the five seasons, including a career high 60 steals in 2008. Defensively he has played all three outfield positions, seeing the most time in left.

Prior to the 2009 season, Tony Lastoria of Indians Prospect Insider rated Montero the #57 Indian's prospect on his Top 100 list with these comments:
He is very athletic, but is very raw still as a baseball player since he did not start playing baseball until he was 15-years old. He is a versatile outfielder who can play all three outfield positions, and has a nice speed/power combo at the plate and on the bases. He is really strong for his size, and has a lot of pop off his bat and can drive the ball. He has an aggressive approach at the plate, and is at his best once he gets on base where his plus speed is a nuisance to pitchers where his skills and tools as a runner shine. Montero needs to do a little better job of slowing things down at the plate so he can work on getting on-base more consistently. He also has a tendency to lose control of his swing and swing wildly at balls out of the zone.
He played this winter in the Dominican Winter League, batting .282 in 43 games with a homerun and eight stolen bases. Expect Montero to begin 2011 with the Montgomery Biscuits.

Top 15 Hitters: #7 Luke Bailey

Luke Bailey
6'0" 198 lbs DOB: 3/11/1991
Bats: Right | Throws: Right
2010: Gulf Coast Rays
Acquired: 2009 Draft, 4th Round

Luke Bailey was on his way to being a lock for the first round as a catcher before he blew out his elbow pitching for his Georgia high school team. He got supplemental first round money from the Rays to sign out of the fourth round in 2009, but between the August signing and the recovery from Tommy John surgery, didn't make his debut until 2010.

The Rays took it slow with Bailey, starting him out in the Gulf Coast League, unlike fellow '09 bonus babies Todd Glaesmann and Jeff Malm, who played at Princeton. Bailey got off a bad start and suffered through a terrible month of July before finishing relatively strong and showing a glimpse of the tools that made him one of the top prep catchers in his draft.

Bailey's bat doesn't have the potential of Wil Myers, a fellow '09 high school catcher draftee, but his pure hitting and raw power tools both rated above-average entering the draft. His power was evident in 2010, but the contact wasn't. He had just 25 hits in 42 games (.182 batting average), but more than half were for extra bases. In his final 14 games, he hit three of his five home runs. He swung and missed too much, though, striking out 47 times on the season. He has an average eye at the plate, and drew 17 walks.

His arm may have been his best tool in high school, and reports on his arm strength post-surgery have been promising. He's a very good athlete for a catcher, and while he won't be stealing too many bases, his athleticism combined with his arm and his feel for the position should make him a well-above-average defender.

The Rays suddenly have a logjam behind the plate at the low levels of the minors, with Bailey and 2010 draft picks Justin O'Conner and Jake DePew. They'll want to get all three as much experience behind the plate as they can, so while each were with the GCL Rays in 2010 (DePew barely, for just four games) they're likely to each start at a different levels in 2011. Bailey is a year older than O'Conner but may wind up at a lower level. Best guess is that O'Conner starts out at Hudson Valley, Bailey at Princeton, and DePew in the GCL.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Top 15 Hitters: #8 Ryan Brett

Ryan Brett
5'9" 180 lbs DOB: 10/9/1991
Second Baseman
Bats: Right (Switch) | Throws: Right
2010: Gulf Coast Rays
Acquired: 2010 Draft, 3rd Round

The Rays third-round pick (and third hitter selected from the state of Washington), Brett doesn't have the ultimate ceiling of Josh Sale or Drew Vettleson, but still offers an exciting package of tools for a middle infielder. He also signed in time to get a month's worth of games in the Gulf Coast League, where he tore it up early before cooling late.

He was hitting .500 through his first week and a half or so, and finished a hair over .300. He used his plus speed to hit a pair of triples and steal 12 bases while only being caught three times. He showed good plate discipline and coverage, walking 8 times and striking out 17 times in 27 games. He played almost all of his games at second base, but also got a taste of shortstop.

His size (5'9" and 180 pounds) and speed fit a certain profile, but he's got good line-drive power and consistently hits the ball with authority. He's strong, having worked out with Josh Sale, and can pop the occasional home run, but his raw power is below average. He's a top-of-the-order type player, and would be an ideal #2 hitter if he hit his ceiling. He flirted with switch-hitting in high school, but I believe he hit exclusively from the right side as a pro. His hit tool is very good with plus potential; he shouldn't have much trouble at the plate.

There are more questions about him in the field. He doesn't have the fielding tools to play shortstop, but has the chance to be at least average at second base if he continues to improve his footwork and fielding actions. His arm is fine, and if second base doesn't work out, he can play center field, where his plus speed would give him good-to-excellent range.

Where he ends up in 2011 isn't clear. The Rays err on the conservative side, but if they start Sale, Vettleson, and Justin O'Conner out in full-season ball, there's a chance Brett showed them enough his debut to join them. More likely, he'll begin the year in extended spring training and eventually play with Hudson Valley or Princeton.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Top 15 Hitters: #9 Tyler Bortnick

Tyler Bortnick
5"11" 185 lbs DOB: 7/3/1987
Second Baseman
Bats: Right | Throws: Right
2010: Bowling Green/Charlotte
Acquired: 2009 Draft, 16th Round

Of the guys I've profiled so far, only Stephen Vogt's 2010 season wouldn't be classified as disappointing. Enter Tyler Bortnick, who was certainly one of the most productive hitters in the Rays system. He hit .300 most of the season, showed good gap power, and also stole 41 bases.

His contact tool is above average, and plays up because of his quality approach. In 125 games, mainly with Bowling Green, he walked 68 times and struck out only 77. He isn't a big home run threat, and lacks big raw power, but he topped 40 extra base hits with 35 doubles, 2 triple, and 9 long balls. His power tool likely isn't going to improve, but for a middle infielder, it's more than okay.

He also brings plus speed to the table, swiping 41 bags at a 74% clip. That's not outstanding, but should improve as he becomes a little bit more selective choosing his spots to run. He's versatile in the field, able to play all around the diamond. He was among the top defenders at shortstop in college at Coastal Carolina, but switched mainly to second base in 2010. He also played some third base with Hudson Valley in 2009. Second base fits him as a "permanent" position, but my guess is the Rays develop him in a super-utility mold not unlike Ben Zobrist in the field. Zobrist came through the Astros system as an infielder, mainly a shortstop, and hadn't a played an inning in the outfield until he was on the Rays' major-league team. Bortnick has similar athleticism, although I'm not sure his arm has enough juice to play right field on a regular basis like Zobrist.

Still, a player who would rate at least average at every position on the diamond is a player to covet. As a college senior, he'll have to quell doubts about his bat at the higher levels of the minors as he goes, but for now, it appears he has the tools to make it work. He has the discipline to make pitchers throw strikes and enough power to make them pay for mistakes over the plate.

I'd expect a reasonable (slight) decline in his stats as he faces better pitching, but if he's hitting something like .275/.375/.425 in triple-A, that surely gives him a future in the leagues. For a comparison, Elliot Johnson, who has a shot at a utility role in 2011, posted OPSes of .627, .746, and .770 in his first three seasons at Durham before a breakout to .851 this past season.

Bortnick got a taste of Charlotte at the end of the 2010 season and will be back there to open 2011. There's something of a middle infield jam around those levels of the system, so his ultimate position depends on how things shake out. Tim Beckham and Cole Figueroa could make up Montgomery's middle infield, so Bortnick may shift back to shortstop as Robi Estrada's 2010 Bowling Green numbers may not warrant a promotion. The other possibility is that they do begin the develop him as a super-utility player and get him time at second base, shortstop, third base, and the outfield.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Winter League Statistics (through 1/2)

The regular season for all Caribbean Leagues are now complete. Here are the final regular season statistics for the Winter Leagues:

BATTERS             LG     AVG  AB  H 2B 3B HR RBI   OBP   SLG   OPS
Leslie Anderson AFL/PWL .253 162 41 7 0 3 24 .295 .352 .647
Jesus Araiza LMP .500 4 2 0 0 0 0 .600 .500 1.100
Tyler Bortnick COL .230 74 17 0 0 0 5 .362 .230 .592
Angel Chavez LMP .215 93 20 5 0 2 16 .312 .333 .645
Cole Figueroa AFL .290 31 9 1 0 0 2 .410 .323 .733
Elliot Johnson LMP .233 129 30 6 3 2 5 .298 .372 .670
Jose Lobaton VWL .311 90 28 7 0 1 12 .452 .422 .874
Omar Luna DWL .234 94 22 3 0 0 4 .250 .266 .516
Justin Ruggiano LMP .278 18 5 0 0 0 0 .350 .278 .628
Stephen Vogt COL .402 92 37 8 0 9 30 .422 .789 1.211
Henry Wrigley AFL .183 82 15 4 0 3 19 .209 .341 .551

Brian Baker VWL 0 1 8.10 2 1 3 3.1 8 3 0 0 2.40 .471
Cesar Cabral DWL 0 0 6.75 2 0 0 1.1 1 1 1 0 0.75 .200
Alex Cobb AFL 1 3 6.12 7 7 0 25.0 31 17 30 14 1.80 .304
Alex Colome DWL 1 1 1.53 12 2 0 17.2 12 3 14 6 1.02 .190
Frank De Los Santos DWL 0 0 9.00 3 0 0 2.0 3 2 2 2 2.50 .375
Sergio Espinosa AFL/PWL 0 1 7.08 17 0 0 20.1 28 16 13 8 1.77 .346
Marquis Fleming COL 0 1 5.54 10 0 1 13.0 11 8 12 3 1.07 .208
Jeremy Hall AFL 0 0 7.71 2 0 0 2.1 5 2 1 3 3.43 .385
Deivis Mavarez VWL 0 0 0.00 0 0 0 0.0 0 0 0 0 0.00 .000
Rayner Oliveros VWL 0 1 13.50 1 0 0 0.2 2 1 0 1 4.50 1.000
Ramon Ortiz DWL 1 4 3.97 9 9 0 45.1 55 20 35 10 1.43 .302
Joel Peralta DWL 0 1 1.59 17 0 10 17.0 10 3 25 2 0.71 .164
Cesar Ramos LMP 1 2 4.55 8 7 0 31.2 38 16 15 11 1.55 .314
Neil Schenk AFL 1 0 1.72 12 0 0 15.2 14 3 5 6 1.28 .246
RJ Swindle VWL 0 0 1.80 7 0 0 5.0 6 1 2 2 1.60 .286
Alexander Torres VWL 4 1 1.91 7 7 0 28.1 22 6 30 8 1.06 .218

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Getting Ready For 2011 - Starting Rotation Projections

Hope everyone had a great holiday season. Now that we're officially into 2011 (barely), I'm ready for spring training to begin. Other than the draft, spring training is my favorite time of the year, especially at the end when we find out the opening day rosters.

It's still very early, but let's get started by looking at each affiliate's projected starting rotations. Obviously these will be wrong, a lot of things will happen between now and the announcement of the opening day rosters. Injuries, trades, free agent signings, and releases are bound to affect the actual rotations. But many of these will also be correct, so there's no harm in talking about who will end up where.

* = lefty

Tampa Bay Rays
David Price*
Matt Garza - unless he's traded
James Shields - unless he's traded
Wade Davis
Jeff Niemann - could move to the pen for Hellickson
Jeremy Hellickson - could make the rotation or the bullpen or Durham's rotation

Comment: Six starters for five spots, something has to give. But that's a good problem to have because pitchers get hurt. The wildcard is a trade of Garza or Shields. If that doesn't happen I would rather see Hellickson remain a starter in Durham than move to the Rays pen (injury insurance). Most likely scenario: Hellickson makes the rotation and Niemann to the pen. Of course if any of the six are injured in spring training - problem solved.

Durham Bulls
Jeremy Hellickson - see above, unlikely but possible
Alex Cobb - quietly effective year after year
Alex Torres* - my personal upper-level breakout candidate
Richard De Los Santos - already re-signed for another year in Durham
David Newmann* - struggled in AA in '10, may move to the bullpen or repeat AA
Jeremy Hall - not really a prospect but quietly had a nice year in AA in '10
Minor league free agents

Comment: Hellickson isn't really likely, but minor league free agents are. The Rays always stash some AAAA-type pitchers in Durham. Some possibilities include former Bulls such as Brian Baker, Carlos Hernandez*, Heath Phillips*, Virgil Vasquez, and Jason Cromer*.

Montgomery Biscuits
Matt Moore*
Nick Barnese - like Cobb, effective every year, although usually misses time with injuries
Joseph Cruz
Shane Dyer - great comeback in '10
Frank De Los Santos* - struggled in '10 but eats innings as a 5th starter
Chris Andujar - probably a reliever/spot starter
Minor league free agents

Comment: Looks pretty set unless a minor league free agent bumps FDLS.

Charlotte Stone Crabs
Alex Colome
Jake Thompson - back where he finished '10, if all goes well expect midseason promotion
Wilking Rodriguez - despite tough '10 should move up to Charlotte
Albert Suarez - my lower-level breakout candidate with higher pitch counts in '11
Kyle Lobstein*
Kirby Yates - probably a reliever/spot starter, one of the hardest guys to place
Jason McEachern - could move to the pen, more likely to repeat BG in '11
Aaron Dott* - another reliever/spot starter insurance-type

Comment: Looks like another solid rotation for the Crabs. A solid five plus Yates and Dott as needed.

Bowling Green Hot Rods
Jason McEachern - still very young, likely to repeat BG in '11
Merrill Kelly - 2010 8th rounder
Wilmer Almonte - interested to see how he handles full-season load
Zach Rosscup*
Nate Garcia - 2010 16th rounder
Jimmy Patterson* - 2010 18th rounder
Braulio Lara* - most likely in HV, but a possibility, older than Romero
Enny Romero* - same as Lara but with his stuff... the Rays may bump him

Comment: One of the hardest to project with possibilities of guys repeating and other guys skipping up from Princeton. They could also hold back Yates and/or Dott*, but I think it's unlikely.

Hudson Valley Renegades
Enny Romero* - see above
Braulio Lara* - see above, can't see both of them going to Bowling Green though
Eliazer Suero
Jacob Partridge*
Andrew Bellatti - assuming he's loose and still in the organization
Victor Mateo - reliever/spot starter
June draft picks who sign quickly and non-drafted free agents

Comment: Here is where next year's draft really starts muddying up the projections, especially given all of the extra high picks the Rays will have. If the Rays select pitchers and they sign quickly then Romero*/Lara* could be bumped to Bowling Green in June. Sorry Gades fans, we'll have to wait and see.

Princeton Rays
Ian Kendall - 2010 5th rounder, could jump to HV
Brandon Henderson* - 2010 15th rounder
Pedro Silvestre
Marcus Jensen - aka Marcus Proctor
Reinaldo Lopez
Eduar Quinonez
Matt Swilley - more likely reliever or GCL Rays
Kevin James*
Pitchers from the VSL and DSL Rays
June draft picks who sign quickly and non-drafted free agents

Comment: Again, the draft will affect this rotation quite a bit. But more than Hudson Valley, promotions from the VSL and DSL will figure into the P-Rays rotation.

Gulf Coast League Rays
Stepan Havlicek* - after graduating high school in the Czech Republic
Shawn Smith* - root for this kid
June draft picks who sign quickly and non-drafted free agents
Pitchers from the VSL and DSL Rays
Injury rehabs - Will Kline? Jesse Hahn?

Comment: Mostly draft picks (young ones), ndfa's, VSL/DSL guys and rehabs.

Claw Digest

For the past few weeks, I have been working on a new project. A website to provide detailed coverage for the Charlotte Stone Crabs. The site, Claw Digest, has been open since November 20. Since then, I have been busy adding content to the site including past schedules and results, past players and transactions and much more. The site will continue to be a work in progress for a while, but I hope to have all past content online by opening day. During this time, I will be adding news content concerning the Stone Crabs and updates on past Stone Crabs players. I will still continue to provide content for Rays Prospects as well. Claw Digest is just a more detailed look at the Stone Crabs.

Please visit the site at Be sure to sign up for the Facebook or Twitter page to keep up to date on the site. If you have any ideas or feedback on the site, please let me know.