Monday morning we will begin posting our mid-season individual top Rays prospects lists. With Matt Moore recently passing the 50 inning cutoff for prospect status, a new #1 will emerge.
Will the heir apparent, Hak-Ju Lee, ascend to the throne? Will Lee's AA struggles allow AAA RHP Chris Archer, who's pitching well lately at a higher level, to take the lead? Or will it be one of the young left-handers: Enny Romero, Felipe Rivero, or Ryan Carpenter?
Will it be the highly-rated but unproven Taylor Guerrieri? How about fellow 2011 first rounder Mikie Mahtook, already at high-A Charlotte? Is it finally RHP Alex Colome's turn? What about the top players from the 2010 draft: Drew Vettleson, Josh Sale, or Ryan Brett?
A case could be made for any of them, or even others. Such a wide open field is actually unusual in Rays history. For the first time since 1999 there isn't a Rays prospect (or two or three) who has separated from the pack, who is a near-consensus future major league star. Here are the pre-season top prospects the last 13 years:
2012: Matt Moore
2011: Jeremy Hellickson, Moore, and Desmond Jennings
2010: Wade Davis, Jennings, and Hellickson
2009: David Price
2008: Evan Longoria
2007: Delmon Young and Evan Longoria
2006: Young and Jeff Niemann
2005: Young and Scott Kazmir
2004: B.J. Upton and Young
2003: Josh Hamilton and Upton
2002: Hamilton and Carl Crawford
2001: Hamilton and Crawford
Quite a list. They didn't all become stars, at least yet. But each of them became major league regulars at a minimum, with most far exceeding that. They not only reached the big leagues, they stayed, and they excelled.
Compare the top prospects from 2000-2012 to the top 10 from BA's 1999 list: Matt White, Ramon Soler, Alex Sanchez, Kenny Kelly, Bobby Seay, Ryan Rupe, Jared Sandberg (Hudson Valley's manager), Paul Hoover (GCL Rays manager), Humberto Cota, and Travis Harper.
Other than perhaps Matt White (debatable), there wasn't any top tier who struck anyone as sure-fire future stars heading into 1999 season. And we know how their careers turned out, the best of 1999 was less than the worst of the 2000-2012 list.
Let me be clear - I don't think the current prospects are destined to turn out like the 1999 class. The 1999 group lacked ceiling, the current group has high-upside players. Many of them are either very young or recently out of college. Some others have had great success mixed with health or performance setbacks. There are future stars in the organization, they simply haven't been able to separate from the rest into a clear top tier of one to three players as they have the past dozen or so years.
So with the field pretty wide open I'll ask - who should be the next #1 Rays prospect?