The Vero Beach Devil Rays came in a disappointing 5th in the Eastern Division of the FSL in 2008. Harboring the second worst overall record in the league is not an easy feat so let's see if we can find what happened.
I want to start with the pitching in this review since this appeared to be quite the bright spot. With Mid-Season All Stars Ryan Reid, Heath Rollins, and Ryan Morse the arms are not to blame for lack of success in 2008. Rollins and Morse made 40 starts between them and their dismal record, 7-22 combined, show why wins and losses are not a great metric for evaluating a potential job well done. Rollins, in particular, has everything you look for. 7.6 K/9 and a sub-2 BB/9 led to a K/BB of 4.26. Couple that with a HR/9 just shy of 1.00 as well as a 1.06 WHIP and it's easy to see why he was an All Star. I like that he put those numbers up over 136 innings which lends a lot of credibility to the lines. Morse didn't have quite the success when looking at his strikeouts and walks. Giving up a hit an inning leads to the dreaded "hittable" label. As for Reid, he comes out of the bullpen. He threw 31 innings for Vero before moving up to AA where he struggled a little bit, though he did keep the stellar K rates up. His numbers in A+ were outstanding so lets hope he can get back in that groove.
Other accolades include the previously unmentioned Jeremy Hellickson winning FSL pitcher of the week in both mid-April and mid-June. His K/BB was a crazy 16.6. He accomplished that by approaching 10 strikes per game and walking about half a batter per 9. For Vero he was not as susceptible to the long ball which helped his line look just silly. Carlos Hernandez was also a pitcher of the week during August which should put a smile on Tommy's face. Matthew Walker was the #8 ranked Rays prospect in 2007. He gave up a hit an inning, struck out two every three innings, but unfortunately he had the same rate for walking people which boosted his WHIP up to 1.70. If he can lower his walks we may see the prospect in him, but if not we may not be hearing much about Walker again.
So there's this guy named David Price. He's pretty good. This is where he got his start last year and was dominant in every way. Wlodarczyk pitched a little for Montgomery without having much success. Vero was a different story. Working in relief he struck out over a batter an innings while limiting his walk. He gave up about a hit an inning, but by limiting his HR's he stayed out of trouble for the most part. We should see him at AA this year. Frontz was a guy that got a good look in Spring Training. It's easy to see why when you give up one HR in 52 innings to go with low walk-high K rates. He compiled 19 saves and finished 36 of 37 games he appeared in. Baker and James are pretty similar in their rates and roles, with Baker getting more innings. Mann was a not all that successful starter, though he did K 7 a game.
Guys that I have a good idea are out of the organization are Kevin Lynn, Wilton Noel, Ryan Owen, and the recently released Chuck Tiffany. I think we can lump Wade Townsend in here as well. Darin Downs is kind of interesting in that he will still be 24 this year (not crazy young), but did strike out a guy an inning and giving up virtually no dingers. Quite a bit of talent on the bump in 2008, my guy to keep an eye on in 2009 is Heath Rollins. I like his peripherals and he is the less talked about of our emerging talent.
Vero was a good spot for rehab assignments in 2008 as Navarro, Baldelli, Zobrist, Aybar, and Pena all had a stint with the Devil Rays. It didn't help. Vero Beach came in dead last in Runs (470 or 3.5/game) This is the opposite of pretty. A .651 team OPS is about as gross as Jonny Gomes borrowing your cup so he can swill some Natty Ice out of it. You can see that the workbook above is sorted by OPS. J. T. Hall was a Mid-Season All Star and eventually got himself moved up to Montgomery for the second half. He's listed as a DH which really hurts him value-wise, but the guy had almost 10% of his AB's go for extra bases. I am comfortable with his K rate for a masher and he can work a walk. After Hall it is a big drop off to the next thing that could be called a professional hitter. Most here are familiar with the story of Desmond Jennings. In 3 seasons Jennings has played in 179 games with 685 AB's. In that time he has compiled a slash of .296/.383/.435/.818. Damn impressive when you factor in that he steals bases at an 80% as well as sparkling OF defense and you see why he could be the heir to Craw's LF throne. The only problem is that 179 games in 3 years. If he can't stay healthy then what good is he? I really like Jennings and hope he can eat right, and exercise right, and avoid calamatous falls because we're going to need him someday. The beauty is he still doesn't turn 23 until October.
Pedro Powell came over Mid-Season and was a SH speed demon. Unfortunately he was more of a Gathright than a Rickey. He was not re-signed after the season as near as I can tell. John Matulia is a name many may recognize. It was familiar to me, but more like a deja vu type feeling where you aren't sure what is real. I can say he was pretty average last year. He's got age going for him (23 in August), a decent OBP (.343), and a fair average (.282). What worries me is his 16.5% K rate for a guy that hasn't really exhibited a ton of power anywhere he has been. Again, he's been young for his league so lets hope he can go bonkers this season and maybe get himself a shot at Durham in the next year or two. Matt Fields is your prototypical low-level 1B. Good power (45 XBH), but a ton of K's to go with a low average. Additionally, he doesn't walk a ton (6.4%) so his OBP is in the gutter as well. Still, he was an FSL player of the week in mid-May last year and someone that we would like to see develop since he can take it out of the park (18 homers at a 3.5% rate). Ryan Royster is such an intriguing prospect. The guy will turn 23 in July and had an absolute monster season with Columbus in 2007. He made both All-Star teams as well as being voted Class A Offensive POTY. Then 2008 happened and he was promoted to Vero Beach. His K and BB rates were abysmal at 24% and 7%, respectively. Perhaps he was young for the league and another year could do him well as he was clearly overmatched. I certainly hope so as he was a guy that I had high hopes for coming into last year.
We still have two Midseason All-Stars left in Cesar Suarez and Garrett Groce. Suarez brought some thievery to the table, but to get over you have to get on, and that is an area where he will need to improve. His 124 hits and 167 bases led the team, but he also was (barely) second in AB's. Playing 3B in this organization is not really a great thing either. As for Groce, RaysProspects did not have him in our Minor League camp so I'm going to assume he wasn't resigned. He's getting old and, though he can work a walk 10.7%, he strikes out a quarter of the time. Balancing that K-rate is his putrid .309 SLG. Seems like a good move to let him go. Nevin Ashley caught the most games. I have confirmed that he is related to neither Phil Nevin, nor Ashley Shaeffer. You have to like his walk rate at 13%, which if you're willing to take a leap of faith, could indicate he can call a decent game due to knowing how to work umpires as well as the strike zone. By leap of faith I was referring to wingsuiting through a cat-walk infused warehouse.
Guys that I couldn't find in our Minor League camp include De La Rosa, Stewart, Walton, Gimenez, and Fontaine. None of them were extremely young nor execeptionally gifted. Jackson Brennan seems a little old to be getting a Mid-Season callup to A+. I like Callender because on the first link you'll see that he threw 4 innings last year. I love that. In fact maybe he should try that some more because I don't see him hitting a whole lot better than his .521 OPS last year. Matt Hall was the youngest guy to appear on the team in 2008. He picked up 92 AB while playing most of the season at 21 Y/O (How sick is it that Justin Upton is 21?) Hall seems to have a good eye at nearly 11% walk and plays a premium position. He was pretty overmatched last season, but lets see how he does this year.
The guy to keep an eye on, for me, is Desmond Jennings. I think he's gonna be healthy this year and absolutely own whatever league he's in. This was a tough choice as I could also see any of Matulia, Fields, and Royster all severly outplaying their disappointing 2008.
Lastly, I wanted to show the Equivalents of what these guys would have done if they had played in Montgomery. You may not want to click the link if you have a weak stomach, are pregnant, or suffer from a heart condition.