Sleeper Prospects: RHP Arm-Strength Edition

Jesse Hahn got a half-million dollar signing bonus from the Rays in 2010 via www.collegiatetimes.com

Prospect ranking season has pretty much ended, a sad time for those who eat those lists up (then we realize that actual games are starting and everything's cool again). The Rays lists have been discussed, dissected, injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected and selected all off-season, but just because most lists stop at 10 (or 20 or 30) doesn't mean there aren't any farmhands worth talking about. Here are three that didn't make the BaseballAmerica top 30 list this off-season but could be squarely in the mix next year. The two biggest omissions, Josh Sale and Oscar Hernandez, don't exactly qualify as sleepers because of their respective 1st-round pedigree and massive VSL numbers, and it just happened that the first three players that popped into my mind were all of the same ilk, right-handed power pitchers.

Jesse Hahn - While the focus was on how Sale, Drew Vettleson, Justin O'Conner, and other top 2010 draftees did in their first full season in the organization, nobody seems to be talking about how the sixth-round pitcher who received a $525,000 bonus didn't strike out a single batter last season. Okay, so it was because Hahn was recovering from Tommy John surgery, but still. While visions of Will Kline (2007 second-rounder who got $513,00, pitched 29 innings and had nearly as many arm surgeries) might be fresh in Rays fans' minds -- or, y'know, not -- forget about Hahn at your own risk. Inconsistent in his first two seasons at Virginia Tech, he opened eyes by hitting 99 mph in the Cape Cod League in 2009 and followed it up with a junior season that had him in the mix for the first round before his elbow started barking.

While it was a little odd to not see Hahn make it back to the mound at all in 2011, no setbacks have been reported and it seems he'll be good to go, though almost certainly with a short-season team to limit his innings. He'll pitch as a starter just to get innings on his arm, but if his arm strength comes all the way back he may fit better as a power back-end reliever. Results in a player's first season back from elbow surgery might not tell us much, but if Hahn is pumping 95+ mph fastballs it's not hard to see him emerging as a prospect.

Scott Shuman - Here's a deep sleeper pick. How deep? Well, Shuman walked 59 hitters in 51.2 innings last season. It's just that, on a pure stuff level, his fastball and slider are easily plus pitches. In 147.2 innings as a pro, he's fanned 229, good for a 14.0 K/9. Sure, he didn't throw strikes consistently at Auburn, and his "good" 2010 season saw a BB/9 just under 5.0, but I think he can make it work with a walk rate in that neighborhood. It might not be a smart play to bet on a pitcher coming off a season as littered with walks as Shuman's 2011 was, but I'm always willing to give stuff like Shuman's extra chances. The Rays may promote him to Montgomery simply for a change of scenery after his struggles with Charlotte, but a return to the Stone Crabs would keep him closer to Rays HQ if the plan is to have him work with more than just one coach.

Jeff Ames - It's probably cheating to stick a 2011 draftee on here, as there's no way BA could've gotten all 381 (all numbers approximate) first round picks in the top 30, but I think Ames is the most underlooked of the group. His bread-and-butter is his fastball, which he can crank up to 97 mph at times and retain it's good life. His secondary stuff lags behind and there's effort to his delivery, all of which points to a relief role. But like Hahn, the Rays will develop him as a starter for now and hope something clicks with the curveball or changeup. Ames had a weird debut with Princeton, allowing 25 runs on 40 hits in 30.1 innings, but with a 39-7 K-BB rate. It's the classic chicken-or-egg case as we wait to see which numbers regress to the other or if they both settle in the middle. His type of fastball can overpower hitters even at Bowling Green, his likely destination, so it's likely the Rays put an emphasis on making sure he works on getting hitters out with his off-speed stuff. If he does figure something out, he'll be a breakout starting prospect; if not, he can fall back and try to mold himself into a power reliever.

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