On Wednesday, Scott kicked off our position by position prospect analysis by recapping the seasons of the right fielders in the organization.
While the Rays lack an elite prospect in center field, two of the players recapped below had among the best seasons among positional players in the system, and both should fit somewhere into the top 20 prospects (with Toles a good bet to reach the top 10). Unsurprisingly, this group of players contains several superb athletes. With that being said, the results have not always matched the tools, and none of these players boasts a big stick at the moment.
Typically, center fielders have above average of better speed, modest power, and a solid or better hit tool, though Mike Trout shows that it is not impossible for a center fielder to be an excellent all-around hitter. The list will start with players on the writers' poll, and the rest will be listed alphabetically.
19. Andrew Toles (21 Y.O., at Class-A)
552 PA, .326/.359/.466, 4.0 BB%, 19.0 K%, 2 HR, 53 XBH
Just as he did last year, Toles jumped off to a quick start, hitting for a .461 wOBA in April. For a while, it looked like Toles would fade as the season went along, as he did in 2012. However, he rebounded in July just as his batting average was slipping below the .300 mark. In July and August, he hit for a .414 and .386 wOBA, respectively.
After hitting .281 in 2012 with Princeton, Toles saw his average jump to .323 despite his strikeout rate also rising by a few percent. While Toles showed some pop in 2012 (7 HR in 52 games), his power was more of the doubles and triples variety this past season. The most concerning area of Toles' season was his walk rate; a 4.0 BB% is poor, and hopefully it is only a sign of his rawness as a player. He once again showed his aptitude on the base paths, stealing 62 bases (77.6 SB%).
Kes Carter (23 Y.O. at Advanced Class-A)
454 PA, .235/.297/.374, 6.8 BB%, 22.0 K%, 7 HR, 34 XBH
A supplemental first round draft pick in the 2011 draft, Kes Carter featured five tools that rated at least average, though none stood out as plus. The biggest drawback was his health, a vice that has hindered his development in pro ball. 2013 was his healthiest year since joining the Rays, yet he still only played in 118 games.
While Carter showed above average power in the FSL, nothing else stood out. He stuck out more than average, walked less than average, and wasn't particularly effective on the base paths (10 SB, 7 CS). He has missed significant development time and was old for the league, so Carter needs to both stay healthy and bolster his performance to become a top prospect.
James Harris (19 Y.O. at Short Season Class-A)
237 PA, .258/.309/.346, 7.2 BB%, 28.7 K%, 1 HR, 14 XBH
When Harris was selected by the Rays with their final first round supplemental pick in the 2011 draft, there was a sharp divide about the pick. Some loved the athleticism and felt he was underrated; others warned that he was more of an athlete than a baseball player. So far in his professional career, Harris has proven to be an excellent athlete with a limited present baseball ability (this is relative, of course).
In his third season in short season ball, Harris made strides in some respects. His 99 wRC+ was by far the highest of his career, and he walked at a decent rate. However, his strike out rate was very high, he hit for below average power, and much of his offense was dependent on a high BABIP. His athleticism will keep him on the radar, but his performance thus far is pro ball is not noteworthy.
Bralin Jackson (19 Y.O. in Rookie League)
257 PAs, .216/.281/.299, 7.4 BB%, 21.8 K%, 3 HR, 10 XBH
Reports from instructs raved about Bralin Jackson, pegging him as a player to keep an eye on. Possibly the best athlete in the Rays' farm system, Jackson needed to show that he could handle the bat. Unfortunately, he did nothing to prove that in 2013.
There are not many positives to take away from his season statistically. He hit for a low average, hit for little power, walked at a below league average rate, struck out at an above league average rate, and was not especially effective stealing bases. Like Harris, Jackson will stay on the map due to his athleticism. But for right now, he doesn't seem to have much else going for him.
Kevin Kiermaier (23 Y.O. in Double-A, Triple-A, and MLB)
571 PAs, .295/.362/.431, 7.9 BB%, 15.2 K%, 6 HR, 42 XBH
It was quite the season for Kiermaier, who went from an unheralded fringe prospect to playing center field for the Rays in the playoffs. Along the way, he ascended three levels and thrust himself into the prospect picture.
A tremendous defender in center field, Kiermaier doesn't need to hit very much to provide value. Though he does not walk a whole lot, his strike out rate is in control and he uses his speed and line drive approach to hit for a solid average. This season didn't come out of nowhere; he has a .743 OPS in his professional career. Still, it will be interesting to see if Kiermaier will carry his strong offensive performance into next year.
Thomas Milone (18 Y.O. in Rookie Ball and Short Season Class-A)
160 PA, .209/.264/.297, 4.4 BB%, 24.4 K%, 1 HR, 7 XBH
Milone was this year's high draft pick (3rd round) with premium athleticism and questionable current baseball skill. Scouts commented before the draft that he often, with the bat, looked like just another high school player, and it showed in his short season debut.
It was a miserable performance for Milone this year, though the sample size is not huge. From the statistics, it looks like he struggles to control the strike zone while also not driving the ball, two traits unsurprising from a player who focused quite a bit on football during high school.
Julian Ridings (21 Y.O. in Short Season Class-A)
232 PA, .255/.288/.338, 3.9 BB%, 18.5 K%, 0 HR, 16 XBH
An 18th round draft pick in the 2013 draft, Ridings was tasked with manning center field for the Hudson Valley Renegades. In his pro debut, he struggled. His walk rate and power were both sub-par, and his average was not nearly enough to make up for these shortcomings. He performed much better in college, so hopefully he can rebound next year.
Rich Thompson (34 Y.O. in Triple-A)
217 PA, .249/.325/.312, 7.4 BB%, 17.5 K%, 0 HR, 9 XHB
The subject of jokes when it comes to replacement level players, Rich Thompson will not be mistaken for a big league caliber player. For his career, he has not mastered hitting at Triple-A, and he certainly did not this past year while battling injuries. He could find his way onto a major league roster in September as a pinch-runner, but any role beyond that unlikely. He hits for a solid average, draws a below average (but not terrible) amount of walks, and hits for very little power.
The Rays may keep him around so long as Durham needs another outfielder, and I don't think anyone will complain if he does not manage another stint on the major league club. Still, there is value in having a player of his skill set around, and it allows for more roster flexibility when there is depth in Durham.