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Second Basemen

I'm attempting to pay more attention to the minor leagues so you may see more of these prospect articles coming. Or I may never feel like doing another one. Either way, I'm looking at Rays prospects from an almost pure statistical view, using any scouting information I have but mainly focusing on performance.

Today it's a look at the two second basemen in the organization that look like they have good shots at making it to the majors in some role.

Fernando Cortez vs. Elliot Johnson. Round 1......Fight!

Age 18

Cortez (1999): Not Drafted Yet
Johnson (2002 rookie league): .263/.345/.362, 152 AB, 1 HR, 18 BB, 48 K

Johnson was signed as an undrafted free agent from an Arizona high school. Showed good plate discipline at Princeton and good enough power for an 18 year old middle infielder.

Age 19

Cortez (2000): Not Drafted Yet
Johnson (2003 A-): .212/.370/.238, 151 AB, 0 HR, 38 BB, 32 K

What a weird season for Johnson. No power at all and an average barely above the Mendoza Line but his OBP was .370 and he showed excellent control of the strikezone. He didn't get much playing time, it's speculation on my part but he may have lost most of the season to injury. If he was then that might explain the power loss, depending on what the injury was.

Age 20

Cortez (2001 SS A): .278/.321/.376, 234 AB, 1 HR, 15 BB, 26 K
Johnson (2004 A-): .262/.339/.370, 503 AB, 6 HR, 54 BB, 91 K

Johnson repeated the level with his power returning to normal and the abnormally high walk rate settling down. At this point he didn't look like much though the plate discipline held some promise. Cortez was drafted out of junior college at 20, not showing much of anything in his first season.

Age 21

Cortez (2002 A-): .267/.327/.331, 475 AB, 2 HR, 41 BB, 59 K
Johnson (2005 A+): .273/.350/.449, 227 AB, 8 HR, 24 BB, 49 K
Johnson (2005 AA): .111/.143/.111, 27 AB, 0 HR, 1 BB, 6 K

After Cortez's promotion to Durham this year Johnson moved to Montgomery to take his place. He looked good at Visalia but so far (in very limited playing time) has struggled to adjust to Double-A. Cortez, like Johnson, was promoted to a full season league after playing in short season the year he signed. Cortez still doesn't look good though, little power and not enough walks to compensate for the somewhat low average.

Age 22

Cortez (2003 A+): .281/.346/.339, 384 AB, 1 HR, 41 BB, 61 K
Cortez (2003 AA): .316/.333/.386, 114 AB, 1 HR, 3 BB, 22 K
Johnson: Hasn't Reached Yet

Another unimpressive year for Cortez. His batting average is coming up some but the power isn't there at all. He has good control of the strikezone (as evidenced by his BB/K ratio) but it's not helping enough to make him a promising hitter at all.

Age 23

Cortez (2004 AA): .287/.345/.396, 359 AB, 3 HR, 32 BB, 60 K
Johnson: Hasn't Reached Yet

Those would be acceptable numbers for a second baseman in the majors if he was good defensively. Unfortunately Cortez put them up in Double-A at the age of 23. Not too old for the league but it certainly isn't the kind of performance that would turn heads.

Age 24

Cortez (2005 AA): .333/.377/.420, 219 AB, 0 HR, 15 BB, 42 K
Cortez (2005 AAA): .303/.343/.394, 33 AB, 0 HR, 2 BB, 3 K
Johnson: Hasn't Reached Yet

Cortez hit for a high average but his control of the strike zone continued to slide. He's at Triple-A now after his recent promotion though he might have started the season there if the organization hadn't wanted him to get some time in at shortstop.

Unfortunately I don't really know much of anything about either defensively. Since Cortez spent some time at SS I assume he is probably above average defensively at 2B.

It's pretty obvious who the better prospect is, Johnson is well ahead of where Cortez was at the same ages and in less than half a season at Visalia hit as many home runs as Cortez has in his career (eight). Johnson could come in useful down the road, I figure he can be easily kept in the minors into the 2007 season without his bat forcing its way into the majors. Even if things work out and the Rays have the same 2B/3B alignment then as they do now Green will be heading into his second arbitration year after 2007 and will be only two years from free agency. We don't know of course if Green will be able to stick as an everyday player yet but if he does then the Rays might have a replacement ready as he gets more expensive and closer to being able to leave.

Cortez isn't nearly so interesting, he will probably be a legitimate major leaguer but only as a backup. He might be in a perfect position going into next season since the Rays won't have anyone on hand as a utility infielder.