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Jake's Take: "On The Cusp"

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*These opinions are mine and are not the opinions of DRays Bay. -Jake*
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Last year, I somewhat predicted a huge turnaround of fortune for Rays prospect Reid Brignac. While my prediction of Brandon Wood-like power turned out to be somewhat false, his overall production was very Wood-like. Reid managed to put together a such a great season at Visalia, so much so that he got a promotion to Double A. Should this be attributed to his hitting partner-in-crime, Evan Longoria, or should his offseason workouts be the reason behind this "breakout"?

Who are my picks for 2007?

This year, my "on the cusp" prospects are Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Walker. Jeremy Hellickson was nearly unhittable at Hudson Valley and got the nod as Baseball America's Top Prospect of the NY/Penn League. I think that his move to the SAL League will be only the start of his "breakout", seeing as I don't see him pitching more than 10 starts there. I believe that he's gonna help lead Vero Beach's already-loaded stable of pitchers into playoff contention in the FSL.

While many Rays fans know the names Wade Davis and Jake McGee by heart, I believe many of them are overlooking Matt Walker entirely. Matt Walker may be looked as the "rawest"(in terms of potential-to-actual results) of the trio, but it appears that the Davis-McGee-Walker triumvirate takes turns with their breakouts. McGee had his in 05 in Hudson Valley, McGee had his in '06 with the SWM Rays and I believe that Walker will breakout in Vero Beach. I think that Walker's top-notch fastball and his "off the table" offspeed pitches will come together in 07 and he may be the pitcher that may be the one to get promoted that will lead to Hellickson going to Vero Beach.

Other Candidates for Minor League "Breakouts":
-Elliot Johnson, 2B: I think that EJ's
surprising 06 numbers will continue in 07 with Durham and possibly get even better(which is scary). I worry about his defensive ability at 2B, though I've heard that he's fully capable at the position, and his baserunning skills(where he's obviously below-average at). Another negative for EJ is the possibility of a Longoria move to 2B, which would pretty much leave EJ without a full-time spot and start his Utility IFer work.

-Alex Cobb, SP: One of my favorite draftees of the '06 class was Alex Cobb and he didn't exactly set the world on fire like fellow draftee Tyree Hayes(another favorite of mine) was. However, you can't ignore Cobb's track record in HS at Vero Beach HS(He threw a few no-no's there, other than being a strikeout machine) and that's why I see him pitch "lights out" at Columbus. He shouldn't be coddled and stuck in a short-season, late-starting league next year and be put into a full-season league in 2007. Unless one of Vero Beach's non-Trio pitchers goes AWOL or outright sucks, I don't see how Cobb making a homecoming in 2007. However, if he can live up to his potential, It MAY happen.

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In the Major League phase, my 2 choices of "breakout" players is Edwin Jackson and Carl Crawford.

Yes, I'm predicting a "breakout" season for Carl Crawford. More on that later.

Without any Minor League options left, it's all or nothing for Edwin Jackson. Our little project of converting Jackson to a reliever last year was very confusing and wasn't very successful. In his 1 start with the Rays last year, he looked like Daniel Cabrera. Basically, he walks as much as he strikes out hitters. However, I'm more confident in Edwin being alot more successful in the rotation than a Seo or Fossum would. Jackson, still wild as ever, has been very successful in the VWL where he's finding himself on the good end of decisions and maintaining a low ERA. I believe that he should be considered for a full-time rotation spot for the Rays, seeing as Kazmir wasn't the beacon of control in his first full season with the Rays. He's 23 and still has tons of potential, what do we have to lose?

My other "breakout" is Carl Crawford, which to many sounds very confusing. The Hardball Times yearly annual(now available at Amazon.com, by the way.) also agrees with me on this thought, but I have my own reasons for this. If you look at Crawford's numbers, which continue to improve on a year-by-year basis, you'll notice that they only improve in small increments. I strongly believe that this will change in 2007, when his wrists problems will be subsided and his altered swing(from those problems) in full-strength will cause his production to sky rocket. If you add the fact that the Rays may be lowering the fences, I won't put a 25-30 HRs season out of the question. After 2007, Carl will no longer be thought of as just a "Stolen Base and Triples Threat." Guess what MLB, you had your chance in the past to trade him....and now we consider him to be "untouchable" for the remaining years of his contract, that's gotta suck for the other teams of the AL East.

Other Candidates for Major League "Breakouts":
-Rocco Baldelli, CF: With Rocco, I see him as being as much of an offensive threat as Crawford is. I've seen enough in Rocco that I consider him to have more power potential in his career than Crawford, with Crawford getting the nod because of health, speed and "untouchable" quote from Friedman. Rocco is set to make around 750 K in 2007, due to some lofty expectations for himself in his self-negotiations with the Rays brass, and that is cause for worry because teams are licking their chops at the production from Baldelli at such a low price in the next 2 years(where he'll make a combined 3 MIL). Rocco's excellent defensive play, improved discipline(at the leadoff spot) and his new-found selectiveness in base-running almost got me to choose him as a 3rd candidate...but I want to see him have an injury-free year in 2007 and on the Rays, before I admit I was wrong for not choosing him.

-James Shields,SP: If only he didn't completely fall off in the summer.... He started out 4-0, then completely lost it and found it again near the end of the season. What caused that mid-season fall-off? I really don't know, but I believe it was due to his routine becoming too predictable and hitters thrived off of it. Still, even with the midseason "ugh"-fest, he managed an almost 3:1 K/BB ration. I believe that the hiring of Hickey will help Shields the most. Shields relies more off of his non-fastball pitches than Kazmir and I think Hickey will put everything together for Shields. I'm not expecting Hickey to turn Shields into Oswalt, seeing as they're 2 different kinds of pitchers, but I won't be surprised if Hickey's work with Shields gives him another "come outta nowhere" story like Oswalt was.

My question to the readers, who are your "breakout" candidates?