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Top 25 Prospects Part I; #s 25-21

Introduction

As if you all haven't been saddled with enough prospect lists already, I will present may take this week. For the next seven days, I will present my Top 25 prospects within the Devil Rays organization. I submitted my Top 25 too late for consideration in RaysBaseball.com's list, so I decided to go back, refine my rankings, and post them in five increments here. For the first five days of the week, I will present my Top 25, just the straight list. On Saturday, I will present my list of 'Outtakes'; who barely missed the cut on the list. And then on Sunday, I wrap up the series with a story on what I think next year's version of the list will look like. And then, I promise you, there will be no more prospect lists for awhile. I can't speak for Sam over at Raystalk, but I am pretty sure he isn't going to do a list on his blog.

Here are the first five below for those who do not want to read the details, which follow the jump.

  1. LHP Jarrad Lavergne
  2. LHP Brandon Mann
  3. OF Garret Groce
  4. OF Francisco Leandro
  5. OF John Matulia

Overview

Here are the bottom five of the list. The one thing that immediatly sticks out when you compare the final four players is draft position. All were drafted extremely low, with the highest of the four being drafted in the 24th round. Jarrad Lavergne went in the 26th round, Brandon Mann in the 27th, Garret Groce in the 41st round, and Francisco Leandro in the 24th. This point would have been even more prevalent had I included Elliot Johnson, who was not even drafted and missed the Top 25 just barely. But the average draft position for the bottom four was in the middle of the 29th round.  Even John Matulia, who made the list at #21, was drafted in a double digit round. These five beat out a number one overall pick (Josh Hamilton), and an eighth overall pick (Wade Townsend) to get here, and although they may lack the talent of those drafted in the first few rounds, you will not find harder workers.It just goes to show that there are hidden gems to be found in the later rounds of the draft. Here is more on the bottom five.

25. LHP Jarrad Lavergne:

Background-Jarrad Lavergne hails from Cajun country, yet another product of former Rays scout Benny Latino's scouting portfolio that already includes Reid Brignac and Joey Gathright. Drafted with the 764th overall pick in the 2002 entry draft, Lavergne's career got off to a rocky start, as he spent his first three years of pro baseball with the Rays' Rookie League affiliate in Princeton. In 2002, Lavergne pitched to a 7.80 ERA in eight games for the P-Rays, accumulating a WHIP of 2.47 in 15 innings with a K:BB of 1.25. His career might have ended then and there, but Lavergne pulled himself together the next year, moving into the starting rotation and compiling a 4.28 ERA in 10 starts and 11 games with Princeton. Still, his WHIP remained an unimpressive 1.61, and his K:BB regressed from the previous year, leaving plenty of room for him to improve.

He made one disasterous appearence for Princeton next year before breaking out with Hudson Valley of the New York-Penn League. In eight starts and 12 games for the Renegades, Lavergne compiled a 1.64 ERA with an unreal K:BB of 5.75:1, as well as a microscopic 0.91 WHIP. It was this performance that finally got Lavergne's ticket to the full season leagues stamped.

Last Year-Lavergne, with his past, would not have made it on last year's list coming off his brilliant year with Hudson Valley, but after holding his own in the full season Midwest League, he made me a convert. Lavergne pitched in 27 games for the M-Rays, all starts, with a HR/9 of 0.49. Although his peripherals need a little work, a 1.49 WHIP and 95:70 strikeout to walk ratio, he showed that he could pitch effectively in a full season league as he helped lead Southwest Michigan to the MWL playoffs, the only Rays minor league affiliate to reach postseason play.

2006 Outlook-Lavergne should be moved up to the California League to see some work this year, and it will be interesting to see how he reacts to that challenge. The Cal League is notoriously hitter-friendly, and if Lavergne has weak stuff, it will show. If Lavergne can get out of California intact, his path to the majors is much clearer, but it will be a key year for him.

24. LHP Brandon Mann:

Background-Brandon Mann took a similar career path to Jarrad Lavergne, although Mann came from an entirely different part of the country, hailing from Toby Hall territory in Washington state. Drafted out of high school with the 794th pick in the 2002 amateur draft, he became Lavergne's teammate for parts of his first two years in pro baseball. Like Lavergne, it was unclear whether Mann would make it after a poor 10 game rookie debut in Princeton where he showed very poor control en route to a 5.40 ERA. He shaped up the next year, making 11 starts for the P-Rays and finishing with a 4.29 ERA and 1.41 WHIP with a K:BB inching over 1.5. For this, he was promoted extremely late in the season to Hudson Valley, where he made two awful starts in sealing his destination for the 2004 season. But Mann got his ticket to the full season leagues stamped by going 5-5 with a 3.38 ERA for Hudson Valley in 14 starts next year. He displayed great control, striking out almost four times as many hitters as he walked, and compiled a 1.18 WHIP. Like Lavergne, he was headed for Battle Creek.

Last Year-In his first full season action in a pro league, Mann did relatively well, making 27 starts and going 10-11 with a 3.81 ERA. Again, his control problems flared up as he managed a K:BB of just 86:63, as well as a home run rate that, while not terrible, was higher than in any of his previous pro seasons. Further, his WHIP of 1.37 was merely average, and in the MWL, average ERAs mean below average in the grand scheme of things. Still, Mann showed he could bear the brunt of a full season, and did so relatively well, clinching his place on the prospect list.

2006 Outlook-Mann will most likely be moved out west and up one rung of the minor leagues to face the house of horrors that is the California League. Mann had better not let his home run rate keep climbing, because if balls flew out of the parkv in the MWL, they sure as hell are going to out west. If he is able to keep his control together and keep his pitches down, and post an ERA in between 4 and 5 in the Cal League, expect to find him up a few slots on next year's list.

23. OF Garret Groce:

Background-Garret Groce is a Georgia boy, born in Columbus and drafted out of Gerogia Tech with the 1226th pick of last year's amateur draft. I don't have much data on Groce's tenure at Tech, but it must have been pretty subpar for him to have dropped down to the 41st round. Still, he has already turned into a bargian for us, being named my 2005 Short Season League Player of the Year. In accounting for almost 25% of the wek-hitting Renegades' runs last year, Groce cemented himself as a propect to watch next year.

Last Season-So what did Groce do last season to earn the Short Season MVP? Simple, flash a fair amount of all five tools and be on one of the worst hitting teams in professional baseball. But just because Hudson Valley's offense sucked, that doesn't degrade Groce's season. In fact, he stood a chance of being MVP of a full season team if his stats were prorated over the course of a season. In 70 games (250 ABs) for Hudson Valley, hit 24 extra base hits, 29% of all of his hits, slammed five homers, and drove in 35 runs. He also scored 49 runs, 49 runs that the Renegades sorely needed. He also slashed some impressive baserunning, swiping 12 bags, and showed decent plate paitence. Overall, Groce hit to a clip of .322/.404/.492/.896, amazing totals when compared with the slop around him and making me a believer in the theory of 'he who has the most talent does not always have the most success'. Here's to Garret as he continues on his uphill climb from the 41st round.

2006 Outlook-Even though Groce did have an amazing year, some nagging feeling tells me that he may be sent back to Hudson Valley next year. By all accounts he deserves to go to Battle Creek, and it would be interesting to see how Groce makes the switch to the full season leagues.

22. OF Francisco Leandro:

Background-While the stats on Francisco Leandro do piant the picture of an amazingly talented player, his spot on this list was secured by my first hand impressions of him from Instructional League. I remember watching him at Bright House Feild just driving every pitch from the mound into the outfield gaps for a two or three bagger. Watching his great combo of extra base power and speed made him an easy pick for the list. Leandro was the highest drafted of our last four players, being picked with the 705th overall choice in the 2004 amateur draft. He split 2004 between the Rays' short season affiliate in Hudson Valley and their then-SALLY League team in Charleston. Leandro was promoted to the River Dogs despite not doing too well in Hudson Valley. He didn't do terribly, but a .716 OPS is not exactly something that jumps out at you saying 'promotion'. Far be it for me to second guess the move, because Leandro went on a tear which, to this day, has not been stopped. He went from having a higher OBP than a SLG, to having a well-rounded OPS of .967 in 106 ABs in Charleston. His .448 OBP was as equally impressive as his .519 SLG, and set him up for his first full pro season the next year.

Last Season-Leandro had a wonderful year, splitting his time almost evenly down the middle between Southwest Michigan and Visalia. Overall, he stole 20 bases on the year, hit 11 home runs, eight of them in Visalia, and drove in 79 runs, while walking more than he struck out in each location. He hit to a clip of .304/.417/.431/.848 in Battle Creek, and absolutely blew that out of the water with a line of .355/.449/.569/1.018 out in California. Although we must always add the fine print that all batting lines in the Cal League are extremely inflated, his is nonetheless impressive anyways, especially his control, which has nothing to do with hitting envornments.

2006 Outlook-Leandro clearly mastered the Cal League, but there is about a little less than 50/50 chance he returns there next season. He got 248 ABs there last year, which would seem to be enough knowing the way he dominated the league, but we have heard that the new regime may be more apitent and slow-going with prospects, so we won't know until we get the assignments. But in this author's opinion, send the man to Montgomery.

21. OF John Matulia:

Background-Matulia is the local product of these five, having grown up in Eustis, near Leesburg. He was also the pampered one of the bunch, having been fortunate enough to have been drafted in the 10th round of last year's draft out of the University of Florida. Like Groce, I have little or no info on his college performance, but it must have been better than Groce's considering the draft position. Still, based on how Matulia stormed into Princeton this year, one can guess that his stats were very good, and we'll leave it at that.

Last Season-As I mentioned, Matulia stomped onto the scene last year from the moment he set foot in Princeton. Only injury derailed  his promising start, as Matulia hit to a line of .362/.437/.514 in 105 ABs, driving in 15 runs while showing good plate discipline. However, he needs work on the base paths, as he made it 90 feet safely only eight out of 18 times. Matulia's stats were considerably worse after the injury last year after he was bumped up to Hudson Valley, as he managed only seven hits in 37 ABs. Still, the tantilizing prospect of having the non-injured, Princeton Matulia, and his prosects for the future are just too much to overlook.

2006 Outlook-Matulia will probably have to wait until 2007 to see his first full pro season, as his injury and perfromance late in the season with the Renegades warrants. Still, there is an outside possibility he goes to Battle Creek, and I'm sure he could handle that just find, but I'm taking the cautious route here and reccomending he go to Hudson Valley in June.

Photo Credits
Lavergne, Mann-RaysBaseball
Groce-Columbus State University
Leandro-Central Missouri Sate University
Matulia-Hudson Valley Renegades