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Top 25 prospects Prospects Part III; #s 15-11

Introduction

As we get set for the third day of my propsects series, the names become more familiar, and the talent gets greater. Today, we reach the halfway point with numbers 15-11, with the last ten tomorrow and the two feature stories over the weekend. Here are all of the ranked prospects thus far, including the first ten from Monday and Tuesday, with more details on today's group following the jump.

  1. LHP Jarrad Lavergne
  2. LHP Brandon Mann
  3. OF Garret Groce
  4. OF Francisco Leandro
  5. OF John Matulia
  6. RHP Jeremy Hellickson
  7. C Shawn Riggans
  8. 3B Chris Nowak
  9. RHP Matt Walker
  10. LHP Jon Barratt
  11. LHP Jake McGee
  12. LHP Chris Seddon
  13. RHP Chris Mason
  14. RHP Jamie Shields
  15. LHP James Houser
Interactive Question

Remember this week's Interactive Question, 'Of the Rays' Non-Roster Invitees, which one has the best chance to make it on the final 25 man roster'? I put the poll up on the main page yesterday, but so far, I've only got two responses through email. If you'd like to participate, please email me at mrprezz@gmail.com.

Series
Series
Monday-Part I; #s 25-21
Yesterday-Part II; #s 20-16
Today-Part III; #s 15-11
Tomorrow-Part IV; #s 10-6
Friday-Part V; #s 5-1
Saturday-Part VI; Outtakes
Sunday-Part VII; Next Year

Overview

The prevalent theme for today is 'pitcher', more specifically, left-handed ones. Three of today's five are left-handed pitchers, James Houser, Chris Seddon, and Jake McGee. The other two, Jamie Sheilds and Chris Mason, are right-handers. Actually, as the Rays' position-player heavy drafts of the 90s and early this decade begin to whittle out, the Rays have taken more of a pitching heavy approach. Their last two top picks have been pitchers, and last year's draft saw the first couple picks being used exclusively on pitchers. This has begun to show in these rankings. Of the first 15 players on the top 25, 10 are pitchers, with six of those pitchers being left-handed. Also, the run of pitchers would have been even more prevalent had I included Wade Townsend, last year's first rounder who barely missed the cut, and Bryan Morris, who certainly would be on this list had he signed yet. But as the Rays' farm system becomes more pitching-heavy, expect a greater emphasis on position players in future drafts, though it might not come this year, as Baseball America just recently released a projection that had Missouri RHP Max Schezer going to the Rays with their pick in June. But right now, the Top 25 has been pitcher-heavy, and here are number 15-11.

15. LHP Jake McGee:

Background-McGee is an excellent young pitching prospect who hails from Sparks, Nevada. Taken out of his hometown high school with the 135th overall pick in the fifth round of the 2004 entry draft, McGee made his pro debut last year with Princeton, going 4-1 with a 3.97 ERA in 12 starts for the P-Rays. He amassed a K:BB ratio of better than 2:1, and compiled a WHIP of 1.31, with most of this having been done even before he was legally able to vote. Still only 18 after the season ended, the Rays took the cautious approach with him and sent him back down to the short season leagues, but this time with Hudson Valley, for the 2005 season.

Last Season-McGee proved that he was ready to step up and go to the short season leagues after last year's excellent campaign with Hudson Valley. In 15 games and 14 starts for the Renegades, McGee went 5-4 with a 3.64 ERA, with a K:BB a hair off of 4:1. He managed to nearly half his home run rate from the previous year in Princeton, while his K/9 ratio rose to 10.45 and his BB/9 decreased to 2.7, to go along with a WHIP of 1.13. Isn't the next level up supposed to be a challenge?

2006 Outlook-McGee will be in a full season league next year, you can count on that. After the Jon Barratt mistake, the Rays are not likely to promote McGee to Visalia, but a trip to Southwest Michigan should be sufficient for the youngster on the rise, who has yet to turn 20. He could be in the Double A leagues before he is able to legally drink at this rate.

14. LHP Chris Seddon:

Background-Chris Seddon, it seems, has been in the Rays' farm system forever. Drafted out of Canyon High with the 139th overall pick in the fifth round of the 2001 amateur draft, Seddon made his debut with the Pinceton Devil Rays in 2001, going 1-2 with a 5.11 ERA in four games, including two starts. His 1.7 WHIP was as unimpressive as his ERA, yet Rays fans could see the hope when they noticed his K;BB of 3:1, and his K/9 of a whopping 13.14. This was apprently enough to convince the Rays' brass, as they moved him up to Charleston the next year, where Seddon really umped on the map by going 6-8 with a 3.62 ERA in 20 starts and 26 games overall for the RiverDogs. His K:BB deteriorated to under two, and he threw an unsettling 10 wild pitches, but on the whole, he was able to lower his WHIP to 1.38, leading to his promotion the next year to Bakersfield and the dreaded California League.

This was about the time that things turned south. Seddon ended up falling victim to the Cal League's strong hitting, going 9-11 with an ERA of 5 in 26 starts for the Blaze. His K:BB did improve, however, going north towards the two mark, but his WHIP increased 13 points to 1.51, and he was held back a year, to use a school analogy. But something must have clicked over the offseason, because in seven starts at the beginning of 2004, Seddon dominated the Cal League like no other Rays pitching rpospect had. During this time, Seddon pitched 41.1 innings, giving up no home runs and striking out more than five batters for every walk issued. This helped his WHIP immensely, as it dropped to a microscopic 0.92, and it was no surprise when Seddon got the call to the Double A level. Since then, Seddon has never been as dominant as he was, but he was decent enough in 2004, going 9-10 with a 4.39 ERA in 21 starts for the Biscuits, amassing a K:BB northwards of 2:1, but his WHIP increased to a poor 1.45, and, most unsettling, his HR rate skyrocketed. Over 119 innings, Seddon gave up 19 home runs, a HR/9 ratio of 1.44, while pitching most of his games in a ballpark that favored pitchers. It was clear that Seddon needed a little more seasoning before moving on up.

Last Season-And so, he began last season as he ended the previous one, at Riverwalk Stadium. Yet he was curiously promoted after just 10 starts. The Rays must have been blinded by his 6-1 record, as his 4.82 ERA was actually an increase from the previous year. He had a decent K:BB of over 2:1, and his HR/9 leveled off, but his WHIP stayed at about the same level at 1.49, so he really was not ready for a promotion. But there he was, thrust into the fire in Durham for the rest of the season in a home ballpark that heavily favors hitters. Is it any wonder that Seddon went 4-9 with a 5.46 ERA in 19 starts? His K:BB neared 2:1, and was decent, but his HR/9 increased to 1.03 in that home run park, and his WHIP hit 1.64, stalling his development. The question going into 2006 is, what do the Rays do with him to get him back on the right track?

2006 Outlook-Seddon will most likely head back to AAA Durham next year. I would be floored if he was promoted to the majors, although I would not be all that surprised if the more conservative new brass sent him back to Montgomery for more work. Yet still, either way, I expect a rebound season from Seddon, and I think he will do decently next year. Perhaps even decent enough to be called up at some point.

13. RHP Chris Mason:

Background-As the highest draftee to appear on this list yet, Mason was regarded as one of the 2005 draft's biggest sleepers before the Rays picked him 56th overall in the second round of last year's draft out of the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. Mason is one of the few players I have college stats on, and to be drafted in the second round, as you would naturally presume, they were quite good. In his 2003 freshman season, Mason went 4-2 with a 4.12 ERA in 30 game,s four of them starts, for UNC-G. He struck out nearly four times as many men as he walked, had a decent home runs rate, a good strikeout rate, and a WHIP of 1.25. Things only got better in his sophmore year, as Mason this time around went 4-1 with a 2.36 ERA in 13 games and seven starts, and he started to show up as a blip on the draft radar. His home run rate improved a little, but his K:BB was a little over 2.25, and his WHIP was nearly the same as 2003's at 1.22. His ERA just looked a lot better because of the team around him.

Last Season-Mason sealed his high draft pick last year by amassing an ERA of 2.88 in 15 starts and 19 games overall for UNC-Greensboro. His K:BB became absolutely crazy good at a ratio of a little over 5.5 strikeouts for every walk, and his BB/9 and K/9 ratios backed this up at 1.82 and 10.24, respectively. Although he gave up ther long ball at a higher rate than any of his previous college years, he still put together an impressive 1.07 WHIP, which led to the Rays picking him in the second round of the draft. After signing, Mason packed for Hudson Valley, where he pitched in nine games with no challenge whatsoever, striking out almost twice as many as he walked and pitching to a 1.27 WHIP. For his effort, the Rays decided to give him a taste of the full season leagues a little early, and gave him a 10 game stint in Battle Creek, where he won one game and pitched to a 1.45 ERA. His K:BB was 3.2, he pitched to a 1.18 WHIP, and between Hudson Valley and Battle Creek, did not give up any home runs. Mason's stock is weel on the rise as he heads into 2006.

2006 Outlook-If this were the old regime, I would say that Mason stood a decent chance of starting 2006 in Visalia. But as it is, a 10 game stint is not enough for the new DRO, so you should expect to see him back in Battle Creek next year. Although, with the way he is pitching, you could see him with a biscuit on his cap by the end of the year.

12. RHP Jamie Shields:

Background-Shields rivals Jaso for just about the oldest player on this list, and that is starting to hurt him in prospect rankings, although he probably wouldn't even be on this board had it not been for his breakout season last year. Drafted with the 466th pick in the 16th round of the 2000 entry draft, Shields signed too late to play in the 2000 minor league season, Shields made his pro debut in 2001 with the Hudson Valley Renegades, going 2-1 with a 2.30 ERA in five starts with a low home run rate and K:BB of 5:1, as weel as an impressive 1.17 WHIP. He looked to be a good, solid project, but unfortunatly, that was derailed when he missed the entire 2002 season due to injuries. He returned in 2003 and was assigned to Bakersfield and the terrifying California League. welcome back, eh? Yet Shields didn't do all that horribly considering the cirsumstances, going 10-10 with a 4.45 ERA in 24 starts and two more relief games for the Blaze. Although his 1.19 HR/9 rate was not impressive in the least, he was able to rack up a K:BB of over 3:1, and a WHIP of 1.39, decent considering the situation he was in. Shields returned to Bakersfield in 2004 for some touching up, going 8-5 with a 4.23 ERA in 20 starts, while amassing a K:BB of almost 3:1. His home runs per nine innings rate still remained pretty bad, at a dead even one, but his WHIP improved about .09 points to 1.3. All of this earned him a brief cameo in Montgomery at season's end, where he lost all three of his decisions and made four starts, with an ERA of 7.85. Though his control remained okay, his HR/9 soared to almost two, he gave up an awful number of hits, and his WHIP balooned to 1.75. After this terrible preview, would Shields have a future within the DRO?

Last Season-The answer, as you already know, was a resounding yes. Shields absolutely shut down the Southern League's hitting caucas, going 7-5 with a 2.80 ERA in 16 starts and one more relief game for the Biscuits. He struck out over three times as many hitters as he walked, improved his home run rate by about 1.5 from his previous Montgomery stint, and compiled a WHIP of 1.15 in dominating the Southern League and earning a promotion to AAA Durham. But creepingly like the '04 campaign when he made the terrible cmeo in Montgomery, he did the same in Durham. Although this is admitidly a small sample size, to the tune of one start, it was indeed a bad one, as Shields went six innings, giving up four runs on nine hits while walking three and k'ing 6. Obviously one start is not a reason to raise a red flag, and does nothing to diminish what Shields accomplished last year in earning his way into the top half of the top prospects list, but he will have to adjust himself to the hitter-fiendly Durham Bulls Athletic Park if he wants to advance.

2006 Outlook-Shields has nothing left to prove in Double A, so he will be in Durham next year without a doubt. The question is whether Shields can complete that final step and end his minor league journey in getting to the majors. If Shields does decently, expect him to get a late season callup at the very least, possibly sooner depending one injuries and the, well, how should I say this, ineptitiude of the pitching staff.

11. LHP James Houser:

Background-The localest of the Top 25 prospects, Houser hails from Sarasota High just south of St. Pete, and with the career path he is taking, it might not be too long before he comes full circle again. Taking over as the new 'highest drafted' in our countdown, Houser was picked in the 2nd round of the 2003 entry draft with the 38th overall pick. He made his pro debut with Princeotn in 2003 after signing, going winless in 10 starts with the P-Rays. But don't let that fool you, Houser was very sharp, pitching to a 3.73 ERA with a very low home run ratio and a K:BB in between three and four. He had an impressive K/9 ratio over 9.66, with a WHIP of 1.37. So impressive was his season that the Rays decided to skip him over Hudson Valley and start him straight in Charleston at the beginning of the 2004 season. Unfortunatly, his year became sidetracked with injuries, something that would become a familiar theme last year, and he made only seven starts for the RiverDogs in '04. However, if it was any indication of his talent, his 2004 season boded well for his future, as he went 3-1 with a 2.20 ERA in those seven starts. He struck out almost twice as many batters as he walked, continued with his low home run rate, and overall compiled a WHIP of 1.22. But the injury bug slowed his development.

Last Season-Although his breif 2004 stint in the lowest rung of the full season leagues was impressive, the Rays needed a larger sample size in order for them to send him out west, and although the injury bug bit once again in 2005, it didn't do so as severely as in the previous year, allowing Houser to make 22 starts, going 8-8 with a 3.76 ERA. He also struck out almost 3.5 times as many hitters as he struck out, but his HR/9 rate rose very steeply and very oddly, inching up near 1 when all of his other peripherals stayed the same. Maybe it was the switch from the Sally League to the MWL, but one can only up it returns to its previous levels next year.

2006 Outlook-After almost two years in the lowest rung of the full season leagues, I believe the sample size is large enough and the stats are good enough for Houser to advance to the Cal League, and I believe he will do so, however inconsistent he may be. Houser obviously has the talent, and if he stays healthy, it will be interesting to see what he is able to do against much higher California League competition.

Photo Credits:
McGee-Hudson Valley Renegades
Seddon, Shields-Montgomery Advertiser
Mason, Houser-RaysBaseball