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Top Prospects Part IV; #s 10-6


Our list is entering the home stretch as we count down our final ten, with the last ten pretty much already guessed by all of you, just not the order, well, except for number one. So as I need to hustle to catch up this weekend, here is the full list so far, with more info on the five introduced today after 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
  16. C John Jaso
  17. SS Reid Brignac
  18. RHP Andy Sonnanstine
  19. RHP Jeff Niemann
  20. RHP Wade Davis
Monday-Part I; #s 25-21
Tuesday-Part II; #s 20-16
Yesterday-Part III; #s 15-11
Today-Part IV; #s 10-6
Tomorrow-Part V; #s 5-1
Saturday-Part VI; Outtakes
Sunday-Part VII; Next Year


Well, as we enter out Top Ten, we see that the patterns start to stop. There becomes no rhyme or reason to the rankings now, only the fact that all are very talented baseball players with the stats to back up that talent. Some have more of one than the other. Andy Sonnanstine, for example, might not be as talented as anyone else in the Top 10, but he has some excellent stats to back up his ranking, and John Jaso is essentially the same thing. Meanwhile, Reid Brignac and Jeff Niemann are both highly talented players whose stats are not eye-popping, while Wade Davis combines the best of both worlds, and tops the list so far. So no more patterns, Rays fans, only excellent prospects.

10. C John Jaso:

Background-The Rays' top catching prospect, John Jaso, was drafted by the Devil Rays in the 12th round (338th overall) in the 2003 amateur draft, and began his pro career that same year in Hudson Valley. He eventually was "held back" after an awful start with the Renegades. In 2003, Jaso batted .221/.339/.305, with his plate paitence obviously not the problem. But Jaso just couldn't manage to get the extra base hit in. He hit a total of nine in 154 ABs, and drove in 20. However it was clear that Jaso rarely swung at slop. He walked only one less time than he struck out. He then improved vastly the next year in the Valley, this time hitting to a line of .302/.378/.437, for an .815 OPS. While his SLG could have been a bit higher, Jaso nonetheless established himself as a decent hitter, albeit one who might not stay at catcher. He drove in 35, and while he still only hit two home runs, he made up for it by hitting 19 other extra base hits, even legging out two triples, a rarity for a slow catcher. But if you thought these numbers were the least bit impressive, you would be blown away by his 2005.

Last Season-Last year, Jaso got his first taste of a full season league in Battle Creek. Jaso by a quantam leap improved his power, hitting 26 doubles and triples, as well as 14 home runs, and he lost more than a month due to injury! While driving in 50 runs, Jaso maintained his plate paitence and finished with a line of .307/.383/.519  for an OPS of .898. He thuroughly dominated MWL pitching, and had it not been for a late season injury, he'd have had a shot a 20 home runs. How do you spell B-R-E-A-K-O-U-T?

2006 Outlook-The outlook can't be anything but good for a catcher with a bat headed to the California League. Expect Jaso to absolutely tee off in Recreation Park next season, and further raise his value. After all, left-handed hitting catchers do not grow on trees, especially good ones, and Jaso certainly qualifies as one of those.

9. SS Reid Brignac:

Background-Some prominent Rays fan who shall not be named coined this top prospect "the Cajun God of Baseball". Knowing his talent would likely make you agree. Brignac, like Lavergne, hails from Cajun Country in Louisiana, another product of Benny Latino's scouting. Drafted with the 45th overall pick in the second round of the 2004 entry draft out of high school, Brignac began his career on a tear with rookie league Princeton. It is very rare for a prospect to be promoted over Hudson Valley to a full season league in just one half-season, but that is indeed what the Rays did with Brignac after he smashed Appy League pitching. In 97 ABs with the P-Rays, Brignac hit to a line of .361/.413/.474 to an OPS of .887, and he was just 18 when doing so. He also drove in 25, in just 97 ABs, mind you, and walked only one less time than he struck out. He only had 14 ABs to work with when promoted to Charleston late in the season, but ot even bother with a promotion such as that late in the year is a testament to just how good Brignac was. And did he stop with the RiverDogs? Of course not, banging seven hits in 14 ABs, and driving in five. So with these lofty stats, his 2005 may seem like a disappointment, but dig deeper and ye shall find that same great hitter as in 2004.

Last Season-Brignac got his first full season in pro baseball last year, being one of the workhorses at Battle Creek, racking up 512 ABs with the M-Rays. Brignac hit 31 extra base hits and 15 home runs, very impressive from a little shortstop, while driving in 61 . He needs a little work on his baserunning, as he was only successful 50% of the time on steals, and his plate paitence is terrible (40/131 BB/K), but for a 19 year old in a full season league, those are impressive stats. Overall, Brignac hit to a line of .264/.319/.416, a .735 OPS, but he was a good hitter, and those stats should get some decent padding in the Cal League.

2006 Outlook-As I said, Brignac has nothing left to prove in the Midwest, and should get a trip out west to California next season. My co-writer here may have you believe that Brignac is in for a Brandon Wood-type season, and though I don't think he'll be that good, stranger things have happened. But if Briggy does well next year, expect him to be in the top five on this list next year.

8. RHP Andy Sonnanstine:

Background-Andy Sonnanstine would be the Rays' best pitching prospect if you went by the stats alone. Plain and simple, thee best. Especially when some of these stats were compiled in the California League. Alas, we can't just go by the stats in determining a player's value, but a No. 8 ranking in a strong farm system is pretty respectable. Drafted with the 375th overall pick in the 13th round of the 2004 amateur draft out of Kent State, Sonnanstine showed similar good numbers in college, going 2-0 with a 3.91 ERA in 2003 with Kent. He didn't pitch a lot, throwing only 23 innings, but had a 4:1 K:BB ratio, as well as a 1.09 WHIP. Once he got a lot more playing time the next year with Kent, his draft stock took off. Sonnanstine went 11-4 with a 2.52 ERA in 18 starts, including two complete games and one shutout. He also had an impressive K:BB of almost 5.5 strikeouts for every walk, and had a 1.14 WHIP.

Atfer being drafted by the Rays, Sonny was sent to Hudson Valley, but not for long. He went 3-1 with an ERA of 1 in seven relief games and two starts with Hudson Valley, while notching a K:BB  of 8:1 and compiling a microscopic WHIP of 0.78. For this, he was promoted up to Charleston, where he was even better, going 2-0 with a 0.59 ERA in eight games, five starts, while not forgetting that high K:BB of 6:1 and 0.82 WHIP. More impressive was the 12.33 K/9 number, and even more impressive was the fact that Sonnanstine did not give up a home run in 57.2 innings of pro ball in '04. So perhaps his awesome year last season wasn't so surprising.

Last Season-To tell you how good Sonnanstine's 2005 was, let me just tell you this. He won Pitcher of the Year Awards in my end of season wrapup series in not one, but two locations. Simply put, when you are able to rack up a K:BB of almost 10:1 while playing a full season, and part of that season having come in the California League, then you are an impressive prospect. Sonnanstine began the year in Battle Creek, and ended up spending about 2/3 of the season there, going 10-4 with a 2.55 ERA in 18 starts for the M-Rays. He also compiled a K:BB of about 9.5 to 1, as well as a 0.98 WHIP. After this, he was promoted to Visalia, where he went 4-1 with a 3.80 ERA, only winning four games because he played on a terrible Oaks team. Still, he racked up a K:BB of almost 11:1, while compiling a 1.22 WHIP and K/9 of 10.55. Even though he had no competition from an awful Visalia staff for their award, you can see why he racked up those two awards last season.

2006 Outlook-Crictics say that Sonnanstine is bound to bomb out because of his low velocity, and say that the only reason for his success is his unorthodox throwing motion that confuses inexpierenced hitters. Well, in my opinion, this may be ture and Sonny probably has the lowest ceiling and biggest chance of a large dropoff among all members of the Top Ten on this list. However, we will soon find out whether or not this is true, as Sonnanstine will probably be heading to Double A Montgomery and the Southern League next year.

7. RHP Jeff Niemann:

Background-Niemann was one of the 'Rice trio' of pitchers drafted in the Top Ten of the 2004 MLNB amateur draft. Drafted out of Rice with the fourth overall pick in the 2004 draft, Niemann is the highest drafted so far of our Top 25, and will remain so until we get to No. 1 (sorry if that spoils the ending for you). Anyways, you could tell Niemann was something special after his first year at Rice, when he went 5-1 with a 3.14 ERA in 17 games, 13 starts, with the Owls. He also had a decent K:BB of about 2:1, as well as a 1.38 WHIP. But Niemann really turned the music up in his sophmore year, and probably would have had higher draft stock had he left then. In 22 games, 18 starts, with Rice, Niemann went an astounding 17-0 with a 1.70 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and a K:BB of about 5.5 to 1. Further, his K/9 struck a great improvement, going from 7.23 the year before to 10.22 in 2003. Alas, perhaps it was a mistake for Niemann to come back for his senior year. He wasn't terrible, but he was much better in '03. In 17 games, 11 starts, with Rice, Niemann went 6-3 with a 3.02 ERA, as well as a K:BB of about 3:1, and 1.11 WHIP. He did, however, maintain his impressive K/9, which actually got better to 10.53. Still, despite worse stats, Niemann was able to delay signing until late into January, getting a fair amount of money in the process at the fourth draft slot, and Rays fans began looking forward to seeing their first top pitching draft pick since 2001 in action the next season.

Last Season-Though despite his loads of talent, Niemann ran into one disappointment after another last year, most involving injuries, and will be looking for a fresh start next year. Still, when you look at the stats, they aren't that bad. He began the season in Visalia, a formidable challenge to pitch in the Cal League for anybody, let alone somone making their pro debut. Yet, Niemann handled his first pro action very well, pitching to a 3.98 ERA while compiling a K:BB of 2.8 to 1, while also hitting an impressive 1.08 WHIP. On top of this, he continued to improve his strikeout rate, with his K/9 iflating to 12.39. The one aspect of his game that needed work was his home run rate, which was a terrible 1.33/9. Atfer this, Niemann was injured for some time, and when he came back late in the season, he found himself in Montgomery of the Double A Southern League. And even though his ERA was higher (4.35), nearly all of his peripherals improved. Granted, he only pitched 10.1 innings, Niemann's K:BB remained indentical at 2.8 to 1, he didn't give up any home runs, and his K/9 and WHIP remained close to their Visalia totals at 12.19 and 1.16, respectively. Though he only pitched 30.2 innings last season, the talent is obviously there.

2006 Outlook-This is one of the more complex and harder things to determine. Because he played so little and we have no track record of what the new management would do in situations like this, it is a wide-open question. A return to Single A is possible, as is even a promotion to Durham, but my gut instinct says he goes next year to Montgomery, where he should be. But you never know if he has an impressive spring.

6. RHP Wade Davis:

Background-Wade Davis rivals James Houser for the 'local boy' affection. Drafted by the Rays with the 75th overall pick in the third round of the 2004 entry draft out of Lake Wales High in Polk County, Davis had an unimpressive start to his pro career when he made his debut in Hudson Valley after signing in '04. He got a rude awakening after going 3-5 with a 6.09 ERA in 13 starts with Hudson Valley. Though his K:BB was a decent 2:1, he gave up too many home runs (HR/9 of 1.25), and had a disturbingly high WHIP of 1.56. At this rate, Davis looked like he might not even be pitching in a few years.

Last Season-Funny how things chnge over one year, huh? Last season Davis went from not on this list to the top ten. He went 7-4 with a 2.72 ERA in 15 starts after being held back in Hudson Valley. He notched a K:BB of almost 4.25 to 1, more than halved his home run rate, and almost doubled his K/9, as well as putting up a 1.14 WHIP. Granted, I've seen more impressive stats, but it is a validation that Davis' talent is there, and considering that talent was purported to be high, that is good enough for #6.

2006 Outlook-Davis will leave Hudson Valley in the dust, and should get the promotion to Battle Creek. The Rays won't try a two level jump after the Barratt debacle, but it'll be interesting to see what Davis does in his first full season.

Photo Credit:
Brignac, Sonnanstine-RaysBaseball
Niemann-Houston Chronicle