clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

DRaysBay Top 30 Prospects; Part I: 30-25

Introduction

This offseason the three main writers (and yes, I am still technically a writer here) of this site, Jake, R.J., and I, came up with the concept of doing a top prospect list for DRaysBay. We had neglected to do this in the past, though Jake and I did do individual series' last year detailing our individual lists from the RaysBaseball.com Top 25. The concept for a list was not meant to usurp the fine one put together by the folks over at RaysBaseball.com, a list which is now at four years and running. No, the DRaysBay list was meant to be a supplement list for Rays fans to mull over. It offers some insight on our team's prospects from the writers here, of whom only I participated in the RaysBaseball.com list.

It was then determined that the list should consist of 30 players, like the list done by Baseball America rather than the Top 20 done annually by John Sickels or the Top 25 done by RaysBaseball.com. Again, this isn't a matter of "besting" other lists, but in the inaugural version of this list, we felt that it was best to set the bar at 30 prospects because this organization is so deep. This allows us to include insight on more prospects within our system, and to be frank, the #30 prospect in our system is probably a Top 15 prospect, at least, in the weaker systems, and is probably a Top 20 or 25 in most others.

So, with that in mind, we present to you the DRaysBay Top 30 Prospect List, as put together by averaging the individual lists put forth by my co-writers Jacob Larsen and R.J. Anderson. We hope that this list will provide Rays fans some alternative insight on prospects from yet another source, and it is our hope that you will express your opinion of our list and offer some insights for us. As the organization behind this list was not done very well, I regret to say that it will consist of five pieces put together on the eve of the regular season. The minor league season actually starts next Thursday, and this series will conclude on Tuesday, giving some buffer, but not much. Six players will be featured in each installment, and despite the hastiness, I feel that the actual content did not suffer. The list was compiled from an average of our rankings, and the three ties were broken through consensus. For those of you that read the RaysBaseball.com list, I did not use the same list that I used for RaysBB to compile this list. I re-evaluated my rankings for this list, as I had to anyways because of the extra five players on it. Anyways, the first version of the DRaysBay Top 30 Prospects list follows the jump, and encompasses the last six players on the list. Subsequent articles on Saturday and Sunday will feature the other 24.

30. RHP Chris Mason

Background: To some, Chris Mason's 2006 season represented a gigantic disappointment that left his prospect status severely compromised. To others who still saw the potential of the 2005 second round draft pick, he was still a good prospect who had a down year. Somewhere in between is the DRaysBay Top 30 list, which slots Mason in the very last possible position at No. 30. Despite the fact that two of the participants didn't even rank Mason, it was Patrick's ranking of him at No. 19 that allowed him to push past a slew of competitors to claim the final ranked spot.

As the 56th overall pick in the 2005 Amateur Draft out of UNC Greensboro, Mason was originally a two way player when drafted, but was converted to a pitcher exclusively immediately upon entry into the Devil Rays' minor league system. He was impressive in his rookie debut as a relief pitcher in 2005 with SS Hudson Valley, as the Rays tried to ease him into professional baseball without him accumulating too many innings in the minor leagues coming off of the college season. Mason put up a 2.40 ERA in 15 innings of work with Hudson Valley before the Rays saw enough of him to promote him to A- Southwest Michigan, where he finished the season with a 1.45 ERA in 18.2 innings of work.

The new management saw enough of Mason in his 18.2 innings of work in Battle Creek to promote him up to A+ Visalia and the hitter-friendly California League for the following season. Whether this was a wise decision was debatable, but Mason was doing perfectly well in taming the California League before he struggled late in the season. Going into July and August, Mason had a 3.46 ERA through 15 starts, but he struggled mightily over the season's final two months to post a final ERA of 5.02 over 152.1 innings of work. His late season struggles raise the question of whether Mason has the endurance to stick in the system as a starter, but the 22 year old still possesses a decent low 90s fastball with good movement, as well as a hard slurve. He also throws a decent changeup.

Resources:

MiLB.com Player Page
TBC Player Page
First Inning Player Page

Comments:

Patrick-Mason took a step back last year due to his late season struggles, but he was a second round pick not two years ago for a reason. And even though he did struggle on the whole in Visalia, he was still an effective pitcher for most of the season, and his ERA ended up being only slightly over 5. Certainly his struggles lead credence to the suggestion that he may not stick as a starter, but based on his successful 2005 campaign as a relief pitcher, I am firmly convinced that he will be successful in some capacity. I still believe in him.

Chris Mason Prospect Rankings
DRB Jake R.J. Patrick BA Sickels RaysBB
30 UNR UNR 19 23 UNR 25

29. RHP Woods Fines

Background: Selected by the Devil Rays as a 14th round pick out of Louisburg College in the 2004 MLB Amateur draft, Woods Fines has languished in the lower levels of the Tampa Bay system since he first signed with the organization. Now 21, the right-hander from Chapel Hill, North Carolina is coming off of his first successful campaign with SS Hudson Valley. In his first pitching stint in 2005 with Rookie League Princeton, Fines pitched to a 5.29 ERA with slightly better peripheral stats. Over 32.1 innings with the P-Rays in 2005, Fines struck out 8.07 batters per nine innings while walking 3.06 per nine. His main problem ended up being hits allowed to opposing batters, as he gave up 40 in his stint, something which drove his WHIP north to 1.56.

Fines had significantly more success in his second full season with the organization, during which he pitched with SS Hudson Valley. Fines made 14 starts for the Renegades in 2006, wherein he posted a 2.47 ERA in 87.1 innings of work. He was especially adept against left-handed batters last season, holding them to a .486 OPS. He was an effective starting pitcher on the whole, as he managed to limit his walk totals to compensate for a drop in his strikeout rate. But perhaps most impressive was his ability to limit the home run ball, as he was tagged just once the whole season. Fines looks to start the 2007 season in the rotation of Single A Columbus, and hopefully progress from there as a successful starting pitcher for the organization.

Resources:

MiLB.com Player Page
TBC Player Page
First Inning Player Page
Minor League Splits Page

Woods Fines Prospect Rankings
DRB Jake R.J. Patrick BA Sickels RaysBB
29 18 UNR UNR UNR UNR UNR

28. C Nevin Ashley

Background: In a system where the crop of catchers is among the very few weak links, Nevin Ashley represents a welcome surprise. Drafted in the 6th round of the 2006 Amateur Draft out of Indiana State, Ashley's productive 2006 season in Rookie League Princeton represented something of a hope for a system fraught with no real top catcher. However productive his 2006 half-season was with the P-Rays, finding a consensus in ranking him was very difficult due to the fact that he was 22 when the Appy League season concluded. In 153 at bats with the P-Rays, Ashley hit .333/.440/.477, and had pretty even splits down the line, with no real striking extreme tendencies. On the down side, he benefited from an extremely high Batting Average on Balls In Play (or BABIP), which totaled .431. It should be noted, however, that Ashley did have two very productive seasons catching for Indiana State immediately prior to being drafted, as he put up OPSs of .846 and 1.089 in his two campaigns.

It remains to be seen whether 2006 was an aberration for Ashley. Was his success the product of a 22 year old playing against Appy League competition while benefiting from some luck? Or was his statistical dominance a harbinger of things to come? Only the next few years will tell that, but seeing as though Ashley will be turning 23 next August, it would seem to me that 2007 will be a very key year in determining his future in professional baseball, and it will be very interesting to see what the DRO does with him to start the season.

Resources:

MiLB.com Player Page
TBC Player Page
First Inning Player Page
Minor League Splits Page

Comments:

R.J.-Jeremy Brown Jr., he was old for his league, but an OBP machine he is, nice pick out of Indiana State.

Nevin Ashley Prospect Rankings
DRB Jake R.J. Patrick BA Sickels RaysBB
28 24 27 UNR UNR UNR UNR

27. C John Jaso

Background: Three years after his breakout as a prospect with SS Hudson Valley in 2004, some might wonder if Jaso is struck in neutral. While his 2006 season statistics were perfectly sound on the whole, he seemed to tire as the season progressed, and with a move in 2007 to a league not as hitter-friendly as the California League, it will be a key year for the Rays' 12th round draft pick in 2003 out of Southwestern Community College.

Jaso started his career with the Rays after being drafted in 2003 by spending a half-season with SS Hudson Valley. Jaso struggled with the Renegades as he adjusted to pitching in professional baseball, hitting .227/.344/.312 in 154 at bats. He rebounded the following year to break out as a possible top flight catching prospect in a barren organization, as he tore up the New York-Penn League in a return trip to the tune of a .302/.378/.437 line in 199 at bats. While Jaso jumped on the Rays' radar with his 2004 All-Star season, it was his full season debut in 2005 that really put him on the map. Jaso was often one of the lone heights on A- Southwest Michigan's putrid offense, hitting .307/.383/.515 on the year and establishing himself as a MWL All-Star, in both midseason and postseason. His incredible plate patience really helped him out, as he walked 42 times to just 53 strikeouts in 332 at bats before injuring himself in early August and missing the rest of the season.

Jaso hit well in what can only be described as a mixed bag of a 2006 season though. While he performed perfectly well in hitting .309/.362/.451 over the course of the season, and continued to build on his newfound power of the season before, he was also benefited by playing in the California League. Still, he continued to keep his BB:K at a respectable 31:48 rate. Of particular concern are his extremely skewed splits. Whereas Jaso hit for a .943 OPS in the hitter-friendly confines of Visalia's Recreation Park, his road OPS was below .700. Further, while Jaso hit right-handed pitchers extremely well, to the tune of an .867 OPS, he struggled mightily against lefties, hitting for an OPS of just .559. He also seemed to tire as the season drew to a close, as his OPS declined in each successive month from May to August, bottoming out at .719 in July and .700 in August.

Also of concern about Jaso is his ability to actually be a catcher. Even if his contact and on base skills do help him become a successful minor league hitter, his ability to catch has been called into question. He spent most of the 2005 season as a Designated Hitter, appearing in just 92 games as it was, and he didn't even take the position of backstop until mid-June of last season. While the organization's cautious handling of Jaso certainly has contributed to his poor playing time stats as a catcher, it remains to be seen how well he can actually hold up behind the plate, and how much of his value of a prospect is tied to that ability to catch. His arm is supposedly fine, but he gunned down just 21% of attempted base robbers last year, and his game calling ability is surely raw due to his lack of time behind the plate. The 2007 season will be a key campaign for Jaso as he attempts to assert himself as a top catching prospect within the organization, and it will be interesting to see how he holds up behind the plate, and how he hits in the neutral Southern League.

Resources:

MiLB.com Player Page
TBC Player Page
First Inning Player Page
Minor League Splits Page

Comments:

R.J.-If he can stick at catcher despite injury issues, and continue to hit, he's probably more valuable than Riggans, though those are two big ifs, and he didn't help his case but not putting on a show in the hitter friendly parks of the Cal League.

John Jaso Prospect Rankings
DRB Jake R.J. Patrick BA Sickels RaysBB
27 25 25 UNR 18 UNR 23

26. RHP Wade Townsend

Background: Wade Townsend's pro career thus far does not evoke any word that strays far from "disappointment". The eighth overall pick in the 2005 draft was the last of the "Rice trio" to sign with a major league team, and it was hoped that Townsend would quickly join his former Rice teammate, Jeff Niemann, to become a valuable pitching piece of this organization's future. Alas, he developed arm troubles like his fellow Rice draftees and missed the entire 2006 season due to elbow trouble after his stint in the Arizona Fall League.

That Townsend's lofty pick in the 2005 draft was a mistake is clear, the question is what the organization can salvage of its first round overdraft from here going forward. Drafted because he had held out the year before from the Orioles and would come cheap, Townsend struggled in his only professional appearance thus far, with SS Hudson Valley in late 2005. A quick sign, he was sent to the Renegades having not pitched for Rice in over a year, and he performed in the NY-Penn League like he hadn't picked up a ball in that time. Townsend looked awful in his pro debut, racking up a 5.49 ERA in just under 40 innings of work, while demonstrating no control and getting hit hard. He showed nothing of the pitcher he was at Rice, his low 90s fastball turned into a mid to high 80s offering, and his spike curve turned bland. And don't even ask about the changeup he showed with the Owls.

Whether Townsend regains some of his lost promise, only time will tell. If he comes back from Tommy John surgery with renewed velocity on his fastball and some bite back on his changeup, he clearly moves back into the organization's plans, as he was a legitimate first round draft pick when healthy. It has been suggested that Townsend's future could be in the bullpen down the line, however once the right gets back on the hill, continuing as a starting pitcher might still be the best course of action just to see what he's got. It is possible that Townsend will spend a bit of time in Minor League Spring Training to start the 2007 season before being optioned to a ballclub. At this point, you have to bet that A- Columbus is a likely destination. Ultimately, just seeing Townsend pitch on a baseball field at this point would be a victory in itself, but the faint hope of seeing the former Rice ace with the nasty spike curve keeps him on our Top 30 list.

Resource:

TBC Player Page

Comments:

R.J.-I think he's a sleeper waiting to happen, in terms of shooting up the organization. His best bet (other than staying healthy) would be a possible move to the bullpen where many scouts thought he was better suited (and could be a dominant closer) coming out of Rice.

Patrick-The optimist in me (whom I suppress so often) sees the Owls ace of old, dominating inferior hitters with a spike curve and mixing it in with some low 90s heat. The pessimist in me sees the pitcher who hasn't pitched competitively since 2005, hasn't pitched successfully since 2004, and is coming off of injury with bite lacking to his pitches? Where does reality set in? Hopefully more towards the former, however for as much of an overdraft as Townsend is, pitchers normally have no problem regaining lost velocity off of Tommy John surgery, and if he can regain the bite on his curve, he is still a legitimate first round prospect. If his changeup rebounds, ever the better. At this point however, evaluating Townsend is a complete crapshoot. We haven't seen him pitch competitively in 18 months, and we don't know what pitcher we'll be seeing coming off of injury. But even the faint hope of seeing the Townsend of old keeps him relevant, in my opinion.

Wade Townsend Prospect Rankings
DRB Jake R.J. Patrick BA Sickels RaysBB
26 UNR 26 22 26 UNR 22

25. C Shawn Riggans

Background: Shawn Riggans rounds out our first six prospects, and is the last person to have caught a game to make the list. While he may not actually be the last catcher in the system, depending on how the Sergio Pedroza experiment goes, he is the last person on the list to have caught a game. Riggans will almost certainly have seen his last preseason prospect list with this preseason formulation. He will likely be the major league Devil Rays' backup catcher at some point in the first half, and depending on roster cuts tomorrow, he very well may be the opening day backup catcher. Regardless, he will almost certainly cross the 50/130 threshold at some point this season, and in the remote possibility he doesn't, he still has probably seen the last of prospect rankings because that would indicate a major hit on his value.

In any case, Riggans has still made it quite far at this point. A 24th round selection of the Rays in 2000 as a draft and follow out of Treasure Valley Community College, Riggans has wound his way through the system over the last six years, having signed in early May of 2001. The 26 year old posted impressive numbers in his first campaign with Rookie League Princeton in 2001, but his progress really slowed down for a couple years after that. He was mediocre in his stint with SS Hudson Valley in 2002, and was even below average in his full season debut with A- Charleston in 2003 in his 232 at bat debut. From there, Riggans' minor league career stalled. A late season 2003 callup to AA Orlando, he continued to be very mediocre with the bat in a 62 AB stint, and the organization started him out at A+ Bakersfield for the following season. It would ultimately take Riggans until the 2006 season to finally get the call to AAA Durham, but he jump-started his prospect status in the meantime with an impressive 2004 campaign, hitting .346/.417/.551 before being promoted back up to the Double A level with Montgomery. Unfortunately, his season was cut short by injuries that cropped up, and his poor performance with the bat in Riverwalk Stadium led to his being retained with the Biscuits in 2005. Ultimately, Riggans was finally able to master the Double A level that season with the Biscuits, but he still had problems fighting the injury bug, and hit in only 313 at bats that season. They were good at bats, as he hit to an impressive .310/.365/.454 line, and he clearly established himself as the closest thing to a high level catching prospect that the organization had. He climbed prospect lists, and was generally well regarded, but he still couldn't live down the label of "injury prone".

In that respect, Riggans' 2006 season can be regarded as nothing short of a tremendous success. Starting the year with AAA Durham, Riggans managed a mostly clean bill of health all season long. He was generally one of the few prospects that didn't have any major problems at Durham last year, and while a .293/.341/.444 line doesn't exactly scream "dominance", perhaps more important was his major step forward with 115 games played. He did enough to be named an International League All-Star in midseason and cemented himself as a front-runner for the backup catcher's position for 2007. His season ended with a September callup, during which he appeared in 10 games and 29 at bats.

One of Riggans' chief problems going forwards is his plate discipline, which is virtually non-existent. On a team full of hackers, Riggans may very well set the standard, as his 27:88 BB/K can attest. Riggans really has a major problem with laying off some really bad pitches, and ultimately he will need to overcome that to become a successful major league hitter. I believe he is capable of doing that, and he is a very good defensive backstop according to all scouting reports I've read, and was named the International League's best defensive catcher by managers last year. His arm strength has been similarly praised. He should easily be ready to take the backup catcher's position in 2007, and the fact that he actually hit better away from Durham Bulls Athletic Park bodes well for him as a hitter. If Riggans can avoid the inconsistency that has plagued his past couple of campaigns, poor plate discipline, as well as avoid the injury bug that has popped up in the past with elbow troubles, he should easily be a good major league backup catcher, and probably a good regular as well.

Resources:

MiLB.com Player Page
TBC Player Page
First Inning Player Page
Minor League Splits Page

Comments:

R.J.- Should start the year on the big league squad, though I would place money on him being the Durham catcher until Josh Paul is done away with. Better defensively than offensively, he showed some decent ability to get on base with a .341 OBP last year.

Patrick-Riggans is a guy that I want to see succeed, and I believe that anyone with even the slightest degree of familiarity with him does as well. He is a genuinely nice person, he is great with the fans and doesn't have a superiority complex, and he is very personable. For that alone, I just want to see a good human being be successful at what he does, and I believe that with the abilities Riggans has shown and the production that he has put up, success is a very distinct possibility for him. Will he ever be the star catcher that will hit in the middle of your order? No, but he brings to the table good defensive skills, a bat that won't be a liability, and a rapport with many pitchers in the organization that he developed alongside. Hopefully Riggans will take a step forward this year and move off the prospect lists and onto the major league depth charts, where he hopefully will solidify himself for years to come.

Shawn Riggans Prospect Rankings
DRB Jake R.J. Patrick BA Sickels RaysBB
25 UNR 22 24 16 18 24