With the draft less than two weeks away, I'll start taking a look at some of the candidates the Rays could be targeting. Today will be about players in the mix at pick #24, the Rays' first of three 1st-round picks. With the obvious fact that these same guys would be in consideration for later picks if they fall, I'll check back in later this week with some more players that fit in the 31-32 range. Next week we'll go a little deeper with sandwich-round picks and beyond.
Quick note: I have to plug some of the awesome work being done by BurGi over at RaysProspects. He's looked at the draft order and how it may hurt the Rays, when the Rays draft high school and college players, some pitchers to watch, and some risers and fallers. That last one features a very helpful chart on where players have been going in various mock drafts. Check back often over the next two weeks as he (and I) have a lot more coming.
Now, on with the show:
The Masher: C.J. Cron, 1B, University of Utah - He's the top power prospect in the draft with legit 80 raw power from the right side. His .444/.522/.829 line with the Utes wuld be impressive in any year, but with new bats stifling power numbers across the college ranks it stands out even more. He has 15 home runs, which nearly doubles his next-closest teammate's total. He has very good hand-eye coordination, making him an above-average pure hitter and able to tap into that massive raw power. He's got baseball in blood: his father, Chris, was a former big leaguer and current manager in the Tigers' system, and his younger brother Kevin is a high school draft prospect this June.He used to catch, but a shoulder injury forced him to first base and there's little chance of him strapping on the tools of ignorance again. He's a sub-average runner and defender, and while his arm is decent, it won't matter too much at first base. Assuming his shoulder heals on its own and doesn't worsen to the point of needing surgery, his bat should carry him through the minors quickly.
The Hawaiian: Kolten Wong, 2B, University of Hawaii - Like Cron, he's one of the top college hitters available, only his game is completely different. He's a smaller guy at 5-9/180, but that hasn't hurt his pure hitting ability. He has a short, line drive-oriented swing from the left side with enough power to put one over the fence every now and then (he has a team-leading six for the Warriors). He showed he could handle wood bats by being .341 on his way to winning the Cape Cod MVP last summer.
His tools aren't necessarily elite, but his polished game helps his get the most out of them. He controls the strike zone well and is able to hit well to the opposite field. His speed grades out as probably only a 55, but he can swipe bases thanks to his good instincts. He's a versatile defender, having appeared in games at second base, shortstop, third base, and even center field in his career.
The Pipe Dream: Josh Bell, OF, Dallas Jesuit HS - I dub him the pipe dream because if he falls to #24, it's likely because of a price tag that the Rays may be unable to meet given their multitude of picks. Yes, I know the team has said they'll spend what it takes, but that doesn't mean they'll hand out Nick Castellanos-type money. Right now all signing bonus talk is speculative, though, and while he's a Boras client, we might as well talk about him.
His profile is somewhat similar to that of Josh Sale's, last year's top pick by the Rays. Bell is the best power hitter from the high school ranks. He may not quite match Sale's pure strength, but Bell can produce his power from both sides of the plate. He doesn't have the footspeed to stay in center field, but possesses a strong enough arm for right. One year isn't a trend, but the Rays took high schoolers who were more hitters than athletic-types last year in Sale and Drew Vettleson, and Bell would fit in that mold.
The "Wyoming? Really?": Brandon Nimmo, OF, East HS (Wyo.) - The state of Wyoming has produced just two draft picks in the past ten years, so Nimmo being the first round conversation is big news there (I assume). A state champion in the 400m dash, he's still relatively raw, though perhaps not as much as you'd expect from a player in a state that doesn't even have high school baseball. He has the quick wrists and bat speed to hit for average and power from the left side, though he needs to add strength for the latter.
He suffered a torn ACL playing football in 2009 and had some knee tendinitis this spring, but it hasn't hurt his speed long-term. He has a decent arm and will be able to stick in center field. There have been some rumblings that Nimmo may be looking for a big bonus to buy him out of his Arkansas commitment, but it's tough to separate truth from rumor at this point.
The Local Kid: Jose Fernandez, RHP, Alonso HS (Fla.) - First, a quick note for any mock drafters who play the "local connection" card: In the last five drafts, there have been 30 first or supplemental round picks from the state of Florida (HS, JuCo, and college). The Rays have drafted one of those, Levon Washington. They haven't shown any sort of proclivity to take local guys. The two others I can think of are Austin Wood (4th round, 2010, St. Petersburg JC) and Alex Koronis (2009, 11th round, University of Tampa). The last player the Rays took in the top ten rounds from Florida to actually sign was Alex Cobb. In 2006. So while the Rays may indeed have some heat looking hard at Fernandez, don't chalk it up to any sort of Tampa connection.
Moving on. Fernandez is a fireballing Cuban who came to the United States a few years ago (we're talking about people, right?). He's old as far as high school prospects go, turning 19 before the August signing deadline. He's run his fastball up to 98 mph and flashed a plus curve, and generally commands both well. He needs to improve the consistency of his breaking pitches, perhaps scrapping either his slider or curveball to focus more on the other.
The Guys Various Mock Drafts Had The Rays Taking: Joe Ross, RHP (Keith Law), Josh Osich, LHP (Frankie Piliere), Robert Stephenson, RHP (John Sickels), Blake Swihart, C (PerfectGame) - Ross is the younger brother of major-leaguer Tyson Ross. Joe's delivery is less herky-jerky, and he's pretty polished for a high school pitcher. Stephenson is another high school righty, but he's a bit more of a project. Lanky and projectable, he's gotten his fastball his fastball as high as 97 mph. Josh Osich, a college lefty, as been one of the biggest helium guys this spring thanks in part to a no-hitter. Tommy John surgery means he's a year older than other college juniors, and may be a reliever in the long run. Swihart, a high school, is the draft's top catcher. But given his big ceiling and supposed bigger price tag, I'm not sure how realistic getting him is.
What I Would Do: Bell and Nimmo would be at the top of my board. With so many picks I won't complain if they go "safe" or "cheap" with a few picks, but that can be done with the supplemental picks and not the first rounders. There's a ton of pitching depth, and it's practically a given that at least one prep pitcher whose in the mix at 24 would get to 31/32. Unless Taylor Guerreri or Daniel Norris fell, I probably wouldn't consider a pitcher. If it came down to Wong vs. Cron, I'd give the edge to Cron because his best tool is better than Wong's, and I think Wong would be more likely to slide to 31/32.