It must be predictions week. As Steve posted about yesterday, we're rolling out the RaysProspects prediction series. Over at Rays Digest, John Gregg posted his predictions for pitching prospects in 2012. So continuing with that theme, here are 10 predictions for the 2012 minor league season:
1. Tying in with my prediction of Enny Romero being this year's breakout prospect, I see him leading the system in strikeouts as Matt Moore graduates. Admittedly, it's not much of a stretch as Romero trailed only Moore in strikeouts per 9 innings among starters last season (though Alex Torres had more total strikeouts). Torres should also see time in St. Pete, leaving Chris Archer and Alexander Colome as his main competition. Considering their similar profiles of plus-stuff, below-average control, it could come down to who's able to throw the most strikes and work deepest into games.
2. Oscar Hernandez will play with the Princeton Rays when the short-season leagues start in June. He'll flash potential but hit some rough patches, finishing with a slash line of around .290/.340/.460 -- more than solid for catcher in his age-18 season. Those expecting him to carry his domination from Venezuela over will be disappointed, but he'll work himself into the Rays top 20 prospects.
3. Best performer from the loaded 2011 draft class -- high school division -- will come from Tyler Goeddel with Princeton. He's a lean 6-4/180 so his home run power won't be near its peak yet, but his plus arm and athleticism will impress and he'll rank among the top three prospects in the Appalachian League.4. Best performer from the college ranks will come from Mikie Mahtook, but since that's too easy of a call (ignoring the fact Goeddel got the second-highest bonus for the last prediction, of course) I'll predict a big season for Ryan Carpenter. The tall lefty from Gonzaga struck out 26 and walked four in 23.2 innings with Hudson Valley, and while he won't be repeating his 0.76 ERA, I see him being the best pitcher on a Hot Rods staff that figures to include Andrew Bellatti, Jason McEachern, and possibly Grayson Garvin.
5. More than two hitters will top the 20 home run mark. Last season, only Derek Dietrich (22) and Oscar Hernandez (21) were able to clear the wall that many times, and while Hernandez will drop below, Dietrich has a good chance at repeating. Joining him will be Mikie Mahtook (although the Florida State League may make it tough for each of them) and at least one out of Tim Beckham, Jeff Malm, and Cody Rogers.
6. Ryan Brett will lead the organization in stolen bases. Tyler Bortnick led the way with 43 last season, Ty Morrison is one year removed from a 58-steal season, and Hak-Ju Lee has enough speed as anyone. Those three will make a contest of it, but Brett swiped 21 in 61 games, a better pace than Bortnick's 43 in 132. Brett will also be playing for manager Brady Williams, who loves giving the green light.
7. Kyle Lobstein will have something of a renaissance year. He'll further refine his control and command -- he walked only 36 in 132.1 innings last year -- and emerge as a #4-type starter prospect, and rank higher than rotation-mates Alexander Colome and Nick Barnese.
8. The Rays pick third baseman Trey Williams with the 25th overall pick in the 2012 draft. Okay, so this is obviously just a total shot in the dark. But more hitting depth couldn't hurt.
9. Scott Shuman will be the organization's best relief prospect by the end of the season. I've written about him before, but I just can't quit his plus-plus fastball/slider combo, even though his 86 strikeouts in 51.2 innings last season came with 59 walks. He has the ability to be dominant even with a below-average walk rate in a sort of Carlos Marmol load. Lenny Linsky and Marquis Fleming are better bets, but... such... good... raw... stuff...
10. Next year's top 10:
1. Hak-Ju Lee
2. Enny Romero
3. Mikie Mahtook
4. Tyler Goeddel
5. Taylor Guerrieri
6. Drew Vettleson
7. Tim Beckham
8. Chris Archer
9. Alex Torres
10. Ryan Carpenter