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Rays 2011 draft progress report

After one full professional season, how do the Rays first rounders compare to similar players?

The Rays had a historic amount of picks in the 2011 draft, perhaps only equaled by Montreal's 1990 draft that featured six picks in the top 40 plus quite a few more in round two. That draft produced a whole lot of nothing besides Rondell White, and of course the Rays are looking to beat that. With one full season under their belts, players from the 2011 class are starting to establish themselves as professionals, and it's a good opportunity to see how the Rays' picks stack up against their peers.

Although the Rays had extra picks stretching beyond the first round, I limited myself here to their 10 first round picks, starting with Taylor Guerrieri at #24 overall and ending with James Harris at #60 overall. I split players up into four categories: high school bats, high school arms, college bats and college arms. The two college categories include both junior college and four year college players. Players in those groups are most comparable because they usually follow similar development paths. I didn't use players chosen before Guerrieri. Obviously comparing Guerrieri to someone like Dylan Bundy isn't fair, and he was never an option for the Rays anyway.

To compare players across different leagues and levels, I took a quick and dirty approach to compare a hitter's OPS and pitcher's FIP to league averages. They'll read like OPS+ and ERA+ (100 is average, 101 is 1% better than league average, 99 is 1% worse,) but they're not those stats, so I won't call them that. The FIPs you see here will be different than what you see on FanGraphs. Not drastically so, but I used league specific constants instead of the standard 3.2. This is far from a perfect evaluation, but I just wanted one number that could help reasonably compare players in different situations. Let's start with the college pitchers because there are only four of them.

Sean Gilmartin (#28 to Atlanta)
Jeff Ames (#42 to Tampa Bay)
Andrew Chafin (#43 to Arizona)
Grayson Garvin (#59 to Tampa Bay)
Average pitcher has reached high-A
Average pitcher has 111 career innings
Average pitcher has a 115 adjusted FIP

A quick glance here might indicate the pair of Rays picks have been disappointing; Ames not only hasn't reached high-A like the other three, but he hasn't even pitched in full-season ball. Garvin missed most of his season with injury. However, I would make a case for the opposite. Ames is the only player out of a junior college in the bunch and a year younger than the other three, so naturally he's going to be a bit behind the others. His performance has been 26% above the league averages, and actually Garvin's was 26% above average too. His surface numbers are quite clearly not very good, but since he allowed no home runs in his 46.1 innings, FIP treats him favorably.

You're not going to find any of these four in a top 100 prospect list. Chafin has really good stuff, but his performance has just been so-so. Ames does too, but he's yet to pitch above short-season ball. Gilmartin doesn't have a high ceiling at all, but he has advanced to AAA already, two levels ahead of the other three. Garvin unfortunately also doesn't have great stuff but also hasn't performed well. Still, the early returns show the Rays did pretty well with their college arms. They're not really missing out on much with Gilmartin and Chafin, and their pair hasn't irreparably damaged their stock. Onto the college bats.

SS Joe Panik (#29 to San Francisco)
SS Levi Michael (#30 to Minnesota)
OF Mikie Mahtook (#31 to Tampa Bay)
OF Brian Goodwin (#34 to Washington)
OF Zachary Cone (#37 to Texas)
OF Jackie Bradley (#40 to Boston)
OF Keenyn Walker (#47 to the White Sox)
OF Kes Carter (#56 to Tampa Bay)
SS Jace Peterson (#58 to San Diego)

Average player has reached high-A
Average player has 615 career plate appearances
Average player has a 107 adjusted OPS

Here's where the Rays could feel disappointed in hindsight. Bradley is certainly a top 50 prospect, and Goodwin is a consensus top 100 prospect, bordering on top 50. Mahtook was taken ahead of both of them, but it's important to remember that at the time, it was the pretty obvious pick. Keith Law had Mahtook ranked well ahead of both of them. He was considered to be a much safer pick too; Bradley missed most of his junior season with a broken hamate, and Goodwin had great tools but was yet to show them consistently in games. While Mahtook hasn't quite been the player he was expected to be, particularly defensively, everything has gone well for Bradley and Goodwin.

In that context, Mahtook may be a disappointment, but he's still on a better track than the rest of the group. Excluding Bradley and Goodwin, he's the only one that's already reached AA. His career OPS is 8% above league averages, matched only by Panik, playing the entire season at high-A and very likely to move off shortstop. Mahtook is probably the #3 college bat in this group even if he's not necessarily a future everyday player anymore. He's more advanced than all but the two center fielders, and whether or not anyone has higher upside aside than the center fielders.

Oh yeah, Kes Carter. Injuries have limited him to 173 non-rehab plate appearances, and he's one of three in this group to only reach low-A so far. Maybe he'll show why he was a first rounder when he's healthy. Now we'll transition to the high school pitchers.

Taylor Guerrieri (#24 to Tampa Bay)
Joe Ross (#25 to San Diego)
Robert Stephenson (#27 to Cincinnati)
Kevin Matthews (#33 to Texas)
Henry Owens (#36 to Boston)
Michael Fulmer (#44 to the Mets)
Joseph Musgrove (#46 to Toronto)
Michael Kelly (#48 to San Diego)
Kyle Crick (#49 to San Francisco)
Blake Snell (#52 to Tampa Bay)
Hudson Boyd (#55 to Minnesota)
Kevin Comer (#57 to Toronto)

Average pitcher has reached short-season A
Average pitcher has 74 career innings
Average pitcher has a 105 adjusted FIP

This is where the Rays hit on something. Neither Guerrieri nor Snell have pitched in a full-season league yet, but that's not unusual. Five of the 12 haven't, and of the seven that did pitch in low-A, four of them were only partial seasons. Their pitching prospect development has the reputation of being slow, but it's not too out of the ordinary. Guerrieri is about 20 innings below the average (with only Kevin Comer and Joe Musgrove having fewer), but he's not too far behind everyone in building up arm strength. Kyle Crick is a consensus top 100 prospect too but not close to Guerrieri or Stephenson yet. Michael Fulmer or Henry Owens could also be top 100 depending on the list you're looking at.

In terms of quality of work so far, Guerrieri is top of the line. Thanks to his great control and keeping the ball in the park, his FIP was 67% better than the league average last year. That's completely unsustainable, but he is very good. In this group of arms, he's either #1 or #2 on prospect lists with Robert Stephenson, usually around the top 50. Snell has been really good in his limited action too; his performance has been 19% above league average. This puts him fourth in this group in terms of this faux-metric even though he was one of the last taken. Eight of these pitchers were ranked ahead of Snell by Law just before the draft, but as of this moment he's passed up a number of them. Let's wrap this up with the high school hitters, featuring a lot of Rays.

C Blake Swihart (#26 to Boston)
SS Jake Hager (#32 to Tampa Bay)
OF Jacob Anderson (#35 to Toronto)
SS Brandon Martin (#38 to Tampa Bay)
1B Larry Greene (#39 to Philadelphia)
3B Tyler Goeddel (#41 to Tampa Bay)
SS Tyler Story (#45 to Colorado)
3B Travis Harrison (#50 to Minnesota)
3B Dante Bichette (#51 to the Yankees)
OF Dwight Smith (#53 to Toronto)
OF James Harris (#60 to Tampa Bay)

Average player has reached short-season A
Average player has 433 career plate appearances
Average player has a 103 adjusted OPS

Leading off, I want to look at Brandon Martin against Trevor Story. I viewed them as pretty similar players going into the draft, both being legitimate defensive shortstops who would have to prove themselves at the plate. Story has been in two friendly hitting environments so far, but he has shown that improvement at the plate and is a common inclusion on top 100 prospect lists. I thought Martin was the better prospect going into the draft, but he's a level behind Story and clearly not performing as well. I'm certainly on the losing end of that debate. Right now, Story is the only player in this group as a top 100 player.

Only five of the 11 have full-season experience, and two of them, Hager and Goeddel, belong to the Rays. Of the five, Hager is third in adjusted OPS with 104, behind just Story and Dante Bichette, whose 106 adjusted OPS is buoyed by his great 2011 season in the GCL, not his work in the South Atlantic League. Players like Swihart or Goeddel might have higher upside, but a case could certainly be made for Hager being the #2 prospect here behind Story.

In hindsight, maybe the Rays could've taken Goodwin, Bradley, Story or a handful of other really good prospects drafted in this range, but it seems like they did pretty well compared to the players selected around their picks. The mostly made up stats I used aren't the best measures of performance, but they can still provide an okay portrayal of success. Maybe Garvin, Carter and Harris are lagging behind their peers for one reason or another, but that's not the case for most of their picks. It's still very early in everyone's careers though.