This first set of pitchers covers pitchers with plus or better fastballs, sharp breaking balls, and some guys who have trouble throwing strikes. These players have high ceilings, and quite a few of them have low floors. The line between pitchers who belong here and who will be in part two, the command and control guys, can be blurry. Generally, if a guy's report had a fastball starting with an eight, included the word polish or strike thrower, I didn't want to include them here.
I probably ended up including too many future, and current, relievers. Since my focus is on the players the Rays are targeting early, it was probably because a bit pointless because I don't think they'll look for the quick payoff teams hope to get when they take a reliever high. Yes, they took Lenny Linsky in 2011 when they had 75 of the first 75 picks in the draft, but with that many picks, they were building a portfolio of players. With just one extra pick, I don't think they're going to go that route.
RHP Nick Burdi, Louisville (21 Y.O. 6'5 215)
Best attribute: Burdi's fastball is at the very least, a plus-plus pitch, and maybe even earns some 80 grades.
Analysis: Burdi is college baseball's premiere reliever, and he has the stuff to be a big league closer. That fastball can reach triple digits pretty regularly, and it's been clocked as high as 103. It's not a flat pitch either. Because of his height, he can pitch low in the zone and induce ground balls. His high-80's slider gets plenty of swings and misses, giving him the two pitches he needs to be a dominant reliever.
Stock: Even though they probably shouldn't, there always seems to be a team that takes a closer in the first round. I suspect the Rays won't be that team, but a contender looking for a bullpen help as soon as this season will consider Burdi.
RHP Dylan Cease, Georgia H.S. (18 Y.O. 6'2 180- committed to Vanderbilt)
Best attribute: Cease has shown tremendous fastball velocity, sometimes reaching the high-90's.
Analysis: An elbow injury has prevented Cease from pitching for the last two and a half months which certainly hurts his draft status. On the showcase circuit, he flashed an impressive yet inconsistent curveball, and scouts executives are going to have to remember those appearances assembling their draft boards. To my knowledge, he hasn't had any kind of surgery, but the fact that his elbow was injured is going to be a key factor for teams evaluating him.
Stock: In addition to the elbow, Cease is committed to Vanderbilt, traditionally a school it's difficult to sign players away from. He's probably not a first rounder anymore, and it's not a sure bet he signs without going above the pick's recommended value.
RHP Jake Cosart, Seminole State (20 Y.O. 6'2 210)
Best attribute: Like his older brother Jarred, Jake Cosart is all about the fastball.
Analysis: After a season at Duke without seeing the field, Cosart transferred down to Seminole State, where yet another Cosart brother also plays. Jake has grown quite a bit since high school, and impressive fastball velocity has come with it. The results have been inconsistent this year though, and it's going to take time for him to throw strikes consistently. He throws a pair of breaking balls with his slider probably being the better of the two, and his changeup shows enough potential for him to start in the future.
Stock: Cosart probably isn't going to last as long as his older brother did. He should go in the top five rounds.
RHP J.D. Davis, Cal State Fullerton (21 Y.O. 6'2 235)
Best attribute: Davis' fastball sits in the low to mid-90's.
Analysis: The Rays drafted Davis in the fifth round of their big 2011 draft, but he opted to join the Titans instead. He's one of the draft's better two way players, not unlike last year's star player from Fullerton, Michael Lorenzen. Unlike Lorenzen though, teams seem to view Davis more of a first baseman with big power. If he does pitch though, he could pitch with that fastball and an above average slider. I should have written about him last week with the other first basemen.
Stock: Davis will go off the board in the top five rounds, and even if it's as a hitter, he's a tier below some of the names discussed last week.
RHP Weston Davis, Florida H.S. (17 Y.O. 6'4 185- committed to Florida)
Best attribute: Davis creates some deception and nice fastball movement thanks to a low release point with high arm speed.
Analysis: Davis is a bit of a project for the Gators or an organization that can get him signed, but the payoff could be big. His fastball has been clocked in the mid-90's but sits lower than that even though there's quite a bit of effort in his delivery. That delivery needs a lot of work, not only to help him throw more strikes, but to reduce the chances of future injury. His breaking ball and changeup show potential, but they're not consistent pitches yet.
Stock: Davis is far from appearing on any mock draft, but I'd estimate he could be a sixth to 10th rounder. He could end up at Gainesville, but the Rays could target him and let their developmental staff go to work.
For more on the 2014 draft
RHP Nick Howard, Virginia (21 Y.O. 6'4 215)
Best attribute: In short bursts, Howard's fastball sits in the mid-90's.
Analysis: Howard is a two way player for the Cavaliers, one of the best teams in the country. He's not much of a hitter, so unlike Davis, Howard is going to be pitching professionally. He's their closer this year, but teams could give him a chance to start. His fastball will have to be dialed back a bit, but he has a deep arsenal and the athleticism to get it done. Since he hasn't been focused on pitching, it's going to take some reps for him to improve his changeup and command, but it could be worth it.
Stock: Howard could go somewhere in the second or third round, depending on what the team drafting him wants to do with him.
LHP Jacob Lindgren, Mississippi State (21 Y.O. 6'0 205)
Best attribute: Lindgren's slider is one of the best breaking balls in the draft.
Analysis: Since moving from the rotation to the bullpen, Lindgren has gone from a good college pitcher to a dominant one. His fastball has ticked up into the mid-90's, and he was able to drop his below average changeup and focus on two pitches. He's 43rd in the nation with 93 strikeouts, and he did it in just 51 innings. Every other pitcher in the top 50 has at least 76 innings. He could become a rare lefty closer in the majors.
Stock: Lindgren's stuff isn't quite at the level of Burdi's, and he should be around for the Rays in the second round if they're interested.
RHP Sean Reid-Foley, Florida H.S. (18 Y.O. 6'3 220- committed to Florida State)
Best attribute: Reid-Foley can spot his fastball pretty well.
Analysis: Already pretty strong, Reid-Foley doesn't really offer projection, but since his fastball already sits in the low-90's, that's not really a big deal. He showed the ability to reach back for a little more in shorter bursts on the showcase circuit last summer too. He mixes in three different secondary pitches including a pair of breaking balls, led by his slider. Depending on the source, he either hardly ever uses his changeup or does and it's shown improvement. His athleticism helps him repeat his delivery and throw strikes.
Stock: Whether or not Reid-Foley is available to the Rays is questionable. He could be there, but he could also go off the board three to five picks ahead of them.
RHP Chad Sobotka, South Carolina Upstate (20 Y.O. 6'7 200)
Best attribute: Sobotka features a hard fastball that has been clocked in the upper-90's.
Analysis: Sobotka has missed the entire season with a back injury, and that obviously makes him a bit of a wildcard. When healthy, he has one of the best fastballs in the draft, and even if he hasn't thrown any innings this spring, that's going to interest teams. He can throw his slider for called strikes and also get batters swinging, and his changeup has shown a little promise.
Stock: Where Sobotka goes is anyone's guess. Rankings generally seem to have him in the top 100, so look for him to be off the board before the fourth round.
RHP Touki Toussaint, Florida H.S. (17 Y.O. 6'2 195- committed to Vanderbilt)
Best attribute: Toussaint's curveball is the best breaking ball in the high school class this year (ESPN $).
Analysis: The last calendar year for Toussaint has been a roller coaster. First he was up because of his great stuff, and then he was down when people realized he couldn't throw strikes. He's rising again thanks to some adjustments that have led to better results. His fastball and curveball are both potential plus-plus pitches, and he's made strides with his changeup too. A team will have to be patient as he learns how to throw strikes, but he has the athleticism to overcome any mechanical problems.
Stock: The Rays will likely not have a chance at drafting Toussaint. Wild things can happen on draft day though, and I'm sure they'll be prepared.
Paul Kirsch is the Rays' area scout for the Pacific Northwest. They tend to take a number of players from that region, indicating a high level of trust in his evaluations. Some of the players they've drafted and signed from there include Jason Hammel, Zac Rosscup, Ryan Brett, Drew Vettleson, Blake Snell, Jeff Ames, and Josh Sale. Jacoby Ellsbury leads a list of players they've drafted from there but did not sign. Here is one player from the northwest in this year's draft that could be on their radar.
LHP Jace Fry, Oregon State (21 Y.O. 6'1 190): Fry has been tremendous as Oregon State's Sunday starter. He's recovered from recent Tommy John surgery, and if he has to move to the bullpen, his sinker could reach the mid-90's consistently.