Our pre-draft player coverage wraps up today with the up-the-middle bats. These are the players that have a shot to stay at four positions: catcher, second base, shortstop or center field. The Rays tend to like the better athletes, so I think they could target some players like this early in the draft.
2B Branden Cogswell, Virginia (21 Y.O. 6'2 180, L/R)
Best tool: Cogswell's hit tool is okay.
Analysis: Cogswell is an ideal college infielder to fill out an organization. He moved to second base this year, but he can still hold his own at shortstop once in a while with an average arm. He's not much of a hitter though. He won't provide any power, but he can put his bat on the ball, hit to all fields and walked more than he struck out in his sophomore and junior seasons with the Cavaliers.
Stock: Cogswell should be taken later on day two, which ends after the 10th round.
CF Brandon Downes, Virginia (21 Y.O. 6'3 200, R/R)
Best tool: Downes has a very good arm from the outfield.
Analysis: Very early in the season, Downes' stock was rising with some impressive performances, notably hitting a pair of home runs against top draft prospect Jeff Hoffman. He later suffered a wrist injury, and his season collapsed. He's now sporting an average below .220. Despite pretty average athleticism, he's a really good defender in center field and should stick there professionally.
Stock: Downes looks like a fifth round pick, but if a team thinks his poor season is a reflection of his wrist injury, maybe he'll go sooner. Good defensive center fielders with plus power potential don't grow on trees.
CF Derek Hill, California H.S. (18 Y.O. 6'2 170, R/R- committed to Oregon)
Best tool: Hill is a tremendous defender in center field.
Analysis: Hill has a great combination of instincts and athleticism in the outfield. Not only is he one of the best defenders in the class, he's one of the fastest players in the class, and that obviously helps him on the bases. How much offensive upside he has at the plate is a big question though. He won't be hitting for power, but if he makes strong contact to all fields and gets on base, he can be a good contributor in all phases.
Stock: A team that really believes Hill's going to hit could take him before #20, but he could be there for the Rays if they should choose.
SS Dalton Guthrie, Florida H.S. (18 Y.O. 6'1 170, R/R- committed to Florida)
Best tool: Gutrhie can put his bat on the ball and hit it to all fields.
Analysis: From Sarasota, Guthrie is one of the better position players from the Tampa Bay area. His ability to spray line drives is solid, but the rest of his tools are average at best, except for his power, which is below average. Because he's a smart player with a lot of energy, he can make shortstop work right now, but it's possible he has to move to second base eventually.
Stock: Guthrie could be a fifth or sixth rounder or so, but it may take more money than that to pry him away from the Gators.
C Nate Irving, Virginia (21 Y.O. 6'2 185, R/R)
Best tool: Irving's good arm can help control a running game.
Analysis: With Curt Casali, Oscar Hernandez and Nick Ciuffo giving the Rays some prospect depth behind the plate. I don't think they'll take a catcher early, but Irving fits the mold of a player they could target on the second day. He's good behind the plate with experience catching a top pitching staff, and even though his bat took a big step back this year, he can fit in well in an organization.
Stock: Irving fits in around the 10th round or so.
SS Emmanuel Marrero, Alabama State (21 Y.O. 6'1 180, S/R)
Best tool: Marrero is a rare college shortstop that will play the position professionally.
Analysis: In the Baseball America top 500, Marrero was the only college shortstop I could find that will continue playing shortstop not named Trea Turner, a player the Rays almost certainly won't have a chance of drafting. He's athletic, has good instincts, and he can make all the throws. As a junior, he suddenly broke out at the plate as well. His 28 extra base hits led the team after only hitting 15 his first two seasons. He's more of a contact hitter though.
Stock: I'd guess Marrero ends up going in the fifth to seventh rounds, but since finding a good college shortstop is like spotting a unicorn, maybe someone reaches for him.
SS Cole Tucker, Arizona H.S. (17 Y.O. 6'3 175, S/R- committed to Arizona)
Best tool: Tucker is an above average runner.
Analysis: Tucker is a player whose average tools can play up because of his energy and instincts, and the Rays don't shy away from taking players like that early in drafts. Most importantly, he has the chance to stick at shortstop with a good arm and his athleticism. Being a switch hitter is just a bonus, but he does have to improve from the right side. He could add a bit of strength which may help him at the plate but may hurt him in the field.
Stock: With his abilities and the lack of quality middle infielders available, Tucker is looking at a second or third round selection.
SS Justin Twine, Texas H.S. (18 Y.O. 5'10 190, S/R- committed to TCU)
Best tool: Twine is a top notch athlete.
Analysis: Twine was a star quarterback in football, but he's focusing on baseball now. He could be the most raw player on this list, and it would certainly be fair to wonder if it would be better playing three seasons in the Big 12 before becoming a professional. It seems likely that he'll have to move to center field, where he could become a good defender with experience thanks to his athleticism. He has to work on his pitch recognition, but he does have a bit of pop for a player of his size.
Stock: Twine could go as high as the third round if a team thinks they know how to translate his tools into in-game production.
C Shane Zeile, UCLA (20 Y.O. 6'1 190, R/R)
Best tool: Zeile's catching has been improving.
Analysis: Zeile offers more upside than Irving. He's relatively new to catching, but he's shown he can receive, handle a top notch staff and throw runners out. He was also one of UCLA's best hitters this year, although it was a down season for the defending national champs. He has a good feel for contact, but he could probably become a little more patient.
Stock: Zeile will go a few rounds before Irving, maybe around the fifth.
CF Bradley Zimmer, San Francisco (21 Y.O. 6'5 205, L/R)
Best tool: Zimmer has one of the best hit tools in the college rankings.
Analysis: Zimmer doesn't exactly have the typical size for a center fielder, but he has the athleticism to make it work. Even if it doesn't, his arm is more than strong enough for right field. Despite a poor freshman season, his career average is still well above .300, and he has almost as many walks as strikeouts in his career. He has the size and strength for power potential, but he uses a line drive stroke not necessarily conducive to putting the ball over the fence.
Stock: It's likely Zimmer is gone three to five picks before the Rays, but we've seen players fall before.
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 are some players from the northwest in this year's draft that could be on their radar.
CF Elliott Cary, Oregon H.S. (18 Y.O. 6'3 175, L/L- committed to Oregon State): Cary is a good athlete with potential gap power. He's expected to join the Beavers though.
C Bo Cornish, Portland (22 Y.O. 6'2 195, R/R): Cornish isn't much of a hitter, but evidently his defense is pretty good.
CF Blake Drake, Concordia (20 Y.O. 6'1 170, R/R): Drake can play a good center field with a strong arm, make consistent contact and steal bases. You've got to love the Drake.
SS Trace Loehr, Oregon H.S. (19 Y.O. 5'10 175, S/R- committed to Oregon State): Loehr's tools are pretty average, but with his energy and instincts, he could be a solid shortstop. He's a likely second round pick.
C Brian Olson, Seattle (21 Y.O. 6'1 190, R/R): Olson has a strong arm, and his offense has developed.
C Kyle Olson, Edmonds (22 Y.O. 6'2 195, R/R): As far as I can tell, not related in any way to Brian. Olson is one of the best hitting catchers at the JC level.
C Collin Slaybaugh, Washington State (22 Y.O. 6'1 180, S/R): Slaybaugh is a singles hitter with a nice arm behind the plate.
CF Branson Trube, Idaho H.S. (18 Y.O. 5'11 185, R/R- committed to Gonzaga): Trube has a nice combination of power and speed, but I'd guess he's headed for Gonzaga.
2B Caleb Whalen, Portland (21 Y.O. 6'2 180, R/R): Whalen has performed well in off-season action, but his athleticism hasn't really caught on in games at Portland.