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Rays All-Time No. 1 Prospects (1997-2003)

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A look back at Matt White, Josh Hamilton, and Rocco Baldelli.

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Some much hype and pressure is thrust upon a team's top prospects. Once a highly touted player is drafted or acquired, fans scour through minor league box scores and writeups of the potential young star in hopes that one day he'll eventually lead the team to championship glory.

Through the Tampa Bay Rays short history, a number of star players have possessed the top spot in the organization and went on to great things. Others however, have receded into obscurity to never be heard from again. So, without further ado, the Rays #1 prospects from 1997-2015 (ranked by Baseball America).

Matt White

(1997-1999)

Matt White was drafted in the first round of the 1996 draft by the San Francisco Giants, but they were unable to sign him. White's agent, Scott Boras was able to find a loophole that allowed him to become a free agent after a deal wasn't reached. So, on November 26th, 1996, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays signed Matt White to a record $10.2 million deal (the largest ever given to an amateur player).

Matt White

Rick Stewart /Allsport

White spent 4 years working his way up through the Devil Rays system, the first 3 of which he spent atop of the prospect rankings for the club. He looked poised to finally break into the majors in 2001, when a shoulder injury stalled his progress. He spent a few seasons attempting to rehab and achieve the majors, but was unable to make it above Triple-A and eventually retired in 2006.

MiLB Stat Line: 35-47 (W-L) / 4.64 ERA / 1.41 WHIP / 673 IP / 3.74 BB/9 / 6.89 K/9 in 122 games

MLB Stat Line: Never Played in Majors

Excerpt from Baseball America's write-up of White in 1999:

White has No. 1 starter stuff, with a 95-96 mph fastball, a power curveball and a straight changeup. He's also always been able to throw strikes with all his pitches and his 63 walks in 1998 were outstanding for a then 19-year-old power pitcher.

Josh Hamilton

(2000-2002)

Josh Hamilton was selected by the Devil Rays with the first overall pick in the 1999 draft. To fans, it was one of the most exciting days in franchise history as Hamilton was one of the most highly touted prospects in the history of the draft.

Josh Hamilton Devil Rays

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Hamilton was flying through the Devil Rays system until he was sidelined by injuries and off the field issues that cost him 3 seasons of baseball from 2002 through 2005. After the 2005 season, Tampa Bay decided they'd cut the cord and left Hamilton unprotected during the Rule-5 draft. He was selected by the Chicago Cubs then sent to the Cincinnati Reds.

After a season as a Red, he was traded to the Texas Rangers where he went on to have multiple MVP-caliber seasons, even winning the award in 2010. He became a free agent after 2012 and received a huge payday from the Los Angeles Angels to the tune of $125 million over 5 years.

MiLB Stat Line: Slashed .293/.341/.475 with 39 HR, 186 RBI, and 49 SB in 293 games

MLB Stat Line: Slashed .292/.352/.519 with 192 HR, 676 RBI, 50 SB and accumulated 27.7 WAR in 977 games

Accolades:

  • 5 time Allstar
  • 3 time Silver Slugger award winner
  • Placed in MVP voting 4 times (7th, 1st, 22nd, and 5th)

Except from Baseball America's write-up of Hamilton in 2000:

To the Devil Rays, one of the most endearing aspects of Hamilton’s game is his single-minded focus on playing baseball. He has a family-oriented, blue-collar personality that should help him through the highs and lows of minor league baseball.

Rocco Baldelli

(2003)

Rocco Baldelli was selected a year after Hamilton with the 6th overall pick of the 2000 draft. He spent 2 less-than-inspiring years in the low levels of the Devil Rays system, before finally having a breakout year in 2002, advancing all the way from Class-A to Triple-A.

In 2003, Baldelli sprung onto the major league level, setting a rookie record with 40 hits in the month of April. Baldelli had a solid rookie year, even garnering Rookie of the Year attention before losing out to Angel Berroa and Hideki Matsui.

Baldelli 2003

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Baldelli was in the midst of a solid sophomore season when a hamstring shelved him for the year. In 2005, he lost another season due to freak accident that occurred while he was playing basketball with his brother. Injuries continued to hamper Baldelli throughout his career, and he was eventually diagnosed with mitochondrial disorder (which later turned out to be a misdiagnosis).

Dealing with the injuries, Baldelli still managed to be apart of the Rays miracle 2008 pennant run. In 2009, Baldelli went to play for the Boston Red Sox, whom he cheered for growing up. He returned to Tampa Bay in 2010 and worked his way up from the minors to the majors and amazingly hit a HR in his first at-bat back in the majors.

The Rays selected Baldelli to be on their postseason roster, but after one game Baldelli, decided he wouldn't be much help and removed himself from the series. He retired the following February and now serves as the Rays' first base coach.

MiLB Stat Line: Slashed .276/.326/.432 with 38 HR, 187 RBI, and 64 SB in 357 games

MLB Stat Line: Slashed .278/.323/.443 with 60 HR, 262 RBI, 60 SB and accumulated 10.2 WAR in 519 games

Accolades:

  • Placed 3rd in RoTY voting in 2003

Excerpt from Baseball America's write-up of Baldelli in 2003:

Baldelli has excellent bat speed and uses his hands well to produce line drives. He can hit and hit for power, and he wasn’t overmatched against veteran pitchers. A natural center fielder, he has plus speed and is an effortless runner who glides to the ball with a long stride. Coaches and scouts rave about his makeup and desire to become the best player he can be.