Tampa Bay arguably has three contenders for recognition in centerfield: Josh Lowe and his cannon of an arm is the best known, while other noteworthy prospects - Garrett Whitley and Jesus Sanchez - profile to the corners. The real snub in my opinion is the omission of outfielder Jake Fraley.
An injury-plagued 2017 is obscuring his value, but prospect rankings should be able to look beyond that and acknowledge his potential.
In 2016 the talent was evident. His doubles and triples were encouraging, the plate discipline showed promise, and he stole 33 bases, showing off tremendous base-path presence.
Then all of that took a step back in the following season.
Having followed his career, I really think that he began 2017 hurt and never got himself right, so in truth, I discount the majority of the offensive side through the 2017 season and look at his plus defensive grades as encouraging.
His defensive stats didn’t fall off at all, however, and although defensive stats have some deficiencies, his RF/9 (2.35) was among the best in HiA (KK managed 3.08 at the same level in 2012). Fraley managed enough to be named the best defensive outfielder in the Rays system by BA, so we know he showed well.
So, despite unfortunate injuries, he gets the time to rest and heal, gets healthy, works out like a beast, introduces a higher front leg raise - noted through videos below - and dominates an assignment to the Australian Baseball League like nobody has ever done.
That speaks volumes about both his work ethic and his status for 2018.
JAKE FRALEY ABL PERFORMANCE, WINTER 2018
Jake Fraley ABL 2017-18
|SB (CS)||39 (5)|
The extra base hits are nice (27 of them over just 169 AB), and so is the SB record, but the 27 BB to 26 SO are possibly even more encouraging.
That patient approach at the plate was reminiscent of 2016, when Fraley managed a 10.9 % BB rate and 14.2 % SO rate, so his performance in the ABL didn’t come out of nowhere. It suggests that the 2017 season stats in the FSL are the anomaly.
Also noteworthy: he hit lead off the entire season and still managed to lead the team in RBI, an indication of just how productive he was for the team. In fact, only four players in the entire ABL managed to drive in more runs.
He led the league in hits (61), total bases (115) and Stolen bases (39), finished in the top four in doubles (13), home runs (13), and OPS (1.130), and finished the season getting stronger every game, hitting .462 with 3 HR and 11 SB through his last 10 games (39 AB).
And did I mention his power is coming along too? (Pay close attention to the front leg raise)
Look at where he hit some of his bombs!
Take a peak back at how his approach at the plate was in 2016, and note the new leg kick in his ABL appearances.
The leg raise was nowhere near as prominent as it was over the winter in Australia, and he’s closed his stance some as well. The results have been outstanding so far.
So where did these changes come from, and who’s helped Fraley out along the way?
Here’s part of that story, as Fraley’s worked hard on examining and revamping his swing, using some technological advances.
Now, having examined how Fraley’s been able to modify and draw more power from his swing, we get to start dreaming about the possibility of Fraley becoming more of a 4 or 5-tool prospect.
Fraley obviously has to go through the arduous process of replicating what he did in the ABL on US soil, and possibly in AA, but with what he’s managed to accomplish this winter, I wouldn’t put it past him to blow by expectations.
These media tweets help tell the tale of where that confidence in Fraley comes from
And again when he helped the World side beat the Australian Baseball Team.
But the impact he had on the Perth Heat may be more noticeable in how he was nicknamed.
FRALEEEEEEEEEEY! Solo shot from "The Man"! 7-4 Heat!— Perth Heat (@PerthHeat) January 27, 2018
Jake "The Man" Fraley steps into the batter's box!— Perth Heat (@PerthHeat) January 25, 2018
Make that 36 for Fraley! From now on just assume it's a Stolen Base if he's on base. #NoOnesFasterThanFraley— Perth Heat (@PerthHeat) January 20, 2018
And he was consistently the star the of the night throughout the ABL season
Jake Fraley picks up another #LineOfTheNight!— #ABLCS (@ABL) December 15, 2017
The @RaysBaseball prospect homered and drove in the run to take the game to extras for the @PerthHeat last night! #ABLHeatCavs #OurGame pic.twitter.com/2363z6iqvU
Fraley may have put on the most electrifying performance the ABL has ever seen in 2017-18 (Fraley is the first player in ABL history to steal at least 30 bases and hit 10 homers in a season), and he may be one of the most electrifying Rays prospects by the end of 2018 if he can translate those performances to the more competitive Hi A and AA environments.
If Fraley can continue that patient approach at the plate while possibly leading off in Double-A, and continue his impressive defense, he should soon start working his way up these prospects ranking lists.
So as you read the center field rankings for 2018, worry not: the Rays have a lot to look forward to in center, with Fraley leading the charge and others set to push him to continue improving.
Whatever you do in 2018, don’t take your eyes off Jake “No One Faster Than” Fraley, because you could be missing something special.