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Rays 2019 MLB draft preview: Up-the-middle position players

The Rays like drafting athletes, and they’ll have some options with their Day 1 picks.

San Diego Padres v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Darin Wallentine/Getty Images

We are rapidly approaching June 3, the start of the 2019 MLB draft. Up next in our previews are the up-the-middle position players — catchers, second basemen, shortstops, and center fielders.

These players tend to be the best athletes on the field. In the amateur ranks, the best players typically play these positions, but not everyone can play those positions at a professional level. The players in this preview have a shot to do so though. The Rays — like a lot of teams — like drafting these athletes.

Like our previous players, some of these have been Rays picks in mock drafts, but some haven’t. We chose other players to balance out the preview, covering all positions and high school and college players.

College pitchers preview
Corner bats preview

SS Logan Davidson, Clemson (S/R, 6’3 195, 21 years old)

226 AB, .296 AVG/.414 OBP/.588 SLG, 15 HR, 34 XBH, 17-for-20 SB

Baseball America rank: 19
ESPN rank: 27
FanGraphs rank: 24 rank: 22

Davidson is pretty big, but he’s an athlete. He’ll be able to stick at shortstop, and he has a good arm.

He’s an accomplished hitter with Clemson. He has double-digit homers and steals in all three seasons. His power and speed are average or better, giving him an interesting set of tools.

However, there are questions about his hit tool. He strikes out a bit with the Tigers, and his experience with wood bats has not been great (BA $). Are 263 at-bats over the course of two summers proof that he won’t be able to translate his success to wood bats? That’s the question teams will have to answer.

Because he’s a talented college bat, it seems likely a team will draft him in the first round.

C Ethan Hearn, Mobile Christian High School (L/R, 5’11 199, 18 years old)

Baseball America rank: 65
ESPN rank: not ranked in top 100
FanGraphs rank: 57 rank: 67

Oregon State’s Adley Rutschman and Baylor’s Shea Langeliers are the top two catchers in the draft. Hearn may be the next best catcher and the top high school catcher available.

He has the tools teams look for in a Day 1 catcher. Primarily, he has a strong arm and should be able to manage the running game. His receiving has potential as well. Baseball America’s report praises him for his work ethic, which is obviously important for a catcher.

At the plate, he has good power potential, but there are questions about his hit tool. He doesn’t have a great approach, and he tries to pull a lot of pitches. His swing needs work to tap into his power potential.

CF Maurice Hampton, Memphis University High School (R/R, 6’0 195, 17 years old)

Baseball America rank: 36
ESPN rank: 30
FanGraphs rank: 28 rank: 29

Hampton is described as one of the best athletes in the draft, and his status as a star football recruit committed to LSU backs that up. No report seems to indicate he has to be pried away from football though.

He has plus-plus speed, so he can affect games on the bases and in the field. He shouldn’t have any problem playing center field professionally.

With some success during the summer showcases, he proved he’s not the prototypical raw two-sport star. He showed he can hit talented pitching, and he has some power potential.

That’s not to say he doesn’t have adjustments to make. He has an aggressive approach that will have to change. A team drafting him at the end of the first round will be betting that he can do it when he focuses solely on baseball.

SS Gunnar Henderson, Morgan Academy (L/R, 6’3 195, 17 years old)

Baseball America rank: 31
ESPN rank: 41
FanGraphs rank: 41 rank: 27

It could be argued that Henderson belonged in the corner-bats preview as a third base prospect. He has the arm strength to play the left side of the infield, and he’s pretty big. However, he will have the chance to stick at shortstop.

None of his tools jump off the page, but he is solid across the board. His hit tool is average or above average, and his power potential is average to plus. While none of his tools truly stand out now, he has shown improvements this season and is young for the class.

With those improvements, his youth, and his athleticism as a two-sport star, Henderson looks like he’ll be drafted before the second round.

SS Greg Jones, UNC Wilmington (S/R, 6’2 190, 21 years old)

216 AB, .343 AVG/.491 OBP/.551 SLG, 5 HR, 26 XBH, 40-for-50 SB

Baseball America rank: 62
ESPN rank: 62
FanGraphs rank: 37 rank: 48

College hitters are typically viewed as safer picks with less upside. That is not Jones.

He’s a draft-eligible sophomore who has greatly improved this season. He has game-changing speed and is one of the NCAA leaders in steals. He’s been making more contact this season with a reduced strikeout rate and increased walk rate.

He’s hit for some more power this season too, but reports are mixed on whether he has average power potential or below. He wasn’t great in the Cape Cod League last summer.

The reports are mixed on his defense as well. He has the tools to remain at shortstop, but the best use of his speed may be in center field, where he would be a very good defender.

OF Kameron Misner, Missouri (L/L, 6’4 213, 21 years old)

206 AB, .286 AVG/.440 OBP/.481 SLG, 10 HR, 20 XBH, 20-for-21 SB

Baseball America rank: 21
ESPN rank: 34
FanGraphs rank: 26 rank: 30

Like Jones, Misner is a higher-upside player from the college ranks. There is risk, but whichever team drafts him in the first round hopes it’s getting a player with significant potential.

The risk is this: in SEC play, he hit just .222/.353/.315 with 39 strikeouts in 108 at-bats. That’s far too much swing and miss, leading to questions about his hit tool.

That’s crucial because his power potential is plus and maybe better. If he’s able to tap into that power, he could have an offensive game that many center fielders don’t.

He’s not guaranteed to stay in center, but his athleticism gives him a chance. That athleticism also aids him on the bases, and he’s been incredibly efficient on steal attempts this season.