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Tampa Bay Rays Top-15 Prospects of 2009, No’s 1 – 5

January 28, 2009 BY ALEX EISENBERG 3 Comments

For an overview of the process used to grade players, the factors used to determine where a player ranks, and other frequently asked questions, please click here. All grades are subject to change based on any new information I receive before the start of the season. If you disagree, you can make your case by contacting me or you can make a comment below at the bottom of the page.

You can find a full listing of each team’s top prospect list in the Top Prospect List Archive Page. Also, each team will have their Team Page published when their top prospect list becomes available. Team pages include team rosters, stats, payroll and front office information, past Baseball-Intellect articles related to that team, and links to some of the team’s best fan sites. We stay in the AL East and continue on with the Tampa Bay Rays

Also See: Tampa Bay Rays Top-15 Prospects, No’s 6 – 15

*Updated 2-3-09 – Switched Desmond Jennings (was No. 3, now is No. 2) and Tim Beckham (was No. 2, now is No. 3). My reasoning: both hitters are toolsy–Beckham with an advantage in power potential, Jennings with an advantage in speed. Both play premium defensive positions, though shortstop is the more valuable position. Jennings is a little bit better as a defender at his position. The biggest difference between the two is plate discipline. Jennings has it. His contact rate is solid and he walks often. Beckham doesn’t have that yet and I don’t think he’ll ever reach the level of Jennings’ discipline and patience. The fact that Jennings is closer to MLB ready and has been productive as a player is just another advantage. So with that, Jennings takes over the No. 2 spot for me.

1. David Price | LHP | MLB | Age – 23 | Drafted – Round 1 (1), 2007

Player Grades
Fastball – 60 Now | 60 Future
Slider – 60 | 65
Change-Up – 45 | 50
Control – 50 | 55
Command – 50 | 60
Pitchability – 55 | 60
ETA – 2009
Final Grade – A

Body Type – durable, athletic build

Stuff

Fastball – 93 – 96 with movement and keeps it down in the zone. When it does get hit, it’s because Price leaves the pitch up. He still needs to work on commanding the pitch.

Slider – a late, 2-plane break that brings about a lot of swings and misses. The pitch is deadly to left-handers, while right handers will swing over top of it.

Change-Up – lags behind his other pitches and he doesn’t throw it all that much, but he shows a good feel for throwing it and has a solid fading action. He’ll need it to give hitters a look at something that’s not hard.

Scouting Report

The complete package with the numbers, stuff, and mental acumen to be a top of the line starter. He misses bats, induces ground balls, and he does it with a lot more than just deception. Overall, it’s tough to complain about anything in regards to Price. His K% wasn’t exceptional in Triple-A, but that was more due to Price adjusting to a higher level of competition than anything else. Historically, he’s missed more than enough bats. There are instances where Price will lose the strike zone but his overall control is solid and should improve in the future. He’ll often flash his ability to place pitches on the corner of th e plate, where the best a hitter can do is foul it off.

Mechanics

The below clip of Price was shot while he was a pitcher at Vanderbilt. He’s hardly changed his mechanics since college and I think the clip displays everything you need to know about Price. I’ll start with the best attributes of Price mechanically–the long stride, the intent in which he throws with, the tremendous finish, as well as the passion and fire you see once the pitch is delivered and the desired result is fulfilled.

david price

The stride and intent are both factors in velocity and deception. The finish is somewhat related to intent, but also note he’s not cutting his follow through short. He’s giving his arm a long arc to decelerate and the upper body is achieving excellent extension and tilt forward, allowing him to release the ball just a little closer to home plate. The ball gets on hitters that much quicker.

Other factors to take note of: the fast tempo, how he leads with the hips, and how lets the elbow pick up the ball. By this I mean you can draw a straight line from elbow to ball…when the wrist hooks up, the ball is then pick up the elbow.

Price also displays a tilting of the shoulders to maintain balance as he leads with his hips.

Best Case Outcome – No. 1 starter

More Likely Outcome – Strong No. 2 starter–sorry, but achieving No. 1 status is difficult. However, Price is very close to his upside as it is.
*Credit to ESPN360 Feature for the David Price clip


2. Desmond Jennings | CF | B – R | A+ Vero Beach | Age – 22 | Drafted – Round 10, 2006

Player Grades
Contact – 45 Now | 55 Future
Power – 40 | 45
Discipline – 50 | 60
Speed – 65 | 65
Defense – 55 | 60
Arm – 50 | 50
Instincts – 55 | 60
ETA – Mid – Late 2010
Final Grade – B+

Body Type – lean, athletic, and projectable

Scouting Report

A tremendous athlete with an intriguing combination of defense, speed, instincts, and discipline at the plate. Uses terrific hand-eye to make consistent contact and recognize pitch types. Jennings understands the importance of actually having a patient approach at the plate.

Problem is, Jennings has proven to be very fragile so far in his young career. In 2007, he tore his meniscus in his knee. In spring training of 2008, Jennings battled both back and shoulder injuries and in July he had surgery to repair that shoulder. He did return in time to play in the AFL, but he’s losing precious time to get at bats and develop as a player.

The power has come along slowly for Jennings and is probably his biggest question mark as a prospect. He’s had ISO-powers in the .150′s in each of the past two seasons, but last year’s was pretty meaningless given the sample size. It was .113 in 2006. The biggest difference between the two seasons was his improved ability to apply some lift to the ball at contact.

Jennings has the tools to hit for more power and the body to add more muscle to his frame, but I’m not sure he has the swing type or approach to do so on much more than an average basis.

Jennings has both a small stride and a very small load–it’s just a slight movement of the hands. His wrists are both quick and strong, which helps him generate a good combination of bat speed and quickness. I’ve made note of players moving their elbow behind their back as they load up, but you don’t see much of that with Jennings. The swing below shows Jennings adjusting to an off-speed pitch, which he fouls off.

desmond-jennings
*Credit to Pacific Prospect Report

His hands are quick enough to generate sufficient power to the pull side, but Jennings is a player that takes what you give him. Pitch him away and he’ll serve it into the gap between center and right. Pitch him up the middle and he’ll take the pitch into center field. This approach will allow Jennings to hit for high averages all over the field, but it limits his power output in center to right field.

Best Case Outcome – High average and OBP player that makes consistent contact to go along with better than expected power and excellent defense in center field…a top-7 player at his position

More Likely Outcome – All of the above, but with just average power for a center fielder…a top-10 player at his position. Of course, he has to prove he can remain healthy over the course of a full year. If he moves to left field because of B.J. Upton, he does lose value as he’ll be closer to average with the bat at the position though he’ll make up for a lot of that with his defense. He’s more of a B prospect as a left fielder.

*Updated on 10-9-09 – Click here for an updated scouting report on Jennings as well as see him live in action during the 2009 season…


3. Tim Beckham | SS | Princeton (Rookie) | Age – 19 | Drafted – Round 1 (1), 2008

Player Grades
Contact – 35 Now | 55 Future
Power – 30 | 50
Discipline – 35 | 50
Speed – 55 | 55
Defense – 50 | 60
Arm – 50 | 55
Instincts – 45 | 60
ETA – 2013
Final Grade – B+

I compiled a scouting report on Beckham before last year’s draft. I noted my concerns with his swing and not too surprisingly, he struggled. His plate discipline and patience were not as good as advertised. His tools are still excellent and his upside remains tremendous, but he’s a very raw player with a bevy of things to work on: his plate discipline, his patience, his swing mechanics, and his power development. While I am concerned about last season’s production, I wouldn’t be surprised if much of that was due to simply adjusting to a new lifestyle as a professional player. I’m probably not as high on him as others and I’m not expecting a huge year next season, but I would like to see more production, especially in regards to his approach at the plate along with some reworked mechanics. Remember, as a shortstop (and a good defensive one at that) he doesn’t have to be all that great offensively to be a valuable major leaguer.

Best Case Outcome – Top-5 shortstop

More Likely Outcome – Too soon to say


4. Wade Davis | RHP | Triple-A Durham | Age – 23 | Drafted – Round 3, 2004

Player Grades
2-Seam – 50 Now | 50 Future
4-Seam – 55 | 60
Curveball – 55 | 60
Cutter – 40 | 45
Change-Up – 35 | 40
Control – 45 | 50
Command – 45 | 50
Pitchability – 55 | 55
ETA – Mid-2009
Final Grade – B+/B

Body Type – tall with a strong pitcher’s frame

Stuff

Fastball – throws both a two and four-seamer…the 2-seamer comes in between 89 and 92 mph with a solid downward break. It doesn’t miss bats but hitters put it on the ground…the 4-seamer is clocked between 93 and 97 with the pitching becoming more true the harder he throws it

Curveball – big breaking, sometimes loopy 12-to-6 curve….good enough at times to buckle knees, but doesn’t always have the spin to really snap the pitch downward…has the ability to throw it for strikes or spike it in the dirt. Below is a shot of a 94 mph 4-seam fastball (left) and curveball (right):

wade-daviswade-davis-curveball
*Credit to Minor League Baseball

Change-Up – pitch has improved, but still needs a lot of work…he’ll have a much easier time against lefties should he get down this pitch

Cutter – runs away from right handers, flashes useable potential, but hasn’t grasped the command of the pitch

Scouting Report

Davis is a pitcher with good stuff all around, but his fate will be determined by the development of his change-up and whether he can maintain his control/command on a more consistent basis.

A lefty/righty split shows up in Davis’ numbers. His control wavers when facing lefties and part of the problem is the lack of a quality change-up to keep hitters off his fastball.

Davis has gradually improved his stamina as a professional and now gets into the 6th inning with relative ease.

Mechanically, Davis is simple with relatively little wasted motion and his arm speed is excellent, which is his biggest factor in producing velocity. Davis doesn’t have much of a stride and I wonder if that makes it easier for hitters to pick him up.
Best Case Outcome – No. 2 starter

More Likely Outcome – No. 3 starter…worst case is he’s a fourth starter or put in the bullpen.


5. Jeremy Hellickson | RHP | Double-A Montgomery | Age – 22 | Drafted – Round 4, 2005

Player Grades
Fastball – 50 Now | 50 Future
Curveball – 55 | 55
Change-Up – 50 | 55
Control – 60 | 65
Command – 55 | 65
Pitchability – 55 | 60
Final Grade – B+/B

Body Type – fairly short with a small frame, but an athletic build

Hellickson was one of my pitching prospects to watch heading into the 2008 and he ended up breaking out in a big way. Hitters were overmatched in A+ Vero Beach and he performed very well once promoted to Double-A Montgomery. Now, at first glance, that doesn’t appear to be the case–his ERA was 5.59, gave up 10 H/9, and had a HR/9 of 1.8. However, he kept the walks to a minimum and still missed many bats. After his disastrous first start (in which he gave up five home runs), Hellickson performed well for the rest of the season. I’m not too concerned about his hittability in Double-A since he typically hasn’t been very hittable or homer-prone until that promotion.

All three of his pitches (fastball, curveball, change-up) come in on similar planes and he commands all three of them well. Hellickson will obviously need to work on keeping his fastball out of the middle of the plate.

Best Case Outcome – Borderline No. 2 starter

More Likely Outcome – No. 3 starter

*Updated on 10-9-09 – Click here to see Jeremy Hellickson pitch-by-pitch during his start against Austin Jackson and the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees

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Next Up: Tampa Bay Rays Top-15 Prospects, No’s 6 – 15

Also See: Tampa Bay Rays Team Page

References used for this article: First Inning and Minor League Splits

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