I recently completed profiles on 12 of the top position player prospects in the Tampa Bay system. This was not necessarily a list based off of rankings as some readers have thought. Rather, my goal of the two articles was to provide some info on the better position player prospects in the organization without getting worked up on who was ranked where. I did the same with the pitchers as well, using a RaysProspects.com fan vote to decide which pitchers would be used in my first article.
There are several other interesting prospects who did not receive a mention. Left-hander Kyle Lobstein, the Rays’ second rounder this past June, was a notable omission in the pitching articles.
Here is some brief info on a few promising hitting prospects excluded from the last two articles. At some point this winter, I will be releasing my top prospect list. Again, though, the recent profiles have not been based on any ranking system.
Rhyne Hughes, First Base: Hughes is a left-handed hitting first baseman with a limited set of tools. While he has put up some strong numbers throughout his career, he is unlikely to ever emerge as a regular at the major league level. But he had another productive campaign in his first full crack at Double-A in 2008, as he batted .268/.356/.448, with 14 home runs, at Montgomery. At 25 years old, though, it is hard to ignore that he was playing against much younger competition.
Hughes’ outstanding showing in the Arizona Fall League this winter has definitely helped his status as prospect. He picked the right time to get hot, posting a .394/.432/.697/1.102 OPS line in 109 at-bats with the Peoria Javelinas. Despite his success based off a fairly small sample size in the AFL, however, he is a sleeper at best. Limited to first base defensively as a left-handed thrower who is not athletic enough to man a corner outfield spot, his bat will have to play for him to receive regular time in the majors. This is a long shot, though, as he does not project to hit for enough power to remain at the position at the highest level. Regardless, he is a player to keep an eye and could surface if he can build off his recent Winter League success.
Kyeong Kang, Outfield: Kang, the first South Korean-born player to be selected in the amateur draft, was named M.V.P. of the Hudson Valley Renegades in 2008. He batted .278/.333/.463 in 255 at-bats, ranking among team leaders in extra-base hits, home runs (5), OPS (.801), RBIs (43), slugging percentage and total bases (118). The left-handed-hitting outfielder was named to the New York Penn League All-Star team as well.
Kang, 20, will likely head to Bowling Green for his first shot at full-season ball in 2009. He is a real breakout candidate.
Gabriel Martinez, First Base: Martinez, a 27th-round pick back in 2001, has been in the organization for a long time. In fact, it seems as if he has been considered a prospect forever at this point. He has had some success during his slow rise through the system, but he spent his fourth consecutive season at the Double-A level again in 2008. While he lead Montgomery with 20 homers, 93 RBIs and 230 total bases, his rate stats left a bit to be desired; he finished with a line of .276/.343/.450/. His strike zone awareness is fairly poor as well, evident by his .06 BB/K ratio (107-to-49) and 8.6 BB%.
Martinez, getting up there in years, has a limited ceiling and will lose the prospect label sometime in the future. Once considered one of the most promising hitters in the organization, it is unlikely that he will ever emerge as an impact player for the Rays. He is slow, limited defensively and is a fairly one-dimensional player overall.
Chris Nowak, Infield: Nowak has put up consistently solid numbers since the Rays selected him out of South Carolina Upstate back in the 2004 draft. He was a key offensive force for the second consecutive year at Double-A Montgomery. He led the Biscuits with an .857 OPS and finished second on the club with 15 homers and 77 RBIs while producing a solid line of .295/.381/.486. He then earned a late-summer promotion to Triple-A Durham, where he hit .315/.394/.352 in a brief 14-game sample.
Nowak does not have any tools that stand out, but he has excellent strike zone awareness; he posted rates of 10.7 BB% and 16.9 K% in 461 at-bats. He is a mediocre defender at third base, though, and it does not seem likely that he will be able to remain at the position full time at the highest level. While Nowak will likely surface in the majors at some point, he profiles as a role player.
Elias Otero, Middle Infield: Otero had a nice performance in the Appalachian League this summer. He put up a line of .332/.398/.534 in 208 at-bats for the Princeton Devil Rays. He finished fifth on the circuit in hitting and sixth in OBP on the way to being named Team M.V.P. Otero led the P-Rays with five home runs, 69 hits and a .932 OPS, an impressive total for a middle infielder. A switch-hitter with decent speed, he has playable actions at second base as well as shortstop.
Otero was old for the league, though, playing against many 18-year-old recent high school graduates at the age of 20. Therefore, he could easily drop off the radar completely or shoot up some prospects lists in future, depending on how he performs at higher levels.
Mike Sheridan, First Base: Sheridan, the Rays’ fifth-round selection back in June, put together one of the finest offensive seasons in the history of the College of William and Mary baseball program this spring. He feasted on Colonial Athletic Association pitching, batting .423/.474/.744, with a Tribe-best 15 homers and 72 RBIs. Similar to new teammate Jake Jefferies, a college product selected by Tampa Bay a few rounds earlier, he was one of the toughest collegiate hitters in the nation to strikeout—11 Ks in 227 at-bats. He has a short, compact swing and decent strike zone awareness, but his pure on-base skills are still a work in progress. This is evident by his low collegiate walk rate and the minimal gap between his lofty batting average total and OBP as a junior.
Sheridan was hampered by injuries in his debut at Hudson Valley, but was still productive when healthy enough to play. He batted .321/.354/.436 in 31 games, though he did not hit any home runs. He is a gap-to-gap hitter who slices line drives to all fields at this point. He does not project to hit for much power with wood, however. Likely to begin the season Bowling Green, he is still a breakout candidate.