AL East Names to Know

Fans find that knowing what the opposition has is an integral part of following their own team, therefore it's always important to know what your closest rivals have coming through the pipeline as well. Here are some prospect names from the A-ball level and lower that you need to keep an eye on going forward among the Rays' competition in the AL East.

This feature was written and originally published by Patrick Teale, publisher of PinStripesPlus.com and FutureJays.com. Many thanks to Patrick for letting Rays Digest reprint this story.


P, Matt Barnes, Red Sox: Selected in the first round of the 2011 MLB Draft out of the University of Connecticut, Barnes has yet to make his official professional debut. Boasting a mid-90's fastball though and a knockout power curveball, he has frontline starting stuff. With a solid slider and changeup combination too, his repertoire is quite deep already. He does have command issues though, especially with his fastball, and that could be the only thing holding him back from reaching his vast potential long-term.

3B, Dante Bichette Jr., Yankees: This year's first round pick and son of former Colorado Rockies slugging outfielder Dante Bichette went out and hit .335 with 17 doubles and four home runs in his debut season between the Gulf Coast League and Staten Island Yankees. He also walked 31 times in 54 games to sport a .440 on-base percentage and he arguably knows the strike zone better than the lower-level umpires. Some critics inexplicably question his athletic ability [he was a Top 100 amateur tennis player in high school] to remain at third base long-term; they shouldn't. He has what it takes to be a plus hitter with above average power potential while being a quality defensive third baseman.

SS, Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox: The 2009 International signing out of Aruba made a seamless jump from the Dominican Summer League in 2010 to putting up some very solid numbers in low-A Greenville this past season, hitting .260 with 16 home runs for the Drive. He is very athletic, has soft hands and big range at shortstop, and his power potential is a plus tool in the middle infield. The Orioles' Manny Machado is widely considered one of the top prospects in the game already for a similar skill set, but Bogaerts, who is really underrated, is a similar player with an upside just as big.

OF, Bryce Brentz, Red Sox: A slugger in every sense of the word, all the 2010 first round pick did this past season in his first full year was hit a combined .306 with 25 doubles and 30 home runs between low-A Greenville and high-A Salem. He strikes out a bit too much [115 K's in 115 games], but his power is tailor made for Fenway Park and he's a solid enough defender in right field with plus arm strength to be a two-way factor for the Red Sox in the not so distant future.

P, Adonys Cardona, Blue Jays: It won't be long before the 17-year old Venezuelan native will become a household name to prospect followers. Boasting a fastball that already sits 91-94 mph with excellent movement, a potentially plus curveball, and an already plus changeup, Cardona has stuff that defies his experience. While he didn't put up great numbers in his debut season this past year [1-3, 4.55 ERA with the GCL Blue Jays, he was the youngest pitcher in the league and bypassed the Dominican Summer League entirely. He is simply electric and draws favorable comparisons to Braves' right- hander Julio Teheran. His ceiling is that high.

3B, Garin Cecchini, Red Sox: This 4th round pick from the 2010 MLB Draft has huge potential. A former shortstop and second baseman in high school, the 20-year old has all the makings of a plus defensive third baseman; plus arm strength, soft hands, and agility. The left-handed hitter also has excellent bat speed with natural loft in his swing, suggesting to many scouts that he could be a prominent offensive corner infielder down the road. Given his above average patience and pitch recognition, it should not be long before he is considered one of the game's top prospects.

2B, Sean Coyle, Red Sox: Yankee fans know all too well just how pesky Dustin Pedroia has been over the last few years; Coyle, who is also very smallish in stature, is very much cut from the same cloth. Standing just 5-foot-8, he too has an intriguing combination of power and speed [14 home runs & 20 stolen bases in low-A Greenville in 2011], and also plays with that gritty, all-out hustle style. People might look at his .247 batting average and not believe in the bat, but quite honestly he has a better idea of the strike zone than most South Atlantic League umpires.

OF, Michael Crouse, Blue Jays: The Canadian native has all the makings of a big-time sleeper prospect; drafted late, huge physical specimen with plus tools across the board, and has yet to put up consistently strong minor league stats. Built like a college football linebacker, he is 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, and he can run like the wind. He also boasts one of the strongest outfield arms in all of minor league baseball. Should he cut down on the strikeouts and improve his pitch recognition, his ceiling is as high as anyone in baseball. Keep in mind that Canadian born players, due to the lack of playing time because of weather issues growing up, take a little longer to develop [see Jason Bay]. He could be a plus late bloomer.

SS, Cito Culver, Yankees: Last year's first round pick proved two things in his first full season in 2011 -- the bat has a lot of long-term potential but lacks the overall consistency often found in young switch-hitters and he has what it takes to not only remain at the shortstop position long-term, but be a difference-maker defensively. The .250 average in Staten Island disguises his plus plate discipline and overall patient approach, two keys he already has in place to show good hitting ability, and he has more power potential than the numbers suggest. He'll have his struggles short-term but the ceiling is quite vast.

2B, Angelo Gumbs, Yankees: Possesses a quick-twitch stroke that generates good power and has a body type that screams long-term power projection should everything fall into place. He's a bit more athletic than most converted outfielders and that should make his defensive transition to second base a little quicker. He can make some dazzling plays in the field but lacks the overall consistency right now after playing the 2011 season as an 18-year old [he is essentially the same age as Bichette Jr.]. Also willing to draw a walk, he has five-tool potential in the middle infield.

OF, Chris Hawkins, Blue Jays: Drafted in the third round out of high school in Georgia in 2010, the sweet-swinging lefty hit .313 with five home runs and 14 stolen bases for the short-season Bluefield Blue Jays this past season. His swing is very short, he employs a quick load, and he has a good idea of the strike zone. He also has average to aboveaverage speed, making him a multidimensional offensive player and conjures up images of a young Eric Hinske type when he won Rookie of the Year honors for the Blue Jays.

1B, Miles Head, Red Sox: Drafted out of high school in 2009, the right-handed slugger employs a very patient approach and has good pitch recognition for a young player, and he is very adept at driving the baseball on mistake pitches. He has plus power potential, especially to the pull side, and offensively is not too dissimilar to current Sox outfield prospect Bryce Brentz. At 6-foot-0 and a generously listed 215 pounds [he's probably closer to 240 pounds], however, conditioning for the 20-year-old could be an issue going forward, especially as he gets older. The offensive potential is very intriguing though.

OF, Brandon Jacobs, Red Sox: Originally committed to the University of Auburn to play running back, Jacobs is as athletic as they come. A raw baseball player when he was selected in the 10th round of the 2009 MLB Draft out of high school, he has already started becoming more polished on the diamond. He hit .303 with 32 doubles, 17 home runs, and 30 stolen bases for low-A Greenville this past season. He does have some trouble making consistent contact and that does give him a little more "bust" potential, but the ceiling is sky high talent-wise.

C, A.J. Jimenez, Blue Jays: The Yankees rightfully get lauded for their catching depth in the minor leagues but Toronto isn't too far behind them in that regard. At 6-foot-0 and 200 pounds, Jimenez is not about to be confused with some of the slugging catchers the Yankees have but he does have arguably one of the more complete all-around games. He is a superb catch-and-throw guy who puts the ball in play, has good gap power, and also has a knack for driving in runs. He hit .303 with 29 doubles in the pitching friendly Florida State League and most scouts believe the 21-year old will develop some more power in the coming years.

SS, Manny Machado, Orioles: Widely considered one of the top prospects in the game already, the third overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft hit a combined .257 with 11 home runs and 11 stolen bases between low-A Delmarva and high-A Frederick in his first full season this past year. At 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, he has already drawn comparisons to a young Alex Rodriguez for his size and power/speed combination while playing an adept defensive shortstop. His ceiling is immense and he plays the game all-out on every play. The only question mark about him is whether or not he will out-grow the shortstop position and have to move over to third base long-term.

OF, Jake Marisnick, Blue Jays: The 20-year old centerfielder was one of the best players in the Midwest League this past season, hitting .320 with 14 home runs and 37 stolen bases. He is 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, and is as strong as he is fast. The right-handed batter is also patient at the plate and has a knack for coming up with the big hit when needed. He has the range to be a big league centerfielder and the strong arm to play right field if needed, comparing favorably to Orioles outfielder Adam Jones in nearly every way.

P, Bryan Mitchell, Yankees: The 'Killer B's' get all of the pitching attention in the Yankee farm system but it might be time to put Bryan in that group. He gets little tono love from the stat-heads, especially since he went just 1-3 with a 4.09 ERA for the Staten Island Yankees in 2011, but he arguably has the best stuff outside of Banuelos and Betances. Armed with a plus power curveball and a plus fastball that sits 92-94 mph with movement, he developed his changeup into a pitch that proved to be a plus offering at times. He still needs to make that a more consistent offering and he needs more consistent fastball command, but the rest of his game is in place to be a potential ace long-term.

P, Justin Nicolino, Blue Jays: Not a hard-thrower at all, Nicolino lives on a high-80s sinker, a low-90s four-seam fastball, and a power changeup with great fade in the 79- 80 mph range that serves as a both a strikeout and contact out-pitch. He also throws a developing curveball, but his greatest asset is his ability to spot all of his pitches for quality strikes, work ahead in the count, and keep hitters off-balance. The 19-year old went a combined 6-2 with a 1.33 ERA in his first full season this past year and held opposing batters to a .181 average. His game is very advanced even though his stuff isn't overpowering.

C, Carlos Perez, Blue Jays: The 20-year old is slowly rounding into form as a complete catcher. He hit just .256 with three home runs in his first tastes of the full-season leagues this past year, but he has some hidden power in his game that should develop in due time. He is also well-rounded defensively, showing good receiving and blocking skills, and he is only getting better. Don't let the lackluster 2011 stats fool you, he has some significant upside.

P, Anthony Ranaudo, Red Sox: Considered one of the top pitching prospects entering the 2010 MLB Draft, the former LSU product had a solid professional debut season in 2011, going a combined 9-6 with a 3.97 ERA and 117 strikeouts in 127 innings between low-A Greenville and high-A Salem. He has two plus pitches - a 91-94 mph fastball with late life that explodes in the zone and can reach 97 mph, and a hammer curveball that dives down. He had some command issues with his curveball this past season, unable to spot it in the zone at times, and his changeup is still developing. The upside is immense but the changeup needs to come more for him to tap his true potential as a starting pitcher.

P, Aaron Sanchez, Blue Jays: Selected in the first round of the 2010 MLB Draft out of high school, Sanchez didn't have the greatest season statistically in 2011, going just 3-3 with a 5.30 ERA between rookie level Bluefield and short-season Vancouver. However, don't let the stats fool you -- the kid has some sick stuff. His fastball is mostly 91-93 mph, topping out at 94 mph, but it has a lot of late life and natural sink that it explodes in on batters in David Robertson-like fashion. He has a plus curveball at his disposal too, but his changeup needs a lot of work. The natural talent is there to be a top prospect someday if he continues to work on getting ahead of batters and makes progress with his changeup.

C, Gary Sanchez, Yankees: Some stat junkies might walk away unimpressed by Sanchez's numbers in his first full season after hitting just .256 with 93 strikeouts in 82 games for the Charleston RiverDogs this past season, but the truth is it was exactly the type of experience he needed. He not only played night games for the first extended timein his life, catch pitchers more than ever had, but he also learned how to better prepare himself for the rigors of a long season. His 17 home runs [seven in the final ten games] shows the type of bat he can bring to the catcher's position and he should only get better with age.

CF, Ravel Santana, Yankees: The five-tool talent had played, and even dominated at times, in the Dominican Summer League for two seasons before coming States-side this year. All he did was hit a home run to dead centerfield over the 40-foot walleye in his first game on U.S. soil and didn't look back, smacking nine home runs, stealing ten bases, and hitting a solid .296 in the Gulf Coast League. Four of his five tools [power, speed, defense, and arm strength] grade out as 70 or better, and his hit tool is pretty refined as well. He arguably has the highest upside in the farm system and nobody seems too concerned about the long-term effects of his season-ending ankle injury.

2B, Jonathan Schoop, Orioles: Signed out of Curacao as a shortstop, Schoop is a very intriguing middle infielder. Probably better suited for third base where his plus arm strength fits better, he has been playing second base recently to make better use of his offensive prowess. The right-handed hitter shows good power, decent speed, and good pitch recognition at a very young age [he turned 20 years old in October]. With that kind of arm strength at second base too, he is a little Robinson Cano-like, albeit swinging it from the right side offensively.

P, Noah Syndergaard, Blue Jays: The numbers [5-2, 1.83 ERA, 68 strikeouts in 59 innings] were fantastic in his first full season this past year, but what is even more impressive is the now 19-year old [he pitched all season as an 18-year old] did it mostly on the strength of his mid-to-high-90s fastball. He even touched 100 mph in Vancouver, but his curveball and changeup are still developing even though he can throw strikes with them. Both have plus potential, however, and that gives the 6-foot-5 hurler an immense ceiling.

C, Christian Vazquez, Red Sox: One of the bigger enigmas, this excellent two-way backstop can't seem to get any traction from prospect followers despite being an excellent defensive catcher who can swing the bat with power too. His pretty athletic, boasts a plus arm, and he brings a ton of energy behind the plate. Offensively he hit .283 with 18 home runs and 84 RBI for low-A Greenville. Non-Red Sox fans might point to the fact he played his home games in a hitter friendly stadium, but the fact is most of his offensive damage came on the road in 2011. He is vastly underrated in prospect circles.

CF, Mason Williams, Yankees: With great plate discipline, plus speed, and amazing defensive abilities, the ultra-talented centerfielder is the closest thing to Brett Gardner down on the farm right now. He is a bit more aggressive than Gardner was at the minor league level, however, both at the plate and on the base paths, and he has better power to all fields. And just like Gardner offered as a prospect, Williams safely projects as a future big leaguer. Should he ever put on some more weight and gain some strength in an effort to help him better endure the rigors of a long season, watch out, his ceiling is sky- high!

P, Brandon Workman, Red Sox: The former University of Texas right-hander was selected in the second round of the 2010 MLB Draft and had a solid professional debut season in low-A Greenville this past year, posting a 3.71 ERA with nearly a four to one strikeout to walk ratio. He has a solid three-pitch mix; a fastball that sits 91-93 mph mostly, an 87 mph cutter, and 76-78 mph curveball. He can locate all three for strikes and his repertoire is deep enough to keep hitters guessing. Like Ranaudo, however, his changeup is still a work in progress. He has big league middle of the rotation potential if that changeup continues to develop.



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