Rays 2012 Prospect Predictions: Hitters

With minor league camp set to break in less than a week, it is a good time to look into our crystal ball and try to predict the winners of different hitting statistical categories in 2012. What hitter will jack the most home runs? Who will win the stolen base crown? Who will lead the minors in hitting? We have all those answers and more inside.

Coming Tomorrow: We post our predictions for superlatives.

Players who project to play in short season leagues were not considered for categories like batting average and on base percentage due to much smaller sample sizes and conversely won't get enough trips to the plate to rank in the counting categories. In short...only full-season players were considered for the following.

For Hitters

Most Runs Scored: Hak-Ju Lee--- Lee led the Rays farm system in runs last season with 98, while Stone Crabs double-play-partner Tyler Bortnick was right on his heels with 96. Both figure to be at the top of the leader board again as they provide spark and excitement at the top of the Montgomery lineup. It really comes down to a coin flip between the two, but Lee gets the slight nod for his ability to impact a game with his speed. Tim Beckham, who was third in the category last season, should score plenty for Durham from atop their lineup. Others who should post high run totals are Cody Rogers, Cole Figueroa, and Ryan Brett.

Most Home Runs: Henry Wrigley--- Derek Dietrich hit 22 homers last season for Bowling Green to lead the system, but Oscar Hernandez finished with 21 in nearly 250 less at bats. Hernandez has legitimate power potential, but will be hard pressed to even come close to his VSL total playing in the States against better pitching. There could be some regression for Dietrich as well, so the choice for this category is Henry Wrigley. The 25-year-old has been remarkably consistent the last two seasons hitting .270 with 21 HR and 83 RBI in 2010 and .274 with 17 HR and 83 RBI in 2011. He has looked fantastic in spring training thus far and this could be the season that he has a true breakout at the plate. A sleeper candidate is catcher Mark Thomas who showed burgeoning power last season at Charlotte and hit very well in the Australian Baseball league this winter. Jeff Malm, John Shelby, Cody Rogers and Phil Wunderlich also figure to hit quite a few dingers, and if he somehow isn't called up to the majors, Stephen Vogt could figure in this category as well. Josh Sale and Justin O'Conner have light-tower power and could post good home run totals if they show they ability to make better contact.

Henry Wrigley is the choice to lead the farm system in home runs in 2012.

Most Stolen Bases: Tyler Bortnick---Like runs scored, this category figures to be a battle between Lee and Bortnick. While Lee is certainly the faster runner, Bortnick has proven himself to be the better base-stealer to this point. He had a remarkable 91 percent success rate last season and has stolen more than 40 bags for two straight seasons. A healthy Ty Morrison could top them both as he stole 58 bases in 2010. Cody Rogers has a shot to be a 20/20 player this season and he should be somewhere in the 30 bag range. Ryan Brett told Rays Digest this winter that he wants to steal more in 2012, so look for him to improve on his 21 steals from last season as he debuts in full-season ball. Taylor Motter, Brett Nommensen, Kevin Keirmaier, Mikie Mahtook and Dominican speedster Ismel Antunez are all players in the mix as well.

Highest Batting Average: Ryan Brett--- Quite a few players put up nice averages in smaller sample-sizes in 2011, including: Oscar Hernandez (.402), Joel Caminero (.330), Keith Castillo (.330), Wilmer Dominguez (.330), Ismael Aguero (.323), and Leopoldo Correa (.322). The choice here though is Ryan Brett, who is quickly developing into one of the system's best hitters. He hit .300 for the second straight season last year and will have the benefit of a full-season to make adjustments in 2012. After his showing in the Arizona Fall League, Mikie Mahtook should hit for a high average in his first season in the minors and is a strong contender here too. There are quite a few other candidates to hit over .300 this year and among them are Cole Figueroa, Taylor Motter, Drew Vettleson, Brandon Guyer, Stephen Vogt, Robby Price and Cameron Seitzer. Lee and Bortnick will also be racking up the hits and are contenders in yet another category.

Highest On Base Percentage: Robby Price---Coastal Carolina alumni Bortnick and Motter will be near the top here as well, but the slight nod goes to Price who had a 86 to 63 BB/K ratio last season while hitting .283. If he can tack another 5 points onto his batting average, then this will be his category to lose. Bortnick would be the second choice here and to date he has an impressive .409 career OBP. Another former collegian, Cameron Seitzer, could be a factor and when looking at plate discipline numbers in the organization, college players seem to be much further advanced in this area. Kyeong Kang posted the highest walk totals of his career last year and is a darkhorse.

Breakout Hitter: Tyler Bortnick--- Bortnick broke out last year, the problem is that few prospect pundits seem to have noticed or believed in the results. He will have to successfully make the tough jump from Single-A to Double-A, but if that goes smoothly (and there is no reason to think it won't), then going into 2013 Bortnick will be firmly entrenched as one of the system's top position players. Ryan Brett is another hitter who could raise his stock this season and he and Drew Vettleson will be a lot of fun to watch this year at Bowling Green. It will also be fun to watch all of the young high school talent from last year's draft at Princeton and Hudson Valley. Jake Hager, Johnny Eierman, Brandon Martin, James Harris and Granden Goetzman are all intriguing talents for different reasons, but Tyler Goeddel is a player who should hit well right off the bat and begin generating buzz in 2013.

John Gregg is Publisher and Senior Editor of Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaysDigest. He can also be reached via e-mail at raysdigest.com@gmail.com.


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