With the summer upon us, it is time to give an update on how the Devil Rays top five prospects have done through the first six weeks of the season. From Durham to Vero Beach, several of the organization's top minor leaguers are off to strong starts inching closer to their dreams of reaching the major leagues.
1. Evan Longoria- Third base- Montgomery
Longoria, the Devil Rays first pick (3rd overall) in the 2006 draft, has done nothing but hit since singing out of Long Beach State University last summer. The former college shortstop is tearing it up for the Montgomery Biscuits in his sophomore season in the professional ranks. Longoria is batting .289 with 10 HR and 38 RBIS with a .526 slugging percentage. After a strong season with Visalia in 2006, he helped the Biscuits to the Southern League Championship with an outstanding showing in the playoffs. If Longoria keeps showing his plus power potential, he will be a lock to be called up to the Devil Rays when big league rosters expand to forty players in September.
2. Reid Brignac- Shortstop- Montgomery
Brignac, who was drafted out of high school in 2004, burst on to the scene with a strong season with Visalia and Montgomery a year ago. After a similar strong start at the plate this year, Brignac has cooled off considerably in the recent weeks as Longoria's teammate and the starting shortstop for the Biscuits. He is currently hitting .262 with 4 HR and 24 RBIS in his second season at the AA level.
3. Jake McGee- LHP- Vero Beach
McGee, ranked by Scout as the 13th best pitching prospect in minor league baseball today, is off to an impressive start with the Vero Beach Devil Rays. In ten starts, McGee is 4-1 with a 1.84 ERA this year. The 20-year-old left hander has allowed 34 hits in 53.2 innings of work with an outstanding 61/21 strikeout to walk ratio. McGee has dominated the Florida State League this season and opponents are hitting only .178 him. In his latest outing, he scattered only four hits and two earned runs over six innings in a no decision against the Tampa Yankees. In 26 starts for Southwest Michigan in 2006, McGee went 7-9 with a 2.96 ERA.
4. Wade Davis- RHP- Vero Beach
Davis, McGee's teammate at Vero Beach, has caught the attention of numerous scouts because of his strong start to the season. Davis is arguably off to a better start than McGee, which is saying a lot considering how dominant the left hander has been. Davis is 3-0 with a 1.69 ERA in ten starts at this point in the season. Similar to McGee, he has an excellent strikeout to walk ratio (58/16) and opponents are only batting .210 against him. The 6'5 right hander from Lake Wales, Florida did something that on May 4th that McGee has not in his outing against Jupiter. He did not allow a hit and only walked one batter in seven shutout innings. That performance, along with others, has made Davis one of the most heralded pitching prospects in the Tampa Bay farm system.
5. Jeff Niemann- RHP- Durham
The 6'9 right hander from Rice University has fought through several injuries during his minor league career since being drafted in 2004. Similar to his professional career, Niemann has had his fair share of highs and lows this season. In ten starts, he is 3-3 with a 4.02 ERA, but has been dominant in some outings against International League competition. Niemann showed his tremendous potential in his outing against the Pawtucket Red Sox on April 12th when he three five innings of three hits baseball in a no decision. In 53.2 innings, Niemann has given up 54 hits and 24 earned runs. Even though he has yet to last more than six innings in a start this year, look for him to be called up to the big league club at some point during the end of the summer especially if the struggles continue for Casey Fossum, Edwin Jackson, and Jae Seo.
6. Joel Guzman- Third base- Durham
Guzman, who came over to the Devil Rays from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the deal that brought Jae Seo to Tampa Bay, is off to a rough start with the Durham Bulls of the International League. Guzman, the Bulls everyday third baseman, is hitting just .220 in forty games to start the season. He is among the Durham's team leaders with 6 HR and 23 RBIS, but his slugging percentage is only .365. With Akinori Iwamura currently at third base in the big leagues and Longoria on the way, Guzman may need to switch positions in order to play everyday at the big league level for the Devil Rays in the future. Guzman's struggles offensively certainly haven't helped his case. Guzman has started to hit over the last couple of weeks, but is slugging less than .400 with a .265 on base percentage. Better days are ahead for the player who was selected for the Futures game at All Star Weekend in Pittsburgh last July. In Monday's game against Ottawa, Guzman went 2-4 with two runs scored.
7. Andy Sonnanstine- RHP- Durham
Sonnanstine has emerged as an ace with the Durham Bulls in his first full season at the AAA level. He is leading the Bulls with six wins and 2.35 ERA. Sonnanstine has made a strong case for a call up to Tampa Bay with a 65/13 strikeout to walk ratio and 0.97 WHIP. Sonnanstine's record could be even better if he received more run support in some of his starts especially considering International League hitters are batting only .211 against him. He suffered the loss in his latest start against the Rochester Red Wings when he allowed only two earned runs in 6.1 innings. From what he has shown in his first ten starts, Sonnanstine is the pitcher that is the most major league ready in the entire organization. He is not the most talented pitching prospect in the Devil Rays system, but consistently gets hitters out, period.
8. Jeremy Hellickson- RHP- Columbus
Hellickson is 2-1 with a 2.79 ERA in six starts for the Columbus Catfish. Ranked as the eighth best prospect in the Devil Rays organization by RaysDigest, he has twenty four strikeouts in 29.0 innings. The Iowa native suffered his first loss last week against Savannah. He allowed four earned runs over four innings in his worst outing of the season so far.
With Casey Fossum's struggles tonight, it is hard to imagine that some of the pitchers on the above list would be doing any worse than the embattled veteran. Fossum gave up seven hits and allowed five earned runs in the first inning of tonight's game. He is an innings eater, but the Devil Rays need to make a change and soon. Sonnanstine, who was not even regarded as one of the top ten prospects in the organization by Baseball America prior to the season, has shown enough command to merit being called up. Jae Seo's spot in the rotation will be skipped again this week and his days as a starter with the Devil Rays appear to be numbered, deservingly so.
Edwin Jackson (0-8) is still young and possesses two things that Fossum and Seo do not, an electric arm and potential. I have not given up on him yet, but Fossum and Seo need to be replaced by the All Star Break, if not sooner. The two likely candidates are Niemann and Sonnanstine. If both pitchers continue to get better and turn in impressive outings for Durham, it will be hard for the organization not to make a change.
Note- The official prospect rankings from RaysDigest is available is Scouts preseason publication. More updates will come on prospects in the very near future.
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