The Best Of The Rest

It is easy to get overlooked in the Tampa Bay organization, but there are several promising under-the-radar pitching prospects in the Rays' minor league system.

Yesterday, I provided brief profiles of the Top 10 pitchers in the Tampa Bay organization as voted upon by the fans over at RaysProspects. There are still many other promising pitchers in the Rays' minor league system, though. In alphabetical order, here is some info on some other talented arms.

Alex Cobb: Cobb attracted some attention with a strong first-half performance for the Columbus Catfish. He posted a 2.07 ERA and 57-to-20 K/BB ratio while limiting opponents to a .216 average in 82.2 innings pitched. The ace of the Columbus staff, he earned Sally League Mid-Season All-Star honors for his success. Like he did in the past, though, he faded a bit down the stretch; his second-half ERA jumped up to 5.05 as his arm began to tire.

Cobb, a fourth-round selection out of Vero Beach High School back in 2006, had a decent but not spectacular campaign overall. He finished with rates of 6.25 K/9, 2.26 BB/9, 1.03 HR/9 and registered a 3.29 season ERA and 1.06 WHIP. He generates above average movement on a sinking fastball that sits in the 88-90 MPH range, but his other offerings could still use some work. Only 21 years old, he is a nice sleeper who could make a name for himself if he adds a few ticks on the heater. Still, unless his stuff improves, he will have to keep putting up zeroes against more advanced hitters to keep rising. Also, his 96 tRA* and 4.65 tRA* indicate that he was not as effective as his traditional numbers lead us to believe.

Joseph Cruz: Cruz is a 6-foot-4 right-hander who has a bulldog mentality on the mound and good life on a fastball that touches 94 MPH. He returned to Rookie Ball (he made three appearances at Princeton in 2007) in his first real taste of professional baseball this summer. He was overshadowed by teammate Matthew Moore and his mid-90s fastball, but he was effective in his own right on the way to compiling a 3.17 ERA. The 20-year-old JUCO product posted rates of 10.33 K/9, 2.33 BB/9 and 4.43 K/BB in 13 solid starts for the P-Rays, striking out 62 in 54.0 innings pitched. Although he surrendered 61 hits, for a .270 opponents' batting average, that total is inflated by his unusually high BABIP (.383). Cruz is a nice long-term sleeper to keep an eye on, but he has a long way to go in his development.

Neal Frontz: Frontz began the year in the Florida State League, where he served as the closer for the Vero Beach Devil Rays. He was effective in that role, racking up 19 saves while posting a 1.82 ERA and 136 tRA+ in 52.0 innings pitched.

Frontz, a 24th-round selection out of Jacksonville University back in 2005, produced rates of 7.10 K/9, 2.08 BB/9 and 3.42 K/BB and an excellent 0.90 WHIP. He had so much success, though, because he only allowed one home run and limited opposing hitters to a .193 batting average (.243 BABIP), and, at 24, was still pitching against younger competition. The organization promoted him to Double-A midway through the summer, and he held his own in a small sample size. He picked up seven saves, with a 2.82 ERA in 22.1 innings, but his peripherals all declined. It will be interesting to see how he handles the level in a full season in 2009.

Justin Garcia: Garcia was impressive in the South Atlantic League. He compiled rates of 9.71 K/9, 2.49 BB/9 and 0.50 HR/9 in 41 relief appearances at Columbus. The 22-year-old Western Nevada Community College product registered a 2.49 ERA, striking out 78 in 72.1 innings pitched. He is another potential sleeper.

Glenn Gibson: When Gibson came over from the Washington Nationals in the Elijah Dukes trade, the Rays were excited. In addition to washing their hands of a PR nightmare, they were picking up a low-level left-handed arm that scouts were high on. He was coming off a nice performance (3.12 ERA, 9.0 K/9 in 58.0 innings pitched) at short-season Vermont in the New York Penn League, a year removed from being selected out of a New York high school in 2006.

Gibson struggled in his first year in the Tampa Bay organization, however. He began the season in the Columbus starting rotation, but was quickly demoted to the bullpen after 12 relatively ineffective starts, with his ERA sitting closer to a touchdown than a field goal. The struggles continued as he adjusted to a relief role, forcing the organization to send him back down to the NYPL. He had a real difficult time commanding his pitches and struggled against advanced hitters in the Sally League, as he ended up with a 7.44 ERA and discouraging rates of 5.61 K/9 and 4.69 BB/9 in 78.2 innings pitched. He then surrendered 31 hits and walked 14 in 21.2 innings pitched at Hudson Valley, putting the finishing touches on a disappointing debut.

Gibson could rebound, but the results are obviously concerning.

Matt Gorgen: Gorgen was one of the most dominant collegiate closers in the nation during a standout career at Cal. Although his junior showing left a bit to be desired (4.14 BB/9, 9.58 K/9 compared to 3.25 and 11.07 rates as a sophomore), the Rays selected him in 16th round back in June. He then reported to Hudson Valley, where he quickly emerged as the Renegades' closer. It was a brief sample, but he seemed to like facing hitters with wood in their hands.

The 21-year-old right-hander picked up 13 saves, posting a 1.96 ERA in 22 appearances on the way to league Mid-Season All-Star honors. He struck out 35 (with only five walks) in 23.0 innings pitched, finishing with rates of 13.70 K/9, 1.96 BB/9 and a 0.52 WHIP. His brother, Scott Gorgen, was a standout at UC Irvine who was chosen by the St. Louis Cardinals. Scott is the more polished pitcher between the pair, but Matt is an interesting follow.

Austin Hinkle: Hinkle is one of the more interesting pitchers in the organization. He bounced around colleges after a fine prep career in Pennsylvania. After transferring from Penn State, he spent his first collegiate season pitching for small Millersville University. He made a nice freshman debut, posting a 2.54 ERA in 56.2 innings pitched. Looking to face more advanced competition, he switched schools again. His next stop brought him to Coastal Carolina, where he redshirted his sophomore year. He then made only three appearances as a junior at 21.

Despite not having much to go by, the Rays took a flier on Hinkle and nabbed him in the 41st round that June. He made a nice debut at Princeton after signing, producing a 1.64 ERA in 33.0 innings pitched at Rookie Ball. He built on that performance in '08 and provided a capable arm out of the Hudson Valley bullpen in the NYPL. He posted a 12.92 K/9 rate, with a 2.51 ERA, 13 saves, a 147 tRA+, 2.93 tRA* and 67 Ks in 46.2 innings pitched.

Hinkle is ways away, and needs to keep producing at higher levels. But he is a nice young reliever with the chance to keep rising.

Chris Mason: Mason made a name for himself after going 15-4 with a 2.57 ERA in a record-setting campaign at Montgomery in '07. While his stuff was considered a bit fringy, he moved up several top prospect lists for his performance and earned an initiation to Major League spring training. Many scouts were still skeptical of him, though, and were anxious to see how he would handle the jump to Triple-A.

Well, it is safe to say that the year did not go according to plan for Mason. He went 3-10 for the Bulls, posting a 6.21 ERA and 76 tRA+ in his International League debut. Essentially, his stock collapsed as quickly as Lehman Brothers. He was soon enough demoted to the bullpen, which is where he is likely to remain in the future.

Mason's struggles continued in the Arizona Fall League, as he allowed 15 earned runs and struck out only four in 13.0 innings. He will look to bounce back, but his value is at its low point right now.

Mason was the Rays' second selection back in 2005, which is turning out to be a fairly poor draft in terms of value for the organization (outside of Jeremy Hellickson, who was a steal in round four). Wade Townsend, the club's first-round pick, recently re-injured himself and is likely to miss all of 2009. The future, as a result, does not look bright for Townsend in Tampa Bay.

Ryan Reid: Reid allowed only two earned runs in 31.0 innings pitched in the Florida State League before getting promoted in the summer. He was pitching against younger competition during his scoreless inning run for Vero Beach, however, and saw his ERA jump to 4.66 in 31 appearances in the Southern League following the jump. The James Madison product has a limited ceiling with his size (5-foot-11) and underwhelming stuff, but he is an interesting follow.

Albert Suarez: Suarez cracked Baseball America's Top 20 prospect list for the Appalachian League. He has a heavy sinking heater that produces a bunch of ground balls. He made a nice debut for Princeton, posting a 3.92 ERA and a 37-to-7 K/BB ratio. Still only 19, he is a breakout candidate in the next few years.

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