This is the fourth and final part of The Rays Rant’s evaluation on the Rays’ top prospects. To view part one of the series, click here. For part two, click here. For part three, click here. All rankings are based off MLB.com’s top organization prospect list.
16. Jake Hager
Offensively: Picked in the first round of last year’s draft, shortstop Jake Hager did not hesitate to start his professional baseball career. The 19-year-old quickly joined Rookie League ball, finishing his short season with a .269 average and 17 RBIs through 193 at-bats. Hager’s a pretty good all-around hitter with a great plate approach and some pop in his bat from a smooth line-drive swing. Base-running wise, Hager is a decent runner with average to above-avergage speed. He hasn’t shown much intelligence on the base paths yet, but he’ll likely become a better baserunner with experience.
Defensively: Hager is a solid overall defender at short, and probably has the tools to stick to the position in the future. He has a strong arm and good reactions, which is why a future at third base is also possibility at the moment. His range is a bit below average, which is one reason why he could have better futures at second or third.
Conclusion: If one thing has been established during Hager’s brief time in the minors, it’s that he is a true hard-worker. Hager puts in 110% into every game and practice and always plays with hustle. His outstanding worth ethic makes him a great fit in the Rays’ organization, and gives him a pretty good shot at a shortstop future. I believe Hager has what it takes to take up the challenge of playing shortstop at the big-league level, but he’ll still be a talented player at second or third.
17. Felipe Rivero
Scouting Report: Yet another hard-throwing arm in the Rays’ system, southpaw Felipe Rivero can whip a fastball up into the mid 90’s. His live heater seems to be very likable amongst scouts, but his secondary pitches—the fastball and changeup—could definitely use some work. The 20-year-old Venezuelan-native pitched 60.1 innings in Rookie League ball last last season, posting a 4.62 ERA with a 3-3 record. Rivero had a great start to the year, and then seemed to lose his touch towards the end of the season. His walk and strikeout ratios were a plus side to his U.S. debut last year; as he finished the season with an 8.5 K/9 and a 1.9 BB/9. His command and pitch selection was pretty good last season considering he was just 19, which is something that will help him as he continues to mature.
Conclusion: The six-foot 151-pounder’s size disadvantage may be the biggest thing holding him back. Rivero increased his strength last year, and needs to continue that while increasing his size and weight. Rivero will be promoted to Class-A Bowling Green in 2012, where he’ll have his first chance to prove what he can do in his first year of full-season ball. He has a long way to go, so it’s hard to say whether his big-league future is as a reliever or a starter. Either way, he’s a prospect to watch in 2012.
18. Justin O’Conner
Offensively: The former first-round draft pick has plenty of potential, he just hasn’t played to it yet after his first two seasons of pro ball. O’Conner moved from 10 spots down from last year’s list; a .157 average with a .234 OBP will do that to you. O’Conner has big-time natural power, which he displayed last season by hitting nine homers with eight doubles and 29 RBI through his 48 games in the Rookie League. He has holes in his swing—78 strikeouts is evidence—and clearly needs to work on making more consistent contact.
Defensively: Drafted as a shortstop, O’Conner is still in the process of learning the art of catching; which is now his now his full time position. The 20-year-old (turned 20 on Saturday) has a strong arm and his athletic skills give him the ability to move pretty well behind the plate. He should be able to stick to the position as he progresses through the minors.
Conclusion: When it’s all said and done, O’Conner is a work in progress. We need to remember that he hasn’t played a season in his twenties yet, so it’s really not fair to call him a bust at this point. Offensively, contact hitting is what he needs to improve on, and is probably his main issue as of now. As I said before, I think he has a future at catcher, as he seems to have the tools. The Rays are very patient with their prospects, which we have seen with O’Conner over the past couple of years.
19. Jeff Ames
Scouting Report: Another first-round draft pick, right-handed pitcher Jeff Ames adds yet another good arm into the Rays’ farm system. He hasn’t proved much at the professional level yet, posting a 7.12 ERA through 30.1 inning pitched with Rookie League Princeton in his first pro season last year. He has some good stuff, though, and has the ability to strikeout batters. Ames has a live fastball with great movement that reaches up into the mid-90’s. His slider can be effective at times, and is still developing as his main secondary pitch. Ames is also working on his changeup, which has been inconsistent. He’ll have to improve the changeup if he wants to be a starter at the higher levels.
Conclusion: At the end of the day, Ames does have pretty high potential. High strikeout rates are a sign that he could be good in the future. The key for him moving forward are his secondary pitches; especially his changeup. His future as a starter or a reliever will be determined by his ability to use his offspeed pitches as he progresses through the Rays’ system. I think his future looks much brighter as a reliever, as he was already a closer during his college baseball career.
20. Wilking Rodriguez
Scouting Report: The Rays have another prospect pitcher with good stuff in Wilking Rodriguez. Rodriguez went 1-4 with a 5.00 ERA in Short Season A Hudson Valley and Low A Bowling Green. The stats aren’t good, but it’s not fair to judge him by them because he was struggling with shoulder issues throughout the year. The young power pitcher has rotation-worthy stuff; including as an excellent fastball that consistently sits in the mid-90’s. He also has a sharp curveball and a changeup that’s developing. Rodriguez is going to have to learn to be more effective with his secondary pitches if he wants to be a starter at the big-league level. Command is another part of his game that he needs to refine, as sometimes Rodriguez tends to overthrow. He has improved his command and has overthrown a lot less more recently, though, and hopefully he will continue that in 2012.
Conclusion: It will be interesting to see how Rodriguez fares in 2012, a year that’s very important for him. He’ll start the season now healthy in Class-A+ ball, where he hopes for better numbers than he had in the past. Whether he’s a reliever or a starter once he’s ready for the big leagues, we can probably expect to see his Major League debut sometime in 2014.