With the 2014 Rule 4 MLB Player Draft fast approaching, it’s time to take an in-depth look at some of the prospects that are available. The Rays hold the 20th overall pick in the draft and have quite a few players to filter through as they figure out who to select. The Rays have generally looked at players with considerable upside in the first round of the most recent drafts. They have not shied away from taking a player with character concerns (Taylor Guerrieri) or injury concerns (Ryne Stanek) in the first round if they believed their potential was worth the risk. For this exercise, we’ll discuss which college hitters the Rays’ could be looking at with the 20th pick. If the Rays are going to select a college hitter, it will be for one of two reasons: he was supposed to be drafted higher and fell to them or he is a player for whom they see major room for improvement for in pro ball. So let’s take a look at some of the bats that could be available by the time the Rays’ pick rolls around.
Bradley Zimmer, CF, San Francisco (Bats left/Throws right)
The brother of Kansas City Royals pitching prospect Kyle Zimmer, Bradley Zimmer brings a lot to the table with his great size and athleticism for a centerfielder. His 6’5″, 205 frame should allow him to hit for power at the next level and has already shown off a strong hit tool. He’s got pretty good ability on the base paths with 21 stolen bases this year. Zimmer will most likely end up in a corner outfield spot where he should be an above-average defender, but he will probably get a chance to play center early on in pro ball. Zimmer will get consideration in the top 10, but he will most likely end up as a top 15 pick. Zimmer would give the Rays a very good left-handed bat who could reach the majors quickly and be a solid regular in the outfield. He will likely be selected before the 20th overall pick, but if for some reason he were still around, the Rays would strongly consider taking him.
Michael Conforto, LF, Oregon State (L/R)
Conforto is your typical “safe” college bat. He is a solid pure hitter and had the highest batting average for a player in any of the four major college conferences. He also led all Division 1 hitters in on-base percentage. Unfortunately he doesn’t hit for much power and will likely be limited to left field in pro ball. He doesn’t run exceptionally well which means he won’t be a threat on the base paths either. Despite his shortcomings, Conforto still projects to a solid regular in left field who can hit for average and get on base. Somewhere between picks 10-20 is where he’ll most likely end up but some team in the top 10 might draft him and sign him to a below slot deal to save some of their bonus pool money. Conforto doesn’t offer a whole lot of upside. He could continue to be an strong hitter, but the fact that he virtually has no power and probably won’t be a good defender either make him unlikely to be selected by the Rays
Derek Fisher, LF, Virginia (L/R)
Fisher is one of the best athletes in the draft among college players. He has great bat speed and ended up with a pretty good numbers despite missing most of the college season due to a broken hamate bone. Fisher has shown power in batting practice but hasn’t shown much in games. He’s also plus runner who should be a threat on the basepaths. Despite his good speed, however, he has struggled defensively. Fisther will likely be limited to a corner outfield spot in the pros. Since his strong showing back from injury, he’s a good bet to land in the top 20 picks. Fisher would bring the Rays a pretty good all-around outfielder who will hit well, run well, and could turn into a strong fielder with the right instruction. The lack of in-game power is concerning, but the Rays could still be intrigued by a player like Fisher and what he brings to the table.
Trea Turner, SS, NC State (R/R)
Finally a non-outfielder! Turner has some serious speed. He’s considered easily a plus runner and it will be his best tool. He has the range and the arm to stick at shortstop defensively. There are some serious questions about his bat, though. Turner has an unorthodox swing and well below average power. Essentially you’re getting a guy that should be able to be a good defensive shortstop and a great baserunner, but might not hit much. He was once projected to be a top-5 pick but concerns about his hitting or not have pushed him down, and he’s not even a sure thing to go in the first round. Most likely, he’ll end up being picked somewhere between picks 15-25. Turner would bring some speed back into the Rays’ farm system, which is an area where they are really lacking. However, Turner’s issues at the plate limit what he can do, and the Rays don’t need yet another defensive shortstop in their system.
Kyle Schwarber, C/1B, Indiana (L/R)
Schwarber is bad-bodied college catcher who will have to rely on his bat in the pros. He measures in at 6’0″, 240 lbs, which means he’s very limited in terms of position. Defensively, there’s not much chance he sticks at catcher, so he will likely move to first base. His bat, though, really captivates scouts. He’s got a solid hit tool with a little bit of swing and miss, but also should bring plus power from the left handed side. Despite the fact that he’s basically a bat-only prospect (reminds me of Chicago Cubs prospect Dan Vogelbach) somebody will likely take a chance on plus power and will take Schwarber within the first 20 picks. Despite the fact that he won’t likely be a good defender and doesn’t have any speed, his bat might interest the Rays enough to take him with the 20th overall pick if he’s there.
Casey Gillaspie, 1B, Wichita State (S/L)
Keith Law had the Rays taking Connor Gillaspie’s younger brother in his first mock draft. He’s got a very powerful frame at 6 foot 4, 238 pounds. Gillaspie has above-average bat speed and produces a lot of line drives. He has big raw power from both sides of the plate and moves around pretty well defensively for a big first basemen. Gillaspie isn’t a huge name for this year’s draft and really is a wild card in terms of where he could get drafted. Late first round to the compensation round seems like a decent bet for where that would be. But, adding a switch-hitting power bat would be an asset to any farm system, which is why the Rays will do their homework on Gillaspie. If the Rays believe in his bat, there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t at least consider him with their first pick.
Max Pentecost, C, Kennesaw State University (R/R)
The draft’s best pure catching prospect has features upside all around his skill-set. Behind the plate, Pentecost has a plus arm and an above-average glove. He’s also a plus runner on the basepaths. At the plate, he has no power and will need some work to become an above-average hitter. The team drafting Pentecost will be drafting him mostly for his defensive skill set with the hope that they can fix up his swing. Pentecost will get some interest from teams as high as 10th overall and will likely be selected anywhere from picks 10-20. After getting Nick Ciuffo with their first pick in last year’s draft would the Rays really consider taking a catcher again this year? It’s possible especially with Pentecost’s great skill set behind the plate. If he’s there and they think they can improve his bat then its entirely possible Pentecost ends up a Ray.
There are a lot of fascinating names on this list if the Rays decide to go after a college bat with the 20th overall pick in the draft. If the Rays had their choice with all of these names on the board (as unlikely as that would be) the player I believe they’d take would be Bradley Zimmer. With Zimmer unlikely to be available, however, the player the Rays could most realistically take is Kyle Schwarber. The Rays typically don’t draft hitters early who have all of their value tied to their bat (Josh Sale being the last one) but they might make an exception for Schwarber thanks to his power potential and refined hit tool. Our next segment on potential Rays MLB Draft targets will be about prep hitters that could be available at 20th overall.