As it was last year, pitching remains the strength of the Rays' system, with young arms taking up seven of the 10 spots on the preseason list of 10 Prospects to Watch for 2010. They rank from just on the verge of the big leagues to just starting out. Perhaps due to that almost lopsided pitching depth, the Rays aimed at young position players early on the in 2009 Draft and even though they failed to sign either of their first two picks, they did bring several into the ranks.
Six of their first seven picks were hitters and their first seven selections came from either the high school or junior college ranks. The youth already on hand in the big leagues, though, means that many of the team's top prospects could see another year or more in the Minors even though they might be up with other organizations.
Reid Brignac, SS
An outstanding defensive shortstop, the second-round pick from 2004 made his big league debut in '08, but maintained his rookie eligibility into this year because of injuries which cost him time in '09. Now healthy, he has filled out a once lanky body and continued to hone his game. The '06 California League MVP has all the defensive tools you want at the position and so far, has hit .278 in 90 big league at-bats. He also has flashed power, though not consistently.
Wade Davis, RHP
The next in a line of top-notch starting prospects, Davis came up late in 2009 and his impressive performance in September likely stamped his full-time rotation spot for '10. The club's Minor League Pitcher of the Year in '07 has put up consistently excellent numbers everywhere he's gone, and his 140 strikeouts at Triple-A Durham in '09 ranked second in the International League. He was the Rays' third-round pick in '04 and throws four pitches highlighted by a sinking fastball in the low 90s.
Fernando Perez, OF
Despite falling off this year's Top 10 due to injuries which cost him nearly all of 2009, the speedy Perez remains very much in the team's big league picture as a potential fourth outfielder, pinch-runner and defensive replacement. He has game-changing speed and is one of the best defensive outfielders in the system even as he shakes off the rust of a wrist injury and shoulder trouble which has sidelined him.
Kyle Lobstein, LHP
One of the last cuts from the Top 10 list, the second-round pick from 2008 has a serviceable fastball with good movement and a deceptive delivery, a 12-6 curveball and a changeup which is a promising work in progress. In the New York Penn League he ranked fifth in strikeouts with 74 in 73 innings and posted a 2.58 ERA at Hudson Valley. With good mechanics and an easy motion, he should be one to keep an eye on this season.
Wilking Rodriguez, RHP
Just 19 years old, the Venezuelan prospect posted a 2.75 ERA in two seasons in his home country and then a 3.21 ERA in 13 starts at short-season Princeton in his stateside debut, finishing ninth in the Appalachian League. Batters hit just .213 against him as he fanned 52 in 56 innings while walking just 12. He throws a fastball consistently in the low-mid 90s which he offsets with a curveball and changeup.
Emeel Salem, OF
Not unlike Perez, Salem is a smart player with great speed, prototypical leadoff abilities and excellent defense who has lost time to injuries. After a promising 2007 season, his '08 campaign was cut short at the start by a broken arm, yet he still finished fifth in the organization that season with 25 steals in just 38 games, and was hitting .301 at the time of the injury. He spent much of '09 regrouping at Class A Charlotte and scuffled at the plate, but did hit .468 in July.
The Rays were unable to sign their first two picks, 2B LeVon Washington, taken at No. 30, or IF Kenny Diekroger, and did not sign a player within the Draft's top 100 picks. ... Their first sign was OF Todd Glaesman (3) at No. 108 overall, a Texas high schooler who was slowed as a senior due to an ankle injury suffered playing football. He hit .278 in 15 games in the Gulf Coast League. A center fielder with the arm for right, he also has power potential. ... C Luke Bailey (4) would have likely gone much higher in the Draft had he not undergone Tommy John surgery. The Rays signed the Georgia high school defensive whiz and will help him through his rehab awaiting his pro debut because of that upside of defense and power. ... 1B Jeff Malm (5) hit .240 in seven games after signing late and is a pure hitter with power potential. ... RHP Devin Fuller (6) was the Rays' first pitcher and the first junior college sign. Fuller headed to short-season Hudson Valley, where he posted a 2.92 ERA and struck out 31 batters in 49 1/3 innings, limiting New York-Penn League hitters to a .239 average. ... OF Cody Rogers (7) shone at Princeton, hitting .303 with six homers, 37 RBIs and 14 steals playing all three outfield spots. The left-handed hitter has solid tools across the board and could be a quick riser in this young class. ... RHP Zach Quate (14), signed out of Appalachian State where he posted a 1.09 ERA, continued to dominate in his pro debut, collecting 13 saves at Hudson Valley with a microscopic 0.35 ERA and 34 strikeouts versus four walks in 26 innings over 18 games. He limited hitters to a .170 average with a plus slider and command. ... 2B Tyler Bortnick (16) out of Coastal Carolina hit .300 at Hudson Valley and his 24 steals ranks fourth in the system despite playing just a half-season. ... RHP Scott Shuman (19) out of Auburn had an 0.82 ERA at Princeton, striking out 29 in 22 innings and limiting hitters to a .222 average with a fastball in the low-mid 90s. ... Speedy OF Christopher Murrill (35), ranked a 70 runner on the scout scale, swiped 29 bases, third in the system, while hitting .306 at Hudson Valley.
Hitter of the Year -- Desmond Jennings, OF
With a wrist injury suffered in mid-March ending the shot he had at making the big league club out of Spring Training, the Rays can give the five-tool talent more time to refine his talent in the Minors. The best athlete in the system and their Player of the Year in 2009, the 10th-rounder from '06 hit a combined .318 with 11 homers and 52 steals between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham last year. His 37 steals at Montgomery set a club record and he posted a 7-for-7 game in the final week of the regular season at Durham. He was named Southern League MVP despite being promoted out of the league in July.
Pitcher of the Year -- Jeremy Hellickson, RHP
We're going to go with our successful preseason 2009 picks, Jennings and Hellickson, on the assumption that they will continue to light up the leader boards, but both are at least a few months away from being called up to perform on the big stage. In four pro seasons, Hellickson has gone a combined 28-11 with a 2.80 ERA and 345 strikeouts in 347 innings, limiting hitters to a .229 average. ... Though he missed two months midseason with a shoulder strain in '09, he would have qualified for the leader boards once again had he had enough innings. His 10.42 strikeouts per nine innings would have been fifth in the Minors among starting pitchers. Overall, he was 9-2 with a 2.45 ERA in 114 innings between Montgomery and Durham and continued to show pinpoint control.
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.