The Tampa Bay Rays have thrived off their farm system to manufacture their own players. The most notable Rays to come through their minor leagues are Evan Longoria, David Price, B.J. Upton and Ben Zobrist, all of which are important pieces to the team. They will like to continue this trend, and the following players will help them do so.
The Rays currently have four players in MLB.com's list of the Top 50 Prospects in 2011. That ranks second among all other teams, only trailing the Kansas City Royals, who have six players.
No. 2: SP Jeremy Hellickson
Hellickson, who turns 24 in April, will have spring training to compete for the final spot in the rotation. After coming up to the majors late last season and posting a 4-0 record, he should be all set to start the season in the rotation. The Rays coaching staff may be looking to develop him more, and see what kind of stuff Hellickson really has.
The first thing you notice while watching Hellickson pitch is his command. He can work hitters inside and out with his fastball, and hit the strike zone most of the time. Or he can throw three or four straight changeups before coming back with a fastball on the corner.
Hellickson is the most talked-about Rays pitcher going into spring training. Asking him to fill Matt Garza's shoes might be a little too much, but the organization definitely thinks he has the potential to do so. Garza went 15-10 last season withouts.
With the depletion of the Rays bullpen, it will be a little harder for the Rays starters to get some wins this year. Hellickson still has the stuff to get close to 15 wins this season if he stays healthy.
No. 11: OF Desmond Jennings
The Rays drafted Desmond Jennings in the 10th round of the 2006 draft. Since then he has had a history of injuries in 2008 and the beginning of the 2010 season in Durham (Triple-A). When he has been healthy, Jennings has showed he can play.
Last season in Durham, he hit .278 with three home runs and 37 stolen bases. He was called up to the Rays in September and hit .190 with two RBI and two stolen bases in 17 appearances.
Looking at those stats, you can't be real sure how ready Jennings is to be an everyday player in the major leagues. He certainly has the speed and defensive skills, but he will have to prove his offense is up to par this spring.
Jennings was slated to possibly start the season in left field in place of departed Carl Crawford. The addition of Johnny Damon might have been a good pickup because it will give Jennings some time to get settled down.
Jennings will one day be a big part of the Rays, but it might take just a little longer.
What kind of an impact will Jeremy Hellickson and Desmond Jennings have on the 2011 Rays?
No. 27: SP Matt Moore
Matt Moore, 21, is a powerful lefty who is supposed to start this season with the Montgomery Biscuits (Double-A). Last year in Port Charlotte (Single-A), he struck out 208 batters in 26 starts while posting a 3.36 ERA.
Since he was drafted in 2007 by the Rays, he has shot through the system and should continue to do so. According to MLB.com, Moore has a plus fastball and breaking ball, and he is continuing to work on his changeup.
Moore is very young and with the Rays depth at starting pitcher they might take their time bringing Moore along and further. Who knows how long it will take for him to get called up to Durham (Triple-A).
No. 47: SP Chris Archer
The Rays received Chris Archer, 21, in part of the Matt Garza deal. He was drafted in the 5th round of the 2006 draft by the Cleveland Indians.
Archer has pitched well in the Cubs Minor League organization. In 2010, he posted a combined 15-3 record in Daytona (Single-A) and Tennessee (Double-A) with 149 strikeouts.
Before he was traded from the Cubs, he was their top prospect and the club named him the 2010 Minor League Player of the Year. With the Rays he is their fourth top prospect.
Archer and Moore add on to the pitching depth that the Rays organization has. In a couple of years, no one knows how the starting rotation will look, but with these players on the rise you can bet it will be talented.
MLB.com was used for some of the facts and stats in this article.