Rays well represented on top prospect list
No. 6 Jennings one of four Tampa Bay players in Top 50
ST. PETERSBURG -- Four players from the Rays' organization have made the just-released list of MLB.com's Top 50 Prospects.
Desmond Jennings, Wade Davis, Jeremy Hellickson and Tim Beckham all made the list, giving Rays fans a sign of more good things to come in the future.
Jennings was ranked the highest of the group at No. 6.
The speedy outfielder had an outstanding first full year of professional baseball in 2009 after getting hurt in his two previous seasons. Jennings was named MVP of the Southern League at Double-A Montgomery before advancing to Triple-A Durham, where he showed he could play. He's a gifted athlete who can play center field; he runs very good routes. Jennings has the ability to hit and will eventually hit for some power.
"Desmond is a wonderful athlete, that's first and foremost," Rays farm director Mitch Lukevics said. "He's a gifted athlete that can give you a lot of good things on both halves of the inning, whether it's on defense with the right routes going after balls as a true center fielder, or offensively, having the ability to get on base and yet have the ability to drive in runs. He's a definite threat in both halves of the inning, which is really special to us."
Jennings is likely to begin the season at Durham, but he will report to Spring Training believing he's a Major Leaguer.
"I'm going to Spring Training to compete for a job," Jennings said. "They may think different, that I need more time, but I'm going to let them make that decision. I'm just going to go out there and play as hard as I can and push everybody, so when they do have to make a decision about me, it's a hard one to make."
Davis, who was ranked No. 13, is the only one of the four prospects with Major League experience. The right-hander came up in September 2009 and showed the talent that should earn him a spot in the starting rotation in '10. Included in his late-season showing was a dominant shutout at Baltimore. Davis found his way to the Major Leagues last season after refining his stuff and his location. In addition, he incorporated a slider into his repertoire and continues to make progress with his changeup.
Davis did not make the big league squad out of Spring Training in 2009, but the experience served as a positive start to his season. Any fans lucky enough to see Davis pitch during the spring saw a dominating mound presence in most of his outings. Among those, his first stint against the Yankees was memorable. Davis started for the Rays in front of a crowd of 10,693 at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla., and mowed through the six hitters he faced in two innings, allowing no hits, no walks and striking out three -- including Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.
That experience against the Bombers went a long way toward building Davis' confidence.
"I think it helped me realize, '[These are the] same hitters, but a little bit better, but I can get them out,'" Davis said.
Hellickson came in at No. 20, and he will likely begin the season at Durham to get a little more seasoning under his belt. He missed more than a month last season due to injury, but he came through it well enough to earn a promotion to Durham.
"Hellickson's command of his stuff is what separates him," Lukevics said. "Now this past year in his journey, he was able to develop his changeup. It took him a little while, but now it's a factor in the game. Once he did that, you saw the success he had at the Triple-A level. He'll need some more seasoning there to complete that. And if all goes well, he should be knocking on the door here with our Major League ballclub."
Like Jennings, Hellickson will be in Spring Training battling for a starting spot, which is heady stuff considering he'll be competing against the likes of James Shields, Matt Garza, David Price, Jeff Niemann, Davis and Andy Sonnanstine.
"There are five really good starters up there right now," Hellickson said. "So I have to keep working hard. I mean, I'm close, but I'm still a long way away."
Beckham, who was the top pick of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, was ranked 24th on the list.
The talented shortstop should begin the season at Class A Port Charlotte of the Florida State League. In addition to having all the physical tools, Beckham has a great work ethic and attitude, which should help him fully develop his skills.
"He is a typical young player that can make some great plays, and then the focus on making the routine is not there," Lukevics said. "We've got to get him to make the routine play consistently to get him to where he needs to get to in his jump. He's a great young man with good character, good intangibles, with good athletic ability. It will be interesting to see how he takes us into next season."
There has been a lot of debate regarding Beckham's future as a shortstop, but for now, that's his position.
"He'll play there now," Lukevics said. "That can always be determined later. There's no reason to make any kinds of decisions on that at this time. And he'll play shortstop in 2010."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.