On June 9th, the Cincinnati Reds will have the 2nd selection in the 2016 MLB Amateur Draft. Over the next few weeks, the team here at Red Reporter will scour the internet to bring you scouting reports, statistics, and moving pictures of all of the prospects being linked to the Reds pick.
Given how much can happen in even a short spring of high school and college baseball, it should probably be counted as a big positive for anybody who can enter February as a highly-touted prospect and emerge in May holding similar standing.
One player who has been able to do that is Corey Ray, a center fielder from the University of Louisville who we talked about all the way back in October. Ray torched the Atlantic Coast Conference this season to the tune of a .320/.396/.575 line with 15 homers and 58 RBI's. One of the only questions surrounding Ray entering the season concerned his plate discipline and contact ability, which he struck down with 36 strikeouts in 247 at bats to go with 33 walks. His speed also remains a precious asset, allowing him to swipe 39 bags in 46 attempts.
I'm not really sure where to go with a MLB comparison for Ray - a shorter Dexter Fowler? a left-handed hitting A.J. Pollock? - so I'll just let the professional scouts do the sweet-talking.
Professional Scouting Grades (via Fueled By Sports)
MLB Pipeline ranks him as their fourth overall prospect, second among position players:
He has a quick left-handed bat and makes consistent hard contact, giving him the potential to hit for both power and average. Ray uses the entire field well and has done a better job of managing the strike zone and making consistent contact this spring.
Ray has plus speed and knows how to use it well on the bases. Though he has spent most of his career at Louisville in right field, he runs well enough to play center field. Ray has the offensive production and arm to profile at all three outfield positions, and obviously he'd offer the most value if he can play in the middle.
John Sickels is similarly high on Ray over at Minor League Ball:
Ray is a 6-0, 190 pound left-handed hitter and thrower born September 22nd, 1994. He's added two inches of height and some 20 pounds of muscle since high school, without losing any of his plus running speed or athletic flexibility. His defense still needs some polish but he runs well enough to handle center field with more reps; his arm is a tick above-average. If he loses speed and can't stay in center, he has enough pop in his bat to avoid being labeled as a tweener. His swing is simple and repeatable and he's eased any concerns about high strikeout rates this spring.
Back in February, Fangraphs declared that it would require a strong case for a team to pass over Ray as the first position player selected should Ray put together an 18 homer, 40 stolen base season while also refining his approach. Guess what: Louisville is on its way to the NCAA tournament as the No. 2 overall seed, and Ray is remarkably close to those two numbers while also sporting a much better K/BB mark:
In a draft class that features no obvious first choice among the available position players, this track record of performance and adjustment-making is an advantage Ray holds over his peers. Consider, for example, his closest rival and Florida center fielder Buddy Reed, another five-tool talent with a similar ceiling who has likewise improved, but whose production lags by comparison. When parsing players who grade equally on tools, rounding up on the guy who’s proving, empirically, that he adjusts to higher competition is a difference-maker. Ray keeps learning and adapting, quickly and significantly.
What should the Reds do?
Once some digging gets done, though, Ray may actually have what it takes to challenge Kyle Lewis and Nick Senzel as the best position prospect out of the college ranks. His athleticism is largely unrivaled, and has long been what makes him resonate with scouts. That athleticism seems to have translated into an ability to improve his game on seemingly every level throughout the time he's been at Louisville, and if that follows him into professional baseball, it could turn him into a top five prospect someday.
The issue with college bats in this year's draft is the ceiling, and for me, nobody's ceiling is as high as Ray's. It doesn't mean he'll reach it, or even come close to it. But when looking at the tools he has, and the adjustments and corrections he's made, it's tough not to be impressed. I personally would be surprised if the Reds snagged him at No. 2, but it wouldn't be a disappointment. Even with his projectability, his floor seems fairly high, and he could be a key puzzle piece in the Reds' rebuild, even if he doesn't develop into a perennial All-Star.
What can I say? Successful college bats can be extremely fickle. We could be looking at a guy with a .275/.350/.480, 20 homer, 40 stolen base peak, we could be looking at an athletic, speed-power combo journeyman. It's up to the Reds' scouts to figure out which one is the stronger possibility, and if it's enough to warrant a No. 2 overall selection, especially over one of the high-ceiling arms in this draft. Again, I'm not envious of whoever has to make this decision.