District on Deck’s 2012 Top 15 Nationals Prospects: #15 Robbie Ray
By Aaron Somers
Image courtesy: nationalsdailynews.com
Name: Robbie Ray
Date of Birth: October 1, 1991
Ray was originally drafted by the Washington Nationals in 2010. He was taken with the first selection of the 12th round (pick #356 overall) out of Brentwood High School (Brentwood, TN). The left-hander had the opportunity to play for the University of Arkansas the coming fall, but instead chose to sign with the Washington Nationals and begin his professional career. Knowing he had just completed a full high school season, the organization chose to assign him to their Low-A affiliate in the short season NY-Penn League, the Vermont Lake Monsters.
Ray’s career began like many high school draftees – involved in training, conditioning, and practice drills with the team in full, in order to adjust to the life of a professional baseball player, but limited game experience. Ray would end up appearing in only one game before the season concluded, striking out two of the three batters he faced in an inning of work. But, he showed enough to those watching practices and his conditioning drills to warrant a promotion to begin the following season.
Washington would assign Ray to begin 2011 in Extended Spring Training, just in an effort to limit his innings for the season. In May he joined the Hagerstown Suns, their affiliate in the South Atlantic League. At just 19 years of age Ray was one of the younger players in the league, but generally seemed to hold his own against the older competition. He would make 20 starts for the 75-64 Suns (a team managed by former MLB first baseman/designated hitter Brian Daubach), finishing with a 2-3 record and 3.13 ERA in 89.0 innings of work. Ray wasn’t working deep into games, eliminating him from eligibility in a number of the team’s win/loss decisions, but he was pitching well and showing a number of strengths. Ray kept opponents to a mere .221 batting average while allowing 7.2 H/9, 3.8 BB/9, and 9.6 K/9.
Top Prospect Rankings
Baseball America (Top 10): Unranked
MLB.com (Top 10): Unranked
FanGraphs (Top 15): 8th
Seedlings to Stars (MLB Top 100): #81 overall, 7th of 7 Nationals to make the list
DoD Editor Aaron Somers (Top 15): 15th
DoD Staff Writer Michael Natelli (Top 15): Unranked
DoD Staff Writer Andrew Flax (Top 15): 12th
Courtesy of Seedlings to Stars:
"Ray already shows a feel for three pitches – a moving low 90’s fastball, a sweepy slider, and a fading changeup. He still has room to grow into his frame and add some more velocity, and scouts laud his athleticism and projectability.His low arm slot hides the ball well to left-handers, but he didn’t have any sort of problems against righties thanks to the good movement on his fastball and his ability to get empty swings at the changeup."
And from FanGraphs:
"Ray isn’t a huge guy but he has a decent pitcher’s frame and some projectability. The left-hander has an 87-92 mph fastball that has reportedly touched the mid 90s occasionally. His changeup is good but his improved breaking ball is still slurvy. He is a fly ball pitcher that needs to work down in the zone more consistently."
His strikeout ability has been a big plus thus far, especially considering he pitched this past season as a teenager against generally older competition. As he continues to develop both physically and as a pitcher his ability to strike batters out may be vital in how he progresses as a prospect. In particular, it will be interesting to see the affect on his K/9 rate as he starts to face batters that are of more equal competition.
Despite predominantly being a fly ball pitcher, Ray allowed few home runs (0.3 HR/9) during the 2011 season. This may have been a product of the competition and the fact that he was pitching in what’s typically a pitcher’s league. As he moves up and faces better opponents it will be worth keeping an eye on how Ray responds to this. He will need to be able to locate his pitches, otherwise being a fly ball pitcher will work against him greatly.
Mechanically he has some consistencies that need to be ironed out, which should ideally come with further development. Due to his arm slot being slightly lower than average, there are concerns that he could be putting a lot of wear and tear on his elbow and shoulder. To minimize the stress on his arm he was under a strict innings limit during the 2011 season. Moving forward this is something to keep an eye on.
While his overall BB/9 rate not a direct concern, he did hit 12 batters this past season so control will continue to be an area of development for Ray. Again, some of this will come with additional development and polish but it’s will be an area the organization will continue to monitor closely.
Conditioning will be an area of development as well. Ray tired significantly over the course of the 2011 season, as evidenced by ERA by month: 0.38, 3.92, 1.73, 6.91, 11.25. Some of this was likely normal wear and tear on a teenage arm, but it again points to the growth that Ray will need to show in order to continue through the organization’s system.
2012 and Beyond Expectations
In all likelihood, Ray will begin the 2012 season with the Potomac Nationals of the Carolina League, the team’s High-A affiliate. I’d expect that he’ll once again face an innings limit of some kind, likely closer to the 130-140 range as the team will want to see how well his arm holds up over the course of a season but they won’t want to overdue it either. Remember, Ray just turned 20 so there is no need to rush his development. With a solid showing in Potomac it isn’t out of the question for him to see some time with Double-A before the season is out, though that is likely a best case scenario and shouldn’t be counted on.
Once again, courtesy of the S2S crew:
"Ray is very much a work in progress, but the ingredients of an electric left-handed arm a la Erik Bedard are here."
While projecting Ray’s future with any degree of certainty at this point is no perfect science (FanGraphs concludes he could develop into either a #3-type starter or a middle reliever), it wouldn’t be so bad to see him develop into a Bedard like pitcher in the future. Bedard is largely remembered now for missing such a significant amount of time to recurring injuries after being traded to Seattle, but remember, he was once considered one of the premiere left-handed starters in the American League for a number of years. He was the clear ace of the staff with the Orioles during his time in Baltimore. While Ray wouldn’t likely be the ace of the Nationals staff, considering the other arms currently in the organization and ahead of him here in these rankings, he could be a serviceable starter in the coming years. In all likelihood, however, we won’t be seeing him under consideration for a Major League call up before late in the 2013 season at the absolute earliest.