Corey Ray’s 2017 season was so discouraging that he has largely fallen off of top prospect lists left and right. Indeed, his 2016 numbers were bad enough that the purely statistics driven KATOH (Chris Mitchell, Fangraphs) ratings had removed him from their top 100 before the season. Mitchell pointed out in a season review that Ray’s 21.3% K rate didn’t impress KATOH, and that his 2017 campaign at high-A Carolina was even worse. Corey’s K rate jumped to 31%, and his slash of .238/.311/.367 (OPS .679) confirmed that analysis.
Ray has only managed 12 homeruns over 757 plate appearances at high-A ball over two seasons, with 210 strikeouts. His BABIP has been high enough (.299 in ‘16, .346 in ‘17), but the inability to make constant contact is holding him back big time. He did swipe 24 bases last season, and defensively he had just one error and eight assists, but it’s the bat that will cause Corey to fall in this season’s rankings.
Ray was the 5th overall pick by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 2016 amateur draft after a standout career at Louisville. The lefty isn’t big (5’11”, 185), but his size certainly doesn’t preclude power development in the future. He was widely seen as the best college bat in the draft, so the pick certainly wasn’t considered a reach. And it is apparent that BCB readers were willing to accept a mediocre minus 2016 campaign as adjustment to better pitching, but a drop in production in 2017 must raise doubts in even the most ardent Ray supporter.
The Arizona Fall League was a somewhat surprising destination for Ray in 2017, given his struggles for the Mudcats, but it was likely viewed as a chance to work on his swing or plate approach. He hasn’t fared any better there (today is the last of the ‘regular’ season in the AFL); his slash line of .243/.317/.338 with an OPS of .655 reveals the same lack of power he evinced at Carolina. The one positive is that his K rate is down to 18.8% in 80 plate appearances, but the lack of long ball power (four doubles, one homer) is still disappointing.
Of course, Ray can improve as he works through his minor league development. But reducing such a high K rate while also adding significant improvements in the power area are hard to expect quickly. As a top pick, Corey will get every opportunity to make those adjustments and show that improvement, but it is hard to imagine that he will be ready to contribute at the major league level in the next two seasons. Calls for patience can only be heard for so long, and as a team that may be ready to compete right now and for the next several seasons, cracking the big league roster will become increasingly difficult.
Not every top pick becomes a star; not every top pick even becomes a major leaguer. Those misses are covered up by the low round picks who develop and become stars. Corey Ray has some work to do.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs.com and mlb.com