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Top Prospect Alert - Rocco Baldelli

By Schuyler Dombroske

DOB: 9/25/81, Age: 20, Bats/Throws: R/R, Height: 6’4’’, Weight: 183. Acquired: Devil Rays - Drafted in the 1st Round of the 2000 Draft (Bishop Hendricken HS, Warwick, RI). 2001 Stats: (Low-A - Charleston) .249 AVG, 406 AB, 23 2B, 6 3B, 8 HR, 25 SB, 23 BB, 89 K, .289 OBP, .394 SLG. 2002 Stats: (High-A - Bakersfield) .342 AVG, 231 AB, 13 2B, 1 3B, 10 HR, 14 SB, 11 BB, 46 K, .380 OBP, .537 SLG.
    Rocco Baldelli is a Devil Ray hitting prospect who is predictably battling to turn his obvious tools into usable skills. He is arguably succeeding at this, which is becoming less unusual by the season in Tampa’s system. Baldelli was drafted with the sixth choice in the 2000 draft, and for the first two years of his career he struggled offensively, posting OBPs under .300 with sub-par power. This season, Baldelli hasn’t controlled the strike zone any better, but he is hitting with much more power, even when taking into account the hitters’ league (and park) that he is playing in. If you look closely at his statistics for this year versus last, you see that the only categories that have shown improvement are singles and homers. The increase in singles could always be an aberration, but the home runs are probably a legitimate change. His power is at least average right now, and will probably get a bit better as he matures. Rocco’s biggest flaw is his lack of strike zone judgment, an issue that doesn’t show any signs of improving in the near future. If I recall correctly, Baldelli has batted leadoff more often than he has not in his career thus far, and his career OBP might have nosed over .300 finally this month. If he is going to bat in the top half of the order like the Devil Rays envision, he is going to have to improve his walk to strikeout ratio. On the bases, Baldelli is extremely proficient, showing the speed to steal 30-40 bases annually. With more patience at the plate, his combination of speed and power would make him a force at the top of a lineup. Defensively, Baldelli has the speed and route-running capability to be a top-notch center fielder, but like all Northern-born kids, is still a bit raw at age 20. I expect him to become an above-average center fielder, possibly one of the best in the league. His arm is merely average, but it should be serviceable for the Rays. Thus far in his career, Baldelli has been more tools than skills, but he is certainly showing signs of progress this season.
    The Devil Rays’ system is in good shape on the hitting side of the ball. In addition to Toby Hall, Steve Cox, Brent Abernathy, and Aubrey Huff, all of whom have already spent time in the bigs, they have the prospect outfield of Jonny Gomes, Josh Hamilton, and Baldelli toiling at Bakersfield. Aside from shortstop, the Devil Rays can reasonably expect to have eight positions filled with average or better hitters within a few seasons (including Ben Grieve as DH to the aforementioned seven, and assuming that everyone progresses optimally). The pitching is not quite as strong, but between Seth McClung, Jason Standridge, Joe Kennedy, Dewon Brazleton, and Paul Wilson, they should be able to find a couple reasonable starters for their next (first) good squad. Baldelli should be a part of that team, due to both opportunity and talent. He will probably earn a promotion to Orlando at some point this year, but still would not be expected to hold a major-league job until 2005. His youth and inexperience are still fairly evident, and the Devil Rays will probably not be in the position to rush him quite yet. A player like Devon White would be a pretty good comparison, except that Rocco’s arm is nowhere near as strong as Devo’s. Baldelli should turn out to be a solid player on a pretty good offensive team in about five years. 


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