DETROIT -- The Tigers thought enough of Robbie Ray that they made him the central prospect in their return package from the Nationals for Doug Fister earlier this offseason. Now the rankings are arriving to show what others think about him.
After a couple different rankings put Ray among the top prospects in the Tigers' farm system, the latest positional rankings from MLB.com put Ray as the 10th-ranked left-handed pitching prospect in baseball. It marks Ray's debut on the top prospect list, a jump that reflects the relative breakout season Ray posted in Washington's farm system over the summer.
With Ray tentatively slated to open the 2014 season at Triple-A Toledo, the jump also puts the 22-year-old potentially on Detroit's doorstep.
"We think he's pretty close to pitching in the big leagues," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said of Ray at last month's Winter Meetings. "He may need a little bit of development time, but he's got really good stuff, so we think that he could move quickly."
Ray entered last season as the 10th-ranked prospect in the Nationals' system, according to MLB.com. He became the third-ranked prospect in Detroit's organization following the trade, positioned behind former Futures Game MVP Nick Castellanos and first-round pick Jonathon Crawford. Baseball America placed Ray fourth in its Tigers prospect rankings released last week, behind Castellanos, Devon Travis and Bruce Rondon.
None of those organizational rankings, however, necessarily reflect what kind of prospect Ray is in the game at large. That's where the positional ranks come in.
Ray's fastball graded out at 60 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. The higher the number, the better the regard. Only Dodgers teenager Julio Urias had a higher-ranked fastball among the top 10. Ray's secondary pitches ranked lower, and his control rated average at 50.
Ray's fastball isn't overpowering, registering in the low to mid 90s, but it was the key pitch in an arsenal he used to strike out 160 batters over 142 innings between Class A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg in 2013. His 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings marked a half-strikeout improvement over his previous-best ratio, while his strikeout-to-walk ratio improved to 2.58.
The key term most often mentioned with Ray is pitchability, a word that was used with the last left-hander to make it through the Tigers' system -- Drew Smyly. Like Smyly two years ago, Ray will be in big league camp with the Tigers as a non-roster invitee. Unlike Smyly, Ray won't have a rotation spot to try to win unless Justin Verlander isn't ready for Opening Day or another starter is injured.
MLBPipeline.com's 2014 Top 100 Prospects list will be unveiled on Thursday, Jan. 23, on MLB.com, as well as on a one-hour show on MLB Network, airing at 10 p.m. ET. Leading up to that, MLBPipeline.com is breaking down baseball's top 10 prospects at each position.