Thursday, December 10, 2009

John "The Roadrunner" Raynor

Ah, the new suits; they just can't resist a Rule 5 draft. It's like Christmas come early, and today was no different. They found Marlin minor-league OF John Raynor, a 6-2, 185 pound, road running right handed hitter, stuffed in their stocking this year.

And like Evan Meek and Donnie Veal before him, he may end up a keeper. Keith Law of ESPN tweeted "Pirates take John Raynor from Florida in Rule 5 draft - good fourth outfielder right now with a chance to be more."

Born in Benson, North Carolina, he played at South Johnston High School and then at UNC - Wilmington.

There, Raynor was a leadoff hitter, and in fact he didn’t hit a home run in his first two seasons. Holy Juan Pierre! But his bod eventually hardened, and he belted five homers as a junior and a dozen as a senior, hitting out of the three and four holes for the Seahawks as an upperclassman.

Raynor was first drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the twelfth round of the 2005 draft as a junior, but didn't sign. In 2006 MLB draft, Raynor was selected in the ninth round by the Florida Marlins and signed for the princely sum of $17,500.

The speedy outfielder was assigned to the short-season Jammies barely after the ink dried, and his four home runs led Jamestown in the New York-Penn League. But the Marlins saw him as a leadoff man after he hit .286 and stole 21 sacks in 23 tries. He made the NY-Penn All-Star squad.

He spent the 2007 campaign with the Marlins Class A affiliate, the Greensboro Grasshoppers in the South Atlantic League. Raynor hit .333, with thirteen dingers, 57 RBI, 110 runs scored, and tacked on 54 steals in 62 attempts.

Raynor was named a Sally League All-Star, MVP of the South Atlantic League, a member of Baseball America's Low Class-A All-Star team, and was crowned the Florida Marlins Minor-League Player of the Year.

He then skipped a level, bypassing High Class A Jupiter, Fla., and going straight to the AA Carolina Mudcats. Raynor led the Marlins minor league system with 104 runs scored and 48 stolen bases in 2008 while hitting .312 with thirteen long balls and 51 RBI.

Baseball America proclaimed him the "Fastest Baserunner" in the Southern League, where he was named to both the mid-season and post-season All-Star teams.

That fall, Raynor was sent to the Arizona Fall League, playing for for the Mesa Solar Sox. In 8 games for Mesa, he batted .364, and even hit for the cycle. It would be a short season, though - he was hit by a pitch that broke his hand.

The world didn't remain his personal oyster this year, though. The 25 year-old (he'll turn 26 on January 4th) outfielder is coming off a downer, hitting .257 with 24 doubles, six homers, 36 RBIs, 63 runs scored and 19 stolen bases in 27 tries during his first season at AAA New Orleans. OK stats, but definitely a bump in the road for Raynor.

The Bucs are betting that he just had an off year after being rushed through the system, and didn't hit the wall. Outside of last year's average, his knocks were his tendency to whiff - he struck out 393 times, once every four at-bats - and that he's been a little old at every level until this year. They wouldn't be alone, though, in considering him MLB material.

One report by the I Yankee blog said the Yankees were considering taking him. And Raynor was ranked the #11 prospect of Florida by Baseball America entering the season.

Overall, Raynor has produced a career average of .299 (.383 OBP) with 89 doubles, 20 triples, 36 home runs, 165 RBI, 313 runs scored and 142 stolen bases in his four seasons of professional baseball. That ain't too shabby; a burner that can occasionally run into a pitch. That's the player the Bucs are betting on.

"We like the bat upside enough that we think there is every-day potential here," Neal Huntington said. "There's a combination of average, he draws walks [and] he can drive the ball gap-to-gap. Depending upon the upside, depending upon how other guys come on, this is a depth option for us long-term."

Oddly, speed merchant Raynor has played almost exclusively as a corner outfielder for the Fish, though the Pirates think he'll be solid defensive center fielder, his position when he was drafted from UNC-W. And he does have the wheels; Baseball America rates him a 70 for speed, which is just shy of supersonic.

He's an interesting selection. A couple of days ago, the suits weren't surfing the Rule 5 seas, but suddenly had a change of heart. We suspect that change had a lot to do with Scott Boras and his pronouncement that he was looking for a three year deal with starter's money for Rick Ankiel. Enter John Raynor, the Bucs' inexpensive term insurance policy.

Raynor looks to us like a viable candidate for the fourth outfielder, where he can back up Andrew McCutchen and cover the long green of PNC's left field. He's got speed to burn, a good arm, a pretty good minor league pedigree, and is said to be a hard-nosed, 100%-effort player.

He's a first in, last out type of guy. Heck, he even reported to spring training right after the Super Bowl, although he didn't have to sign in until February 17th.

And if Raynor is on the Pirates' opening day roster, someone's getting elbowed out; Steve Pearce or Brandon Moss are the likeliest candidates, though Bobby Crosby could make Ramon Vazquez redundant.

As things stand now, Crosby/Ronny Cedeno, Jason Jaramillo, and Delwyn Young are locks on the bench. And the Bucs are gonna look long and hard at Jeff Clement, too. Hey, competition! Who'd thunk it?

-- The Pirates made a minor-league Rule 5 selection on Thursday, taking shortstop Rodolfo Cardona from Baltimore's farm system. In 66 games combined between low A, high A and Double-A, Cardona hit .218 with 24 RBIs and 23 runs scored last year. Ah, Pittsburgh, home of the maple-challenged shortstops.

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