Kyle Lewis could very well be the first position player off the board this June, but Louisville’s Corey Ray won’t be too far behind. The speedy outfielder has put together a solid junior year, and is a lock to be a top-ten pick in this season’s MLB Draft.
It wouldn’t be the first time that the 21-year-old would be drafted. Ray was a top-five-rated Illinois prep star out of Simeon Career Academy, landing inside Perfect Game’s Top-200 (No. 176 to be exact). It was enough to convince the Seattle Mariners to take a flier on Ray in the 33rd round of the 2013 draft; however, most felt that he could benefit greatly from playing collegiate baseball. Ray heeded the advice and honored his commitment to Louisville.
He was a part-timer as a freshman, but broke out his sophomore year as a starter. He hit .329 while getting on base at a .385 lick, but really showed off his true asset, which is his natural athleticism. Ray flashed some of that future 20/20 potential, hitting 11 home runs and swiping 34 bases.
If there are flaws to Ray’s game, they were his contact and ensuing plate discipline. Much of that, as FanGraphs points out, comes from difficulty handling breaking stuff and opposing lefties. That 2015 season saw him strike out 60 times while walking just 24 times in 265 at bats.
Ray made an even bigger name for himself playing for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, still struggling with the breaking stuff, but improving his strikeout rate and hit portfolio. He played in 16 games for the U.S., hitting in 15 of them. He led the squad in doubles (seven), stolen bases (10), runs scored (12), walks (seven) and slugging percentage (.548) while hitting .355.
Heading into his junior season, all eyes were on Ray to see how he improved. He was already one of the premier outfielders in the ACC, if not all of the NCAA. His speed obviously helps his range and he has a better-than-average arm that — added with his aforementioned athleticism — gives him the ability to play all three outfield positions, despite spending the majority of his career in right.
How did he respond? Ray showed the improvement most hoped to see.
The 6-foot, 190-pound Cardinal has batted .326 during his 2016 campaign. He has used his plus-speed to lead the ACC in stolen bases with 38, but he has also done it with advanced awareness on the base paths. He has only been caught seven times, or has been successful nearly 85 percent of the times. Add a team-best 14 home runs and 57 RBI to his stat line, and you have the makings of a dangerous, well-rounded, “five-tool” player.
Most importantly, after leading Team USA in walks over the summer, Ray has posted a much improved 34-to-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio this season, improving his contact and patience at the plate, leading to a .402 on-base percentage.
So who is Corey Ray? He is the most ready left-handed bat in the draft (you could argue that Mickey Moniak and Blake Rutherford have more enticing upside, but they are mere high schoolers while Ray has done it). He has a quick bat and hits to contact, often pretty convincingly. His power works to all fields, as does his defensive play. In fact, many see him as a possible future centerfielder.
There aren’t many teams in the top-ten of the 2016 draft that can shy away from a potential outfielder with the extra-base and stolen base numbers Ray seems capable of producing.
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