LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Baseball fans love the comparison game.

Is Clayton Kershaw the next Sandy Koufax? Does Mike Trout remind you of Willie Mays? Who do you like – Bryce Harper or Barry Bonds?
The baseball First-Year Player Draft starts at 6 p.m. Thursday. Corey Ray, a junior outfielder at Louisville, is a lock to be taken in the first round, perhaps as quickly as the third selection by the Atlanta Braves and likely no later than the 10th pick by the Chicago White Sox.

According to a story posted at MLB.com Thursday, Ray is the player the Braves currently love. Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com predict Atlanta will take Ray with the third pick.

Back to the comparison game. Ray named Yankees outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, another left-handed hitter, as his favorite athlete.

I asked the scouting director for a major-league team to identify the current player that he sees when he watches Ray perform.

His pick?

Cubs’ outfielder Jason Heyward – because Ray also hits left-handed, has the ability to steal bases or hit for power and is considered a terrific outfielder, with the skills to play left, center or right.

“That’s the kind of body that teams are looking for,” said the scouting director, who requested anonymity. “Teams would like to get more people that have that stud, Jason Heyward look. The first thing you see is that he just stands out because of that.”

You can quibble with that comparison. I do. Heyward, 26, is 6 feet 5 and 240 pounds. He is a .265 career hitter with 100 home runs and 93 stolen bases.

U of L lists Ray at 6 feet and 190 pounds. Heyward was 20 when he made the big leagues with Atlanta in 2010. Ray will be 22 in September. But the power speed combination is there. Ray ranks second in the nation with 44 steals. He has delivered 16 home runs.

Oh, Heyward also signed an eight-year contract worth $184 million after last season. The bonus slot for the third overall pick in 2016 is $6.5 million. It slides to $3.38 million for the 10th pick. Ray is reportedly hosting a draft gathering in Louisville Thursday evening,

“Cory just stands out,” the scouting director said. “He’s fun to see. He hits from the right side of the plate. Power and speed are hard to find in the same package with that kind of body. That’s pretty interesting.

“I think he’s going to be too big to be a leadoff hitter (in the big leagues). Too big and strong. He’s not Denard Span (a 6-foot outfielder with the Giants) or one of those kinds of guys. He’s got juice. I think more Jason Heyward than anybody.”

Warning: The scout did have one flashing light in his report on Ray – batting average.

Ray has hit only .319 with the Cardinals this season, down .006 points from his average as a sophomore last season. Factor in aluminum bats and the belief that college pitching is considered similar to the quality players face in high Class A competition, and Ray has work to do to prove that he can become a top hitter in the big leagues.

“That .320 is a nice average, but that doesn’t compute in our game,” he said. “He should be hitting more than .320.”

Know this: If Ray dropped to a spot where he would be available for this scouting director’s team, he would call Ray’s name as quickly as possible.

“I wouldn’t be looking for holes,” he said. “I’d be looking for things that he could already do. He’s got a little polish on him. He’s not a crude player any more. The time at Louisville really helped him.”

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