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Prospect Ray healthy, looking for results

After tough 2017 season, outfielder feels improved entering '18
MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

PHOENIX -- Corey Ray is healthy at the start of Spring Training. That marks significant improvement over last year for the former Brewers first-round Draft pick, who was still recovering from knee surgery at this time a year ago and did not feel completely healthy until June.

"Last year, I was swinging at this time, but the knee was still bothering me," Ray said. "Trying to catch up, taking those swings with my knee bothering me, created bad habits that ended up carrying over to the season.

PHOENIX -- Corey Ray is healthy at the start of Spring Training. That marks significant improvement over last year for the former Brewers first-round Draft pick, who was still recovering from knee surgery at this time a year ago and did not feel completely healthy until June.

"Last year, I was swinging at this time, but the knee was still bothering me," Ray said. "Trying to catch up, taking those swings with my knee bothering me, created bad habits that ended up carrying over to the season.

"Now, I'm able to take the right reps. Perfect practice makes perfect performance -- or better performance. Now that I'm getting the reps and doing it the right way, I feel much more efficient and much better."

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Ray, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2016 Draft out of the University of Louisville, underwent surgery that fall for a torn meniscus in his left knee, but he entered '17 at No. 30 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list. He was briefly ranked as the Brewers' top prospect after the team traded Lewis Brinson to the Marlins in January.

But Ray slipped to No. 7 on Milwaukee's prospects list and fell out of the overall Top 100 when the rankings were redone for 2018. The update reflected a second straight disappointing season for Ray, who has a .238/.310/.368 slash line through his first 773 professional plate appearances. At Class A Advanced Carolina in '17, while still regaining strength and confidence in his surgically repaired knee, Ray struck out 156 times and had a .679 OPS in 503 plate appearances.

Video: Top Prospects: Corey Ray, OF, Brewers

But a late-season adjustment at the plate produced positive results in the Arizona Fall League, where Ray produced an .893 OPS over his final 42 at-bats.

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"He was a model rehabber down here. Our medical staff couldn't say enough positives about him, and I think that kind of carried forward to the way he does his work," Brewers farm director Tom Flanagan said. "He's not going to get beat in terms of putting in the effort.

"Maybe he did too much last year heading into the season, where this year, he appears to be in a really good place swinging the bat. I think he is comfortable with his swing. We're excited to get a look at him in games."

That opportunity comes soon. Minor League Spring Training games begin Friday.

Ray said he is "starting to speed up with the game." He made an appearance in a Cactus League game on Monday against the Dodgers, but he has not been among the regulars called over from Minor League camp, because Milwaukee, stocked with outfielders, doesn't have much opportunity to offer this camp.

Ray is in the mix to begin the regular season at Double-A Biloxi. He is a natural center fielder, but he will play all over, part of the Brewers' effort to prepare as many of their Minor League outfielders as possible to play wherever the big league club has a need.

Asked about his goals for the coming season, Ray said, "to, wherever I go, be the best player on the field. Be the most consistent player that I can possibly be. Get in a routine, and stick to that routine every single day. Wherever the chips fall is where they fall."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.

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