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Tampa Bay Rays Top 20 Prospects for 2015

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Recent trades dramatically boost the talent in the Rays farm system.

Steven Souza
Steven Souza
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Tampa Bay Rays Top 20 Prospects for 2015

The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2015 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders for the book, so order early and order often!

I hope to have the book finished this week. Everyone who orders either a print copy or a .pdf will receive the .pdf as soon as it is done, with the print copy following for those who ordered it as soon as printer turnaround allows.

All of these grades are preliminary and subject to change.

QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS

Grade A prospects are the elite. In theory, they have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Theoretically, most Grade A prospects develop into stars or at least major league regulars, if injuries or other problems don’t intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.

Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.

Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Many end up as role players or bench guys. Some don’t make it at all.

Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for the full analysis about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.

1) Willy Adames, SS, Grade B+/Borderline B: Age 19, hit .263/.375/.411 in Low-A between West Michigan and Bowling Green, traded from the Tigers in the David Price deal. Huge leap from Dominican Summer League to Midwest League handled with ease, has tools to stick at shortstop in my opinion and could/should develop substantial power. Some question about what shape his skills ultimately take but a high ceiling and better skills than most players his age.

2) Steven Souza, OF, Grade B+/Borderline B: Age 25, hit .345/.427/.577 with 18 homers, 28 steals, 52 walks, 80 strikeouts in 357 at-bats in the Nationals system, traded to Tampa as part of Myers deal. Nothing left to prove in the minors, power/speed combination is enticing as well as legitimate, tools have always been here. Career has been marked by a PED suspension, off-field issues (which seem resolved now), injuries and strikeouts but he’s done good work reducing the latter and improving his strike zone judgment. Draws Jayson Werth comps but Nelson Cruz is another parallel.

3) Daniel Robertson, SS, Grade B+/Borderline B: Age 20, acquired from Athletics in Ben Zobrist trade, hit .310/.402/./471 with 37 doubles, 15 homers, 72 walks, 94 strikeouts in 548 at-bats in High-A. On-base player with doubles power, questions here are defense (he is likely to be second baseman in the long run, especially with other prospects in this system) and power projection at the highest levels (it is always best to confirm Cal League numbers elsewhere). Projects as a regular.


ANALYST NOTE:
In earlier permutations of the list, Robertson and Souza both spent time at number one. The final grades and ranking here will be worked out when I do the Top 50 list next week and I will come back and alter this at the time to reflect that list, if I decide to make changes. There is a good case to have Souza at number one.

4) Brent Honeywell, RHP, Grade B:
Age 19, supplemental second round pick from Walters State Community College in Tennessee, posted 1.07 ERA with 40/6 K/BB in 34 innings in rookie ball, 19 hits. This is an aggressive and unconventional ranking, putting him ahead of Guerrieri and Colome, but I don’t always play it safe. Athletic, live arm, smooth delivery, low-90s heat with more possible. Has a good change-up, okay curve, and a unique screwball. I like the unusual arsenal and I think his command will hold.

5) Taylor Guerrieri, RHP, Grade B:
Age 22, pitched nine shutout innings in rookie ball rehab from Tommy John surgery. This is the same grade he got last year and I knew about the injury at the time so no need to change it. Number three starter projection with 90-95 heat, good curve, change-up showed improvement before he got hurt.

6) Justin O’Conner, C, Grade B-/Borderline B:
Age 22, hit .278/.316/.466 with 12 homers, 16 walks, 98 strikeouts in 399 at-bats between High-A and Double-A. Skilled against runners, threw out 50 percent, but receiving still needs considerable work. Hitting is similar to his defense: promising but with flaws, power and bat speed are clear but ultra-aggressive approach could prove problematic without significant improvements. Drew one walk with 20 strikeouts in 80 Double-A at-bats. Some regard him as the best positional prospect in the entire system, others are less sanguine.

7) Alex Colome, RHP, Grade B-/Borderline B:
Age 26, 3.77 ERA with 73/30 K/BB in 86 innings in Triple-A, 84 hits. 2.66 ERA with 13/10 K/BB in 24 innings in the majors. Perhaps this is just prospect fatigue and he is under-ranked here. Never a question of stuff but rather command and durability, which likely puts him in the bullpen.

8) Ryan Brett, 2B, Grade B-:
Age 23, hit .303/.346/.422 with 27 steals in Double-A. Best tool is speed but he has some surprising pop at times, has tools for second but still somewhat error-prone, has always hit well when healthy. Some are skeptical about his size but you’d think that people would be less skeptical about short second basemen these days as long as they have athleticism, which Brett does have.

9) Casey Gillaspie, 1B, Grade B-:
Age 22, slugger out of Wichita State in the first round, hit .262/.364/.411 in New York-Penn League. Switch-hitter with power and good strike zone judgment, will have to see about batting average against better pitching. Will make his living on homers and walks.

10) Andrew Velazquez, INF, Grade B-:
Age 20, another component in Hellickson deal, hit .290/.367/.428 with 50 steals in 544 at-bats in Low-A. Set minor league record by reaching base in 74 straight games last year and knows what to do when there. Made 35 errors at shortstop but range and arm aren’t bad, might not have to switch under normal conditions but logjam of middle infield talent in this system might force matters.

11) Justin Williams, OF, Grade B-
: Age 19, hit .351/.403/.467 between Pioneer and Midwest Leagues in Diamondbacks system, acquired in Jeremy Hellickson trade. Was supposed to be very raw when drafted in second round from a Louisiana high school in ’13 but has shown better-than-expected hitting skills to go with excellent raw power. Defense has improved a lot. Impatient approach could need adjustment as he moves up but high upside player.

12) Blake Snell, LHP, Grade B-:
Age 22, posted 3.19 ERA with 119/56 K/BB in 116 innings in A-ball. Live arm with low-90s fastball, shows good potential with both slider and change-up, biggest issue remains spotty command. Upside: number three starter with middle relief or LOOGYdom as backup options.

13) Jake Bauers, 1B, Grade B-:
Age 19, acqruired in Wil Myers trade, hit .296/.376/.414 in Low-A with 51 walks, 80 strikeouts in 406 at-bats. Power hasn’t blossomed yet but makes contact, hits for average, controls strike zone, fields his position. Many Midwest League observers were impressed with him and believe more power will come.

14) Adrian Rondon, SS, Grade C+:
Age 16, signed for $2,950,000 last July, considered top player in international class by many experts. Reports indicate he has a good chance to remain at shortstop and his bat is very advanced for his age, with control of the strike zone. Tough to rank guys like this until we see how all those tools translate. If you are going for ceiling only without regards to risk he would rank as high as four or five.

15) Mikie Mahtook, OF, Grade C+:
Age 25, former LSU star hit .292/.362/.458 with 12 homers, 33 doubles, 18 steals. Added power at the expense of aggression, 46/137 BB/K but scouts wanted to see that pop if he has any chance of being a regular. Good fielding skills, some speed, some power, likely a fourth outfielder at this point but a good one.

16) Enny Romero, LHP, Grade C+:
Age 24, posted 4.50 ERA with 117/52 K/BB in 126 innings in Triple-A, 128 hits. Throws hard, continues to have issues with command of secondary pitches, potential fourth starter, a power bullpen arm, or trade bait.

17) Ryne Stanek, RHP, Grade C+:
Age 23, former University of Arkansas ace worked his way back from hip surgery, posted 3.99 ERA with 50/18 K/BB in 59 innings over 13 starts at three levels, finishing in High-A. Low/mid-90s, slider, curve, change, has four pitches but may not have durability to start at higher levels.

18) German Marquez, RHP, Grade C+:
Age 20, surprised he doesn’t get more attention, Venezuelan posted 3.21 ERA with 95/29 K/BB in 98 innings in Midwest League, 83 hits. Fastball in low-90s, MWL observers liked his breaking ball and change-up, possible three pitch starter with good control.

19) Johnny Field, OF, Grade C+:
Age 23, fifth round pick from University of Arizona in 2013, hit .300/.376/.488 with 36 doubles, 12 homers, 23 steals, 46 walks, 102 strikeouts in 467 at-bats between Low-A and High-A. Undersized gamer-type with multiple skills, Adam Eaton-style possibilities.

20) Jose Dominguez, RHP, Grade C+:
Age 24, posted 3.63 ERA with 41/19 K/BB in 35 innings in Triple-A in Dodgers system, since traded to Tampa. Can hit 100 MPH, good slider, wouldn’t take much in the way of improved command for him to become a valued reliever.

As you can see there is a ton of C+ in this system (note those in the next paragraph). You could make a case for most of these guys to slot in the 14-20 range. I picked the seven above for write-ups because they are either close to the majors (Mahtook, Romero, Dominguez) or interesting for other reasons (Marquez, Rondon, Stanek, Field). All of them get full write-ups in the book of course.

OTHER GRADE C+ (most of these guys could be slotted at 14-20): Matt Andriese, RHP; Nick Ciuffo, C; Jacob Faria, RHP; Dylan Floro, RHP; Grayson Garvin, LHP; Jake Hager, INF; Nathan Karns, RHP; Patrick Leonard, 1B-3B; Riley Unroe, INF; Cameron Varga, RHP; Kean Wong, 2B.

OTHERS: Tim Beckman, INF; Buddy Borden, RHP; Damion Carroll, RHP; Tyler Goeddel, 3B; Greg Harris, RHP; Hak-Ju Lee, SS; Luke Maile, C; Mike Montgomery, LHP; Jose Mujica, RHP; Boog Powell, OF; C.J. Riefenhauser, LHP; Jamie Schultz, RHP; Richie Shaffer, 1B; Burch Smith, RHP

Until sitting down to analyze the system, I don’t think I realized exactly how much depth the Rays currently have. Trades brought in all three of their top three prospects, which is either an indictment of where stood 10 months ago, evidence of astute recent trading, or both.

Adames, Souza, and Robertson are all very interesting although for different reasons. Souza is ready now and his power/speed combination should be very robust although we’ll have to see if injuries and/or strikeouts become an issue. Robertson had one of the most polished hitting approaches in A-ball last year, the question there being power. Adames is the real wild card, with an enormous ceiling but also just 19 years old. Note how this talent will stack at different levels: Souza in the majors, Robertson in Double-A, Adames in High-A. Nicely done.

Beyond the top trio the highest ceiling is Adrian Rondon, who could be the best of all if he can live up to the gaudy scouting reports. Let’s give him some time and see some real at-bats before pushing him to the top of the list though. Justin O’Conner was all the rage for a while this winter but he still has significant flaws to go with his obvious strengths. Advanced minor league pitching will be a big test. I like Ryan Brett but with all this middle infield talent sneaking up oh him he needs to make a move now. Trade acquisitions Jake Bauers, Andrew Velazquez and Justin Williams also have the potential to develop into regulars.

The Rays offer a collection of arms as well. I really like Honeywell and will take a gamble to put him at the top of the pitching list. Colome is closer of course but I think he is a reliever, and we need to see more innings out of Guerrieri. There is a bevy of potential number four starters or bullpen arms and again this is spread out at all levels, some close to the Show, some further away.

All in all, this is a very impressive system.