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Tampa Bay Rays Top 20 prospects for 2016

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Blake Snell
Blake Snell
Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Tampa Bay Rays Top 20 prospects for 2016

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 2016 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders for the book, so order early and order often!

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) Blake Snell, LHP, Grade A-: Age 23, went 15-4, 1.41 with 163/53 K/BB in 134 innings, just 84 hits, between High-A, Double-A, Triple-A; heavy fastball at 92-96 difficult for hitters to drive, mixes in plus slider, improved change-up, command needs further work and another half-season of Triple-A seems like a good idea. One of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball and a potential number two starter.

2) Willy Adames, SS, Grade B+:
Age 20, hit .258/.342/.379 with 24 doubles, four homers, 10 steals, 54 walks, 123 strikeouts in 396 at-bats in High-A; production was well above-average for the difficult Florida State League and he was very young for the circuit at age 19, strong arm, solid defender, one of the top infield prospects around but at least a year away and probably two before he’s ready to make a real contribution.

3) Taylor Guerrieri, RHP, Grade B+:
Age 23, not ranking this high on other lists, perhaps due to combination of 2013 Tommy John, 2014 drug suspension, and general prospect fatigue. The numbers are still excellent though: 1.85 ERA with 72/19 K/BB in 78 innings last year, just 65 hits, 2.72 GO/AO, finished strong in Double-A, still has low-90s power sinker with plus curve, solid change-up and slider, throws strikes; his career ERA in 206 innings is 1.61 with a 178/38 K/BB and just 161 hits allowed. Still seems like an elite prospect to me.

4) Brent Honeywell, RHP, Grade B+:
Age 20, posted 3.18 ERA with 129/27 K/BB in 130 innings in Low-A and High-A, low-90s fastball with movement, solid-average-or-better change-up, workable curveball, and an excellent screwball; throws strikes, athletic, knows how to pitch, unique arsenal, all elements of a number three starter are here.

5) Daniel Robertson, SS, Grade B:
Age 21, hit .274/.363/.415 with 33 walks, 58 strikeouts, 20 doubles in 299 at-bats in Double-A, shortened season with broken hamate, steady line drive hitter with mature hitting approach, should provide plenty of OBP with some gap power, steady and reliable defender at shortstop though may still end up at second long-term. Still projects as a regular for me though not a superstar.

6) Jacob Faria, RHP, Grade B:
Age 22, sleeper prospect a couple of years ago is getting his mainstream due now after going 17-4, 1.92 with 159/52 K/BB in 150 innings between High-A and Double-A, only 103 hits, velocity up into 91-95 range now, excellent change-up, curveball is developing nicely, sharp control, if anything still under-rated.

7) Jake Bauers, 1B-OF, Grade B-/B:
Age 20, hit combined .272/.341/.418 with 11 homers, 32 doubles, 50 walks, 74 strikeouts in 474 at-bats between High-A and Double-A. Much younger than his competition but held his own, very refined hitting approach, has raw power in his frame but line drive swing doesn’t produce big homer totals yet. If you believe in his power projection he’s a B+ prospect. If you have doubts, he is more of a C+/B-. I can see both sides of it logically but I’m not good with hitting mechanics myself, thus a compromise grade.

8) Garrett Whitley, OF, Grade B-/C+:
Age 18, first round pick in 2015 from high school in New York, hit just .174/.293/.312 in debut but with 21 walks in 138 at-bats, huge tools with plus power potential, plus speed, good arm, range for center field, and willing to draw walks. Didn’t hit in rookie ball but too soon to be hugely concerned, upside is the attraction here, could be 20/20 guy.

9) Mikie Mahtook, OF, Grade B-/C+:
Age 26, hit just .249/.304/.366 in Triple-A (after hitting very well there in 2014) but was much better in the majors, .295/.351/.619 with nine homers in 105 at-bats. Reports from International League implied that he was pressing and "playing tight" but he looked relaxed but confident in the majors and hit great. But was he relaxed because he was hitting well, or hitting well because he was relaxed? Either way he was a lot more like the guy who was a star at LSU and a first round pick in 2011. He will not slug .619 in a full season of course but he has slightly above-average power along with good speed and a solid outfield glove. On-base approach comes and goes and he may end up being streaky, but overall should be useful role player.

10) Richie Shaffer, 3B, Grade B-/C+:
Age 24, hit .276/.357/.539 with 26 homers, 54 walks, 124 strikeouts in 393 at-bats in Double-A/Triple-A, then .189/.307/.392 with four homers in 74 major league at-bats. Like Mahtook, Shaffer is a college star (first round, Clemson, 2012) who took some time to adapt to pro ball but is ready for a trial now. Not sure how he fits but power is real.

11) Casey Gillaspie, 1B, Grade B-/C+:
Age 23, first rounder in 2014 out of Wichita State, hit .253/.334/.480 with 17 homers, 32 walks, 52 strikeouts in 281 at-bats in Low-A/High-A, season short due to hand injury, switch-hitter with true outcome bat, homers, walks, strikeouts, not likely to hit for average but can become a productive slugger.

12) Kevin Padlo, 3B, Grade B-/C+:
Age 19, fifth round pick in 2014 by the Colorado Rockies, traded to Rays in Corey Dickerson/Jake McGee deal, overmatched in Low-A to open season (.145/.273/.272) but was excellent in the Northwest League (.294/.404/.502), hit nine homers, stole 33 bases, physical tools are average to slightly above but extremely good strike zone judgment and all-around instincts help them play up.

13) Justin Williams, OF, Grade B-/C+:
Age 20, hit .277/.298/.394 with 14 walks, 90 strikeouts, 30 doubles in 470 at-bats in Low-A/High-A, left-handed hitter with lots of raw power but hasn’t tapped it yet, needs improved strike zone discipline as well. This grade has a lot of projection in it. High risk, high reward type.

14) Chris Betts, C, Grade C+/B-:
Age 18, prospective first round pick fell to second round due to elbow injury and had Tommy John surgery over the summer. A healthy Betts has plus left-side power and reasonably refined hitting skills, throwing arm was strong before injury, has the tools to catch but needs polish, typical for his age. Have to see how he rebounds from surgery.

15) Brandon Koch, RHP, Grade C+/B-:
Age 22, fourth round pick from Dallas Baptist in 2015, posted 3.06 ERA with 47/5 K/BB in 32 innings in New York-Penn League, command was much better in pro ball than in college, fastball up to 97-98, hard-breaking slider, could move rapidly and close games at highest level if he maintains this type of command.

16) Ryne Stanek, RHP, Grade C+:
Age 24, posted 3.04 ERA with 79/46 K/BB in 112 innings between High-A and Double-A, plus fastball up to 95-96, slider looks good too but somehow the results in the strikeout column don’t match the raw stuff, command needs further work as well. I think he would do better in the bullpen.

17) Brandon Lowe, 2B, Grade C+:
Third round pick in 2015 from University of Maryland, easy to overlook because he didn’t play in pro ball due to broken ankle suffered at end of college season. Healthy Lowe is a very refined hitter with sharp plate discipline and some power from the left side of the plate, hit .338/.448/.509 in his college career with 10 homers, 19 steals, 72 walks, 53 strikeouts in 432 at-bats, scouting reports on his bat back up the stats. Need to see in pro ball of course but promising.

18) Taylor Motter, OF-INF, Grade C+
: Age 26, older prospect but interesting, can do a lot of things, hit .292/.366/.471 with 43 doubles, 14 homers, 26 steals, 57 walks, 95 strikeouts in 486 at-bats in Triple-A, best tools are speed and arm strength, solid glove around the infield and has outfield experience, could make valuable super-utility player with secondary average contributions.

19) Jaime Schultz, RHP, Grade C+:
Age 24, yet another promising pitcher, 3.67 ERA with 168/90 K/BB in 135 innings in Double-A, 105 hits, fastball as high as 98 and consistently around 95, with movement, also has solid curveball, command needs work as does his change-up. May fit best in relief eventually.

20) Chih-Wei Hu, RHP, Grade C+: Age 22, acquired from Twins in Kevin Jepsen trade, posted 3.22 ERA with 99/31 K/BB in 109 innings between High-A and one Triple-A spot start, fastball is solid-average but has a slider, curveball, straight change, and a palmball to mix with it, along with impressive pitchability.

OTHER GRADE C+ (interchangeable with spots 16-20), Ryan Brett, 2B; Johnny Field, OF; Patrick Leonard, 3B; Joe McCarthy, OF;Justin O’Conner, C; Adrian Rondon, INF; Jesus Sanchez, OF; Andrew Velazquez, SS; Kean Wong, 2B; Hunter Wood, RHP

OTHERS OF NOTE: Andrew Bellatti, RHP; Nick Ciuffo, C; Jake Hager, SS; Austin Pruitt, RHP (everyone wants me to cut him but I am stubborn), Enny Romero, LHP; Riley Unroe, 2B; Cameron Varga, RHP

A deep system with a huge number of B-/C+ guys. I will post some book excerpts in the comments section.