The Tampa Bay Rays have a long history of grooming successful big league talent through their farm system. This is especially true on the mound, but they have had hits all around the diamond.
While the Rays were surprisingly competitive right down to the end of the 2017 season, there is reason to be even more hopeful in 2018. A new wave of young stars seem ready for The Show, so who will be left to watch in the minors?
Yonny Chirinos, RHP
I saw Chirinos make his Triple-A debut when he came through Gwinnett. It wasn’t the strongest of starts, but it showed a lot of promise. By the end of the season, Chririnos grew more consistent, and was the Rays Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
Chirinos won’t blow you away with his stuff, but he is able to throw the fastball two ways, reaching the mid-90s when he has to. His slider is effective because he comes at you much like his fastball, and his changeup has good days and great days. He also fills up the strike zone which allows for two things. First, he doesn’t walk many batters, just 22 in his 141 innings with the Durham Bulls. Secondly, because of some nice cutting movement, he is an extreme ground ball pitcher (50.5 percent with Durham). Of course, every now and then one gets away, like this one to Atlanta Braves “prospect” Ryan Howard:
Chirinos isn’t going to supplant Brent Honeywell as the system’s top pitcher, but he looks like he’s a solid bet for the big league rotation. He can throw innings, keep runners off base, and stay out of trouble with the long ball. His ceiling may only be the back of the rotation, but with the young firepower the Rays have at the top, that’s a perfect fit.
Ronaldo Hernandez, C
I knew little about Hernandez until Baseball America named him their choice for breakout prospect.
Hernandez has a long way to go. Now 20 years old, he should be prepared for his first run at full-season ball after tearing up the Appalachian League with Princeton last year. In his first season out of the Dominican Summer League after signing out of Columbia before the 2015 season, Hernandez slashed .332/.382/.507.
The righty is almost all pull power, and sometimes it seems his swing can get a little long. There’s no denying he can barrel up on the ball, however, hitting five home runs and 22 doubles in just 246 plate appearances. If he can generate more loft (just 31.3 percent fly ball rate opposed to a 45.1 percent ground ball rate) and learn to use the other field, he could be a dangerous hitter.
Defensively, he threw out 20 of 35 stolen bases attempts, indicating he has accuracy and arm strength. He posted a .986 fielding percentage, but did allow 12 passed balls. That’s hardly a worrisome number at his level, and has plenty of time to improve on keeping the ball in front of him.
Brandon Lowe, 2B
The Rays took the now 23-year-old second baseman out of Maryland in the third round of the 2015 MLB Draft. Lowe showed a good hit tool in his final season with the Terps, slashing .331/.436/.542 with 18 doubles, nine home runs and 11 stolen bases. Those are all nice numbers for a second baseman.
They also resemble what he was able to put up in the Florida State League last year.
The positive of Lowe’s 2017 season was his 90-game run in the Florida State League. There, he slashed .311/.403/.524 with a league-best 34 doubles and nine home runs. Though his over-the-fence power seems to be mostly to the pull-side left, he is able to use all fields, especially the gaps.
Lowe’s numbers weren’t as strong once promoted to Double-A for a 24 game end run to the season, but they weren’t devastating. He then moved out to the desert, earning Fall Stars honors in the Arizona Fall League. The numbers weren’t mind boggling, but he continued to show a solid approach at the plate (14 strikeouts to nine walks in 58 at bats) and the ability to hit with some pop.
He will likely begin the year in Double-A, but find his way to Durham before too long. While his defense isn’t the best in the system, his bat should make him a viable big league option sooner than later.