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Tampa Bay Rays Top 20 prospects for 2018

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This is an extremely deep farm system

Tampa Bay Rays v Baltimore Orioles
Willy Adames
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Tampa Bay Rays Top 20 Prospects for 2018

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. All of these grades are subject to change as the winter progresses.

This list was updated 3/13/18.

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. 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+/A-: Age 22, from the Dominican Republic, originally in Detroit Tigers system until 2014 David Price trade, hit .277/.360/.415 with 10 homers, 30 doubles, 11 steals, 65 walks, 132 strikeouts in 506 at-bats in Triple-A; the negative: K-rate is higher than ideal; the positives: he has more power than most shortstops and has the bat speed to keep that going in the majors, draws walks, can swipe a base, earns consistent praise for both his makeup and his shortstop defense; don’t expect him to hit .300 right now but he’ll do a whole bunch of other stuff; may bump up to A- when all teams are analyzed; ETA 2018.

2) Jesus Sanchez, OF, Grade B+: Age 20, signed out of Dominican Republic in 2015 for $400,000; hit .305/.348/.478 with 29 doubles, 15 homers, 32 walks, 91 strikeouts in 475 at-bats in Low-A, playing the season at age 19; that’s a good line anywhere but especially in the Midwest League; this may seem an aggressive ranking but I have liked Sanchez since he was an amateur and will put a marker down; impressive bat speed, could stand to be more selective he makes hard contact on almost everything he swings at; may lose some running speed with age but gain power; glove tools fit best in left but he has good instincts; ETA 2020.

3) Brendan McKay, 1B-LHP, Grade B+: Age 22, first round pick in 2017, fourth overall, from the University of Louisville; college superstar as both hitter and pitcher; in pro ball hit .232/.349/.376 with 21 walks, 33 strikeouts, four homers in 125 at-bats in the New York-Penn League, while posting a 1.80 ERA in 20 innings, 21/5 K/BB, just 10 hits allowed; pitching line is better than hitting line so far but the sample is small either way; at this point it appears the Rays will let him do both; as a hitter, feature strong strike zone judgment with above-average power; as a pitcher, fastball velocity can be erratic but he’s up to 94 on the right day, mixing in a slider and cutter with impressive command of all pitches; could be a middle of the order bat, or a number three starter, take your pick, we still don’t know which will happen; ETA 2020.

4) Brent Honeywell, RHP, Grade B+: Age 22; compensation pick in 2014 draft from Walters State Community College; posted 3.64 ERA with 152/31 K/BB in 124 innings in Triple-A, 130 hits; major league-ready but timetable pushed back due to elbow injury and likely Tommy John surgery announced a couple of days ago; throws heater anywhere from 90 to 96 with precision, mixing in above-average curveball, slider, screwball, and change-up; I was going to rate him as a possible number two starter and a Grade A-/A prospect until the injury; I am usually cautious in such cases until we see how much his stuff and command return; ETA late 2019 (UPDATE: initial downgrade to B/B+ was too harsh, current rating B+ to account for placement on Top 175 list)

5) Jake Bauers, 1B-OF, Grade B/B+: Age 22, hit .263/.368/.412 with 31 doubles, 13 homers, 78 walks, 112 strikeouts, 20 steals in 486 at-bats in Triple-A; pretty swing from the left side, good patience at the plate, makes hitting look easy on the right day although he’s never produced the power expected of a first baseman; most scouts think it is in there and he’s shown flashes; Bauers draws plenty of walks but hasn’t hit over .276 since leaving Low-A; glove draws praise at first base for athleticism and alertness, though he’s a bit error-prone; not terrible in the outfield but will be at 1B in the long run; ETA 2018.

6) Christian Arroyo, INF, Grade B/B+: Age 22, first round pick by the San Francisco Giants in 2013, traded to Rays in Evan Longoria deal; crushed Triple-A at .396/.461/.604 clip in 91 at-bats, promoted to majors and hit .192/.244/.304 in 125 at-bats but retained rookie eligibility for 2018 since season was cut short by wrist and hand injuries; pure hitter has drawn praise for years for line drive contact bat; power production has been inconsistent and he draws few walks, making him excessively dependent on his batting average for productivity; he gets away with it because he hits .300 everywhere, at least until he reached the majors; shortstop for most of his career and he’s OK there but range fits better at third base; ETA 2018.

7) Nick Solak, 2B, Grade B: Age 22, second round pick by the New York Yankees in 2016 from University of Louisville; traded to Rays in the three-way with the Diamondbacks last week, hit .297/.384/.452 with 12 homers, 14 steals, 63 walks, 100 strikeouts in 465 at-bats between High-A and Double-A; best tool is running speed, also has a good eye for the strike zone and showed more pop than anticipated in ’17; is likely limited to second base, although he played some outfield in college and could be a super-utility type, albeit with a more potent bat than typical for that type; ETA 2019.

8) Ronaldo Hernandez, C, Grade B: Age 20, signed out of Colombia in 2014; hit .332/.382/.507 in the Appalachian League, playing at age 19, 22 doubles, five homers, 16 walks, 39 strikeouts in 223 at-bats; threw out 57% of runners; although not well-known on a national basis yet, Hernandez got great reviews from league observers; in other words, the scouting reports match the numbers: he has the physical tools to back this up, main flaw is need to polish receiving; don’t sleep on this guy; ETA 2021.

9) Lucius Fox, SS, Grade B-: Age 20, originally signed by San Francisco Giants in 2015 out of the Bahamas for $6,000,000, traded to Rays in Matt Moore deal; hit .278/.362/.361 with 33 walks, 80 strikeouts, 27 steals in 302 at-bats in Low-A, then .235/.321/.287 in 115 at-bats after moving up to High-A, played half the season at age 19, switch-hitter with 70-grade speed, 60 arm, 60 range, drew praise in Low-A for defensive tools at shortstop; needs to hone on-base skills as he moves up, could also show more pop as he gets stronger; high ceiling and a favorite of many scouts; ETA 2021.

10) Anthony Banda, LHP, Grade B-: Age 24, split 2017 between Triple-A (5.39, 116/51 in 122 innings) and the majors (5.96, 25/10 in 26 innings) but still rookie eligible for 2018; traded from Diamondbacks to Rays in the three-way deal with the Yankees; solid fastball in low-90s, curveball is excellent on the right day and his change-up is often above-average; results don’t always match the stuff since his command within the zone is behind his general control; he’s got more talent than the ERAs imply and it wouldn’t take many adjustments for him to improve quickly. ETA 2018.

11) Justin Williams, OF, Grade B-: Age 22, second round pick by the Diamondbacks in 2013, traded to Rays in Jeremy Hellickson deal in 2014; hit .301/.364/.489 with 14 homers, 37 walks, 69 strikeouts in 366 at-bats in Double-A; stands out if you see him in person with obvious left-side strength and bat speed; has made strides tapping his natural power while improving plate discipline; lacks speed for center field but arm works well in right; ETA 2019.

12) Garrett Whitley, OF, Grade B-: Age 20, first round pick in 2015 from high school in Niskayuna, New York; hit .249/.362/.430 in Low-A, 13 homers, 21 steals, 57 walks, 122 strikeouts in 358 at-bats; tapping into his 60 raw power and he already knows how to use his 65 speed well; fairly patient and can work a count but contact issues may inhibit batting average at higher levels; that said, he’s made a lot of progress since rookie ball when he hit .174; already an above-average defender in center field; high ceiling and skills are coming along; ETA 2021.

13) Jose De Leon, RHP, Grade B-: Age 25, drafted by Dodgers in 24th round in 2013 from Southern University; traded to Rays in January 2017 for Logan Forsythe; limited to just 38 minor league innings in 2017 by injuries but pitched well when healthy, 3.05 ERA with 44/16 K/BB, 29 hits at three levels; hit hard during brief MLB trial, giving up four hits and three runs in 2.2 innings; I have rated him very highly in the past but he’s had persistent health issues and the quality of his stuff has varied from game to game recently; hits 95 mixed with a nasty change-up and workable slider at his best but his harder stuff gets flat when he’s not right; role uncertain at this point but if he’s OK physically he could still be quite good; ETA 2018.

14) Austin Franklin, RHP, Grade B-: Age 20, third round pick in 2016 from high school in Paxton, Florida; posted 2.21 ERA in 69 innings in New York-Penn League, 71/31 K/BB, 51 hits; breakout candidate for 2018, based on 90-94 MPH fastball, plus curveball, and a better change-up than most pitchers his age; NY-P observers liked him a lot, seeing him as future durable number three starter if he can hone his command; ETA 2021.

15) Yonny Chirinos, RHP, Grade B-: Age 24, signed out of Venezuela in 2012; control artist often overlooked but excellent Triple-A season can’t be ignored, 2.74 ERA with 120/22 K/BB in 141 innings; consistent strike-thrower with low-90s sinking fastball, average slider, cutter, change-up with split-like action; efficient and confident; could end up out-performing many pitchers with better pure stuff; don’t underestimate him; ETA 2018.

16) Joe McCarthy, OF-1B, Grade B-: Age 24, fifth round pick in 2015 from University of Virginia; intriguing season in Double-A with .284/.409/.434 slash line, seven homers, 90 walks, 94 strikeouts, 20 steals; outstanding strike zone judgment; uses 60-grade speed very well, more raw power than homer total implies although he’s never gotten to it consistently, being more of a gap hitter; poor arm limits him to left field but he’s otherwise a good defender both there and at first base; should be very valuable role player due to OBP and speed; ETA late 2018.

17) Jermaine Palacios, SS, Grade B-: Age 21, signed by Minnesota Twins out of Venezuela in 2013; traded to Rays for Jake Odorizzi this winter; hit robust .320/.362/.544 in 259 at-bats in Low-A then .269/.303/.359 in 245 at-bats in High-A; Florida State League cut into his power but he’s more of a doubles threat than someone who will slug .500 in the majors, although you can never say never these days; needs more patience at the plate; tools work at shortstop, a nice pickup for the Rays. ETA 2020

18) Brandon Lowe, 2B, Grade B-: Age 23, third round pick in 2015 from University of Maryland; hit .311/.403/.524 with 47 walks, 65 strikeouts, 34 doubles, nine homers in 315 at-bats in High-A, but just .253/.270/.389 with two walks, 26 strikeouts in 95 at-bats in Triple-A; strike zone got away from him against advanced pitching; plate discipline has always been one of his best attributes and he can probably make the needed adjustments to get it back; more power than the typical 6-0 second baseman; defense just average and he has a lot of competition in this system so he needs to stand out in ’18 or get lost in the pack; ETA 2020.

19) Joshua Lowe, OF, Grade B-: Age 20, first round pick in 2016 from high school in Marietta, Georgia; hit .268/.326/.386 in Low-A, eight homers, 42 walks, 144 strikeouts, 22 steals; not a great year on the surface but he was just 19 in the Midwest League; broad set of tools with above-average raw power from the left side, plus speed and throwing arm; took to center field very well after being drafted as a third baseman; pure hitting skills/contact ability need more work but high upside; ETA 2022.

20) Michael Mercado, RHP, Grade B-: Age 18, second round pick in 2017 from high school in San Diego, California; looked good in rookie ball debut with 1.69 ERA, 14/4 K/BB in 21 innings; fastball around 90 with good projection from 6-4, 170 frame; could throw very hard once he matures; excellent curveball for his age, also has a slider and change-up; would have been a first round pick if not for Stanford scholarship; at this point we need to see how durable he is, workload management, etc; but a very high ceiling; ETA 2023.

21) Jaime Schultz, RHP, Grade B-/C+: Age 26, long-time denizen of Rays prospect lists, was ready for MLB trial in 2017 but lost most of season to groin muscle pull injury; effective when healthy, with 3.66 ERA, excellent 32/6 K/BB in 20 innings between Triple-A and rookie ball rehab work; mid-90s fastball, some reports have him as high as 99; plus slider, fairly good change-up; can dominate when his command is on; future role unclear so look for spring training reports; ETA 2018.

22) Chih-Wei Hu, RHP, B-/C+: Age 24, signed by Twins out of Taiwan in 2012, traded to Rays in 2015 for Kevin Jepsen; posted 3.06 ERA in 62 innings in Triple-A with 57/12 K/BB, 2.70 ERA in 10 major league innings with 9/4 K/BB; Rays seem committed to him as a reliever although in my opinion he could be a solid number four starter if given the opportunity; diverse arsenal with 90-95 fastball as part of command package with curve, slider, change-up, cutter, palmball, all solid gets the B- split grade because I think he could start if they let him; ETA 2018.

23) Ryan Yarbrough, LHP, Grade B-/C+: Age 26, fourth round pick by the Mariners in 2014 frm Old Dominion; traded to Rays in Drew Smyly deal; posted 3.43 ERA with 159/39 K/BB in 157 innings in Triple-A; older prospect with nothing left to prove in the minors, another MLB-ready arm for the Rays to deploy along with Schultz and Hu; low-90s fastball, plus change-up, breaking ball more consistent than it used to be, can rack up strikeouts and usually throws strikes; another fourth starter or bullpen option; ETA 2018.

24) Genesis Cabrera, LHP, Grade B-/C+: Age 21, signed out of Dominican Republic in 2013; posted 3.22 ERA with 111/52 K/BB in 134 innings between High-A and Double-A, 120 hits; 80-grade name, 55-stuff, fastball 90-95, mixing in erratic but sometimes plus slider and a solid change-up, main need is for better command but he’s made progress and is quite young at age 21, would stand out more in most systems; ETA 2020.

25) Vidal Brujan, 2B, Grade B-/C+: Age 20, signed out of Dominican Republic in 2014; strong season in NY-P with .285/.378/.415 line, 15 doubles, three homers, 34 walks, 36 strikeouts, 16 steals; switch-hitter with occasional gap power and good command of the strike zone, leadoff potential with OBP/speed combination; defensive tools fit best at second base but he’s already reliable there; breakout candidate in Low-A for ’18, like Cabrera he would get more attention in most systems; ETA 2021.

26) Tobias Myers, RHP, Grade C+/B-: Age 19, drafted by Baltimore Orioles in sixth round in 2016 from high school in Winter Haven, Florida; traded to Rays last July for Tim Beckham; posted 3.54 ERA in 56 innings in NY-P but turned heads with 73/10 K/BB ratio; nor shortage of stuff, with 92-95 fastball, plus curve, change-up coming around, throws strikes, potential mid-rotation arm once he proves durability; ETA 2021.

SPECIAL CASES (talented international guys who haven’t played yet): Wander Franco, SS; Jelfry Marte, SS; they could be stars or they could turn into Gilbert Lara; Franco in particular is a favorite of scouts but let’s see how their tools translate.

BONUS C+ COMMENTS: These two aren’t “better” than the other C+ players but I thought they were interesting enough to flesh out more.

Drew Strotman, RHP, Grade C+: Age 21, fourth round pick in 2017 from St. Mary’s; posted 1.78 ERA in 51 innings in NY-P with 42/9 K/BB, just 29 hits allowed; low-90s fastball, sometimes better, dominant in short-season A-ball due to pitchability, command of slider and change-up, in most systems he would be a candidate to move quickly but the Rays have so much ahead of him it may take longer; mid-rotation potential although could get buried here; ETA 2021.

Travis Ott, LHP, Grade C+: Age 22, 25th round pick in 2013 from high school in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, by the Washington Nationals; part of the 2014 Steven Souza trade; excellent 2017 season with 2.06 ERA in 118 innings in Low-A/High-A, 132/52 K/BB, only 80 hits allowed; very skinny at 6-4, 175; despite K/IP and H/IP doesn’t throw that hard, just upper-80s, but plays up due to plus slider and deceptive delivery; needs to cut down on walks but should not be under-estimated; ETA 2020.

OTHER GRADE C+: Kyle Bird, LHP; Ryan Boldt, OF; Brock Burke, LHP; Diego Castillo, RHP; Nick Ciuffo, C; Jake Cronenworth, INF; Tristan Gray, 2B; Ian Gibaut, RHP; Dalton Kelly, 1B-OF; Resly Linares, LHP; Luis Rengifo, INF; Adrian Rondon, 3B; Ryne Stanek, RHP; Brett Sullivan, C; Robbie Tenerowicz, 2B-1B; Andrew Velazquez, INF-OF; Stephen Woods, RHP

OTHERS OF NOTE: Ruben Alaniz, RHP; Chris Betts, C; Carl Chester, OF; Devin Davis, 1B; Edwin Fierro, RHP; Jake Fraley, OF; Moises Gomez, OF; Cade Gotta, OF; Grant Kay, 3B-OF; Matt Krook, LHP; Nathaniel Lowe, 1B; Jose Mujica, RHP; Kevin Padlo, 3B; Joel Peguero, RHP; Kenny Rosenberg, LHP; Zach Rutherford, INF; Jhonleider Salinas, RHP; Michael Smith, OF; Curtis Taylor, RHP; Carlos Vargas, SS; Taylor Walls, SS; Kean Wong, 2B; Hunter Wood, RHP; Mikey York, RHP

Wow, that’s a lot of talent.

The B- guys could be ordered a thousand different ways with good logic so don’t sweat the exact placements once you get into that grade range.

I am taking some family time this weekend, but will be around to answer questions in the comments by Monday.