Two of the Tampa Bay Rays top offensive prospects have become somewhat of cult heroes around Minor League Ball. Both our writers and community are fans, eagerly anticipating the day they take over with the big league club.
I checked in on both last night when the Durham Bulls were in my backyard playing the Gwinnett Stripers. It was more of the same, which as always, is good.
Jake Bauers, 1B/OF
Bauers had a nice at bat in the first inning, squaring off against the Atlanta Braves big lefty Luiz Gohara in his rehab start. He worked a 3-1 count before blasting one into the beautiful spring skies to one of the deepest parts of the ball park.
Believe it or not after seeing that shot, but Bauers power is what has been behind for much of his career. That’s not to say he isn’t a valuable player, with nice gap power, averaging 30.3 doubles over the past three seasons. Perhaps his biggest asset is his plate discipline. Though he struck out at his highest rate last season, he continued to walk and get on base, averaging 72.3 walks over the past season leading to a career .361 on-base percentage.
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.
Bauers made good contact Friday night, going 3-for-6 with that bomb and two other singles. The biggest takeaway for me was how smoothly he played first base. In my previous two times seeing Bauers he was in the outfield, but he had the looks of an able first baseman last night. He showed good range and solid instincts on several sharply hit balls, as well as providing a reliable target at first.
Willy Adames, SS
Looking at the stat line, Adames had a disappointing 2017. It is not that his numbers were way off his career pars, it is simply that everyone expected a big step forward. That didn’t tell the whole story, however, as Adames looked really comfortable in August, a la the real Adames if you would, and that has carried over into 2018.
John ranked Adames the top prospect in a pretty stacked Rays’ system, so that alone speaks volumes. Here’s what he had to say:
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.
Adames didn’t do anything extraordinary Friday night, going 1-for-4 with a run scored and RBI, but he continued to show what makes him one of the premier shortstop prospects in the game. He legged out a single in his first at bat, getting down the line in 4.18 seconds. Two batters later, he appeared to fly as he scored from third on a Brandon Snyder double.
He has a pretty simple swing, not a lot of pre-pitch movement and a simple shift into his approach, which helps him generate good pop for a middle infielder. He, like Bauers, finds the gaps with 30 and 31 doubles over the past two seasons. Though he strikes out more than Bauers, he’s walked 139 times the past two seasons, which is good enough for a middle of the lineup bat.
Both Adames and Bauers are 22, so while we are excited to see them, the Rays clock is not necessarily ticking as quickly. The Rays are notorious for taking their time with their top prospects (isn’t that right Mr. Honeywell?), but if both keep up their play as they have early this season, the Rays may have no choice but to finally give them their chance.