The Rays have long been considered one of the best player development franchises in the league, consistently developing young starting pitching that has performed well at the big league level. However, a deeper look at the farm shows a lack of projectable top of the rotation starters and an emerging gap between big league ready players and young, raw talent at the lower levels of the minors.
The organization has spent big money on the international market signing top SS prospects Wander Franco, Adrian Rondon, Jelfrey Marte, and acquiring Lucious Fox via trade. Additionally, the front office has done an excellent job acquiring young talent via trade and developing them into solid big leaguers.
What seems to be holding the Rays back from possessing a superior farm system is a true impact player taken in the first round of the MLB draft. Only Tim Beckham, taken 1st overall has achieved big league success, and much of that occurring after the Rays traded Beckham to Baltimore this past summer. From 2009-14, no 1st round draft pick has become a reliable big league player for the Rays, with only Blake Snell, a supplemental pick in 2011, currently on the MLB roster. The days of hitting big on 1st rounders like David Price, Evan Longoria, and B.J. Upton seems like a thing of the past. Time will tell if the last 3 drafts will change that.
- Durham Bulls AAA 86-58
- Montgomery Biscuits AA 76-64
- Charlotte Stone Crabs A+ 69-66
- Bowling Green Hot Rods A 72-65
- Hudson Valley Renegades A 44-32
- Princeton Rays ROK 31-36
- GCL Rays ROK 28-32
Top Prospects (age listed on opening day)
1. Brent Honeywell, RHP – AAA – 23 yrs old
Honeywell is the prize pitching prospect in the system and one of the top arms in the minors. He throws 5 pitches – 3 of which are well above average. His FB, CH, and screwball are all 60 grade. He put his full arsenal on display winning the 2017 Futures Game MVP.
2. Jesus Sanchez, OF – A – 20 yrs old
Sanchez, playing as a 19-year-old, was one of the more impressive teenagers to play in full season ball. Slashing .305/.348/.478 with 15 HR and 29 doubles, Sanchez is a 5 tool talent with 55-60 grades across the board.
3. Willy Adames, SS – AAA – 22 years old
Adames is the best defensive infielder in the organization. His bat is a bit behind his glove but he still boasts a future above average hit tool and speed. As is the case with most young players, his raw power has yet to translate into game power. His floor is low double-digit HR/SB with a chance to mature into a 20 HR – gold glove calibre SS.
4. Brendan McKay, 1B/LHP – Low A – 22 years old
McKay, taken 4th overall in the 2017 MLB Draft, was one of the most decorated players in NCAA baseball. A two-way player at Louisville, McKay will get the opportunity to pitch and hit at the professional level. In a small sample size, he was impressive on the mound striking out 21 hitters in 20 IP whie posting 123 wRC+. McKay throws 3 above average pitches with good command while receiving a 60 grade hit tool. 2018 will give us a better look at his development as he transitions to full season ball.
5. Jake Bauers, OF/1B – AAA – 22 years old
Bauers has all the tools to become a legitimate middle of the order bat. Bauers is disciplined and patient at the plate and should draw close to 100 walks per season. His hit tool is a future 60 but Bauers has yet to harness his full offensive potential in-game situations. His power is average now but should improve to a grade 55.
6. Christian Arroyo, SS/3B/2B – MLB – 22 years old
Recently acquired from SF for Evan Longoria, Arroyo will look to either fill Longo’s vacated 3B or provide the Rays with a solid utility option. While it seems the rays are always loaded with utility infielders masquerading as everyday players, Arroyo’s bat is what will set him apart. After hitting .396 in 25 AAA games, Arroyo was promoted to SF, before a hand injury cut his season short. Arroyo has below average power which could limit his appeal as an everyday third baseman.
7. Garrett Whitley, OF – A – 21 years old
Whitley is a plus defender with plus speed in the OF. He has good on base skills (13.4% BB rate) and future 60 power. He has a lot of swing and miss in his game and will need to improve his hit tool. All signs point to him doing so as he matures given his athleticism and ability to work the count. The Florida State League, a traditionally dominant pitcher’s league, will be a good test for Whitley in 2018.
8. Justin Williams, OF – AA – 22 years old
In 135 games at AA in 2016 an 17, Williams slashed .286/.340/.477, with 28 doubles and 20 HR. More encouraging is his improving walk rate (up from 3% to 9%) and his declining K rate (19.4% to 16.9%) covering his 2 stints at AA. Williams has impressive raw power that is starting to translate into game settings.
9. Lucius Fox, SS – A+ – 20 years old
Acquired from SF in the Matt Moore deal, Fox is a quick twitch athlete with an above average arm and defense. His stand out tool is 70 grade speed and his future 55 hit tool should keep him at the top of line-up. Fox lacks power and doesn’t project to add to his 40 grade. Played for the World team in the 2017 Futures Game.
10. Jose De Leon, RHP – MLB – 25 years old
Once a top pitching prospect in the game, injuries have stalled De Leon’s career and he may be the victim of prospect fatigue. He remains in the top 10 for me because he still has 4 plus pitches with his CH becoming his best pitch. De Leon is also a year removed from registering an impressive 2.61 ERA in the hitter friendly PCL while striking out 11.57 hitters per 9.
11. Josh Lowe, OF – A – 20 years old
The former 1st round pick in 2016 struggled mightily the first 2 months of the season but as the weather heated up, so did he. Lowe slashed .294/.355/.413 in the 2nd half of the season. An excellent athlete with a lot of projection and a high ceiling, Lowe has a quick swing and considerable raw power. His offensive game is still raw though as evidenced by his 144 strike outs.
12. Wander Franco, SS – N/A – 17 years old
Franco was one of the top international amateurs in the 2017 signing class. A switch hitter that has a reputation for making hard contact from both sides of the plate, Franco signed for $3.825 million. Scouts rave about his confidence, his hands in the field, and his plus speed.
13. Austin Franklin, RHP – A Short – 20 years old
Franklin is a big righty with a future 60 grade FB and CB. In his short career, he has struggled with his command and his change-up is below average. He has the build to add more velo and his FB has been described as “heavy”. As he advances through the system, the development of his change-up and his control will determine whether or not he can be a middle of the rotation starter or a middle reliever.
14. Yonny Chirinos, RHP – AAA – 23 years old
Chrinos has plus command of 3 pitches and an advanced approach on the mound. His command and maturity cover the fact that his FB, SL, and splitter are graded 50-55 with little room to improve. However, because Chirinos controls the strike zone so well and induces a 50% GB rate, he has the floor of a middle reliever with the ceiling of a mid rotation SP that should eat innings.
15. Brandon Lowe, 2B – AA – 23 years old
The 2017 FSL MVP has seen his stock rise in 2017 more than any other Rays prospect. Lowe has elite OBP skills and doubles power. After dominating the FSL, Lowe was promoted to AA where he was overmatched. At Charlotte, Lowe posted a 12.8% BB rate and 17% K rate. In 24 games at Montgomery, the BB rate declined to 2% while his K rate increased to 25%. I fully expect Lowe to reverse that trend in 2018 over the course of a full season.
16. Joe McCarthy, OF/1B – AA – 23 years old
McCarthy is an OBP machine. He posted a 16.7% BB rate at AA to go with 31 doubles and 20 SB. He lacks the arm to play CF-RF which could limit his ability to crack the MLB line-up, but his advanced approach makes his floor a solid 4th OF. He will need to generate more pull side lift in order to turn his doubles power into HRs.
17. Brett Sullivan, C – AA – 24 years old
All Sullivan does is hit. He has an above average hit tool and his speed plays up for a catcher. Sullivan doesn’t work the count so his BB rate is low but so his K rate. He barrels the ball to the gaps and has shown an ability to drive the ball out of the park. It remains to be seen if he sticks at catcher.
18. Adrian Rondon, 3B – A – 19 years old
Rondon has a loud bat with projectable power. One of the top bats from 2014 J2 class, Rondon has a lot of swing and miss and has shown to be more project than prospect. He should repeat 2018 in Bowling Green and will still be one of the younger players in the Midwest League. He will need to shorten his swing and improve his patience to un tap his potential.
19. Genesis Cabrera, LHP – AA – 21 years old
Cabrera has flown through the Rays system, reaching AA in 2017. His FB sits in the low to mid 90’s and his slider has sharp bite that can get righties out. He lacks a true third pitch and his tendency to leave the ball up in the zone profiles his floor as a lefty middle reliever with a ceiling of a back of the rotation SP.
20. Michael Mercado, RHP – ROK – 19 years old
Mercado, the Rays 2nd round pick in 2017, has a loose and projectable frame. The Rays thought so much of his future projection that they went over slot to sign him. Mercado throws 4 pitches, all rated as average to above average with good command and sharp bite on his breaking ball. He has the frame to add velo to his FB which currently sits in the low 90’s.