by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
The Tampa Bay Rays have generally been viewed as a team built around a solid farm system that they’ve consistently been able to tap into. Things are a little bit different these days, though there is still some impressive talent at the top. After an impressive Top 3, there is a definite falloff and while there are some productive options they may never develop into difference makers. That said there’s a lot of intriguing talent, and it should continue to supplement the Major League team. Who are the players we need to know about? Are there any emerging sleepers? Let’s take a look:
1) Brent Honeywell – Right-Handed Pitcher
Grade – A
ETA – 2018
There were cries for Honeywell to be promoted last season, but the Rays opted to keep him in the minors (mostly at Triple-A) where he thrived:
- Double-A (13.0 IP) – 2.08 ERA, 0.62 WHIP, 13.85 K/9, 2.77 BB/9, 47.4% GB%
- Triple-A (123.2 IP) – 3.64 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 11.06 K/9, 2.26 BB/9, 41.2% GB%
He brings a deep and diverse arsenal, though he’s best known for his screwball, clearly can get swings and misses (15.0% SwStr%) and throw strikes. You could argue that he could be prone to home runs in the Majors, though that’s not a significant red flag. A poor WHIP at Triple-A? It’s easy to point towards a .365 BABIP. No one is going to argue against Honeywell as one of the elite pitching prospects in the game and there’s little doubt that he’ll get his opportunity at the highest level early in ’18.
2) Willy Adames – Shortstop
Grade – B+
ETA – 2018
Adames is the Rays’ shortstop of the future, and there’s little doubt that the future will arrive in short order. That’s not to say that the numbers are flashy, hitting .277 with 10 HR and 11 SB in 578 PA at Triple-A in ’17, but the upside is there for the 21-year old to continue to mature and develop. He has proven capable of hitting the ball hard, with line drive rates of 24.1% (Double-A in ’16) and 23.1% (Triple-A in ’17) over the past two seasons. He’s also shown a good eye at the plate, with walk rates of 13.0% (Double-A) and 11.2% (Triple-A), and he should be able to improve his strikeout rate with time (22.8% courtesy of a 10.1% SwStr% in ’17).
Fine tuning his approach should also lead to a little bit more power, and having added 30 doubles and 5 triples last season it’s easy to envision him becoming a 15-20 HR hitter. With enough speed to develop into a 15 SB threat, the package is there to be a top of the order 15/15 player routinely (and it’s possible it comes as soon as ’18).
3) Brendan McKay – First Baseman/Right-Handed Pitcher
Grade – B+
ETA – 2019
The fourth overall selection in 2017, it will be intriguing to follow McKay and see if he continues to operate both at the plate (where he will be utilized at first base and DH) and on the mound. How long the Rays allow him to do both remains to be seen, though he showed promise in both areas last season:
- He hit .232 at Low-A in his first taste of professional baseball, though he also displayed a good approach with a 14.1% walk rate and 23.9% line drive rate over 149 PA.
- He was even more impressive on the mound, with 21 K (courtesy of a 15.0% SwStr%) vs. 5 BB over 20.0 IP.
No one is going to question the upside in either spot, it’s the development that we’ll have to watch closely and see if splitting his time ultimately has a negative impact.
4) Jake Bauers – First Baseman/Outfielder
Grade – B
ETA – 2018
Bauers spent the year as a 21-year old at Triple-A, hitting .263 with 13 HR and 20 SB. He continued to show a strong approach, with a 9.0% SwStr% helping lead to a 19.5% strikeout rate and 13.6% walk rate (a strong followup from his 15.3% strikeout rate and 12.6% walk rate at Double-A in ’16). He may never develop into a 30 HR slugger, but there is a bit more power (he added 31 doubles and 1 triple) to be found as he continues to develop. He’s not going to be able to maintain 20 SB, as speed is not his biggest asset, and he profiles more as a 20/10 type player (with a little bit more in the power department possible). The biggest question may be if he can continue to produce against southpaws, as he actually put up better numbers against them in ’17:
- LHP – .279/.396/357
- RHP – .257/.356/.434
While there was less power, it indicates that he’s not a future platoon player (and that would be a significant positive).
5) Joshua Lowe – Outfielder
Grade – B
ETA – 2020
The team’s first round selection in 2016, Lowe spent the year at Single-A hitting .268 with 8 HR and 22 SB. His biggest issue was an inflated strikeout rate (28.4%) courtesy of a 12.3% SwStr%, though he was a 19-year old and we need to afford him time to develop and grow. He’s currently listed at 6’4” and 205 lbs., so there’s obviously some projection but expectations are that he’ll be able to add power to go along with his plus speed. Reports also have him capable of sticking in centerfield, though there’s enough talent to be viewed as a productive corner outfielder as well.
The Next Five:
6) Wander Franco – Shortstop (Grade – B)
7) Yonny Chirinos – Right-Handed Pitcher (Grade – B)
Note – While he posted an unimpressive 7.54 K/9 between Double & Triple-A (168.1 IP), a 13.6% SwStr% indicates significantly more upside. When paired with a 51.5% groundball rate and 1.39 BB/9, it’s easy to envision him emerging despite little-to-no hype.
8) Jose De Leon – Right-Handed Pitcher (Grade – B)
9) Jesus Sanchez – Outfielder (Grade – B-)
10) Garrett Whitley – Outfielder (Grade – B-)
Keep An Eye On – Joe McCarthy – First Baseman/Outfielder (Grade – B-)
McCarthy is a similar player to Bauers, though currently appears to have a lower upside in the power department.
Make sure to check out all of our 2018 Preseason Top 10 Prospect Lists: