Top 10 Prospects (2020): Tampa Bay Rays: There’s More Than Just Wander Franco…

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The Rays have always been built on their ability to develop an impressive group of prospects, whether it’s through the draft or trades. That’s what happens when you are consistently working with a limited budget, needing that next wave of talent to step in when your stars become too costly. Nothing has changed in that regard as the Rays not only own possibly the elite prospect in the game, but several high level options who should develop into solid options.

Who are the top names, after Wander Franco (of course)? Just how good can they be? Let’s take a look:

1) Wander Franco – Shortstop
ETA – 2021
Grade – A

Franco continued his emergence as the elite prospect in the game, despite playing at 18-years old, as he produced at both Single-A and High-A in ’19:

  • Single-A – .318 with 6 HR and 14 SB
  • High-A – .339 with 3 HR and 4 SB

He showed even more power potential, which he should be able to tap into as he develops physically, having added 27 doubles and 7 triples over his 495 PA.  He also showed an impressive ability to make contact, considering his age, with a 4.3% SwStr%.

If you want a “knock” it’s that he could ultimately grow out of his speed, though that’s already the “weakest” part of his game (he went 18-for-32 on SB attempts last season).  He’s coming quickly and is forcing Tampa Bay to be more aggressive than normal in terms of his promotions. 

2) Brendan McKay – Left-Handed Pitcher
ETA – Already Arrived
Grade – B+

Will he continue to operate both on the mound and as a hitter?  That’s the big question, though he’s clearly more advanced on the mound.  After thriving at both Double and Triple-A last season, he did struggle upon reaching the Majors as he posted a 5.14 ERA over 49.0 IP.  Part of that was poor luck (.331 BABIP, 64.0% strand rate), and his 90.1% strand rate in the minors made it obvious that a regression was likely regardless of the level he was pitching in.

The big thing to watch is how his SwStr% regressed as he continued to advance:

  • Double-A – 17.8%
  • Triple-A – 13.2%
  • Majors – 10.8%

Obviously we need to give him time to adjust, but it will be something to monitor as he was hit hard in the Majors (42.4% Hard%) and struggled to generate groundballs (35.2%).  It was a small sample size and we don’t want to draw definitive conclusions (he still has strikeout stuff, good control and the ability to generate enough groundballs), but it does leave a sour taste in our mouths that can’t be ignored.

3) Vidal Brujan – Second Baseman
ETA – 2020
Grade – B+

Splitting time between High-A and Double-A in ’19, Brujan hit .277 with 4 HR and 48 SB over 429 PA.  He brings an impressive approach, with a 7.0% SwStr% leading to a 14.2% strikeout rate and 8.6% walk rate.  He also improved his contact rate as he advanced, only adding to the positive outlook in terms of his approach:

  • High-A – 7.7%
  • Double-A – 6.4%

He showed that there’s a little bit more power in his profile while playing in the Arizona Fall League, with 9 extra base hits in 82 AB.  If he could develop into a 10-14 HR hitter, something that’s extremely possible, with his approach and speed he has elite potential.  There’s still a little bit of projection at play, but he’s coming quickly and could ultimately arrive in the Majors before 2020 is over.

4) Josh Lowe – Outfielder
ETA – 2020
Grade – B

Playing the year at Double-A Lowe began tapping into his power, slugging 18 HR to go along with his ability to steal bases (30-for-39 in stolen base attempts).  He did hit .252 in the process, though he continues to show an ability to draw walks (11.4% walk rate in ’19, 10.3% in ’18). 

Strikeouts are a big part of his game, as he posted a 25.4% strikeout rate last season courtesy of a 12.2% SwStr%.  Of course that was a step in the right direction, after he posted a 13.3% SwStr% at High-A in 2018.  As long as he can continue developing and keep the strikeout rate in the 24-27% range as he moves towards the Majors and against more advanced pitchers, the potential is there for a .260/20/20 type player.

5) Xavier Edwards – Second Baseman
ETA – 2021
Grade – B

Acquired as part of the Tommy Pham trade, Edwards could get overshadowed in a deep Tampa Bay system that features a similar player in Vidal Brujan.  Edwards brings an elite ability to make contact (4.3% SwStr% in ’19) and significant speed (34-for-45 in SB attempts in ’19), though a complete lack of power (27 extra base hits in 561 PA) is going to limit his ceiling.  A switch-hitter with nearly equal upside from each side of the plate, he has the potential to be a fixture atop the batting order.

The Next Five:

6) Shane Baz (RHP, Grade – B) – Acquired in the Chris Archer trade, Baz pitched 81.1 innings at Single-A last season posting a 2.99 ERA while showing plenty of swing and miss stuff (13.9% SwStr%).  There are questions about both his control (4.09 BB/9) and groundball rate (38.0%), though the pure stuff is there with the potential to be elite.  The Rays should continue to take it slow and develop him, and things could come together.

7) Ronaldo Hernandez (C, Grade – B) – Playing the year at High-A Hernandez hit .265 with 9 HR and 7 SB over 427 PA.  While the strikeout rate was a solid 15.0%, there are going to be questions about his aggressiveness considering his 11.0% SwStr% and 4.0% walk rate.  That’s something that more advanced pitchers will be able to take advantage of, barring an adjustment, and that’s what we’ll have to watch closely as he advances in 2020.  He does have power and should stick behind the plate, so it could take him a little bit longer to develop offensively.

8) JJ Gross (RHP, Grade – B-) – A 2019 first round supplemental pick, Gross showed off his upside in his brief professional experience with 16 K vs. 2 BB over 17.0 IP.  Listed at 6’3” and 185 lbs., he’s already reported to throw in the mid-90s and could add a little bit more as he develops physically.  Obviously a lot can happen, as he just turned 19-years old in December, but there’s a high ceiling that he can reach as long as he stays healthy.

9) Shane McClanahan (LHP, Grade – B-) – A 2018 first round selection, the Rays were surprisingly aggressive with McClanahan in ’19 pushing him across three minor league levels.  He responded positively, with a 3.36 ERA, 11.49 K/9 and 3.36 BB/9 as he topped out at Double-A.  Of course he struggled at Double-A (8.35 ERA over 18.1 IP) and there’s the thought that he could ultimately move to the bullpen long-term.

10) Brent Honeywell (RHP, Grade – B-) – Once an elite prospect, we haven’t seen Honeywell since 2017 due to Tommy John surgery and a broken bone in his elbow.  If he proves healthy he’ll fly up these rankings once again, but in a deep system he’s on the outside looking in.

Also Watch:

  • Joe Ryan (RHP) – Ryan doesn’t have elite stuff, though pitching across three levels he showed strikeouts (13.32 K/9) and control (1.96 BB/9).  There are going to be significant home run questions, thanks to a 33.8% groundball rate, and that helps to limit his potential.
  • Gregg Jones (SS) – He has elite speed and assuming he can cut down his strikeouts (10.8% SwStr% at Low-A) he could be a difference making leadoff hitter.

Sources – Fangraphs, MILB.com

Make sure to check out all of our 2020 prospect rankings:

AL EastAL CentralAL West
Baltimore OriolesChicago White SoxHouston Astros
Boston Red SoxCleveland IndiansLos Angeles Angels
New York YankeesDetroit TigersOakland A's
Tampa Bay RaysKansas City RoyalsSeattle Mariners
Toronto Blue JaysMinnesota TwinsTexas Rangers
NL EastNL CentralNL West
Atlanta BravesChicago CubsArizona Diamondbacks
Miami MarlinsCincinnati RedsColorado Rockies
New York MetsMilwaukee BrewersLos Angeles Dodgers
Philadelphia PhilliesPittsburgh PiratesSan Diego Padres
Washington NationalsSt. Louis CardinalsSan Francisco Giants

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