November 30, 2016
Tampa Bay Rays Top 10 Prospects
The State of the System: A strong one-two punch at the top, an interesting mix of upside and major-league-ready behind it, but in total a solid, rather than spectacular system.
The Top Ten
The Big Question: What went wrong in the 2011 draft?
It’s 2011 (as you may have gathered).
The Rays are in the middle of a contention cycle that will see them make the playoffs four out of six years, never winning fewer than 84 games over that period. They’ve built an inexpensive, mostly homegrown core of young players. They are a small market success story. Books will be written about this run.
A good chunk of that homegrown core was built out of high-first-round picks, when the team wasn’t so good and wasn’t even called the Rays. The Rays haven’t had so many of those lately and that last one was Tim Beckham, who's still a ways off from the majors. Oh, and they had a pre-draft deal with Buster Posey that year. That’s already looking bad. Last year they had three first-round picks that they spent on two prep outfielders and a prep catcher. There’s time to develop those players, but that young core is getting expensive, and that is going to be a problem sooner than the developmental horizon for a high school catcher.
As luck would have it though, the Rays have figured out how to game the Elias rankings and loaded up on compensation picks. Ten picks in the first 60. This is ludicrous. Or maybe it’s the new Moneyball…
Five years on is a good time to look back at a draft class. Of those ten, none appear on this year’s top ten list. Three have made the majors, but only one looks like he will have a meaningful impact on the 2017 Rays team and beyond. The system is starting to come out of a relatively fallow period, but the lifeline of the major-league Rays, young, cost-controlled major league starters hasn’t been there in recent years, and it’s shown.
1.24: Taylor Guerrieri: A Top 10— and Top 101—prospect as recently as last year, Guerrieri dropped to the Rays in part due to makeup concerns. It was the normal prospect pitfalls that felled him though, a Tommy John surgery and declining stuff. He does make the others of note.
1.31: Mikie Mahtook: An advanced college bat that spent parts of four season in the upper minors before making his debut with the Rays as a 25-year-old. Despite a fast start in 2015, he’s been a replacement level outfielder on balance. The jury is still out, but it’s 10-2 in favor of an extra bench outfielder and the holdouts are waffling.
1.32: Jake Hager: A prep shortstop that never really hit and eventually moved off shortstop after an ankle injury cost him a full season.
1s.38: Brandon Martin: Another prep shortstop, never got out of A-ball
1s.41: Tyler Goeddel: A prep third baseman that moved to the outfield and then got plucked in the Rule 5 by the Phillies after his first season in Double-A. It didn’t go very well.
1s.42: Jeff Ames: JuCo righty. The Rays had a reputation for taking things very slowly with their arms, and Ames is no exception. Eventually got moved to the pen in 2015 where he hasn’t thrown enough strikes. Fun fact: I saw Jeff Ames outduel Luis Mateo in the NYPL playoffs in 2012. I thought he was clearly the better pitching prospect. Turns out I was right, and also turns out that it doesn’t matter.
1s.52: Blake Snell: Prep lefty. Was the number one prospect in the system last year. Looks like a mid-rotation arm with the potential for more. Ding ding ding.
1s.56: Kes Carter: College outfielder, released after the 2015 season after posting a .590 OPS in Double-A as a 25-year-old. Spent 2016 playing Indy ball in Fargo, which seems apropos because he sounds like he should be a bit player on the FX series.
1s.59: Grayson Garvin: College lefty, never really been healthy.
1s.60: James Harris: Prep outfielder, never hit, was released and glommed on with the Athletics. Finally hit a little...in the Cal League.
This was also the last year of suggested slotting, where the only punishment for spending over slot was a frosty phone call from the Commissioner's Office. The Rays only went over a million dollars for three of these ten picks. Guerrieri was the highest at $1,600,000. They spent a little under nine million for the lot of them. Even at the time, it was widely considered to be an overly conservative approach given their bounty of picks. The Rays could have easily spent twice that with little impact on their bottom line. I imagine they consider Blake Snell well worth the nine million dollar outlay by himself. And they’d be right.
But they have to do better than that.
1. Willy Adames, SS
The Good: They say that art imitates life, but the Willy Adames trade was more an example of the converse being true. It is possible that in this case the Rays knew something more than the rest of us, since Adames’ stock has only gone up since the deal that brought him to national attention. 2016 was a breakout of sorts, as Adames started to show more game power to pair with an improving approach and solid hit tool. You can see him as a 15-home-run bat now, and that’s still nothing to sneeze at if Adames can stick at shortstop, and that’s looking like a real possibility now. It may end up a fringy glove at the 6, as he won’t wow you with the spectacular or flash premium athletic tools—although the arm is plus—but he may be able to hack it there
The Bad: It’s also possible Adames has to move to second or third, That would be bad. It’s not the death knell, but there isn’t a standout tool on the offensive side that would make the bat more than “fine” further down the defensive spectrum. I’m less comfortable with throwing a 45 on the game power than others, although it is in there.
The Irrelevant: Once Adames makes the majors, he will be the sixth major leaguer to have been involved in a David Price trade, well unless Jairo Labourt gets there first.
OFP 60—Above-average shortstop
The Risks: Adames added power as a 21-year-old in Double-A and otherwise conquered the level as well. There’s still a bit of a wrap in his swing and some commensurate swing and miss that might get exploited by better arms. Still, there’s enough loud contact in the profile and enough facility on the left side of the infield to be more confident there is a major league regular here now.
Major league ETA: It’s the Rays, so post-Super 2, 2018
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Adames is clearly trending in the right direction when it comes to fantasy. He’s getting better at the plate as he gets closer to the Majors, and we know that he’ll play somewhere in the infield. Still, Adames isn’t an elite dynasty prospect, and he’s not particularly close. If he maxes out based on the attributes we read above, he’s what, 2016 Alemdys Diaz (.300, 17 homers)? That’s a very useful fantasy asset to be sure, but when your ceiling is as a low-end SS or a mid-tier MI, there’s only so high you can rank, even when you’re knocking on the majors’ doorstep.
2. Brent Honeywell, RHP
The Good: His screwball tends to get top billing, but his most valuable asset might be his confidence on (and off) the mound. Honeywell isn’t afraid of anyone, and he has the arsenal to back it up. His fastball touched the upper 90s in the AFL and his ever-famous screwball gives him a plus secondary offering that plays well off that heat. If he keeps that velocity in 2017 our OFP below may end up light. The screwball is a bat-misser with hard fade and tumble. He’ll mix in a change and a curve both of which could get to average with added consistency. Honeywell loves to work the bottom of the zone, but knows he can elevate with his harder stuff when he needs a whiff.
The Bad: Honeywell’s fastball command could be refined, and while he’s athletic and repeats his delivery well, there is a bit of a head whack that can cause some in-zone looseness. It’s nothing that can’t be addressed. His curve is relatively new, so there’s some potential additional growth, but as it stands now it’s more of a change-of-pace strike-stealer than it is a swing-and-miss offering.
The Irrelevant: You know by now that he is the nephew of Iron Mike Marshall.
OFP 60—No. 3 starter, possibly more if the premium velocity holds
The Risks: The screwball is more than just a novelty, with legitimate movement but if it’s something hitters learn to track better—or if he just doesn’t have it one day—his other secondaries won’t necessarily carry him. If he can’t refine the command on his fastball, the velocity is going to need to remain elite, because major-league hitters can punish mid-90s fastballs when they aren’t placed well. Also, he’s a pitcher.
Major league ETA: Early 2018 —Craig Goldstein
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Congrats to those of you who listened to Craig Goldstein and hopped on the Honeywell bandwagon a few seasons ago. He’s not an elite fantasy prospect because he doesn’t figure to miss bats like a true fantasy ace would, but Honeywell certainly looks the part of a reasonable SP4/5 who already has a track record of success in Double-A. Once Honeywell is established in the majors, expect him to flirt with a mid-3.00s ERA and 180-plus strikeouts with a non-elite but tolerable WHIP. He’s firmly entrenched as a top-50 dynasty prospect, albeit probably closer to 50 than 20.
3. Joshua Lowe, 3B
The Good: Lowe is a tall drink of water with a projectable frame. He already has an aesthetically pleasing lefty power stroke with high-end bat speed, and more game power should come as he fills out. It makes *the sound* in batting practice even at present and Lowe had as much raw pop as any player in his draft class. He’s relatively new to third base but he has the tools for the hot corner as he is a good athlete with a plus arm.
The Bad: The bat speed is impressive, but there is still length-and-strength to tap into his power at present and that will lead to swing-and-miss. He’s relatively new to third base, and it shows. Depending on how the skills and body develop he may have to move back to the outfield, and that would end with him in right field. You know what that means by now.
The Irrelevant: His brother Nathaniel was also drafted by the Rays in June, although he had to wait until the 13th round to hear his name called.
OFP 60—Above-average major league third baseman
The Risks: Blaise Pascal once opined: “Il n'est pas certain que tout soit incertain” or “It is not certain that everything is uncertain. Pascal never had to write about 18-year-old prep bats with big raw and questionable hit tools though.
Major league ETA: 2021
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Lowe was one of the 20-or-so best fantasy prospects from the 2016 draft, but he’s got a long way to go. It’s great to hear the praise for his bat and to learn there could be some more pop coming down the line, but Lowe’s not a lock to stay at third and has a long lead time. Third base is a really shallow position for dynasty league prospects, but I think Lowe would still find himself outside the top-10 there. The hope is he develops into something like 2016 Jake Lamb (.249, 29 homers, 91 RBI) with a slightly better average, but there are lots of less favorable outcomes still on the table, too.
4. Jake Bauers, 1B/OF
The Good: Bauers can hit. He’ll need to (more on that in a minute), but the lefty has the ability to spray line drives to all fields with over-the-fence power to the pull side. He has an advanced approach and enough present-day power to keep pitchers from challenging him too recklessly. He’s still only 20 and could add more strength to the natural loft in his swing and end up with average pop. Even if that doesn’t come, he profiles as an above-average hitter who gets on base.
The Bad: Even with all that, if he doesn’t hit 15-20 home runs, it’s a tough profile at first base or corner outfield (and he played mostly first base down the stretch). He’s below-average on the grass. He’s a good glove at first base, but the problem with being a good glove at first base is it means you’re a first baseman. He’s a below-average runner, as you might have gathered. The track record for 6’, 180-pound first baseman is not particularly long recently, and there is a reason for that.
The Irrelevant: It’s getting late, so will you accept a hackneyed 24 reference?
OFP 55— Solid-average major league first baseman
The Risks: The 20-year-old Bauers had a nice season in Double-A, giving back little of his production from 2015. That’s an important test to pass, and you can be reasonably confident there is a major-league-quality bat in there. Whether that major-league-quality bat is a first-base-quality bat is still an unknown.
Major league ETA: 2018
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Look, we’ve been over this when we discussed Dom Smith and Trey Mancini, but I’ll mention it again; first base isn’t as deep a fantasy position as it used to be. Brandon Belt hit .275 with 17 homers and was the 21st-best first baseman, per ESPN’s Player Rater. C.J. Cron (him again?) hit .278 with 16 homers in less playing time and finished at 26th. Go a little further down the ladder and Travis Shaw ranked at 31 by hitting .242 with 16 homers. It’s just not that tough to be relevant in a 16-teamer anymore, and I think Bauers can firmly enter that Cron-to-Shaw range. Is that exciting? God no. Is Bauers a top-100 dynasty prospect? No. But top-200? Probably, nestled in alongside Smith, Sam Travis and other light-power, decent-bat first basemen.
5. Jacob Faria, RHP
The Good: Faria has a pair of potential above-average major-league offerings in his fastball and change. He can get the fastball up around 95, although it sits more in the low 90s. When he can get it down in the zone it will show plane and arm-side run from his high-three-quarters slot. The change shows late sink as well and the arm speed provides deception. Faria has a square, athletic build that is made to log innings.
The Bad: The curveball flashes average when he gets on top of it and gets 12-6 break down out of the zone. Too often it is spiked or just sort of floats in dick-high. Faria is very upright throughout his delivery and that can negatively affect his command and specifically his ability to get the fastball down in the zone. I don’t know if either secondary will be a true put-away pitch in the majors, and there isn’t any one thing that jumps out at you as a carrying tool, though the sum total of the parts works out pretty well.
The Irrelevant: Faria has his Christmas shopping already well underway.
OFP 55— A-little-bit-above-league-average-innings-muncher (it doesn’t make a good acronym, sorry)
The Risks: Faria is pretty polished, already spent time in Triple-A, and has enough fastball and enough feel for the two secondaries to be major-league ready in short order. He is, though, still a pitcher.
Major league ETA: Post-Super-2, 2017
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: There are so, so, so, so many Jacob Farias. Granted this one is poised to pitch in a good park, but if you really want someone with this profile go pick up like, I don’t know, Mike Leake or something.
6. Chih-Wei Hu, RHP
The Good: Hu offers a five-pitch mix including a palm ball (although he throws it sparingly) and is comfortable mixing his full repertoire and working backwards. It’s a command-and-control, pitchability profile, but Hu makes it work. This in large part due to his ability to spot a deceptive low-90s fastball to all four quadrants of the strike zone. The fastball showed more mid-90s in short burst, which may give you more hope for a strong relief fallback then you would otherwise expect from the profile
The Bad: There’s nothing in that five-pitch mix that’s a slam dunk plus offering. The palm ball is probably the closest, as he can touch 90 with it and it falls right off the shelf. Neither breaking ball projects as a bat-misser, and in general, I wonder how many major-league bats Hu will miss. I am intrigued by the potential FB/PB combo in short bursts (I’ve never had to abbreviate palm ball before, PB? PA? PLM?)
The Irrelevant: It’s always difficult to tell with the baseball cap, but it sure looked like Hu was sporting a mullet for part of the season with Montgomery.
OFP 55— Command-and-control no. 4 starter or quirky setup arm
The Risks: Hu is what we would generally describe as an “advanced” arm, and he passed the Double-A test in 2016, but that doesn’t mean he is low risk. The lack of a clear out pitch and sporting only an average fastball means higher level bats may knock him around more than the ones in the Southern League. And on top of all that, he’s a pitcher.
Major league ETA: Late 2017
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Hu is relatively close to the Majors, I’ll give him that, but the profile just doesn’t excite. If he ends up starting in Tampa he could be an acceptable streamer thanks to the favorable home ballpark, but he can remain safely off dynasty radars for now.
7. Austin Franklin, RHP
The Good: Prep arm with a sinking fastball that’s already touching 94, and sits in the low 90s. He can locate to both sides of the plate. His best pitch might be his power curveball that flashed above-average prior to the draft, and even better in instructs. The changeup is nascent but he has feel for it. Has starter size, skillset.
The Bad: Franklin will drift at times which can wreak havoc on his command. The fastball can dip into the upper 80s when he tires. The changeup shows promise but the minors (and bullpens) are littered with pitchers who had two viable offerings and a “developing” cambio.
The Irrelevant: Franklin fired off two no-hitters in his senior season.
OFP 55—Mid-rotation innings eater who flashes the potential for more
The Risks: Multitudes. He has yet to throw above complex-league ball. “Flashing plus” does not equal “plus.” The changeup might never come. The mechanics might render him too inconsistent to start, though they appear fixable and he’s yet to receive a full season of professional coaching. Also, he’s a pitcher.
Major league ETA: 2022 —Craig Goldstein
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: If you want to add Franklin to your watch list or list of sleepers and monitor his performance in 2017, knock yourself out. If you waste a roster spot on him right now, you have no one but yourself to blame.
8. Daniel Robertson, SS
The Good: This isn’t an exciting profile. Hmm, this is a bad lede for The Good section. I think Robertson will hit some. The swing is simple, but he gets good extension and has some feel for the barrel. He’ll hit line drives and get on base for you, .270 with some doubles perhaps. He can play three different infield positions. This isn’t an exciting profile, but Robertson is likely a major-league contributor for the Rays in 2017.
The Bad: Although he still mostly played shortstop in 2016, Robertson also spent time at second and third. He has the arm for third, but the offensive profile may fit better at second. That’s not really a compliment. He’s a below-average runner and that shows on the dirt although he’s a polished defender otherwise. He’s never hit for any sort of power outside of the Cal League— and you are unlikely to wring much more out of his swing plane— which was less of an issue when he was playing shortstop more
The Irrelevant: The most-recently-of-the-Mariners (now with Cleveland) Dan(iel) Robertson has a bit of a head start on this Daniel, but just a bit.
OFP 50— League average infielder buoyed by OBP and positional flexibility
The Risks: It’s pretty low, but warrants mentioning that prospects with just “solid’ hit tools and not much power stop drawing walks once major league arms realize they have just solid hit tools and not much power, without the 50 or 60 walks a year, Robertson’s offensive profile could collapse and he could look more like an up-and-down extra infielder.
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: I used to be pretty high on Robertson as a potential top-15 second baseman with decent all-around stats, but the offensive stagnation has all but killed any real fantasy value here. It’d be different if Robertson had the natural tools we look for and just got stuck in the high minors, but, well, you can read the above. Does it sound like he has the natural tools to you? He might still be a top-200 prospect based on proximity, but that’s a mighty fall from where he ranked 18 months ago.
Major league ETA: Early 2017
9. Casey Gillaspie, 1B
The Good: Gillaspie drew an aggressive assignment to Double-A this year. Okay, well, he’s 23 so it doesn’t sound that aggressive, but he’d only spent 77 games in full-season ball prior to landing in Montgomery this April. He’d make it to Triple-A before the end of the year, hit .300 there and raise his previous power ceiling. He’s still a first base prospect, but there’s a potential 55 hit/55 power profile in here, and that is...something.
The Bad: It’s hard to poo-poo the performance much, so let’s talk about the profile. He’s still a burly first baseman with some length in the swing. He doesn’t offer much more than the bat, and if it falls even a little short, it’s tough to find a bench role for that guy. He doesn’t have the innate hitting ability of Bauers, so despite more raw the game power might play down, though the four spot gap probably overstates the difference in profiles.
The Irrelevant: Yep, Conor’s brother.
OFP 50— Average first baseman
The Risks: Like Bauers, he’s hit in the upper minors. Unlike Bauers he doesn’t even offer the bare minimum of wrong-end-of-the-defensive-spectrum positional flexibility, so if he stops hitting...that’s gonna be a problem.
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Read what I wrote for Bauers, then factor in that Gillaspie is another tier behind him. That’s a compliment compared to how I felt about his fantasy future when he was drafted, but it’s still not really a compliment.
Major league ETA: Post-super-2, 2017
10. Kevin Padlo, 3B
The Good: Poor Kevin Padlo, not only did he have to change orgs, but he swapped out a 2016 return engagement in Asheville, with its good barbeque, craft beer, and friendly hitting environs for one in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Undeterred, Padlo showed off some real pop as a 19-year-old in a tough offensive environment, and the power is already playing to all fields. He also profiles as a potential above-average third baseman, much in the mold of Joshua Lowe, with solid athletic tools and a strong throwing arm. Like Lowe there is a ways to go to get there though.
The Bad: The polite way to describe Padlo’s swing would be something along the lines of: “Well, he doesn’t get cheated up there.” Padlo’s swing has some length and he struggles to change gears against offspeed. The overall profile is still very raw and the development time will be long.
The Irrelevant: I guess when I wrote the Blake Rutherford irrelevant I should have included Kevin Padlo as another (soon-to-be?) famous alum of Murrieta Valley High.
OFP 50—Slugging third baseman that does enough elsewhere despite low batting averages
The Risks: Padlo is a raw, grip-it-and-rip-it teenager with some athletic tools. There are worse high-risk profiles to bet on—and I have personal affection for it—but it is a high-risk profile that could get exposed well before he steps foot on a major-league diamond. Or, as Blaise Pascal also wrote: “The last act is bloody no matter how pleasant the rest of the play.”
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: There are worse players in the low minors to gamble on. If Padlo continues to hit for power and/or regains some average as he climbs the levels, he’ll be worth considering in deeper dynasty leagues by season’s end. That might be obvious, but there’s not much to say about wait-and-see dynasty prospects like him. You just need to wait-and-see.
Others of note:
A blurb by Martin Scorsese
Adrian Rondon, SS
Actually, I think I’ve been seduced by his profile more than I should be. There’s an easy vision here, one of big bonus numbers and future power-hitting shortstops. If the devil were to tempt me...well, The Last Temptation of Christ style, he could do worse than a lifetime of summers spent watching 17-year-old shortstops hitting bombs in the Appy League. There’s a couple problems in this instance though. For one, Rondon isn’t likely to stick at shortstop and was already playing third base in instructs, and the approach is still very raw at the plate. The latter of those issues could resolve itself in time, but we have already ranked one third baseman with big raw, solid third base athletic tools, and questions about the swing and approach. He did it in the Midwest League. Rondon has more upside than Padlo, but...get back to me in a year.
And speaking of Jesus
Jesus Sanchez, OF
Most likely to be played by Morgan Freeman
Lucius Fox, SS
Garrett Whitley, OF
The ex-101 guy
Guerrieri landed on the Top 101 in 2013 and then again in 2016, after proving he could make it through a season without injury. We wrote of him previously that the question will rest on health, and not stuff and now he’s put together a healthy season and he’s nowhere to be seen. What gives? Well, velocity, to start. Guerrieri continued to pound the zone in 2016, but the velocity dropped from plus to pedestrian, and hitters noticed, as he struggled to miss bats. The curve is still there, but the fastball seemed to be a developmental focus at times, and his change lags behind even the reduced fastball. Guerrieri’s walk and strikeout rates are trending in the wrong direction, and while those are ancillary to the stuff… the stuff is mitigated at present. Without a rebound in velocity, he might be bullpen bound. —Craig Goldstein
Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/91 or later)
You know the Rays. I’m not saying you know every player on the roster—quick, name four relief pitchers from the 2016 team!—but you know their modus operandi. You know how they’re designed. Cursed with a payroll just north of your family’s monthly budget, this is a team that builds by acquiring young, cost-controlled players via trade, getting the most out of them for a couple of seasons, then trading them for more young, cost-controlled players. Sometimes they’ll develop a player of their own, but then that guy gets traded for more young, cost-controlled players. Rarely they’ll sign a free agent, but then they’ll try to trade that guy for a young, cost-controlled player.
Today’s Rays are loaded with, you guessed it, young, cost-controlled players. What’s going to make this 25U list easy, and rather short is this: literally only one of them is under the age of 25. Aside from Old Man Evan Longoria (entering his age-31 season) and sophomore left-handed starter Blake Snell (entering his age-24 season), this team is entirely composed of players that are playing the upcoming year at an age between 26 and 30. It’s a very strange hegemony of age, with so many members of the team born within that same five-year window and literally all of them within seven years and change–Longoria was born on October 7, 1985 and Snell on December 4, 1992. It makes one wonder if their clubhouse is exceptionally tight-knit given the weird lack of age-based stratification. With few veterans and almost no one who has ever hit free agency, does the common ground in age and/or service time make the dugout more collaborative, or are they all competing for the same spots? Inquiring minds want to know.
Anyway, we should briefly go over our outlier and the head of the team’s 25U list in Snell. After his 2015 Year of Helium, Snell clocked in as the No. 21 prospect on BP’s 2016 rankings, a left-hander with dynamic stuff and a vicious fastball. Expected to burst onto the scene last season, he instead struggled to harness his gifts, walking more than five batters per nine and failing to go deep into many games. The raw stuff is still there, and it can be magnificent at times to watch his slider make professional hitters look like that weird kid from little league. But efficiency and adequacy do not yet go hand-in-hand, and averaging less than five innings per start still kind of sucks, even in today’s two-times-through-the-order world of baseball.
So yes, we’re limited to Blake Snell, then the rest of our prospect team’s list. It’s not all that exciting. You know, that’s actually a reasonable tagline for the team’s hopes in the coming year. Your 2017 Tampa Bay Rays: It’s not all that exciting! Season tickets on sale now! —Bryan Grosnick