Feature Photo: Brent Honeywell, RHP, Rays
Ed. Note: Click here to listen to Defreitas and Faleris discuss the Rays’ top prospects on Defensive Indifference: The Official Podcast of 2080 Baseball! You can also follow along as we publish reviews of all 30 teams this offseason by clicking here.
By David DeFreitas and Nick J. Faleris
The organization boasts a handful of quality contributors knocking on the big league door, as well as a continued flow of arms that has come to be a defining feature of the Rays’ acquisition and development system. While Tampa is no stranger to high-upside teenagers as amateur targets, there is both more depth and more upside in the tank at present than there has been in recent years, offering an opportunity for a jump in overall system health over the course of the next 12 months.
CREAM OF THE CROP
The Tools: 55 hit; 55 power; 50 run; 55 field; 60 arm – Adames checks all the boxes in the tools department, projecting to average or better across the board. In the box he puts together quality at-bats, showing a solid command of the strike zone and ability to make hard contact across the quadrants, pushing his hit and power tools to above average. He’s a solid-average runner, with decent first-step quickness that plays well on the dirt. He has the arm strength, footwork and hands to stick at short and perform as an above-average defender at the six spot.
The Profile: Adames more than held his own as a 20-year-old in the Double-A Southern League last summer, amassing 568 plate appearances and slashing .274/.372/.430, leading all qualifying shortstops in on-base percentage and slugging and trailing only Pensacola shortstop Zach Vincej (Reds) in batting average. The young middle infielder is already showing an ability to drive the ball with authority, projecting to as many as 20-plus home runs per season at maturity with enough extra base hits to push the aggregate power production to above-average levels.
Still a bit too aggressive at times, Adames can struggle with the soft stuff, and particularly early on in the count. Once behind, the precocious righty stick can expand the zone and give away at-bats, leading to more swing and miss than you might expect from someone with the bat-to-ball skills Adames demonstrates. He will need to tighten his approach in particular against same-side arms, who excelled at baiting Adames with breaking stuff away and out of the zone. Given his age and developmental strides thus far, the smart money is on Adames at a minimum making the adjustments necessary to maintain a solid average at the highest level, and potentially reach an above-average to plus hit tool.
Adames works well on the infield, showing range that is a tic above average with good footwork and hands. His plus arm helps the whole package play to above average, with the young Ray demonstrating an ability to make all the necessary throws demanded of him at short, while working well around the bag and on the run alike. He looks the part of a first-division regular with a stick that could slot in well at the top of the Tampa order in the near future. He should ship out to Durham to begin 2017, and he could get a quick call to Tampa once he’s shown more consistent success against right-handed arms.
The Tools: 60 fastball; 70 screwball; 55 changeup; 50 curveball; 50 cutter – The main attraction for Honeywell is a nasty plus to double-plus screwball that plays up against hitters in part due to the novelty of the offering. He pairs with it a true plus fastball that works in the low-to-middle 90s with good precision and effect, capable of both setting up his secondaries and blowing past bats. His changeup is a third offering grading out at least above average, showing good arm speed deception and quality fade when he turns it over. He’ll shuffle in a solid-average curveball and flash a cutter variation on his fastball to round out the repertoire.
The Profile: After establishing himself as a national name in 2015 with a quality full season debut, Honeywell pushed through two levels all the way to Double-A in 2016, showing continued improvement in his production and developmental progress across his entire profile. He capped his impressive season with 15 quality innings over five AFL starts, striking out 14 batters against just four walks and allowing just 11 hits.
Honeywell shows a broad and effective arsenal, with five pitches projecting to at least average. His screwball gets the lion’s share of evaluative attention, and rightfully so. But his in-zone command of the fastball will arguably be the driving force behind whether or not Honeywell can reach his potential as a high end number three starter. When hitting his spots, Honeywell can work the heater to both sides of the plate, with particular effect coming inside to lefties setting up the screwball away.
The primary point of concern during Honeywell’s 2016 campaign was amplified in his AFL work, as the dominant righty saw his fly ball tendencies bite him in the hitter-friendly confines of the fall league with over one quarter of his hits allowed leaving the park. Given the full body of his work, the limited sample in the AFL, and the fact that the young hurler is still building up stamina and arm strength, the fly ball issues remain a item of note rather than a true bugaboo for the time being, but he will need to do a better job of avoiding mistakes up in the zone or more effectively keep hitters tracking on different planes in order to get the most out of his impressive arsenal. He should head to Durham this spring to continue to build innings and improve his execution, and will be competing for a rotation spot in 2018, if not sooner.
The Tools: 55 hit; 50 power; 50 field; 50 arm – Bauers anchors his profile in the box, showing the potential for an above-average hit tool to go with solid-average power. He’s a below-average runner, which will eat some into his playable extra-base pop, but he moves well enough to project as an average defender in a corner-outfield spot. It isn’t impactful arm strength, but he gets solid carry and accuracy, helping his average arm to play up in right field. He shows solid hands at first base, where he splits his defensive time.
The Profile: After pushing his way through two levels in 2015 with both High A Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery, Bauers returned to the Southern League in 2016 and was given a full season’s worth of at-bats with the Biscuits. The then former Huntington Beach prep product continued to show well against high-level arms, maintaining his solid average (.274 in 2016 versus .276 in 2015) while significantly improving his on-base production (.370 in 2016 versus .329 in 2015) and putting together more consistent at-bats. In short, Bauers looks like he belongs.
If 2015 served as the true “breakout” for Bauers, 2016 can be considered to be a stabilizing force for the profile, with the young corner stick looking more and more the part of a quality above-average hit tool with solid-average power that should blend mid-teens home run totals and enough doubles to keep him in the .150-to-.175 ISO range. Bauers is still learning to drive the ball to left-center field, as well as working on adding and subtracting from the swing as the situation dictates. There’s impressive growth here, and the offensive upside could resemble that of Angels right fielder Kohl Calhoun, which would make Bauers a potential top ten corner-outfield producer if everything clicks.
The defensive profile is a mixed bag, as Bauers doesn’t really run well enough to be a positive contributor with the leather in the outfield, though he has improved his reads and routes to the point where he shouldn’t be a liability either. The arm works well enough for right field, though he won’t stand in the way of a more dynamic defender. He handles first base well enough to fit there as an everyday glove, though his bat probably plays closer to replacement level the more time he spends on the dirt. The high-end outcome is a first-division contributor in right field, with a fairly high floor as a solid – if unspectacular – first base bat. Bauers should join Adames as another impressive 21-year-old in Durham to start 2017, with mild refinement in approach and continued reps the focus until he gets his shot with the big club.
ON THE HORIZON
Chih-Wei Hu, RHP, Double-A Montgomery | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/50
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/230 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 23y, 1m
Quick Hit: Hu presents an interesting profile for evaluators, as he will flash fringe-impact stuff with his fastball/slider combo, but with both offerings showing more “umph” in the early innings than they do the second and third time through the order. On balance, he’s more consistently effective with his fastball/changeup pairing, thanks to solid arm speed and pitch plane deception, drawing soft contact and off-balance cuts. He can turn over his changeup, or throw a palm ball with firmer dive, with both off-speed pitches playing against lefties and righties alike.
His success as a starter is predicated upon an ability to mix his arsenal both in location and sequence while working consistently around the zone. He lacks a standout offering to keep bats off-plane, with his curve serving more as a ‘show me’ pitch than a weapon. As a result, when the stuff softens later in starts, he tends to drift up in the zone and give way to harder contact. While a sturdy trunk and easy motion make durability less of a concern, the bottom line is the stuff may ultimately play better as a multi-inning relief arm, with the fastball running more consistently in the middle 90s, and both the slider and changeup capable of playing above-average to plus.
Right now he is straddling the line between a likely solid number four starter or a high-leverage arm out of the pen, and while it seems likely the Rays will continue to work him out of the rotation, he could be a intriguing bullpen play should Tampa have the luxury of getting creative.
Casey Gillaspie, 1B, Triple-A Durham | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/50
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/240 B/T: S/L Age (as of December 1, 2016): 23y, 10m
Quick Hit: Gillaspie has defied odds as a non-prototypical corner bat due to the continued refinement of his approach to the craft of hitting. He has placed a focus on maintaining high contact rates and spraying the field, culminating in a standout slash line in 560 plate appearances between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham in 2016 (.284/.388/.479). While the overall profile lacks the explosiveness in the bat you prefer to see from a first-division first baseman, Gillaspie has worked to maximize his plate coverage and his swing plane/pitch plane overlap, giving him a broad contact zone and helping him to extend at-bats and work for pitches he can handle.
The swing is a little cleaner from the right side, showing more consistent barrel-to-ball contact, but the overall approach keeps him in the game against lefties and righties alike, and his left-side shortcomings are not large enough at present to force him off of switch-hitting. He gets the job done at first base and projects as an everyday glove there. At his best, Gillaspie looks like a potential number two hitter, capable of putting the ball in play with regularity across the diamond with quality contact and some pull-side, over-the-fence pop. He is ready to compete for a spot on the 25-man roster this spring, and while he will need to make adjustments against righty arms in particular, the offensive tools are here for Gillaspie to start contributing right away once he arrives in Tampa.
Ryne Stanek, RHP, Triple-A Durham | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/50
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/180 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 25y, 4m
Quick Hit: An underclass standout with the University of Arkansas and USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team, Stanek came off the board to Tampa as a late first-round pick in 2013 after some performance inconsistencies his junior year, coupled with medical concerns. He underwent hip surgery during his first summer as a pro, starting his professional development in earnest the following May, with inconsistent results through his first two full seasons. After two months worth of starts with Double-A Montgomery in 2016, the Rays shifted Stanek to the pen where the low-slotted righty ripped off 18 innings of dominant ball thanks to a lively mid-90s fastball and potential plus slider, each coming with heavy angle. After punching out a batter per inning and allowing just nine hits and six walks over those relief appearances, Stanek earned a bump to Triple-A, where he finished up the season.
His 24.1 innings of work at Durham were a little less effective, with Triple-A bats doing a better job of laying of the slider out of the zone and jumping on the fastball when it flattened out from the waist up. The stuff stands out as potential late-inning quality, but the lanky righty will need to get a little more precise in the zone and perhaps a little more comfortable working both his slider and his improving changeup early in the count, to help him steal some strikes and work ahead. At his best, Stanek can reach the upper 90s while flashing two true swing-and-miss offerings in his fastball and slider. There is enough feel for the changeup to provide hope that he eventually teases that offering into a third weapon, which would make him a threat to close even if the command never gets to an average grade.
He will get a long look this spring, though it’s likely he returns to Durham to continue smoothing out the rough edges. The upside is a second-division closer, and it’s worth noting that he saw no falloff in stuff in his second inning of work as a reliever across a large sample size, with 21 of his 23 appearances extending past one inning.
Quick Hit: The big-bodied Castillo works consistently in the 94-to-98 mph range, showing some giddy-up on the heater and an ability to throw effectively to both sides of the plate. He creates a good angle out of a true 3/4’s release, excelling when he works down and away to righties. His slider will flash above average, sitting in the middle 80s with regularity, but the bite is too inconsistent at present thanks to a long arm action and inconsistent release, and he gets into trouble with the pitch backing up on him and spinning up in the zone. His firm upper-80s to low-90s changeup is ineffective in neutralizing lefty swings, allowing opposite-side bats to sit on his fastball/slider plane and limiting his ability to disrupt timing.
At this point, Castillo has the big fastball of a late-inning arm, complete with tough angle, but the balance of the profile needs work in order for him to start providing major league value. The path of least resistance is likely a tightening of his slider so that, at a minimum, he can more effectively run it into the hands of left-handed hitters and limit hard contact. The floor is reasonably high as a situational ground ball righty, and there is enough to work with that a role as a late-inning arm isn’t out of the question. He’ll tackle the Southern League in the 2017, with the Biscuits on speed dial the minute he shows more consistency with the slider.
Brandon Koch, RHP, High A Charlotte | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/45
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/205 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 22y, 11m
Quick Hit: The Dallas Baptist product never truly got up and running in his first full year of pro ball, logging just seven innings before being shut down with arm soreness. When healthy, he will show you close to double-plus offerings in his mid-90s fastball and hard-breaking slider that will flash two-plane action. There is a lot of violence in the delivery, which adds some to his deception but also raises some question as to long-term durability.
To his credit, Koch repeats his mechanics well and generally does a good job of pounding the zone. While the profile is a full step behind fellow 2015 draftee Nick Burdi (RHP, Twins), there are similarities in the two as single-inning power relievers that could be tackling major league bats in short order once healthy and on the field. Provide Koch is able to take the bump and throw pain free in camp, he is a candidate to jump right to Double-A Montgomery. He could be a fixture in the Tampa pen by 2018.
Quick Hit: Another relief arm of interest, Bird brings low-90s heat from the left side with good deception and a uniform release across all three of his offerings – fastball, curveball and changeup. The breaking ball is a mid-70s bender that will flash plus at its best, and he shows some feel for manipulating the shape and velocity. His changeup is an average offering that plays up thanks to his solid arm speed and deceptive release.
Bird doesn’t stand out for the quality of his arsenal, but rather the manner in which he wields it. It’s a tough look for both lefty and righty bats, and Bird will shuffle his sequencing effectively, making it tough to sit on any particular pitch in any particular count. He was fatigued by the time the Arizona Fall League rolled around, but the Flagler College (FL) draftee gives the looks of a future middle-relief arm who could be ready to contribute in the next 18 months as a touch-and-feel arm capable of keeping the ball on the ground and keeping major league bats off balance – a nice potential outcome for the former 35th-round pick.
Quick Hit: Schultz got the job done on his first tour with Triple-A Durham, striking out 11.2 batters per nine innings pitched and showing enough feel for his curveball to work it effectively against both left- and right-handed hitters. The undersized righty works his heater as high as the upper 90s, sitting more regularly in the 93-to-96 mph range, but the pitch lacks plane and deception, making it more hittable than the velocity might suggest.
Another developmental success story, Schultz was popped in the 14th round of the 2013 MLB Draft and sits poised to be yet another solid arm for Rays to tap into when the time comes. His changeup is too inconsistent right now to be a weapon against major league bats, so the odds are he’s still a ways away from getting the call to Tampa. More likely, he’ll be asked to follow up his 27-start 2016 campaign with an encore in 2017, with Tampa’s development staff focused in on the refinement of the offspeed and sequencing. If it all comes together, he fits as a potential number four starter, but the stuff may ultimately play better in short bursts out of the pen.
Daniel Robertson, SS/2B, Triple-A Durham | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/205 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 22y, 8m
Quick Hit: Robertson’s stock took a hit in 2016, with his power backing-up some at Triple-A Durham and his moderate bat speed more regularly exposed by advanced Triple-A arms. After suffering a broken hamate bone in 2015, Robertson showed firmer contact in 2016, but he squared balls up with less regularity than years past, and while he still shows a solid feel for the strike zone there is some question how well he is picking up spin and tracking considering the high volume of soft contact, particularly considering his uncomfortable cuts against same-side arms.
Defensively, Robertson gets the job done at shortstop, and he has the requisite tools to eventually earn a role as a utility infielder for the Rays. In order to solidify that projection, however, he will need to prove capable of producing with more regularity in the box, as the glove is solid but it does not stand out at any position on the dirt. He was added to the 40-man last month, so Tampa still sees real value here. He’ll have a chance to impress come spring training, but more likely will be headed back to Durham where he’ll look to reestablish his prospect status.
Quick Hit: Faria shows a solid workhorse body and good deception, helping his production play above the raw stuff in 2016 across 151 innings split between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham. The fastball sits in the low 90s, capable of reaching 94-to-95 mph up in the zone, and he backs it up with an above-average to plus changeup that he turns over with quality arm speed and a uniform slot with the fastball. His curve is a fringy breaker that lacks consistent bite, but given the effectiveness of the fastball and changeup, he can surivive in the rotation with the curveball serving as an adequate third look that can change eye levels.
Given the inconsistencies with the curve, there is some danger that big league bats will take advantage of the ease with which hitters have been able to lift Faria’s stuff, leaving him at the mercy of his defense and park dimensions – a precarious proposition given the stadiums he’ll toss in during AL East division work. If a shift to the pen proves necessary, there is a chance for quality production provided he can execute on his fastball and changeup consistently. With a thin margin for error, however, the difference between his back-end upside and middle-relief floor remains significant.
Austin Pruitt, RHP, Triple-A Durham | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 5’11”/165 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 27y, 3m
Quick Hit: Pruitt’s undersized frame belies his potential as durable back-end arm, as the four-year University of Houston product has averaged 156 innings in each of his three full pro seasons and racked up over 160 innings of work for the second straight year this past season with Triple-A Durham. Pruitt tosses a below-average fastball that works primarily in the upper 80s, but he spots the pitch effectively, and he has worked hard to sequence it well with his plus spiked-curveball. The breaking ball is a solid weapon both in and out of the zone, and he uses the offering liberally, to the point that it’s not uncommon for hitters to sit on the breaking ball while letting well-placed fastballs pass.
It’s an open question as to whether or not Pruitt’s approach will play against major league lineups, but in his journey through the minors thus far he has proven more than capable by keeping walks to a minimum and limiting damage when he does get tagged. Pruitt doesn’t profile as more than a number five starter or swingman, but he’s close to getting his chance in Tampa and he could provide the Rays with some useful innings at a cost-controlled price.
Kevin Gadea, RHP, Class A Clinton (SEA) | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’5”/188 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 22y, 0m
Quick Hit: The Rays grabbed Gadea with the fourth pick in the 2016 MLB Rule 5 draft, meaning the projectable righty will need to stick a full season on the 25-man in order to remain in the Rays’ system after 2017. A converted third baseman, Gadea shows athletic actions on the mound and a low-to-middle 90s fastball out of a loose and easy arm. He has some feel for spin and will break off a solid average breaking ball, rounding out the repertoire with a still-developing changeup that already flashes average.
Gadea hasn’t logged an inning above Class A, so the Rays are asking a lot of the youngster in making the jump to a big league pen this upcoming year. Given his solid stuff and ability to throw strikes with regularity, the ingredients are here for the Nicaraguan to keep his head above water if Tampa is able to find the right situations for him. Should he stick, he would be a clear candidate to return back to the minors for development as a starter, with some projection in physicality and stuff still in the tank. Given the handful of potential multi-inning relievers mentioned above, there’s some potential cushion to work with as far as workload, making his acquisition an interesting roll of the dice for the Rays.
Andrew Kittredge, RHP, Triple-A Tacoma (SEA) | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/200 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 26y, 8m
Quick Hit: One of three players obtained from Seattle in the Richie Shaffer (3B, Mariners) trade this past November, Kittredge will show a low- to mid-90s fastball with true trajectory along with a low- t0 mid-80s tilted slider and a slow, deep low- to mid-70s curveball. Given the lack of life on the fastball, the former Washington Huskie is reliant on his breaking balls to keep hitters from barreling the ball with regularity and his ability to pound the strike zone and work ahead help to keep free passes to a minimum and limit the damage from the hit or so per inning he averages.
With each of his breaking balls effective as swing-and-miss pitches in their own right – and particularly as chase pitches when ahead in the count – there is room for Kittredge to emerge as a late-blooming middle-reliever, slotting in as a clean-slate inning-starter in the sixth or seventh inning with enough different looks in his arsenal to go a second inning if the situation requires.
Lucius Fox, SS, Class A Augusta (SFG) | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 65/55
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/175 B/T: S/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 19y, 5m
Quick Hit: A piece of the package received from San Francisco last summer in exchange for right-hander Matt Moore, Fox is a true five-tool potential, grading out average or better across the board with the potential for impact with his double-plus speed and glove. Fox oozes athleticism, showing instinctual actions at the six spot, and exhibiting above-average body control and fluidity. Though a bone bruise on his foot kept him out of action in 2016 following the trade to Tampa, it isn’t expected that the injury will have any lingering impact on the profile.
The ingredients are here for Fox to emerge from the developmental oven as a dynamic defender once fully baked. That defensive value at a premium position, coupled with impact speed on the bases, could in and of itself represent enough foundational value to the profile to ensure a major league future. Fox’s solid floor is boosted even further by the offensive upside that he brings to the table.
A capable switch-hitter, Fox has quick-twitch actions out of his wirey-strong frame, already flashing a little bit of juice from both sides of the plate when he barrels it up. His approach is still developing, but as an 18-year-old in full season ball, he showed an ability to track pitches, and he demonstrated some patience with arms working to the margins of the zone. There is a fair amount of work to be done refining his in-game approach and developing a more cohesive plan of attack, but with above-average bat speed, athletic actions, and developing strength, it isn’t difficult to picture a finished product capable of hitting for some average, working his share of walks, and producing a solid .175 ISO that outdistances his average raw power thanks to doubles and triples totals.
He could be part of a talented Class A Bowling Green club to start 2017, or he could jump straight to High A Charlotte in order to give fellow high-end middle-infielder Adrian Rondon more reps at shortstop in the Midwest League. A full season of production could have landed Fox as part of Tampa’s “Cream of the Crop”. He’s a fine bet for that honor a year from now, once healthy and in the everyday lineup.
Jesus Sanchez, OF, Rookie Princeton | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 60/50
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/185 B/T: L/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 19y, 2m
Quick Hit: One of several young Rays to impress in Rookie/Short-Season ball, Sanchez showed impressive pop for his age and the makings of a solid defensive profile. The outfielder has an above-average arm to go with a steady glove and above-average run tool that plays down some due to an inconsistent first step. While he should continue to get reps in center field, his best fit may ultimately be in right field, where his arm and offensive upside would fit well.
Already well put together, Sanchez shows leverage in his swing with some natural loft and solid feel for the barrel. He projects to above-average to plus power at maturity, and displays enough innate feel for contact that it’s possible he grows into an average to above-average hit tool, as well, provided he reins in his aggressive approach with further seasoning. Sanchez is an advanced talent given his age and level, and it’s possible he makes the jump straight to Class A Bowling Green to start 2017 where he could be on the fast track. He is one of the more intriguing breakout candidates to watch for 2017, with a chance to shoot up national prospect lists with a loud showing in full season ball.
Quick Hit: Though the production wasn’t quite as loud as Sanchez’s, Rondon impressed in the Appy League just the same putting together quality at bats as a teen starting the season at the ripe old age of 17. While the 2014 J2 bonus baby doesn’t show particularly quick actions, he is generally on time in the box, showing good feel for the game and an advanced approach. Rondon already shows an ability to put together quality at-bats, identifying counts in which he can get more aggressive seeking fastballs as well as situations that require his shortening up a bit, even demonstrating an ability to hit behind runners on occasion.
Defensively, Rondon has the arm and the hands to stick at shortstop in the short term, and his 2017 assignment may come down to a locale that would allow both he and Lucius Fox to continue to log quality innings at the six spot. He moves well enough, and is athletic enough in his actions, that it’s possible for him to hold down the position long term, though an eventual shift to second base may make sense as his range would be a slightly better fit at the keystone, and his arm would be an asset on the turn.
Rondon has the upside of a solid offensive-minded middle-infielder and could move quickly through the system once he hits full season ball. A solid realistic outcome could be an everyday producer in the mold of a Starlin Castro (2B, Yankees), with more ultimate upside but similar pitfalls threatening to eat into the aggregate value of the profile.
Quick Hit: One of the youngest talents in the 2013 MLB Draft, Williams was also a low-rep prep talent who frequently found himself pitched around on the Louisiana high school circuit. He has shown steady developmental progress at the professional ranks, both with the Diamondbacks and then Tampa after being acquired by the Rays two off-seasons ago in the Jeremy Hellickson trade. Williams is still working to smooth out his approach at the plate, though his natural feel for contact has allowed his plus raw power to come into play with more regularity.
After making quality adjustments in his return to the Florida State League to begin 2016, Williams encountered some resistance upon promotion to Double-A Montgomery – primarily in the form of more advanced arms capable of exploiting his aggressiveness early in the count. The former Bayou Stater was able to maintain workable contact rates, albeit with less frequent hard contact. When he did square it up, however, his physicality and bat speed showed well.
Despite having logged almost 1400 minor league plate appearances, Williams will still be just 21 years old through the 2017 season, and the former second-rounder is likely ticketed for a return trip to Montgomery, where the Rays hope to see the talented outfielder more consistently find fastballs to drive while continuing to adjust to upper-minors arms. Defensively Williams fits the mold of a strong-armed right fielder who should eventually grow into an average defender on the corner. His ability to fully tap into his power upside will determine whether he reaches his upside as an above-average offensive right fielder.
Austin Franklin, RHP, Rookie GCL Rays | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 60/50
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/215 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 19y, 2m
Quick Hit: Popped in the third round of the 2016 MLB Draft, Franklin has the build of a innings-eating workhorse, and he projects well as a starter long term thanks to a solid arsenal and low-maintenance mechanics. The former Samford commit can touch the middle 90s with his fastball, more consistently working in the 90-to-93 mph range, and already shows a good feel for spin in the wrist, flashing a plus curveball at his best with impressive depth and bite. He will also mix in a changeup still in its nascent stages, but he’s showing enough feel and quality of arm action for it to project to at least an average offering in time.
While Franklin uses a fairly straightforward set of mechanics, he is still working to keep control over his big body, leading to inconsistencies across his motion and swings in the quality of his stuff. As he continues to tighten up his mechanics and get more uniform from pitch to pitch, his high-end stuff should appear more regularly, with the righty already making some strides in this department between his pro debut in the Gulf Coast League and work this fall. There is mid-rotation upside here, and the Rays are known to excel at this type of developmental work, which makes Franklin a prime candidate for a strong step forward in 2017.
Garrett Whitley, OF, Short-Season A Hudson Valley | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/40
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/205 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 19y, 9m
Quick Hit: The top selection for Tampa in the 2015 draft – coming off the board with the 15th-overall pick – Whitley had an uneven showing with Short-Season Hudson Valley in 2016, simultaneously flashing the athleticism and upside that put him in first round consideration in 2015, and some rawness in the offensive tools. Whitley presents well in the box, showing good present strength, bat speed, and impact potential when he squares barrel to ball, as well as a better approach than you might expect from a cold weather prep product. At the same time, he was frequently overmatched with even average offspeed and breaking stuff, struggling in particular against same-side arms.
There is a solid foundation in place with respect to Whitley’s ultimate value, thanks to plus foot speed that plays well both on the bases and in center field. With continued reps and instruction Whitley should emerge as at least an above-average defender ups the middle. A high-upside bet with some safety built in with the run and defensive production, Whitley’s ultimate role will come down to how well he acclimates to pro pitching. He has enough feel with the bat to grow into a solid-average hit tool with fringe-average power, but identifying and dealing with spin looms as a large developmental hurdle to surmount and will ultimately keep him from hitting his ceiling. If it comes together, he’s an above-average center fielder – but even as a Role 40 player, the athleticism will still provide very real value at the big league level. Whitley will play 2017 as a 20-year-old, making a jump to full season ball appropriate, where Midwest League arms could provide an ample challenge.
Kevin Padlo, 3B, Class A Bowling Green | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/45
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/205 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 20y, 4m
Quick Hit: Padlo’s tools outdistanced his Midwest League performance in 2016, as the former over-slot fourth-rounder will show you the potential for four average-or-better tools – with some evaluators also rating the run as a solid 50. He has good bat speed from the right side, helping to produce loud contact and above-average raw power, and the third baseman drove the ball effectively in his full season debut despite struggling to keep his contact rate up.
The swing is simple and compact, with Padlo utilizing a short load and generally keeping an efficient barrel path to contact. He can struggle to cover the outer half of the plate and is still working to refine his overall approach, but he has a solid feel for the strike zone and the overall the components all work in a vacuum – he just needs continued reps. A solid glove at the hot corner, Padlo has a left-side arm and should have no trouble sticking at third long term. He has already added mass across his frame through his young pro career – he’s close to physically filled out at this point – without material negative impact on his actions. He should return to the Class A Bowling Green in 2017 for a second shot at the Midwest League, and he projects as yet another infielder who could mature into an above-average contributor in time.
Michael Santos, RHP, Class A Augusta (SFG) | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/40
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/205 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 21y, 6m
Quick Hit: Another piece in the Matt Moore deal, Santos (like Fox) failed to suit up for a Tampa affiliate in 2016 – in his case due to lingering effects from a line drive to the head earlier in the year. When healthy and popping, Santos will show a low-90s fastball that can reach as high as 96 mph, as well as a balanced triumvirate of secondary offerings that include a solid changeup, a low- to mid-70s curve with good shape, and a upper-70s to low-80s slider with two-plane action.
Santos is a nice developmental project, with the makings of a durable number four starter with a broad arsenal, but he needs to get on the field and log innings in order to push his profile forward. Provided he returns to camp healthy and ready to throw, 2017 should be an important year for the young righty, with a focus on building up his arm strength. Santos is a long way off and that comes with significant risk. But there is room for some projection in both the frame and the stuff, and the arm works well enough that there could be a little more power across his offerings once he reaches physical maturity.
Genesis Cabrera, LHP, Class A Bowling Green | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/45
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/170 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1, 2016): 20y, 2m
Quick Hit: The live-armed lefty racked up 116 full season innings with Class A Bowling Green, almost a 100 inning bump from his 2015 action outside of the complex. The fastball can reach the middle 90s, and he shows some feel for a solid mid-80s slider and low-80s changeup that flashes hard fade. His arm works free and easy, though he is still a little loose in his release, leading to inconsistency in his execution and control across the arsenal.
The foundation is here for Cabrera to continue being groomed as a starter, and there is some relief upside, as well, thanks to the quality of his stuff – even if the command profile never fully emerges. He should be ticketed for High A Charlotte to start 2017 with a focus on tightening up his execution and finding more consistency in his mechanics from pitch to pitch. He has the upside of a solid number four starter with a fallback as a potential late-inning arm if his consistency or physicality leave him shy of a spot in a major league rotation.
Nathan Lukes, OF, High A Charlotte | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 5’11”/185 B/T: L/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 22y, 5m
Quick Hit: Lukes came over to Tampa in the Brandon Guyer deal and immediately made a strong impact on the organization, thanks to his feel for contact and command of the strike zone. There’s limited physical projection in the outfielder, but he will show some present strength with an ability to drive the gaps and leg out extra bases by virtue of an above-average run tool.
Defensively, Lukes is capable of playing all three outfield positions, with easy low-effort actions underscoring an advanced feel for the game. There is upside here of an everyday center fielder with a safety net as a solid fourth outfielder who can put the ball in play with regularity, and flash some gap-oriented pop along the way. He should ship back to High A Charlotte to begin the spring, and could earn a mid-season promotion to Double-A Montgomery once he pockets a little bit of production with the Stone Crabs.
Joe McCarthy, OF, High A Charlotte | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/225 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1, 2016): 22y, 3m
Quick Hit: McCarthy was a standout at the University of Virginia who slipped to the Rays in the fifth round of the 2015 MLB Draft after missing a chunk of his junior year due to surgery on his back. He totaled 104 games this past summer split between Class A Bowling Green and High A Charlotte, showing off a compact, contact-friendly stroke while flashing some gap-to-gap pop. A plus runner with enough feel and arm to play each outfield position capably, McCarthy will also show above-average athleticism and an ability to make the flashy play at the margins of his range.
There is a path for the former Wahoo to develop into either an everyday center fielder or left fielder with top-of-the-order potential with the stick thanks to his keen eye, command of the zone and feel for the barrel. He will need to prove there is enough in-game pop to keep advanced arms honest, with that test beginning in 2017 at Double-A Montgomery. If the stick proves light for an everyday role, he should still have some value as a capable fourth outfielder.
Jose Alvarado, LHP, High A Charlotte | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/240 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1, 2016): 21y, 6m
Quick Hit: A thick-bodied lefty with power stuff, Alvarado can pile up both strikeouts and walks with impressive speed. The Venezuelan southpaw boasts mid-90s heat with good arm-side action and some heft, as well as a power downer curve with hard bite at its best. Despite being substantively limited to a two-pitch mix with below-average control, Alvarado kept his head above water across Class A and High A in 2016, with his heavy groundball rates helping to limit the negative impact of the sky-high walk rates.
Alvarado remains a significant work in progress, but it says something that the stuff continues to play in spite of below-average implementation. Even a modest bump in control could help nudge the lefty onto the fast track – something the Rays undoubtedly had in mind when they added Alvarado to the 40-man this November. Depending on his looks in camp, Alvarado could return to High A Charlotte to start 2017 or jump to Double-A Montgomery – either case coming with a focus on throwing more strikes.
Jake Fraley, OF, Short-Season A Hudson Valley | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/195 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1, 2016): 21y, 6m
Quick Hit: A catalyst for the talented 2016 LSU Tigers, Fraley boasts a balanced profile across his game. His plus foot speed and a nose for the ball in center field help anchor his value as a an up-the-middle glove, while he leverages his speed aggressively on the base paths to keep pressure on the defense, both via stolen bases (33 in 55 games this year at Hudson Valley) and a willingness to aggressively stretch an extra base on balls he puts in play.
His advanced approach at the plate and contact-oriented swing help complete the package as a high-floored college product, with the entire package compelling enough to draw a compensation round pick from the Rays – the 77th overall – during this past June’s MLB Draft. Fraley lacks impact in his skill set, and his below-average power may not allow him to fully leverage his on-base talents against high-level arms who aren’t deterred from attacking the zone aggressively.
Though he lacks the physicality of the two talents selected ahead of him last June by the Rays –third baseman Josh Lowe and center fielder Ryan Boldt – Fraley should be a capable contributor in some form at the major league level, even if the limited offensive potential restricts him to utility as a fourth or fifth outfielder. The upside is that of everyday center fielder with a down order stick that keeps the ball in play and consistently puts pressure on the defense.
Chris Betts, C, Short-Season A Hudson Valley | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/215 B/T: L/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 19y, 9m
Quick Hit: Betts dropped to the Rays in the second round of the 2015 MLB Draft due to some elbow issues that forced the SoCal native to undergo Tommy John surgery shortly after signing. He returned to action in earnest in 2016, logging 16 games in the complex league before bumping up to Short-Season A Hudson Valley for the final month of the season. While the production left much to be desired, the important thing for Betts was getting on the field and logging innings behind the dish.
Defensively, Betts has a fair amount development ahead of him if he is to stick at catcher, with side-to-side actions that can be a bit stiff at times and an inefficient transfer and footwork combo in his catch-and-throw game that ate into the effectiveness of his plus (pre-surgery) arm strength. There is impressive raw power in the barrel driven by good bat speed, and he gets natural lift at contact helping the raw to play in-game. The barrel can be quick in and out of the zone, however, and there are some questions as to how the swing will play against more advanced stuff, as Betts lacks the instinctive bat-to-ball feel of an advanced prep hitter.
The biggest challenge for Betts may be trying to find enough developmental time to refine both his offensive game and his actions and feel behind the plate, with a risk that neither aspect of the profile gets to where it needs to be to provide value to the big club. For now, the focus will be on logging a full season’s worth of at-bats and reassessing the best developmental path forward come next fall.
Brett Sullivan, C, Class A Bowling Green | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/195 B/T: L/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 22y, 9m
Quick Hit: A converted shortstop who is still learning the craft of catching, Sullivan flashed some left-side power in his Midwest League debut along with a solid, if at times too aggressive, approach. Sullivan has a simple load with a barrel path that plays well to contact but can too often produce ground ball contact – limiting the utility of his raw power and eating into his offensive value.
Ideally, the University of the Pacific product would add a little more loft to his cuts, even if it meant decreasing his contact window and increasing his strikeout totals, but that adjustment brings with some additional risk. As an aggressive, high-contact bat, Sullivan’s on-base production is heavily tied to his average, meaning gains made in the power department may be offset by a step back in both average and on-base percentage, depending on where each component ultimately settles.
He is a solid athlete with good arm strength and enough ingredients to work with to develop into at least a backstop capable of back-up duties, and his bar to the big leagues gets a little lower the more his power plays up. It’s an interesting profile, to be sure, but an awful lot rests on Sullivan finding the right offensive balance between maintaining good contact rates while allowing the power to more naturally manifest.
Josh Lowe, 3B/OF, Rookie Princeton | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/190 B/T: L/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 18y, 10m
Quick Hit: The top selection by the Rays in the 2016 MLB Draft, Lowe came off the board to Tampa with the 13th-overall pick, and the Rays rewarded the FSU commit with a $2.6 million signing bonus to convince him to forgo his tenure in Tallahassee. An offensive talent with significant upside, Lowe will show big-time bat speed and lots of loud contact in batting practice, but the swing path is inconsistent in-game, and Lowe can struggle to correct, leading to extended struggles with contact.
Defensively, Lowe has hard hands and lacks quick-twitch actions at the hot corner, inducing the Rays to run him out on the grass during instructs. He has the arm for right field, and he could cover enough ground to even spend some developmental time in center field, though he will need reps to improve his reads and routes. It’s a high-upside talent due to the natural bat speed and physicality, but Lowe may face significant challenges in full season ball when faced with higher-quality arms and better spin, and there is a chance the swing and approach ultimately require a not-insignificant overhaul. Likewise, he has a chance to boost his defensive value by acclimating well to the outfield, but it’s too early in his development to find a great deal of comfort in that proposition.
For now, the risk in the profile outdistances the upside – establishing his defensive value or proving his swing can play against full season arms could go a long way towards growing his prospect status over the course of the next twelve months.
Ryan Boldt, OF, Short-Season A Hudson Valley | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/210 B/T: L/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 22y, 0m
Quick Hit: The Rays used their second round pick in the 2016 MLB Draft to Boldt, undeterred by a developmentally stagnant junior year at Nebraska for the former Minnesota prep product. He’s a quality center fielder that takes clean routes and gets good reads off the bat, and while a step slower than he was in high school still moves well enough to stick in center field for the foreseeable future.
At the plate Boldt shows some bat speed, an advanced feel for the zone, and solid pre-game power, but struggles in-game to produce regular hard contact leading some evaluators to question how well he sees the ball. When he does square it up, however, the ball jumps, with the former Cornhusker leveraging his speed to grab extra bases when the opportunity arises.
On paper, the tools point to an average or better hit tool, gap power, and a quality glove up-the-middle to go with positive contributions on the base paths. While the production hasn’t fully blossomed yet for Boldt, the Rays still believe there is a potential every day center fielder in the profile. He’ll tackle Class A Charlotte in 2017.
Quick Hit: Harris saw a slight uptick in stuff in 2016, with his fastball now sitting comfortably in the low-90s and his short slider working in the low 80s. He’ll also work in a low-80s changeup as a change-of-pace offering. There’s lots of herk and jerk to his motion, adding some deception to the package, and overall it’s an uncomfortable at bat for hitters given the unorthodox motion, crossfire release and tough angles.
Harris handled High A bats effectively this past year, showing an ability to miss bats and generally working around the zone, though he appeared fatigued in the AFL and frequently struggled to place his pitches over the course of his nine relief appearances. Harris has proven durable thus far in his pro career, and he should continue to remain a starter so long as his stuff allows him to consistently turn over lineups. If the upper levels prove too much for Harris to manage two and three times through the lineup, he likely profiles as a middle-relief arm or swingman, depending on the Rays’ needs at the time. 2017 should provide a solid test for the righty as he steps up to a competitive Double-A Southern League.
Quick Hit: Agosto has a chance for three average or better offerings and an arm that works really well – not a bad combination for a 2015 20th rounder. The former International Baseball Academy (PR) product worked 48-plus innings for Rookie Princeton in 2016, showing flashes of promise but also loose in-zone command and a fastball that was too often too flat and hittable. In general, Agosto’s stuff plays soft at present, though he will flash above-average bite with his upper-70s curveball and solid bottom with his low-80s changeup. His fastball sits in the 88-to-92 mph velo band and it can flash some bore, as well.
There is room for growth in the stuff as the body matures, but he will need to put in the work to tighten his physique and start layering more useful muscle. While expectations are generally low with a pick who drops this far in the draft, there’s some interesting potential for the Tampa player development staff to work with, with perhaps even a back-end arm capable of emerging in time. For now, Agosto will focus on improved conditioning and tightening his arsenal, with an eye towards competing in full season ball.
Hunter Wood, RHP, High A Charlotte | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/175 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 23y, 3m
Quick Hit: What Wood lacks in physicality he makes up for in arm speed and fastball velocity, with the righty regularly working up into the middle 90s with his heater and backing up the offering with an above-average curveball with sharp bite and 12-to-6 action. The balance of Woods arsenal is middling, with both his short slider and changeup serving as fringe-average offerings.
Though he held his own over 49 1/3 Double-A innings after a mid-season promotion, Harris has yet to throw more than 113 innings in a pro season, and his narrow frame casts some doubt as to whether there is much more strength to come as the body finishes maturing. Though he will likely continue to start for the time being, his ultimate role is more likely to come in the form of middle-relief work, with an occasional spot start.
Peter Bayer, RHP, Rookie Princeton | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/195 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 22y, 8m
Quick Hit: A ninth-round senior sign in the 2016 MLB Draft, Bayer shoved in his professional debut with Rookie Princeton, punching out 45 over 32 2/3 innings of work while walking just three and allowing 18 hits. The Cal Poly Pomona product produces good angle on his low-90s fastball and pairs it with a hard downer curve that can work both in and out of the zone. Bayer could jump right to full season ball and move quickly in relief as an advanced command arm that wields two average to above-average offerings.
Vidal Brujan, 2B, Short-Season A Hudson Valley | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 5’9”/155 B/T: S/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 18y, 10m
Quick Hit: A 2014 J2 signee out of the Dominican Republic, Brujan put together a solid stateside debut in 2016, making consistent contact from both sides of the plate over 223 Gulf Coast League plate appearances and showing some a surprisingly steady approach in the box. A plus runner, Brujan is still raw in his on-base reads, though he utilizes his quickness well on the dirt, flashing quality range at the keystone. He lacks physicality at present, and he could still be a year away from tackling full season ball, but it’s at minimum an interesting profile to monitor given the speed, up-the-middle defense, and offensive feel.
David Rodriguez, C, Class A Bowling Green | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/40
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/215 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 20y, 9m
Quick Hit: Rodriguez impressed in the Midwest League with his catch-and-throw game, gunning down 33 of 59 would-be base-stealers, showing good arm strength and accuracy as well as a quick release. He’s a capable receiver, as well, giving him a solid chance to stick behind the plate long term. Offensively, the Venezuelan backstop will flash a little bat speed and pop from the right side, as well as a high level of comfort tracking pitches and working walks. The profile likely fits best in a backup capacity, and perhaps a bit more if the bat can keep up with the defensive game.
Easton McGee, RHP, Rookie GCL Rays | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 6’6”/205 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 18y, 11m
Quick Hit: The long and limby McGee was nabbed as a fourth-round selection in the 2016 MLB Draft, showing an uptick in fastball velo over the course of his senior year at Hopkinsville HS (KY), reaching as high as 93 mph, with the potential for more velo to come as the body continues to mature. Both his curveball and changeup are underdeveloped at this point, but he does well fillingup the zone with all three offerings, working on a tough angle. It’s a raw collection of tools to work with, but one that the Tampa developmental staff should enjoy sculpting into a potential contributor. His athleticism and feel should put him on a starter’s track, where the future development of his secondaries should determine his ultimate upside.
J.D. Busfield, RHP, Short-Season A Hudson Valley | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/40
Ht/Wt: 6’7”/230 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 21y, 7m
Quick Hit: The imposing Loyola Marymount closer lasted until the seventh round in this June’s MLB Draft, primarily due to some fluctuations in his working velocity over the course of his spring. At his best, Busfield will show a low- to mid-90s fastball with heavy action, though he more frequently worked in the 90-to-93 mph range, including during his pro debut with Short-Season A Hudson Valley. He’s a tough arm to lift given the sinking action on the fastball and tough downhill angle created out of his six-foot-seven frame, and his solid curveball serves as a workable change-of-pace pitch to both disrupt timing and change hitters’ eye level. The Rays could push Busfield aggressively in a relief role, with the right profiling as a potential ground ball specialist.
|1. Willy Adames, SS, AA||6. Adrian Rondon, SS, Rk.||11. Garrett Whitley, OF, A-SS|
|2. Brent Honeywell, RHP, AA||7. Chih-Wei Hu, RHP, AA||12. Kevin Padlo, 3B, A|
|3. Jake Bauers, OF/1B, AA||8. Casey Gillaspie, OF, AAA||13. Ryan Stanek, RHP, AAA|
|4. Lucius Fox, SS, A||9. Justin Williams, OF, AA||14. Genesis Cabrera, LHP, A|
|5. Jesus Sanchez, OF, Rk.||10. Austin Franklin, RHP, Rk.||15. Nathan Lukes, OF, A+|
There is lots of depth in the system, though a sizeable chunk of the higher-end talent is currently situated in the lower minors, and in particular below full season ball. That places the Rays in an interesting place wherein twelve months from now the strength of the system could look drastically different – for better or worse – depending on the developmental progress realized at a traditionally volatile stage.
As is often the case with the Rays, there is an argument to be made that the vast majority of the talent playing at the upper levels are poised to debut in Tampa over the course of the next season or two are more valuable as cheap, controllable contributors than they would be packaged to bring in established, but more expensive, talent. The best case scenario for the organization sees the likes of Adames, Gillaspie, Bauers, Honeywell, and Hu solidify the core of a competitive Rays squad over the next two seasons, with a number of the lower-level talents such as Sanchez, Rondon, Fox, Sanchez and Franklin emerging as potential impact trade chips should the Rays need to dip outside of the organization for a final piece or two to round out the club.
The Rays have done well to restock the system, though it’s still about 18 months too early to declare the pipeline back on track given the uncertainty that comes with having so much talent still three-plus years away from contributing at the big league level. There is some potential for impact at the top of the system, as well as a number of arms and bats that should, at minimum, fill useful roles for the Rays as the team transitions to a new core of talent around which to build.
While recent years have seen a number of high-upside Rays prospects struggle to establish themselves on the positional side, the current crop of low-minors talent is already showing signs of early success. Additionally, a focus on high-floor collegiate producers in the last two drafts has injected the system with some advanced up-the-middle talents that are capable of growing into everyday roles. While they may lack the upside of some of the high school talents they’ve targeted in past drafts, they also come with a lot more certainty of value, which should help give some needed stability to system.
While likely still a middle-of-the-pack system overall, the Rays are poised to take a significant step forward as an organization if a few of the high-end positional talents can emerge as true top-tier prospects in the coming years. The developmental track record is there on the pitching side; if Tampa can begin to develop the positional talent with similar success, it will go a long way towards helping the club return to competitiveness in a challenging American League East.
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