The Rays are going through a youth movement at all levels. The big league club is stocked with affordable young pieces already, and there’s plenty more coming from a farm system that grades among the league’s best. Tampa Bay’s front office personnel, scouts, and development staff deserve serious credit for how deep this list is. It’s an artfully crafted system, combining prospects acquired through the draft, internationally, and in trades. (#1) Wander Franco emerged as a top-of-the-league type of prospect in 2018, giving this system the headliner it needed to enter the “best in baseball” discussion considering the balance and depth it already possessed. The Rays have been aggressive on the international market and scout the lowest levels of the minors thoroughly, the end result being exceptional depth below the full-season level.
The Rays could place as many as eight players on our Top 125, and within that group, (#1) Wander Franco and (#2) Brent Honeywell should finish in the top-30. Very few systems in baseball boast this type of quality and quantity.
This list has a healthy mix of bats and arms, with prospects distributed fairly evenly throughout the system. Upper-level hitters like (#9) Brandon Lowe, (#11) Nick Solak, and (#12) Nathaniel Lowe have either already reached the big leagues or will soon be there. The same could be said for pitchers like (#2) Brent Honeywell, Colin Poche (On the Horizon), Curtis Taylor (On the Horizon), and Ian Gibaut (On the Horizon).
Most teams don’t remain in the top farm system conversation longer than a few years, as prospects move through the system and graduate to the big league roster. The Rays, however, are uniquely poised to continue ranking among the game’s best farm systems for the foreseeable future—even as the big league club is propelled forward by the growing young core already in place. Seven of the team’s top 15 prospects have ETAs later than 2020, and it’s easy to see players like (#1) Wander Franco, (#5) Ronaldo Hernandez, (#6) Shane Baz, (#7) Matthew Liberatore, and (#8) Vidal Brujan keeping this system relevant in years to come. Even past that top group, (#14) Nick Schnell, (#15) Shane McClanahan, Resly Linares (Pure Projection), and Moises Gomez (Pure Projection) are a few others that could feature more prominently on this list down the road.
–INJURED UPPER-LEVEL ARMS
Admittedly, we’re nitpicking here. It’s tough to find flaws in this system, as the Rays have one of baseball’s best pipelines and will be graduating players from this group for years to come. One of the strong suits of Tampa Bay’s farm is its abundance of near-ready prospects, and (#2) Brent Honeywell ranks the highest among them. Honeywell missed all of last season with injury, and getting him back to form as a top-20 prospect would be a huge boost to a system that’s already considered among the best in baseball. Other upper-level arms with big league experience like (#13) Anthony Banda and Jose De Leon (On the Horizon) have also been bit by the injury bug. Banda will miss 2019 after undergoing Tommy John surgery last year, and De Leon has spent significant time on the DL since 2016.
TOP 15 PREF LIST
CREAM OF THE CROP
(#1) Wander Franco, SS/2B
In his first taste of stateside ball, Franco slashed an eye-popping .351/.418/.587 with 11 home runs, 10 doubles and 7 triples for Rookie Princeton, all while walking 27 times to just 19 strikeouts in 273 plate appearances. The teen phenom will turn just 18 this March and is already showing loud offensive tools and production characteristic of an elite prospect. Offensively, Franco has top shelf bat speed and good present strength, producing easy plus raw power already, which he flexes regularly in games. He brings an advanced approach to the plate, allowing both his hit tool and on-base profile to project to plus, and he runs well enough to be a weapon on the base paths. Defensively, Franco shows athletic actions at short, a strong left-side arm, and smooth enough actions to project a long term home at shortstop. A breakout 2018 has left Franco a clear top 25 prospect at present and a good bet to join the likes of fellow elite middle-infield prospects Fernando Tatis Jr. (Padres) and Royce Lewis (Twins). He’ll likely start the year with Low-A Bowling Green.
(#2) Brent Honeywell, RHP
Ceiling: 60 Risk: High ETA: 2019 Role Description: Frontline Starter (#2/#3 SP)
Ht/Wt: 6’2” / 180 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: AAA Age (as of April 1, 2019): 24y, 0m
Video | Spotlight #1 | Spotlight #2
Honeywell lost all of 2018 to elbow surgery but will be ready to join the big league club this season. Known for his dastardly screwball earlier in his career, Honeywell has moved to a more traditional changeup that grades plus. A solid-average slider and curve back up a lively mid-90s fastball, giving numerous weapons to keep hitters off balance. Honeywell is fly ball prone and vulnerable to the longball, but his ability to miss bats and limit traffic on the bases will overshadow the occasional homer. He’ll be eased back into things in 2019, and we still see a #2 or solid #3 starter despite the missed time.
(#3) Jesus Sanchez, OF
Sanchez played all last season as a 20-year-old, posting a strong .301/.331/.462 line in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League and reaching Double-A by year’s end. A lanky 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, his long and athletic frame provides plenty of natural leverage for power. He doesn’t walk much and has movement in the swing that seems prone to strikeouts, but above-average barrel-feel has bailed out his swing-happy approach to date. Sanchez will need to prove his low-walk, high-average outputs translate to upper-minors competition, and presuming he’s able to get more selective, the ceiling is an above-average regular in RF.
(#4) Brendan McKay, LHP/1B
McKay looks the part of a potential mid-rotation southpaw thanks to an above-average four-pitch mix and above-average command of his arsenal. He’ll regularly work in the low 90s, reaching 95 mph with his fastball, while mixing in a deceptive cutter, plus curve with solid depth and above-average changeup with solid fade. While McKay has continued to progress at a decent clip on the mound, the Rays have been less successful in refining the bat, with McKay — an advanced collegiate competitor from a big time conference — struggling to keep pace in the High A Florida State League last summer. Strikeouts continue to befuddle the lefty as he works to lift and pull the ball more consistently, but the Rays aren’t quite ready to let go of the two-way potential the Louisville product flashes. He’ll get another test in 2019 at Double-A Montgomery and should be ready to help the big club by 2020.
(#5) Ronaldo Hernandez, C
2018 was a good year for catching prospects, and Hernandez was among the top breakout performers at the position. He looks the part of a big league catcher and that strength translates to his offensive game. His receiving and footwork still need to develop, though he already blocks well and has plenty of arm-strength. He has plus raw power and could legitimately be a 20+ home run bat at a valuable defensive position. The ceiling is high enough that Hernandez is among baseball’s better catching prospects already as an A-Ball player.
(#6) Shane Baz, RHP
Baz was a surprising PTBNL in the Chris Archer trade last season, coming to the Rays along with Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows. Acquiring Baz gave the Rays another high-ceiling arm to their enviable crop of teenage pitching prospects low in the system. The fastball touches 97 mph and sits comfortably in the mid-90s with above-average life. He has plus feel for spin, able to flash two bat-missing breaking balls in his slider (86-to-89 mph) and curve (82-to-85 mph). Though he’ll need to improve his changeup, it shows enough promise to project as average with more development. Baz has the ingredients of an impact started with continued development.
(#7) Matthew Liberatore, LHP
The Rays selected Liberatore 16th overall in last year’s Draft after a decorated amateur career. He has done nothing to dispel his prospect stock in the months since signing, dominating through 27.2 innings in the GCL last summer before making a few starts in the Appy League. Liberatore checks the boxes of a top pitching prospect, mixing present polish with ample physical and skill projection. His low-effort delivery fills the zone with four pitches, starting with a fastball runs to the mid-90s and sits 91-to-94 mph. Both a curve and changeup flash bat-missing potential, and he has worked to develop a slider to show hitters another look. Considering his frame and remaining strength gains, he could finish with numerous miss-bat pitches and sound overall control. Liberatore has the ingredients of a frontline starter and could jump onto the shortlist of top pitching prospects in baseball with a strong 2019.
(#8) Vidal Brujan, 2B
Brujan put himself on the map with an excellent full-season debut in 2018, slashing a combined .320/.403/.459 across two A-Ball levels and stealing 55 bases. He’s a speedy switch-hitter with plus barrel-feel and sneaky pop when hitting left-handed. Brujan shows an advanced plan at the plate, knowing when to be aggressive and when to take a pitch. His strikeout rates have hovered around 12-percent as a pro, and his ability to put the ball in play is more significant given his 70-grade wheels. Defensively, Brujan is limited to 2B where his athleticism allows him to make routine plays. A below-average arm hurts him less on the right side of the infield; he projects to stay there long-term, though his speed could translate to the outfield if need be. Brujan’s ceiling is a valuable everyday 2B who hits near the top of the lineup and seriously impacts the game with his speed.
ON THE HORIZON
(#9) Brandon Lowe, 2B/OF
Ceiling: 50 Risk: Moderate ETA: 2018 Role Description: Everyday Player
Ht/Wt: 6’0” / 185 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: MLB Age (as of April 1, 2019): 24y, 8m
Lowe was long seen as a steady statistical performer with questions about how impactful his tools would be at the Major League level. He erased lots of those doubts with a breakout 2018, showing more power than ever and rocketing to the big leagues by season’s end. He’s the epitome of a high-floor prospect, a safe enough bet to hit to fit a regular’s profile. Lowe started playing some outfield last year, and that positional versatility will only increase his value to the Rays. He’s the rare list-eligible prospect that could realistically step into an everyday role by Opening Day next season.
(#10) Lucius Fox, SS
The Giants signed Fox to a $6 million amateur bonus, though it took him a few years to get strong enough to hit at the pro level. Sent to Tampa Bay in the trade that returned Matt Duffy prior to the 2017 season, Fox has blossomed in the Rays’ system and now looks like a future big league asset. His offensive game is centered around contact and speed, projecting to set the table near the top of a lineup. He’s a plus athlete with excellent actions at shortstop and a strong arm. We see him as a fairly high-floor prospect who profiles as a future everyday regular.
(#11) Nick Solak, 2B/LF
Solak came to the Rays in a three-team trade before the 2018 season. He had a big Double-A debut in his first year in Tampa’s system, slashing .282/.384/.450 with a career-best 21 steals. The 24-year-old is close to big league ready, able to contribute soon with his contact ability and defensive versatility. Solak moves between 2B and LF, even able to line up in CF in a pinch. He’s polished at the plate, showing plus barrel-feel and a very disciplined approach that helps reach base via the walk. He’s more likely a doubles hitter with occasional home run pop than a true masher: despite 19 home runs and a .167 ISO, Solak’s level swing-path and grounder-heavy contact profile hint last year’s power spike was somewhat of a blip. The Rays have a good track record maximizing value with this type of player, aiding Solak’s best-case ceiling as an everyday player. All the skills are here for an excellent utility man if he falls just short of that.
(#12) Nathaniel Lowe, 1B
Lowe was a relative unknown entering pro ball, a 13th round selection who bounced between schools as a college player. He burst onto the national prospect scene last season across two levels, showing a strong mix of contact, zone control, and game power. There’s no speed or defensive value here, but the bat could be enough for everyday playing time at 1B, even considering the high offensive bar there.
(#13) Anthony Banda, LHP
Ceiling: 50 Risk: High ETA: 2018 Role Description: League Average Starter (#4/#5 SP)
Ht/Wt: 6’2” / 190 lbs. B/T: L/L Highest Level: MLB Age (as of April 1, 2019): 25y, 7m
Banda has appeared in the big leagues each of the last two seasons, having yet to translate stuff into performance over a long stretch. He made three starts for the Rays and was trending in the right direction before it was announced he would need Tommy John surgery. Banda’s ceiling is still that of a league average rotation piece, though there’s now more risk because of the surgery and he likely won’t pitch in an official game until 2020. If performance or durability issues cause a move to the ‘pen, Banda has shown in the past that his stuff plays way up in short stints.
Jose De Leon, RHP
Ceiling: 45 Risk: Moderate ETA: 2016 Role Description: Swingman
Ht/Wt: 6’1” / 220 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: MLB Age (as of April 1, 2019): 26y, 7m
De Leon placed on Top 100 prospect lists as recently as 2016, though he has missed most of the last two years with injuries and looked like a shell of himself when he has been on the mound. His fastball worked in the mid-90s then, dropping to the 89-to-91 mph range in 2017. We’re taking a conservative stance by placing De Leon in the “wait and see” category; with his track record of injuries and Tampa’s deep stable of pitching prospects, it’s no longer a given he’s a part of the team’s future rotation.
Joe McCarthy, OF/1B
McCarthy’s plus power potential will get him to the big leagues, though his health and track record against lefties could realistically make him a platoon-type contributor. Tampa Bay saw enough to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft in his first year of eligibility, adding him to their 40-Man this November despite a crowded roster situation.
Michael Perez, C
Ceiling: 45 Risk: Moderate ETA: 2018 Role Description: Role Player
Ht/Wt: 5’11” / 180 lbs. B/T: L/R Highest Level: MLB Age (as of April 1, 2019): 26y, 7m
The Rays acquired Perez in July for Matt Andriese, and the rookie backstop went on to perform admirably in his 24-game Major League debut after the trade. A hamstring injury shortened his season but he’s on pace to report fully healthy to Spring Training in 2019. The defensive skills are here to potentially be a low-end regular, though Perez is a safer bet to profile as a solid backup catcher.
Ryan Boldt, OF
Ceiling: 45 Risk: Moderate ETA: 2020 Role Description: Role Player
Ht/Wt: 6’2” / 210 lbs. B/T: L/R Highest Level: AA Age (as of April 1, 2019): 24y, 4m
Boldt slashed .274/.348/.461 in 62 Double-A games last year, going down with injury in June and missing the rest of the season. He continued an odd career-long trend of reverse platoon splits, handling lefties much better than opposite-handed pitching. Boldt is a bit of a tweener, not enough of a defender for a true CF profile without the power to get regular at-bats on a corner. We see his ceiling as a useful role player able to play all three outfield positions and provide a competent bat off the bench.
Colin Poche, LHP
Ceiling: 45 Risk: Moderate ETA: 2019 Role Description: Setup Relief
Ht/Wt: 6’3” / 185 lbs. B/T: L/L Highest Level: AAA Age (as of April 1, 2019): 25y, 2m
Poche was a 14th round pick by Arizona, coming to the Rays as a PTBNL in the deal that sent Stephen Souza to the Diamondbacks. He doesn’t have typical late-innings stuff but was arguably the most dominant reliever in the minors last year. Poche pitched to a ridiculous 0.82 ERA over 66 innings between two levels, striking out 110 hitters and holding opponents to a .151 average-against. His fastball works in the low-90s but gets whiffs at an elite rate due to excellent spin and deception. Poche mixes a mid-70s curve and true slider at 82-to-84 mph, both effective but neither a true bat-misser. He will have to prove an unorthodox approach plays in leverage situations at the big league level, but the ceiling is a setup reliever that can record more than three outs a game.
Kean Wong, 2B/UTL
Wong was an attractive Rule 5 target that many thought would be selected. He’s coming off his best offensive season as a pro (.282/.345/.406), can play multiple positions, and has experience in the upper-minors. Tampa Bay had a crowded 40-Man situation and Wong likely would be on the Major League roster in a thinner organization. He profiles as a versatile utility player and could contribute in the big leagues by next season. He’s blocked by Tampa Bay’s deep infield mix at the Major League level, making Wong an interesting trade candidate.
Sam McWilliams, RHP
McWilliams is well-traveled, having been originally drafted by the Phillies before coming to Arizona in a trade. The Diamondbacks shipped him to Tampa Bay last season, who lost McWilliams in the Major League Phase of this off-season’s Rule 5 Draft to the Royals. The extra-tall righty touches the mid-90s with his fastball, getting excellent natural extension from a 6-foot-7 frame. His slider is fringy, lacking depth at times but flashing signs of becoming an average offering. He limits walks well, though his actual in-zone command and third pitch aren’t as sharp. McWilliams could fit into a handful of roles, potentially as a multi-inning reliever at the Major League level next season. The Royals did not keep him on their Major League roster, and McWilliams went unclaimed on waivers. He’s back with the Rays now–assigned to Triple-A Durham to begin 2019–and no longer has any Rule 5 restrictions.
Rollie Lacy, RHP
Ceiling: 45 Risk: High ETA: 2020 Role Description: Swingman
Ht/Wt: 6’4” / 195 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: A+ Age (as of April 1, 2019): 23y, 8m
Lacy was the Cubs 11th rounder in 2017 from the college ranks, though he’s already on his third organization. He was one of the prospects Chicago sent the Rangers for Cole Hamels last summer, traded again after the season to Tampa Bay. Lacy dominated Low-A in his first full pro season, advancing to High-A for his last eight starts of 2018. He doesn’t have a plus pitch, but a funky delivery and strong fastball movement allow Lacy to induce a ton of weak contact. His fastball scrapes 92 mph and sits in the 89-to-90 mph range, showing advanced command of the pitch to both sides of the plate. A mid-80s changeup grades as the better of two off-speed pitches, backed up by a playable slider that’s tougher on same-side hitters. He’s a polished strike-thrower that ties together a fringy stuff mix with solid control. Lacy is a bit unorthodox, but we like him as a potential low-end #5 or swingman type.
Brandon Lawson, RHP
Lawson has performed well for a 12th rounder, moving quietly through the system and reaching Double-A by the end of last season. He showed glimpses of his upside in Fall League despite an ugly overall line. He has experience working from the rotation and bullpen, likely able to pitch from either one in the big leagues. Lawson’s fastball is firmer from the ‘pen, touching 94 mph with heavy sink that racks up ground balls. His best off-speed is a mid-80s slider that he lands both in and outside of the zone, backed up by a solid curve (74-to-76 mph) and changeup (84-to-85 mph). Especially given the Rays’ willingness to explore creative pitching options, Lawson seems like an interesting candidate for an opener role. He profiles as a versatile swingman and could crack the big league roster in the next two years.
Curtis Taylor, RHP
The Rays acquired Taylor in a trade with Arizona for Brad Boxberger in November of 2017. The lanky righty transitioned to relief with the Rays and flourished there, reaching Double-A by season’s end and striking out 97 batters in just 78 innings, holding opponents to a paltry .184 average-against. Taylor’s fastball touches triple-digits and sits in the high-90s backed up by an average mid-80s slider. He profiles as a setup reliever and could move through the upper-minors quickly. Off the 40-Man Roster for now, he’ll get a chance to impress Tampa Bay’s brass as a non-roster invitee in big league camp.
Ian Giabut, RHP
Ceiling: 40 Risk: Moderate ETA: 2019 Role Description: Middle Relief
Ht/Wt: 6’3” / 250 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: AAA Age (as of April 1, 2019): 25y, 4m
Giabut doesn’t have much projection left at 25-years-old, but he’s appealing because of proximity and upper-minors performance. He’s coming off a dominant 2018 season at Triple-A, pitching to a 2.09 ERA and 34-percent strikeout percentage in 2018. Giabut’s fastball touches 97 mph and sits 94-to-96 mph, frequently mixing a 87-to-90 mph slider/cutter hybrid. He uses three pitches, showing a late-diving change to lefties. Tampa Bay added Giabut to their 40-Man Roster this November to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, clearing a pathway to middle relief innings in 2019.
Matt Krook, LHP
Krook’s plus movement and tough left-handed angle have allowed him to rack up gaudy strikeout numbers as a pro, though terrible walk rates have limited his overall success. He switched to the ‘pen last season and fits better there long-term. The Rays sent Krook to Fall League this year, and his struggles there mirrored those of the regular season. He could pitch as a middle reliever with any improvement to his control and command, but that’s far from guaranteed.
(#14) Nick Schnell, OF
Schnell capitalized on late helium leading up to last year’s draft, going 32nd overall to the Rays after raising his stock considerably in the spring. His tall, lean frame and sweet left-handed stroke elicit comparisons to Christian Yelich and Kyle Tucker at the same age, though he isn’t nearly as polished as a hitter as those two. A cold-weather player, Schnell’s bat likely will take time to develop as he acclimates to pro-level pitching. He is fast and athletic enough to profile in CF despite being fairly tall for the position, with more than enough arm for RF if he moves off the position. There’s considerable risk with this type of prospect, but Schnell’s upside is significant if it all comes together. He’s likely ticketed for Extended Spring Training before a heading to a short-season affiliate.
(#15) Shane McClanahan, LHP
McClanahan’s plus stuff from the left-hand side had some teams considering him within the first ten picks of the draft in 2018. Rocky performances last spring slid him to #31 overall, where the Rays were happy to land such a high-upside arm. His fastball reaches the high-90s, backed up by a hard slurvy breaking ball and changeup that both flash above-average action at their best. The problem is his control, as McClanahan often loses the zone and might always be plagued by walks. Realistically, he’s a future ‘pen arm with the stuff to profile in high-leverage innings. We aren’t closing the door on McClanahan as a starter, but he’ll have to turn a corner to avoid moving to relief.
Moises Gomez, OF
Ceiling: 50 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2021 Role Description: Everyday Player
Ht/Wt: 5’11” / 200 lbs. B/T:R/R Highest Level: A Age (as of April 1, 2019): 20y, 7m
Gomez has muscled up significantly since turning pro, growing into more power but moving down the defensive spectrum. He had a breakout 2018 season in the Midwest League, slashing .280/.328/.503 with 19 home runs. Gomez has plus raw and it shows up in games, though his swing is more strong than quick and struggles to barrel up soft stuff at times. It’s a risky profile because of the pressure to hit on a corner, but Gomez could finish an everyday regular in LF.
Josh Lowe, OF
The Rays’ first-rounder in 2016, Lowe has moved steadily through the system and spent all of 2018 in the Florida State League. A mobile 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, he’s able to swipe bases and currently lines up in CF. His size gives above-average raw from the left side, though Lowe has struggled to fully tap into that power in games. His swing is fairly stiff and is long to the inside part of the plate and has problems barreling off-speed stuff. Lowe is athletic for his size but likely can’t stick in CF, projecting to be an above-average defender on an outfield corner. He has shown consistent platoon splits across two pro seasons, and he’ll need to hit lefties better in order to play everyday once he moves away from a center-diamond position. Despite some bumps in the road, Lowe will only be 21 next year and has the raw tools of a FV 50 prospect. Even so, his stock is definitely trending down and he’ll have to improve in a number of areas to reach his ceiling.
Resly Linares, LHP
Ceiling: 50 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2021 Role Description: League Average Starter (#4/#5 SP)
Ht/Wt: 6’2” / 170 lbs. B/T: L/L Highest Level: A Age (as of April 1, 2019): 21y, 3m
Linares is an athletic lefty with plenty of projection remaining in a wiry 6-foot-2 frame. Despite being rail thin, his quick arm generates mid-90s velocity with late life from a deceptive release point. Linares’ best pitch is a sweepy curveball with plus shape and late slant action. He works mostly with those two offerings, still needing to refine his changeup in order to work with a true three-pitch mix. Linares’ control is ahead of his command within the zone, though his track record of preventing walks suggests there’s long-term ability to remain in the rotation.
Taylor Walls, SS/UTL
Walls was a polished underslot college sign out of Florida State, selected by the Rays in 2017’s third round. He’s coming off an excellent first full pro season, slashing .304/.393/.428 last year and being named an all-star in the Midwest League. Walls is high-floor prospect with more fundamentals than loud raw tools. He’s a patient switch-hitter who makes lots of contact from both sides of the plate, able to work counts and draw walks. Defensively, Walls is playable at shortstop and finishes routine plays well, though the lack of truly plus range or arm-strength could make him a utility type up the ladder. We see him fitting fairly safely as a role player who brings valuable versatility and an well-rounded set of tools.
Tobias Myers, RHP
Ceiling: 50 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2021 Role Description: League Average Starter (#4/#5 SP)
Ht/Wt: 6’0” / 195 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: A Age (as of April 1, 2019): 20y, 7m
Myers was young for the 2016 high school class, so he’ll be just 20-years-old until August of next season. Originally a sixth-round pick by the Orioles, Tampa Bay traded Tim Beckham for Myers in a one-for-one swap in July of 2017. Myers is coming off a solid Class A debut, having pitched to a respectable 3.71 ERA over 23 appearances in the Midwest League. His fastball works 90-to-94 mph range, backed up by a solid-average curve and workable change. The risk with young pitching prospects needs to be mentioned, though Tampa Bay has down well in this demographic recently. Myers has the makings of a back-rotation starter if it all comes together.
Michael Mercado, RHP
Hailing from the prep ranks, Mercado was the Rays’ third-rounder in 2017. There’s plenty of room to add strength across an extra-lanky 6-foot-4 frame. Mercado repeats a clean delivery well enough to keep three pitches around the zone, all of which could progress as he develops. His fastball works in the 90-to-94 mph range and projects to scrape a tick higher at maturity. Both a curveball and changeup flash average and show potential for a full three-pitch mix. Mercado is overshadowed by other arms in a deep Tampa Bay system but could push himself into the spotlight with a strong full-season debut.
Drew Strotman, RHP
Ceiling: 45 Risk: High ETA: 2022 Role Description: Swingman
Ht/Wt: 6’3” / 195 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: A Age (as of April 1, 2019): 22y, 6m
Strotman was the Rays’ fourth-rounder in 2017 from St. Mary’s (CA), where he pitched mostly from the ‘pen. Tampa Bay liked his starter ingredients and tried to stretch him out in the rotation after signing. Strotman was in the middle of a promising full-season debut in the Midwest League when he went down with an elbow injury, eventually requiring Tommy John surgery. He will likely be sidelined for the entire 2019 campaign. When healthy, the hard-throwing righty works a running fastball up to 97 mph and sits in the 92-to-94 mph range. His slider projects to be at least an average future pitch, and it’s backed up by a developing curveball and changeup. He’s the type of pitcher who could fit in either a rotation or bullpen role. We have Strotman graded in the FV 45 tier for now, knowing there’s some potential to be more than that if he comes back from injury looking like a genuine future starting option.
Austin Franklin, RHP
Ceiling: 45 Risk: High ETA: 2022 Role Description: Swingman
Ht/Wt: 6’3” / 195 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: A Age (as of April 1, 2019): 21y, 5m
The Rays’ third-rounder in 2016 was chugging along through his first year in full-season ball before hitting the DL in July. Franklin didn’t get back into an official game after the injury, and he’ll miss all of next season coming back from Tommy John surgery. He’s a well-proportioned 6-foot-3 with developing strength throughout an ideal pitcher’s frame. The fastball sits in the low-90s with average run, working with more control than true in-zone command at this point. Franklin’s mid-70s curve is the better of two off-speed pitches, as his 84-to-86 mph changeup still needs work.
Tristan Gray, 2B
Gray was a 13th round pick by the Pirates in 2017, traded to Tampa Bay in February of 2018 after making the New York-Penn League all-star team in his pro debut. The Rays’ prospect depth caused him to skip over Low-A entirely, assigned straight to High-A Charlotte to compete against more advanced competition last season. Gray’s 13 home runs and .180 ISO were impressive considering his defensive profile and the pitcher-friendly nature of Florida State League parks. He can move all around the infield, likely profiling best at 2B for long stretches. His left-handed pop and defensive versatility give Gray the ceiling of a useful role player.
Tyler Frank, 2B
Frank doesn’t blow out the scouting card, but his combination of average defensive tools and chance to hit for average and solid doubles totals keep make him a worthwhile prospect follow and potential low-end regular for the Rays down the line. Frank already shows an advanced approach at the plate and while he’s not a huge power threat he can sting the ball enough to keep pitchers honest and draw his share of free passes. He’ll likely start 2019 with Low-A Bowling Green and could move quickly provided his ascension isn’t stalled by the middle-infield depth ahead of him.
Luis Moncada, LHP
Moncada is a fast-rising sleeper in Tampa’s deep farm system, having seen his fastball jump to 91-to-94 mph during instructs after working in the high-80s in the Appy League last summer. He’s much larger than a 6-foot-1 and 150-pound listing indicates, throwing easy strikes from a low-effort delivery with advanced feel to spin a breaking ball. Moncada needs to develop his changeup, currently an overthrown pitch in the mid-80s that runs into his fastball. There’s plenty of risk given his age and proximity, but Moncada’s mechanics, stuff, and projection bring plenty to the table.
Osmy Gregorio, SS/INF
The Rays acquired the athletic Gregorio from Seattle before the 2018 season in a small trade. The 20-year-old spent last year in the Appy League, ceding shortstop to top prospect Wander Franco but looking capable of profiling at the position himself. Gregorio has an above-average arm and excellent footwork, showing a lightning quick first step that looks the part at a center-diamond position. At the plate, his loose and balanced cut projects to grow into more hitting ability and could grow into some sneaky power. Gregorio is a longshot prospect that’s basically a lotto ticket at this point, though he could be a low-end regular at short or solid role player elsewhere in the infield. Short of that, Gregorio’s versatility still gives him a chance to fill a utility role.
Jelfry Marte, SS
Ceiling: 45 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2023 Role Description: Role Player
Ht/Wt: 5’10” / 140 lbs. B/T: S/R Highest Level: R Age (as of April 1, 2019): 18y, 0m
Marte was one of the highest-paid J2 prospects in the 2017 international period, initially agreeing to a $3 million bonus with Minnesota. The deal was voided when concerns about his vison arose after the medical, allowing the Rays to sign him for $820K a few months later. Marte is extremely polished with game-ready offensive skills, able to hold his own in the GCL as a 17-year-old last summer. He’s a throwback shortstop, carrying a glove-first profile and plenty of speed while focusing on contact at the plate. He’s not afraid to lay down a bunt and runs well enough put pressure on the defense. The switch-hitter is more advanced from the left side, where he shows more batspeed and makes harder overall contact. Marte earns plus grades for his glovework and range, finishing plays at short with easy, coordinated actions. There’s a chance he finishes a defensive-minded regular if he can get stronger and hit enough for an everyday role.
Garrett Whitley, OF
Ceiling: 45 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2022 Role Description: Role Player
Ht/Wt: 6’1” / 195 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: A Age (as of April 1, 2019): 22y, 0m
Whitley was the Rays’ first-rounder in 2015 from the Northeast prep ranks, a toolsy cold-weather bat seen as a development project at the time. That has been just what Whitley has turned out to be, struggling badly offensively through Rookie-ball and Class A. He started to put things together at the end of 2017 but tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder prior to last year, an injury that wiped out his entire 2018 campaign.
Tanner Dodson, RHP/OF
The Rays’ handling of Brendan McKay shows they’re not shy about experiments with two-way players, and Dodson—the team’s second-rounder in 2018—could be their next exercise. Dodson was a CF and closer in college, though we prefer him much more on the mound. He’s raw as a pitcher but touches as high as 98 mph with his fastball, sitting in the 94-to-96 mph range with heavy run. Everything else is crude at this point, so aside from noting the arm-strength and athleticism, Dodson is fairly tough to bin as a prospect right now.
Miguel Lara, RHP
Lara is a lottery ticket prospect low in the system, an arm-strength starter with interesting tools to convert to a ‘pen role. His smaller frame and high-octane approach fit better in relief. The fastball touches 97 mph even as a starter, so it’s likely Lara could pitch in the high-90s more regularly airing it out over shorter stints. His slider and split-like change flash sharp action, giving hope he could finish a three-pitch reliever able to match up against both righties and lefties.
Taj Bradley, RHP
Ceiling: 45 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2023 Role Description: Swingman
Ht/Wt: 6’2” / 190 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: R Age (as of April 1, 2019): 18y, 0m
Bradley was the Rays fifth-rounder in 2018 but would be young even for the 2019 high school class, still just 17-years-old until March. His 6-foot-2 and 190-pound frame is fairly mature, though he’s already fairly physical and doesn’t have the look of a future durability concern. Bradley has a clean delivery and keeps three pitches around the zone, all of which project to take a step forward in time. His fastball sits in the high-80s and scrapes 92 mph at best, backed up by a shapely mid-70s curve and developing changeup. Bradley will likely start next season in Extended Spring Training and report to either of the Rays’ short-season affiliates in June.
Easton McGee, RHP
Ceiling: 45 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2021 Role Description: Swingman
Ht/Wt: 6’6” / 205 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: SS-A Age (as of April 1, 2019): 21y, 3m
McGee is a max-projection type that still requires some dreaming. He’s still adding strength to a lanky 6-foot-6 frame, giving hope that his stuff can take a step forward across the board. All of McGee’s three pitches grade as fringe right now, but he’s able to throw everything for strikes from a relatively clean delivery. He’s an interesting sleeper low in the system but will need to miss more bats.
Nick Sprengel, LHP
Sprengel had a sharp pro debut after going to the Rays in the 18th round last year. The lefty pitched to a 1.31 ERA in 17 relief outings between two levels, holding opposing batters to a .208 average-against. He creates a tough angle to same-side hitters and has the tools to be an effective matchup specialist. Sprengel’s fastball works at 91-to-94 mph from a slingy low arm-slot, backed up by a deceptive slider that shows late off the heater.
Joel Peguero, RHP
Ceiling: 40 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2022 Role Description: Middle Relief
Ht/Wt: 5’11” / 160 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: R Age (as of April 1, 2019): 21y, 10m
Peguero is an undersized righty with a big arm who has yet to see any sort of statistical success. He’s soon to turn 22-years-old and is yet to pitch in full-season ball. His fastball touches the high-90s with plus movement, though poor off-speed and control hold back the profile. The velocity makes him worth a mention, but there’s a ways to go before is a legitimate prospect.
Adrian Rondon, 3B
Ceiling: 40 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2022 Role Description: Bench Player
Ht/Wt: 6’1” / 190 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: A Age (as of April 1, 2019): 20y, 8m
Rondon was one of the top prospects in 2014’s J2 class, signing for just under $3 million with the Rays as a 16-year-old. He showed flashes of brilliance early in his pro career but has yet to put everything together, really struggling the last two seasons in the Midwest League. The trajectory is different than what Tampa would have hoped, but it’s worth noting Rondon is still just 20-years-old and has time to turn a corner. He’s in somewhat of a make-or-break situation, at risk of fully falling off the prospect radar unless he can get over the hump in full-season ball.
Jhonleider Salinas, RHP
Ceiling: 40 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2021 Role Description: Middle Relief
Ht/Wt: 6’7” / 215 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: A Age (as of April 1, 2019): 23y, 6m
Salinas’ size and stuff make him interesting, but he’s basically a lotto ticket right now and has a ways to go before truly being considered a prospect. Standing 6-foot-7 with equally imposing velocity, his fastball touches the high-90s with heavy run and steep downhill angle. Neither a slider or curve grades as average and he’s mostly a thrower at this point. Salinas’ best-case ceiling is a ‘pen arm, but he’ll need more than just a fastball to get there.
Wilson Garcia, RHP
Ceiling: 40 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2022 Role Description: Middle Relief
Ht/Wt: 6’3” / 205 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: R Age (as of April 1, 2019): 22y, 5m
Garcia was limited to just one appearance in the Appy League last year, but showed promising arm-strength in 2017. He’s a longshot ‘pen prospect with interesting raw stuff, starting with a fastball that reaches the high-90s with above-average run. Garcia’s 85-to-87 mph slider flashed tight bite before the injury. He will be 22-years-old next year, so it’s important a fully healthy Garcia reaches full-season ball for the first time in his career in 2019.
Simon Rosenblum-Larson, RHP
Rosenblum-Larson was the Rays’ 19th round pick in last year’s draft from Harvard. He carved hitters across two levels in an excellent pro debut, reaching full-season ball by the end of the year. He’s a longshot middle relief prospect with a low-90s fastball and sharp slider from a deceptive delivery.