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Tampa Bay Rays

Original Published Date: December 4, 2015

The Rays outperformed their expectations again this year when they went 80-82 and were in the mix for the playoffs for most of the season.  They’re scrappy and get performances out of players like Kevin Keirmaier that nobody saw coming.

Their minor league system is similar.  Outside of Blake Snell, they are not stacked with elite talent, but they have 15 to 20 major future leaguers in the system with several of them getting close to contributing at the big league level.  First is the aforementioned Blake Snell.  Snell was arguably the best pitcher in the minor leagues in 2015 and that performance has made him a Top 25 prospect in the game.  Just behind him are Taylor Guerrieri and Brent Honeywell, two excellent prospects with a chance to be solid mid-rotation if not more starters in the big leagues.

2015 first round draft pick, Garrett Whitley is the Rays top positional prospect with Willy Adames and Casey Gillaspie right behind him.  All three have ceilings of regular everyday players with a chance to see Tampa in 2017.

1. Blake Snell (LHP)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: #2 starter
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 180 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2016
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 A+AA, AAA 134.0 84 21 7 3.56 10.95 1.41 1.02

What a season for Blake Snell!  He was flat out the best pitcher in the minor leagues in 2016, putting up video games numbers for most of the season.  In fact, his 46 innings to start the season, where he did not allow an earned run while striking out 71 was something that will likely not be duplicated for quite some time.

The Rays drafted Snell in the supplemental first round of the 2011 draft where they selected 10 of the first 60 players.  Until the breakout performance from Snell, that golden opportunity was looking like a total bust.  However, if Snell can develop into a number two starter, they will have at least salvage something from the draft.  I say salvage as the 2011 draft was the deepest in recent memory; and you’ve got to get more than a number two starter out of that opportunity.

With nine Triple-A starts under his belt, Snell should see Tampa by mid-June 2016.  It could be sooner, but it would take a Chris Archer team friendly deal to make that work.  However, Archer did not sign his deal until he had proven himself in the big leagues.

Scouting Report:  What elevated Snell’s game in 2015 was his pitch sequencing and how he approached his starts.  He’s a tireless worker between starts, studying hitter’s tendency in order to prepare a game plan.  While that might be the norm in the major leagues, it’s not in the minors.  Through better sequencing of his pitches, the stuff played up.  His strikeout rate went up and his walk rate went down.  That’s not to say that his stuff is average, it’s not.  It’s very good, but it’s not the arsenal of a number one.

Snell has an excellent three pitch mix with a fastball that sits 90 to 92 MPH, a slider that is really tough on lefties and a change-up that might now be his best pitch.  He still struggles to throw all of his pitches for strikes.  His mechanics are solid, he just loses his release point at times and walks follow.  His control has improved year-over-year, and with more repetition, should continue to improve.

Fantasy Impact:  Snell is a Top 25 prospect and should be on all Dynasty League rosters.  He should also be on all re-draft league rosters as he should get 15 to 18 starts in Tampa next year.  He’s not an ace but has a chance to be a solid number two starter; a top 30 pitcher in all of baseball.

2. Taylor Guerrieri (RHP)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: #2 starter
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 195 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2017
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 A+AA 78.0 65 16 2 2.19 8.31 1.85 1.08

After missing large chunks of the 2013 and 2014 season, Taylor Guerrieri  pitched 78 innings across High and Double-A and looks fully recovered from Tommy John Reconstructive Surgery.  The Rays did restrict his workload, limiting him to no more than five innings per outing; and even more so early in the season.

He responded well to the program, posting a 1.85 ERA in 18 starts; striking out over eight per nine and demonstrating plus control.  The most encouraging aspect is that he’s now tasted Double-A and while the Rays will likely start him back at that level, assuming he stays healthy, he could see Tampa in 2017.

Scouting Report:  Guerrieri has a premium arsenal that plays up for two very important reasons.

  1. He can throw all of his pitches for strikes.
  2. He lives in the lower part of the zone. In his 78 innings, he had a 4.22 to 1 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio.   That’s impressive and should help him keep his home run rate in check and in general keep him out of harm’s way.

Guerrieri also has really good stuff.  His fastball sits 91 to 93 MPH but can hit the mid-90’s when he needs something extra.  While that is only above-average fastball velocity, because of the tremendous sink he gets on the pitch, it’s easily a plus offering.  His best off speed pitch is his curve ball.  It’s an upper 70’s offering with great shape and deception and gets a ton of swing and miss.  It’s also a plus offering.  The change-up has improved but is behind the other two pitches.

Fantasy Impact:  Many fantasy owners have forgotten about Guerrieri and now might be the last time to make a play for him.  The upside is a number two starter with eight strikeouts per nine with a very low ERA.  His WHIP might be slightly elevated because of his sinker but that should be neutralized by his outstanding control.

3. Brent Honeywell (RHP)

2016 Age: 21 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 180 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2017
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 A,A+ 130.1 110 46 5 1.86 8.91 3.18 1.05

Graduating from our 2015 Emerging Prospect, Brent Honeywell has made it all the way to the number three on this list.  He had an impressive season where he split his time equally between Low and High-A.  In 34 starts, he posted a 3.18 ERA while striking out nearly a batter an inning and walking only 27.

The Rays will likely start Honeywell back in the Florida State League to begin the 2016 season.  He does rely a lot on his signature screwball pitch when he needs a strikeout, but the Rays want him to work on his other pitches to ensure he has success in the upper levels of the minor leagues.

Scouting Report:  As Honeywell has put on weight, his fastball has been ticking upwards.  It’s now sitting 91 to 94 MPH and touching 95.  His best secondary pitch is the aforementioned screwball.  It’s a great pitch, enhanced by the fact that nobody throws it and therefore, players just don’t see it that often.  He also throws a curve ball but it’s just not a quality pitch yet.  It needs work and what will likely require him to return to High-A.

His pitching mechanics are free and easy to the plate.  He has good balance but does not get a ton of extension to the plate – almost short arming his pitches.  He easily repeats his delivery, partially because there is so little effort.

Fantasy Impact:  Honeywell is now a Top 100 prospect and should be rostered in all Dynasty Leagues.  He’s likely two to three years away from making his big league debut but when he does, he could have instant success.  Players will not pick-up his screwball, which should result in a ton of strikeouts.   The league will ultimately figure him out and long-term, he should settle into a sold number three starter.

4. Garrett Whitley (OF)

2016 Age: 19 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 6-0 Weight: 200 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2018-19
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2015 R,SS 138 15 3 17 8 .174 .293 73.2 12.8 .210

The 2015 draft was largely considered a weak draft with few potential impact talents.  One player that intrigued me from the beginning was Garrett Whitley.  Based on what I saw in a couple of showcases last summer, I thought Whitley would be one of the top high school players taken in the draft.  In fact, there was talk that Arizona was considering him as the number one overall pick.  Eventually the Rays snagged him with the 13th overall pick, paying him a $2.95 million dollar signing bonus.

With all that buildup, Whitley struggled in his first exposure to professional baseball.  In 42 games in the GCL and the New York Penn League, he batted .174 with three home runs and eight stolen bases.  He did show a good understanding of the strike zone, walking 21 times.

Scouting Report:  At 6-foot and 200 pounds (I think he’s taller), Whitley is a well-built premium athlete.  He has excellent bat speed and enough physicality to project him to have at least future average power.  He’s also a plus runner and while that could diminish as he fills out, he should easily be able to steal 20 bases annually early in his career.

The hit tool is very raw.  He does show an understanding of the strike zone and the Rays were encouraged enough in what they saw in the GCL, that they moved him up to the New York Penn League for the last two weeks of the season.  He didn’t play particularly well, but all the tools are there for him to develop at least an average hit tool.

I was intentional and deliberate in using words like “raw”, “future”, and “could” to describe Whitley.  He has all the tools to be a first division baseball player but he’s a long way off.  In the Rays organization, that means he could take four to five years to see Tampa.  Plus, he was on the younger side in draft, so there’s no reason to rush him.

Fantasy Impact:  Whitley is an interesting play in a Dynasty League.  With his big league debut estimated to be 2019 or even later, owners need to consider that when drafting him.  If you have a deep bench and are a patient owner, he should be a top 20 pick in a Dynasty re-draft.  If that’s not you, then you should let him go and draft a higher floor college player that can help you team in the next couple of years.  If you do that, just know that Whitley could develop into a Top 20 fantasy outfielder.

5. Casey Gillaspie (1B)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: Solid Reg
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 230 Bats: Both Throws: Right ETA: 2017
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2015 R,A,A+ 281 40 17 48 4 .253 .334 80.8 10.0 .254

In the 2014 draft, the Rays selected collegian Casey Gillaspie with the 20th pick in the first round.  As an advanced bat, the plan was to have Gillaspie play half the season in Low-A before promoting him to the Florida State League.  Unfortunately a broken finger caused him to miss six weeks, limiting his time in High-A.  To make up for lost time, the Rays sent him to the Arizona Fall League to get extra bats.

The move should allow Gillaspie to start the season in Double-A in 2016 with a chance to see Tampa in 2017.  If it all goes according to plan, which it rarely does, he will succeed James Loney at first, who is only signed through next year.

Scouting Report:  I’ve been higher on Gillaspie than most.  Sure, he’s a first base only prospect and therefore he’ll have to hit to see the big leagues, but I’m convinced he will.  He has plus raw power that has translated well to professional ball.  In 64 games in the Midwest League, he slugged 16 home runs.  While critics will say that he was too advanced for the league, the fact is he performed well.

As a switch hitter, he looks better from the left side.  However, the power plays well on either side with a shorter swing than you would expect from a 6-foot-4 player.  He doesn’t have elite bat speed, but has enough to combine with country raw power to project 25 plus home runs annually.  It’s also not all pull-side power.  This is becoming increasing important in the modern game as teams will not be able to rely on the defensive shift to contain him.

He also controls the strike zone well and should be able to post a contact rate of 80% and a walk rate of 10%.  That should allow him to have a batting average of .270 to .280.  He’s a well below average runner, so stolen bases will not be part of the equation.

Fantasy Impact: The ceiling for Gillaspie is a middle of the order hitter with 25 home run upside, batting .270 with a .340 on-base percentage.  In today’s fantasy game, that will play very well.  Others will downshift on him because he’s a first baseman.  While I get it from a baseball perspective, we care less about defensive from the fantasy game.

6. Willy Adames (SS)

2016 Age: 20 Ceiling: Solid Reg
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 180 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2017
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2015 A+ 396 51 4 46 10 .258 .341 68.9 11.8 .356

Our site might be the only one with Casey Gillaspie higher than Willy Adames.  While we could be proven wrong, we believe the upside potential is higher for Gillaspie than Adames; particularly from a fantasy standpoint.  Looking strictly through a baseball lens, you can argue that because Adames plays a premium defensive position, he has to be the better prospect.  Even there, it wouldn’t be by much.

Adames came into national prominence when he was the lead player in the deadline deal for David Price in 2014, at least that’s what then Ray GM Alex Friedman led us to believe.  He had a fine year in the Florida State League last year, slashing .258/.342/.379 in 106 games.  He also continued to play exceptional defense, although he did committed 23 errors in 442 chances.

Assuming Adames stays healthy, he should start 2016 at Double-A with a chance to see Tampa sometime in 2017.  The ceiling is a premium defender who can hit with limited secondary skills.

Scouting Report: Adames is your prototypical shortstop.  He has a great arm, moves well and makes all the simply plays.  He also has enough athleticism to regularly make highlight reels.  As a hitter, he has a solid hit tool with plenty of bat speed.  He controls the strike zone well but can be fooled by breaking stuff.  His 69% contact rate shows that there is still work left to do with his swing.  While some predict a .270 batting average, I see a .250 to .260 hitter.

While he does have good bat speed, his swing is more geared for line drive power than over-the-fence power.  Once source told me that he had a 30% chance to develop average power (15-18), but I just don’t see it.  I think he’s more likely an 8 to 12 home run threat.  He’s an average runner and should be good for 10 to 15 stolen bases.

Fantasy Impact:  We have placed the ceiling for Adames at a .260 hitter with 12 home runs and 15 stolen bases.  That’s a very good fantasy player, a likely first division fantasy player (Top 15 in the league).  He’s a top 100 prospect with a chance to see Tampa in 2017.

7. Jacob Faria (RHP)

2016 Age: 22 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 200 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2017
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 A+,AA 149.2 103 32 6 3.13 9.56 1.92 1.04

They Rays take their time with prospects…most of the time.  There are always exceptions to rules and it looks like Jacob Faria is bucking the trend.  As a 21-year-old, Faria was the youngest Rays pitcher in Montgomery, their Southern League affiliate.  The best news is that he deserved the promotion.  In 74.1 innings in the Florida State League, he went 10-1 with a 1.33 ERA while striking out 7.6 per nine and walking 2.6 per nine.

Once he was in Double-A, he didn’t miss a beat.  In 75.1 innings, he posted a 2.51 ERA and struck out an impressive 11.5 batters per name and despite being a fly ball pitcher (0.91 G/F), only gave up six home runs across his 149.2 innings for the year.

Scouting Report:  Faria is primarily a fastball/change-up pitcher.  His fastball sits 92 to 94 MPH (T95) with enough downward plane that batters do not make solid contact.  While he also throws a two-seamer, he doesn’t get it down in the zone well, which is why he gives up a lot of fly balls.  His change-up is a plus current offering, thrown from the same arm slot as his fastball, where he’s able to get swings and misses from both righties and lefties.  His curve ball is still emerging but unlike his change-up, the arm slot is not the same and batters are picking it up better than his other two pitches.

While in general you like to see pitchers induce ground balls, flyballs pitchers can also be effective.  Dan Haren has never induced many ground balls as has Rays pitcher Jake Odorizzi.  While we can get into an apples and orange discussion as Haren has a plus cutter and Odorizzi a plus splitter, I can argue that Faria has a plus change-up.  The bottom line is it can work and his low home run rate is an encouraging sign.

Fantasy Impact:  Jacob Faria is so far under-the-radar that he is not even in most of the larger fantasy sites database.  The ceilings is a 3/4 starting pitcher, but with upside as the Rays have a history of developing pitchers.  He should be owned in all Dynasty Leagues that roster 200 or less minor leaguers.

8. Daniel Robertson (SS)

2016 Age: 22 Ceiling: Solid Reg
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 205 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016-17
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2015 R,AA 307 51 4 41 3 .270 .365 80.5 10.0 .320

Daniel Robertson made his way to Tampa from Oakland as part of the Ben Zobrist deal last January.  It was an interesting deal as Zobrist was going to get dealt from both teams and Tampa elected to sell him before the season and the A’s decided to wait until the trade deadline.  Who got the better deal?  The January deal yielded Robertson and the July deal yielded Sean Manaea.  They are similar level prospects and all things equal, I’ll take the bat every time.

Robertson has a plus hit tool and showed that in the Southern League where he posted a .274/.363/.415 slash line in 78 games.  His season was interrupted when he broke his hamate bone on June 3rd and didn’t return to game action until late July.  As is typical with hand injuries, Robertson’s showed little power when he returned and that will likely continue through the first part of next season.

Scouting Report:  Robertson’s carrying tool is his swing mechanics and approach at the plate.  He makes excellent contact with an 81% career contact rate while walking 10% of the time.  That formula is usually a recipe for a .280 plus batting average; which Robertson has proven (.283 in 370 minor league games).  What he lacks are secondary skills.  He has good bat speed but his high water mark in home runs was 15, which he did in California League.  He’s also a below average runner.

Defensively, Robertson is an average defender at short with some whispers that he might eventually be moved to second, third, or even a corner outfield position.  That said, the Rays seem confident that he can stay at short and if so, he could slide into the starting lineup sometime in 2017.

Fantasy Impact:  I don’t see Robertson as an impact fantasy contributor.  While he should hit .280 to .290 annually with some BABIP induced .300 seasons, the power ceiling is 10 to 12 home runs with little stolen bases.  That feels a lot like Yunel Escobar, who is rosterable as a middle infielder in deeper mixed leagues.

9. Richie Shaffer (3B)

2016 Age: 25 Ceiling: 2nd Div
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 220 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2015 AA,AAA 393 64 26 72 4 .267 .357 68.7 11.8 .317

I saw Richie Shaffer play in the Arizona Fall league in 2013 and concluded that he would be a major leaguer, but didn’t think he had the upside to be an everyday player.  After seeing him in his major league debut, I’m torn.  While my gut still thinks he’s an extra bat, the power is real and the approach has improved enough that he could get regular playing time at the highest level.  However, with Evan Longoria signed through 2020 to a very team-friendly contract, Shaffer will likely need to move to first in order to see playing time.  The problem with that scenario is that Casey Gillaspie is moving quickly and I believe in his bat more.

Scouting Report:  Shaffer’s carrying tool is his plus power that he generates from both raw strength and good bat speed.  At 6-foot-3, the swing can get long, resulting in a lot of strikeouts.  In 457 plate appearances across Double and Triple-A last year, he had a 27% strikeout rate.  The pattern got worse in his big league debut, although it was a very small sample size.

Shaffer does have good strike zone awareness and has always walked 10% of the time.  Even with that walk rate, the 27% to 30% strikeout rate will be such a drag on his batting average that it’s unlikely his on-base percentage pushes above .300.  That ratio will be the teetering point for Shaffer on whether he’s an extra bat or a regular in the big leagues.

Fantasy Impact:  The floor for Shaffer is 20 home runs with a low .200 batting average.  If that happens, he will be an extra bat.  If he can cut down on his strikeouts or even improve his walk rate, he could have a Chris Carter type of career; maybe with a few less strikeouts.

10. Jake Bauers (1B)

2016 Age: 20 Ceiling: Solid Reg
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 195 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2017
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2015 A+,AA 474 69 11 74 8 .272 .342 84.4 9.4 .299

Jake Bauers is yet another first base prospect for the Rays.  He doesn’t have the power of either Gillaspie or Shaffer, but he has the superior hit tool.  In June of 2014, I wrote an article that highlighted “Young kids that can really hit”.  Bauers was one of the players I profiled, comparing him to James Loney.  I continue to stand by that comparison.

Scouting Report:  Bauers does all the things at the plate that you are taught from an early age – a quiet setup, level swing, and staying back on the ball.  All of it works together, making Bauers one of the best pure hitters in the minor leagues.  While he only has a .283 career batting average, he has the kind of contact and approach that could push that batting average north by 20 to 30 points.  The criticism is that he doesn’t sell out for power and therefore, averages 8 to 12 home runs per year.  That would be great at shortstop, but at first base, it’s going to be a problem.

So what is the future of Jake Bauers?   James Loney has been able to carve out a career but Daric Barton was not.  Where will Bauer fall in the light hitting first baseman spectrum.  I’m honestly not sure.  He’ll have to find a team who values on-base percentage and solid first base play.  Oh wait, that’s the Rays…

Fantasy Impact:  Anybody that can hit should be on fantasy owner’s radar.  However, you can’t roster a first baseman with below average power.  It’s for that reason, I can’t recommend Bauers for a fantasy team.  But sometimes profiles change and if Bauers adds some leverage, who knows…he could develop more power.  If he does, the calculus changes.

2016 Emerging Prospect

Adrian Rondon (SS)

The Rays went all-in on Adrian Rondon in 2014, signing the 16-year-old to a $2.95 signing bonus on his birthday.  He has all the tools to be a special player including premium bat speed and a mature approach at the plate.  However, he’s really young and if you own him in a fantasy league, you need to ignore the stat lines and hope that the tools will develop over the next few years.  He’ll likely be back in the Complex League next year and might not make it to a full season assignment until 2018.  Add it all up and he might not make his big league debut until 2021 or later.  Talk about prospect fatigue…

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