Tampa Bay Rays

Original Published Date: December 5, 2014

The Tampa Bay Rays system is odd. While it lacks a lot of true impact talent, void of any Top 50 prospect, it’s very deep. In fact, it’s so deep that I believe every player on our Top 10 list will contribute in a meaningful way in the big leagues.

Taylor Guerrieri has the highest upside in the system; however he’s just returning from Tommy John surgery and has dropped to number two on our list. Casey Gillaspie, the Rays 2014 first round draft pick leads the list and could be a 20 to 25 home run bat at first base with the ability for a high on-base percentage given his plate patience. Like Guerrieri, Hak-Ju Lee is also returning from a serious injury (knee) and did not play well last season. If his wheels return, he could be the shortstop of the future for the Rays.

Willy Adames, one of the centerpieces in the David Price trade is an intriguing talent and might in fact pass Lee on the depth chart. Nick Ciuffo and Justin O’Conner could form a nice catching tandem in Tampa in a few years with Ciuffo being the better all-around backstop with O’Conner having a chance to be the best defensive catcher in the league.

While the Rays system lacks impact talent, it’s nonetheless a very good system.

1. Casey Gillaspie (1B)

2015 Age: 22 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 240 Bats: Both Throws: Left ETA: 2017
2014 SS 263 27 7 42 2 .262 .364 75.3 13.6 .321

While I believe Taylor Guerrieri has a higher ceiling than Casey Gillaspie, the young first baseman gets the nod as the top prospect in the Rays organization; mostly because he’s healthy.

Casey is the brother of White Sox third baseman Conor Gillaspie and while he lacks the athleticism of his older brother, he does have more size and raw power. Casey had a stellar career at Wichita State, posting a career .995 OPS with 34 home runs and an impressive 106K/154BB strikeout-to-walk ratio in 184 games. He continued to show an excellent understanding of the strike zone in his introduction to professional ball, but also struck out 65 times in 71 games.

Gillaspie has the polish and tools to move quickly through the minor leagues, but this is the Rays and therefore, it could take a while. However, it would be great to see him spend time between Low and High-A in 2015 before moving to the upper minors in 2016. Given his swing path and raw power, I think there is 20 to 25 home run power if not more with excellent on-base skills and the ability to post a .260 to .270 batting average. That’s not an elite first base profile but is much better than the Rays have had a first base in a long, long time.

Fantasy Impact: From a fantasy standpoint, it’s going to come down to power with Casey Gillaspie. While a .260 batter with 20 home runs is a nice third fantasy outfielder, that production is likely a second division first baseman on a fantasy team – probably a corner infielder in a 15-team league. However, I think there could be upside and therefore I would be adding Gillaspie in Dynasty Leagues that have 200 or more minor leaguers. If you’re wondering about his speed, he runs like a first baseman – so don’t count on any stolen bases.

2. Taylor Guerrieri (RHP)

2015 Age: 22 Ceiling: #2 starter
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 190 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2017
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2014 R 9.1 7 0 0 1.93 9.64 0.00 0.96

Taylor Guerrieri spent the majority of the 2014 season recovery from Tommy John reconstructive surgery but made his return on July 1st where he pitched 9.1 innings before the Rays shut him down at the end of July. The results were meaningless as the most important thing is that he got on the bump and pitched.

While the stuff was understandably off from what it was before the surgery, reports were very encouraging. His fastball was sitting in the low 90’s while touching 94 and 95 and his knockout curve ball was showing signs of returning. He was able to throw strikes and had surprising good control. Again, it was nine innings, but it was encouraging.

The Rays will handle Guerrieri with kid gloves in 2015; with the expectations that he will pitch about 100 innings in High-A. Assuming that goes well, he should see Double-A and possible Triple-A in 2016 before getting his chance in Tampa the following year. In other words, it’s going to be a while before we see any meaningful innings by the 6-foot-3 right-hander.

Fantasy Impact: If he returns to full health, Guerrieri has the upside of a number two starter and let’s face it, the Rays have a history of coaching their pitchers to reach that ceiling. There is clearly risk and you’ll have to be patient, but fantasy owners should expect a strikeout rate of seven to eight batters per nine with significantly better than league average ratios. He also pitches with extreme downward plane and keeps the ball down in the zone and that should only enhance his value for fantasy owners.

3. Hak-Ju Lee (SS)

2015 Age: 24 Ceiling: Solid-Reg
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 170 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2015
2014 AAA 315 36 4 23 12 .203 .287 72.7 10.4 .267

Originally signed by the Cubs in 2008 out of South Korea, Hak Ju-Lee was traded to the Rays as part of the Matt Garza deal in 2010; back when the Cubs thought they had a good team and just needed a few more pieces to win. Lee was working though the minors in “Rays time”, one level per year when he had a major injury to his knee early in the 2013 season. Finally healthy, Lee started back in Durham at the end of April, but never got things going.

In 315 at-bats, he batted .203 with a .276 slugging percentage and an 86K/37BB strikeout-to-walk ratio.   While the contact rate was a little off, Lee was just not able to square up pitches like he did prior to the injury. This was reflected in his .267 BABIP that should normalize over time, but the lack of hard hit balls is concerning.

While I did not get a chance to see Lee play in 2014, based on reports I received, the speed had also not returned. Interestingly, he stole seven of his 12 bases in May which is just the opposite of what you would have expected from a player coming back from a serious knee injury.

If Lee can return to full health, he has a chance to be a solid shortstop with the ability to wreak havoc on the basepaths. The question is will he? Candidly, I just don’t know. Knee injuries are tricky and it’s not uncommon for a person to lose a step after surgery. Since Lee’s game is so speed dependent, if he has indeed lost a step, it’s a big deal. 2015 should be an important year for the 24-year-old.

Fantasy Impact: Lee is a difficult play for a Dynasty League owner. If he returns to the promise of what he showed in 2012, he could be a Top 10 fantasy shortstop with 30 plus stolen bases and the ability to score a ton of runs hitting at the top of the lineup. If he doesn’t, he’s probably not rosterable in most fantasy leagues. If you own him, you might as well ride him until at least mid-season.

4. Willy Adames (SS)

2015 Age: 19 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 180 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2017-18
2014 A- 450 55 8 61 6 .271 .353 72.0 10.5 .358

About three people outside of the prospect community had heard of Willy Adames before July 31st. Then at 10 minutes to 4:00pm on the 31st, the Rays sent David Price to the Tigers in exchange for Drew Smyly, Nick Franklin and Adames and every “talking head” was discussing the kid.

Universally, people criticized the trade but both the Rays and Tigers indicated that Adames was a key part of the deal and not just a throw-in. While that’s easy to say when nobody had heard of the player, the question remains – “Is it true”?

While it will be debated for years to come as to whether the Rays got enough for Price, the fact is that Willy Adames is good, but I doubt he’s going to be a superstar.

Adames was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2012 for $420,000 as an athletic shortstop that gave the Tigers a lot in which to dream. He has good bat speed, soft hands and a mature approach at the plate. The bat speed gives promise of future power, but it’s probably in the 12 to 15 range as oppose to plus power. Part of the reason is that his swing is more level and lacks loft and leverage. While his approach is solid, he does swing and miss a lot (72% contact rate in 450 at-bats in Low).

Defensively, Adames has the athleticism and soft hands to stay at shortstop long term. His arm is also above average and that should only provide more incentive for the Rays to keep him at short.

The spotlight is now on Adames but if history proves anything, the Rays will not be lured into moving him quickly through the minors. Given he will play the entire 2015 season as a teenager, there is no pressing reason. Expect him to spend the entire 2015 in High-A and the entire 2016 in Double-A.

Fantasy Impact: The upside for Adames is 15 home runs, 10 stolen bases, with a .280 batting average, hitting at the top of the lineup. That’s a nice fantasy contributor but will fall short of a top 10 shortstop talent.

5. Alex Colome (RHP)

2015 Age: 26 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 210 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2014
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2014 A+,AAA 97.0 91 38 2 3.25 7.70 3.53 1.30

Alex Colome was supposed to make an impact for the Rays in 2014 and given the injuries that they had, it would have been welcomed. However, Colome tested positive for Bolderone, an anabolic steroid during spring training and was suspended for 50 games.

Once he returned, he pitched well posting a 3.53 ERA while striking out 83 and walking 35 in 97 innings. The stuff continues to be good with a fastball that sits 94-96, a hard slider that acts more like a cutter at 87-88 MPH and a change-up that is also a quality pitch. That’s three above average pitches that he is able to control fairly well. He will lose his release point periodically and that can lead to command problems.

Colome does get good plane on his pitches but he also throws his fastball and slider up in the zone and this is making him more of a fly ball pitcher. However, he’s never been homer prone and that is likely due to the movement he gets on all his pitches. He’s just tough to square up.

Assuming Colome is healthy, he should start the year in the rotation for the Rays with a chance to be a solid number three starter as he gets acclimated to the big leagues. That said, the Rays always seem to find a way to get the most out of their pitchers, so there could be some extra upside in his ceiling.

Fantasy Impact: I really like Colome in a 2015 fantasy league as an end game option. The stuff is very good and the Rays just “have a way.” You could see seven to eight strikeouts per nine with better than league average ratios.

6. Nick Ciuffo (C)

2015 Age: 23 Ceiling: Solid-Reg
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 205 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2018
2014 SS 192 25 4 20 2 .224 .289 76.6 8.1 8.1

We were bullish on Nick Ciuffo in 2014, ranking him number two overall in the Rays organization. However, we also wrote…

“The Rays will probably take a slow and grow approach with Ciuffo.  While his skill-set and draft status suggests he’ll start 2014 in full-season ball, I would not be surprised if he starts the season in the complex league.”

While Ciuffo is a long ways from Tampa, the Rays are clearly taking it very slow with their 2013 first round draft pick (pick number 21). He spent the first half of the year in the complex league before being sent to the Appy League where he posted an unimpressive .622 OPS. However, he has bat speed and the ability to barrel the ball that should eventually translate into average to above-average future power. His plate discipline is also very good and he even showed decent contactability (77% contact rate).

Ciuffo also has very good catch and throw skills, showing presence and leadership behind the plate. While he’s a grade defensively behind Justin O’Connor, the total package should make Ciuffo a starting catcher at the highest level; it’s just likely to take three to four years.

Fantasy Impact: You have to be in it for the long haul with Nick Ciuffo. I think there is the foundation for a 12 to 15 home runs, .260/.330 batting average and on-base percentage, with the ability to be an above-average defensive catcher. That’s not a star, but a solid number two catcher in a fantasy league.

7. Justin O’Conner (C)

2015 Age: 23 Ceiling: Solid-Reg
Ht: 6-0 Weight: 190 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016
2014 A+,AA 399 49 12 47 0 .278 .316 75.4 3.8 .340

I currently have Nick Ciuffo ahead of Justin O’Conner. I could be wrong.

O’Conner has been getting a ton of helium in prospects circles over the past year and therefore I was excited to see him apply his trade in the Arizona Fall League. Defensively, it’s special. It starts with his arm strength. I got him on throws to second base in 1.75 and 1.81; which would put his arm at an 80 on the 20 to 80 scouting scale. It’s no wonder that he cut down 55% of would-be base stealers across High and Double-A. He also showed nice agility behind the plate with the ability to block pitches and position himself well for properly framing pitches.

The question has been will O’Conner hit enough to be more than a defensive backup catcher? I’m candidly not sure. He’s a very aggressive hitter, only walking 15 times in 319 at-bats in High-A but also has some length to his swing and struck out 78 times. Maybe if he had speed, he could count on a high BABIP, but he’s a 30 runner. That said, he has some raw strength and a leverage swing that given 400 at-bats, he could hit 15 home runs, if not more.

If you put it all together, you have the profile of Jose Molina whom the Rays love and at 40-years-old, will not be playing much longer.

Fantasy Impact: I have O’Conner after Ciuffo because I believe that Ciuffo will be the better fantasy player. However, the Rays love defense and since O’Conner is ahead of Ciuffo, it might be his job to lose.

8. Andrew Velazquez (2B/SS)

2015 Age: 20 Ceiling: Solid-Reg
Ht: 5-8 Weight: 175 Bats: Both Throws: Right ETA: 2017
2014 A- 544 94 9 56 50 .290 .367 75.0 10.0 .369

Andrew Velazquez took a nice step forward in 2014 by shining as a teenager in the very competitive Midwest League. He slashed .290/.367/.428 while hitting nine home runs and stealing 50 of 65 base attempts.

Velazquez has a nice all-around game that starts with a very good approach at the plate. He has an excellent understanding of the strike zone (10% walk rate) and will work counts deep by fouling off pitch after pitch. His swing can get long and that led to a 75% contact rate. The length in the swing could be his attempt to add power to his game and the trade-off might in fact be worth it. That said, he doesn’t project any more than average future power.

His carrying tool is plus-plus running speed that he combines with a knack for stealing bases. His 50 stolen bases was indeed impressive and while that was done against Low-A pitchers and catchers, I think the skill will translate to 40 plus stolen bases at the major league level.

To finish the evaluation, sources gave Velazquez very high marks in the field. He’s quick enough and has the arm strength to be an adequate defender at short but could be a plus defender at second. Plus, with an organization flush with shortstops, the keystone might be the easier path to the majors.

Fantasy Impact: Velazquez was on my list of sleepers for 2015.  That changed, although slightly, when he was included in the trade for Jeremy Hellickson with the Diamondbacks.  The kid can really play and his speed should make him even more valuable for a fantasy league. A slash line of .270/.340/.400 with 8 to 12 home runs and 40 plus stolen bases hitting leadoff could be in the cards.  The trade might have cost you a round or two in your upcoming Dynasty League draft, but don’t let that deter you.  The upside still makes him a sneaky pick that is going well under-the-radar in Dynasty Leagues.

9. Mikie Mahtook (OF)

2015 Age: 25 Ceiling: 2nd Div
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 200 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015
2014 AAA 489 56 12 68 18 .292 .362 72.0 8.4 .380

Mikie Mahtook is emblematic of the Tampa Bay Rays organization. He’s a very good player, a sure fire major leaguer, but he doesn’t have the tools to be an impact player. In other words, he’s average.

In his first two professional seasons after being taken as the 31st overall player in the 2011 draft, Mahtook’s primary game was controlling the strike zone and making solid contact with a level, contact-oriented swing. However, in 2014, he became more aggressive at the plate, lengthening his swing to try to add power. The change added over 50 points to his slugging percentage but his contact rate dropped to 72% as he struck out 137 times in 489 at-bats.

Mahtook also has average speed and has always been successful in combining his speed with the ability to read pitchers to steal close to 20 bases annually. The speed does play fine in the outfield but he doesn’t have the legs or the route-running ability to play center field. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the arm strength to play right. That likely makes him a left fielder and at 12 home runs annually, that will be a problem.

Fantasy Impact: Mahtook is in the right organization to get at-bats at the major league level. He’s a sound baseball player with great baseball instincts that helps him compensate for his lack of plus tools. The offensive tools are similar to Kevin Kiermaier and he was able to get 331 at-bats in the outfield in 2014. I think an upside of 8 to 12 home runs, 20 stolen bases and a batting average of .280 is a reasonable baseline.

10. Ryan Brett (2B)

2015 Age: 23 Ceiling: 2nd Div
Ht: 5-9 Weight: 180 Bats: Both Throws: Right ETA: 2015-16
2014 AA 422 64 8 38 27 .303 .346 82.5 5.2 .350

Ryan Brett had a really good statistical season in 2014 slashing .303/.346/.448 in 422 at-bats in Double-A. His carrying tool is clearly his plus speed but he also is starting to demonstrate a little pop that should allow him to get on base enough to let his speed play.

Drafted in the third round of the 2010 draft, Brett is an aggressive hitter but has excellent plate coverage that led to an 83% contact rate in 2014. While his swing is contact-oriented, he does have enough strength and bat speed to project to hit 8 to 10 home runs once he arrives in the big leagues.

I did get a chance to see Brett play in the Arizona Fall League and what clearly stands out is his all-out approach to the game. He’s not afraid to get his jersey dirty and plays with the kind of exuberance that will endear him to fans. Assuming the Rays pick up the final $7.5 million dollar option on Ben Zobrist, this could happen as soon as 2016.

Fantasy Impact: Even with a .350 BABIP induced batting average, there is a lot to like with Brett from a fantasy standpoint. Assuming he gets full-time at-bats, which I think he will, there is 30 stolen bases there for the taking. My biggest concern is where he’ll bat in the lineup. With a 5.2% walk rate, he might in fact bat ninth and if that happens, his fantasy value will take a hit.

2015 Emerging Prospect:

Brent Honeywell (RHP)

There’s a chance that 2014 J2 signee, Adrian Rondon could be the big riser in the Rays organization in 2014, but since I’ve never seen him play and have scant report from others, I’m going to go with a slightly more traditional prospect – right-hander Brent Honeywell.

Taken as the Rays 2014 second round supplemental pick (72nd overall), Honeywell is a projectable, athletic pitcher that is just starting to grow into his body. His fastball has picked up several ticks after the Rays modified his mechanics, hitting 95 several times in the Fall Instructional League. His best secondary pitch is a screwball; yes, shades of Mike Cueller. The pitch jumps up on batters as they see it so infrequently. It has great movement and could be a real swing and miss pitch. If his curveball and change-up can improve, the Rays might really have something.


5 comments on “Tampa Bay Rays

  1. […] You can see the Rays 2015 Prospect List here. […]

  2. This was very well done and kind of exciting for the Rays. Not top heavy but seems kind of deep and improving.

  3. Hey Rich, thanks for the list! I admit, I’m surprised to not see Blake Snell on here – after being your emerging prospect last year, he had a great season and was named the Rays’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Would he rank in your Top 15, at least?

  4. […] review of the 2015 Tampa Bay Rays 10 Prospects is now […]

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