|Original Published Date: December 8, 2017|
As a small market team, the Tampa Bay Rays must have a pipeline of talent coming through the system at all times. They did in the late 2000’s but kind of lost their way at the end of the Friedman administration. That has changed under GM Erik Neander. The system is much stronger with talent that can help as soon as next year.
Brent Honeywell tops the list and is ready to contribute next year in Tampa. In fact, in most organizations, he would have already been up, but the Rays have a process and after toiling most of the year in Triple-A, Honeywell should see the majors next year…but likely after June. Willy Adames is on the same timeline and the only question is where he plays. Assuming Hechavarria continues to play short, second base is his likely position.
Selecting fourth in last June’s draft selected Branden McKay, a quality hitter, and pitcher. Will he be the first to play both positions in a century or more at the big league level? It’s doubtful, but he might have the ability to do it. Finally, the most exciting player in the system is 19-year-old outfielder Jesus Sanchez. He has a chance to hit for both power and average and is just getting started.
I’m not sure the system is good enough to bring a championship to the west coast of Florida yet, but it’s a great start. Assuming they’ve righted their player development process, they should be poised to be competitive for years to come.
Brent Honeywell (RHP)
Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP
Michael Kopech and Brent Honeywell stole the show from a pitching performance at last July’s Futures game. While Kopech was hitting 101 on the gun, Honeywell wasn’t far behind at 98 MPH but was the more polished pitcher. Based on his stat line he posted last season, Honeywell probably should have seen time in the majors. Then you realize that it’s the Rays we are dealing with and as we stated last year, it was likely not to happen.
The Rays started Honeywell back in Double-A and after two games, he was promoted to Durham where he spent the rest of the season. He showed swing and miss stuff, striking out 11 per nine with excellent control. I stopped short of saying he dominated, as he also gave up 130 hits in 123.2 innings with 11 home runs.
With little left to prove in the minor leagues, the Rays will still likely hold Honeywell back to at least late April to start the season in order to get seven years of team control. In fact, they could keep him in Triple-A until mid-June to avoid Super-2 status. I know…it’s frustrating.
Scouting Report: As Honeywell has put on weight, his fastball has been ticking upwards. It’s now sitting 93 to 95 MPH and touching 96. As we saw in the Futures game, in shorter stints, he can touch even higher. His best secondary pitch is his 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 curveball which has improved from last year.
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 one of the best pitching prospects in the game and should be drafted in all Fantasy Leagues next season. If you want to be optimistic and pencil in 25 starts because he arrives in April, by all means, do it. I’m going to pencil 16 as I believe he gets called up in June.
Willy Adames (SS)
Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 SS
If you’re reading in order and just finished the write-up on Brent Honeywell, Willy Adames major league timing calculus is the same. He spent the entire season in Triple-A slashing .277/.360/.415 but it will not be enough for him to start the year in Tampa. Part of the problem is the Rays playing the service time game but now Adeiny Hechavarria is blocking him.
The Rays did play Adames at second for a few games during the season and he could definitely see time there in Tampa. I would have felt better about that possibility if Tampa would have sent him to the Arizona Fall League. Regardless, the bat is nearly ready and in fact, the glove is right there too.
Scouting Report: Adames is just starting to tap into his potential. He has plus bat speed and enough physicality that should allow him to hit for plus in-game power. That said, the power has yet to show up but he just turned 22-years-old, so some patience needs to be exercised.
Over the last two years, he’s shown a very good ability to control the strike zone. His walk rate is over 10% and while his strikeout is 21% to 22%, it should be enough for him to have a major league career and see a couple of all-star games.
Defensively, Adames should be able to stay at short long-term. He’s very athletic with a strong arm and excellent footwork. But, Hechavarria is a better defensive player so a move to second or a trade of Hechavarria could be in the making.
Fantasy Impact: Adames is a Top 25 prospect and one of the better shortstop prospects in the game. His fantasy upside is a Top ten shortstop with 20 HR/15 SB upside with a .270 batting average and a .350 on-base percentage
Brendan McKay (1B/LHP)
Highest Level: Short Season, ETA: 2020-21, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP/Top 15 1B
With the fourth overall pick in last June’s draft, the Rays selected first baseman and left-handed pitcher Brendan McKay. The Rays announced him as a first baseman when he was selected, but it’s still not clear to me which side of the ball he plays on. I hope it will be both, but I just don’t believe in today’s game that’s possible.
McKay got his feet wet in the New York Penn League last summer and spent time both at first base and on the mound. While he only posted a .232 batting average, he showed a good understanding of the strike zone, walking 14% of the time. He did strike out too much (22%) but I don’t see that as a big problem going forward.
On the mound, he only threw 20 innings but struck out over a batter an inning while walking only five. The result was an impressive 2.25 ERA.
Scouting Report: McKay could be the best two-way player since Dave Winfield arrived on the scene in 1973. I’m not sure how good of a hoops player McKay is but Winfield was also drafted by the NBA Atlanta Hawks and the Utah Stars in the old ABA. It should be noted that Winfield was announced as a pitcher on draft day and of course wound up making it to the Hall of Fame as an outfielder. Again, while McKay was announced as a first baseman, I’m just not convinced.
Why? A left-handed pitcher that can throw in the mid-90’s with good control is extremely valuable. He has very good mechanics and repeats his delivery. As a hitter though, he was the best hitter in college last year with above-average power. The above-average power is where I pause. I don’t see a 30 home run bat and in today’s game, 20 home run production at first could be a problem.
Fantasy Impact: As a bat, I see McKay with the upside of a .270/.350 batting average/on-base percentage with 18 to 20 home runs – kind of Brandon Belt-like. As a pitcher, he could be a solid number three starter with a chance for a strikeout an inning. Regardless, he’ll be fun to own in a Dynasty League and I’m buying.
Jesus Sanchez (OF)
Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2021, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 OF
The Rays signed Dominican outfielder Jesus Sanchez in 2014 and have been moving him slowly through the development process. The extra training seems to be paying off as he had an impressive season last year in his first assignment to full-season ball.
In 117 games in Low-A, he slashed .305/.348/478 with 15 home runs and five stolen bases. As a guy with good raw power, he only struck out 18% of the time but was also very aggressive at the plate (6.3% walk rate).
Despite his terrific season, the Rays will likely take it a level-at-a-time with him, which means he will not see the major leagues until 2021. This assumes he stays healthy and has no developmental setbacks. Just so you know, that rarely happens.
Scouting Report: Sanchez moves from our 2017 Emerging prospect to become one of the more intriguing prospects in the game. He’s got plus bat speed, plus raw power, runs wells and is demonstrating the ability to make hard and consistent contact. As he has matured, the in-game power has started to develop with a chance to hit 20 to 25 home runs annually.
While his power is developing, it will likely come at the extent of reduced foot speed. He might steal 5 to 10 bases early in his career, but I don’t see much more than that.
Fantasy Impact: Last year we thought Sanchez could be a Top 100 prospect in a couple of years. He might be there now. There is 20 to 25 home run pop in his bat with the chance to hit .270. While I expect his on-base skills to improve as he matures, I don’t believe he’ll ever be a .350 plus on-base player. Net-net though, there’s alot to like to like with Sanchez with a chance for him to be an impact fantasy player.
Jake Bauers (OF/1B)
Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 OF
After being selected in the seventh round by the Padres in 2013, Jake Bauers has always demonstrated an ability to hit. In his five years of professional ball, he’s posted a .276 batting average. More impressively, he’s struck out only 16.5% of the time while walking 11.5% of the time.
What we have been waiting on is whether his power would ever develop. In 2016, he started to show a little pop in Double-A, popping 14 home runs with a .420 SLG and followed that up last year with nearly an identical stat line in Triple-A. As an outfielder, that might play, but he’s likely a first baseman and that might be where the problem lies.
Scouting Report: In reading the introduction, I think I covered Bauers scouting report as well. In summary, he has a plus hit tool with an excellent approach that should give him a chance to hit .280 to .300 annually with 100 points on top of that for his on-base percentage. He doesn’t have great bat speed but is starting to add leverage to his swing which is resulting in more home runs. If it continues and I think it will, he could hit 20 home runs annually. He only has average speed but did steal 20 of 23 bases last year.
Fantasy Impact: Bauers is going to be a significant fantasy contributor for leagues that value OBP. For points leagues that use standard scoring, his value will not be as significant. I ultimately believe he’ll spend most of his time at first base, but hopefully, as we saw with Brandon Belt, he’ll get enough games in rightfield to achieve outfield eligibility. I think he’s a classic number-two-hitter, so for leagues that value runs scored, he could also be a significant contributor. While there are qualifications, all-in-all, I think he’ll help fantasy owners.
Justin Williams (OF)
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 OF
I first laid eyes on Justin Williams in the 2016 Arizona Fall League and was impressed. First, he looks the part – tall, lean and athletic. Second, he showed good bat speed with an idea at the plate. Since then, I followed his season closely and again, I’m impressed.
In 96 games, he slashed .301/.364/.489 with 14 home runs and six stolen bases. Most importantly, he controlled the strike zone very well posting a 17% strikeout rate while walking 9% of the time.
Scouting Report: At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, Williams does have an athletic body with plus raw power that is just starting to show up in games. Once he learns to add leverage to his swing, I think he has a chance to hit 20 plus home runs at the highest level. He’s also a good runner but has never stolen a lot of bases.
His biggest step-up last season was becoming more patient at the plate. If this continues, he moves from an upside of a fourth outfielder to a major league regular, with upside.
Fantasy Impact: Williams is still not owned in many Dynasty League and I believe that needs to change. He’s got a ton of talent and is learning to control the strike zone. It’s a great combination and assuming he continues to make progress, the Rays might have discovered something here.
Brandon Lowe (2B)
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2019, Fantasy Ceiling: Middle Infielder
Brandon Lowe had a mixed season in 2017. He started off very well in the Florida State League, showing the ability to control the strike zone with some nice pop. His .311/.403/.524 was one of the best slash lines posted in the FSL last year. On August 1st, he was promoted to Double-A and just did not hit. Granted, it was only 95 at-bats, but he struck out 26% of the time and only walked two times. If it wasn’t for a .319 BABIP, his .253 batting average would have looked much worse.
In looking at his 2016 season in Low-A and his college career at Maryland, I’m chalking his poor performance in Double-A to adjusting and a small sample size.
Scouting Report: It’s hard not to see a little Logan Forsythe in Lowe. Perhaps, it was one of the reasons the Rays felt comfortable moving Forsythe for Jose De Leon last offseason. Lowe has a great understanding of the strike zone and has enough bat speed to project 20 home run in-game power. He’s an average runner and should be able to steal 5 to 8 bases annually. He’ll be limited to second base but can hold his own there.
Fantasy Impact: Lowe should be considered in Dynasty Leagues that roster 200 or more minor league players. I don’t see him as an impact fantasy performer, but he can hit and that should get him playing time. The upside is a .280/.360 hitter with 20 home run upside. That’s a nice little player and one that would fit nicely in a middle infielder slot; kind of where you play Logan Forsythe.
Jose De Leon (RHP)
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2016, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
The Dodgers sold high on Jose De Leon in the off-season and were able to snag Logan Forsythe in the process. While Forsythe had an injury-plagued year and by the end of the season, didn’t have a full-time job, De Leon was also injured and didn’t contribute to the Rays season much either.
While I believe Forsythe will bounce back next season, I’m starting to get very worried about De Leon. It’s not about his stuff, it’s about his ability to stay healthy. He has spent time on the disabled list in each of last four years with his high-water mark being 114 innings pitched in 2015. Last season, he pitched 38.1 innings in the minors and one very unfortunate start for the Rays.
Scouting Report: At 6-foot-2, De Leon is not an imposing presence on the mound, but he pitches very aggressively and is not afraid to pound batters inside with a fastball that he can run up to 96. His out pitch is a hard slider that sits 86 to 88 MPH and gets plenty of swings and misses. He’s worked hard on his change-up and now it’s nearly as good as his curveball.
If you add it all up, that’s three quality pitches; all of which he can throw for strikes. The problem again is health. He could put it all behind him next season, but in looking at the type of injuries, I’m worried that he has a little Steven Matz in him – potentially chronic arm issues. I hope I’m wrong as I love the stuff.
Fantasy Impact: De Leon is a great story – from a 24th round pick to a Top 50 prospect. Unfortunately, that story has hit a speed bump and it’s in the form of injuries. If he can stay healthy, he has mid-rotation upside, maybe more. Let’s see what happens next season but if he spends time again on the disabled list, it might be time to move on.
Vidal Brujan (2B)
Highest Level: Short Season, ETA: 2021, Fantasy Ceiling: Middle Infielder
The Rays signed Vidal Brujan in 2014 out of the Dominican Republic and at 19-years-old, assigned him to the New York Penn League.
He excelled in 67 games, batting .296 and walking nearly as much as he struck out (36K/34BB). He used his speed very well, stealing 17 of 25 bases. While the success rate was not great, it was a big improvement over his first couple of years in professional ball.
Scouting Report: Brujan is a smallish second baseman who can really hit with plus speed. No, this isn’t another Jose Altuve, but there is a lot to like.
He has good bat speed but his swing is more geared towards doubles than over the fence power. He’s a plus runner with a chance to steal 30 plus stolen bases once he learns the fine art of base stealing. He’s limited to second base but his ability to control the strike zone gives him a good chance to see the major leagues at some point down the road. He’s likely four years away from seeing the big leagues so he might be on this list for a long time.
Fantasy Impact: I really like Brujan. Will I roster him in a Dynasty League? Probably not given that he won’t see the major leagues until 2021 at the earliest. But, he handles the bat very well and has plus speed. For that reason alone, he should be on Dynasty League owner’s radar.
Ryan Yarbrough (LHP)
Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
Drafted in the fourth round of the 2014 MLB Draft as a senior sign, Ryan Yarbrough has been making slow and steady progress through the Rays system. While he turns 26 in December, his terrific performance in Triple-A warrants a place on our Tampa Top 10 list.
In 26 starts, he pitched to a 3.43 ERA, striking out a batter an inning and walking only 2.2 per nine. He gave up less than a hit an inning but did give up 20 home runs. At 6-foot-5, with his primary pitch being a heavy fastball, I view the high home run count as a data point but potentially an outlier.
Scouting Report: Yarbrough has a lot of 50’s on his scouting card and lacks that true out pitch. That said, he throws a low 90’s heavy fastball with plenty of sink and all of his pitches play up because he throws strikes. I don’t see a super high ceiling, but instead a number four or number five pitcher in a major league rotation. Of course, the upside is that he’s a lefty and the Rays have a history of developing pitchers so there could be more in the tank.
Fantasy Impact: Yarbrough is the perfect guy to draft late in an NFBC Draft and Hold League. He will see playing time in the major leagues next year and while I don’t see more than a number four ceiling for him, I’m willing to take a bet that we could see more. As an asset in a Dynasty League that roster less than 400 minor league rosters, I would only pick him up once he gets promoted. I would not use a valuable minor league roster spot for him.
2018 Emerging Prospect
Wander Franco (SS)
Considered one of the best players in the 2017 J2 class, the Rays inked Wander Franco to a $3.8 million dollar signing bonus. Talent wise, he’s a Top 10 Rays prospect but he’s six or seven years away from even sniffing the major leagues. I’ve heard he has premium bat speed and can really hit. There are questions on whether he will stay at short long-term.
I have been reading your articles and really enjoying them. You seem to have a solid grasp on the game not to mention good writing skills. Check out some of my work at offthewallbaseball.com